Published on June 7th, 2013 | by Ellen R Delisio0
Green mobility progress in Nordic capitals
If there were a competition to determine the city with the greenest transportation, all five Nordic capital cities would be bunched at the finish line.
Copenhagen, Helsinki, Oslo, Reykjavik, and Stockholm all have pledged to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions within seven to 10 years. Strategies include encouraging more people to use mass transportation and bicycles; making mass transit vehicles more environmentally-friendly, as well as using alternative fuel for city vehicles and offering incentives for people to buy alternative-fuel cars.
King of EVs
Oslo already has one of the European continent’s smallest carbon footprints when compared with other European capitals and is the world leader in electric vehicle usage. City officials are aiming to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2050. In the short term the city is aiming to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from its 1991 levels by 2030 and has begun the transition to carbon dioxide-free transportation.
By 2020, all of the city’s public transportation vehicles should be climate neutral, said Hans Cats, the Green Mobility Coordinator for Cities of the Future Oslo, the Department of Climate and Environment of the Agency for Urban Environment. City officials are introducing biogas produced from wastewater sludge and organic waste into public buses, said Cats. All city vehicles are expected to have zero emissions by 2015, he noted. The city also is contributing to the development of hybrid fuel cell buses through the Scandinavian Hydrogen Highway Partnership (HyNor), he added. The number of trips on public transportation increased by 35 percent from 2000 to 2011, and now 64 percent of citizens walk, bicycle or take public transportation.
Oslo also is eager to retain its EV crown, and offers numerous incentives to drivers. Norway currently has about 10,000 electric vehicles. “Electric cars are given free passage through Oslo’s toll ring and are allowed to use lanes otherwise reserved for public transportation,” according to Cats. “EVs also can be parked free of charge in municipal car parks and charged for free at public charging stations.” The city recently opened the world’s largest free recharging and parking facility for electric cars.
By the end of 2011, Oslo had set up 450 EV charging stations and another 200 are scheduled for installation each year until 2015. Grants are available from the city to defray the cost of setting up charging stations, which are available to joint owners of residential buildings, such as housing cooperatives, and to commercial property owners.
The bicycle queen
While Oslo may be the EV king, Copenhagen is the bicycle queen. Denmark’s capital city has set a goal of being carbon dioxide neutral by 2025 and wants to become the world’s friendliest city for cyclists. Copenhagen’s extensive sustainability efforts earned it the European Green Capital Award for 2014. By 2015, city officials are hopeful 50 percent of people will be cycling to work or school, compared with 35 percent in 2010. Besides having an extensive network of bicycle paths, the city looks for ways to make cycling easier, such as having bicycle pumps at train stations. “Two out of three Copenhageners use bikes as their primary source of transportation,” said Per Als, chief of the city’s transportation division.
“It’s the easiest, fastest and cheapest way to get around. When we get snow, the first things to get cleaned are the bicycle paths. Sixty percent of people say they use bicycle as much in winter as they do in summer.” Consequently, many peoples’ cars remain at home all week and only are used for weekend outings. City officials are considering encouraging people to share cars, Als said, and looking at ways to promote electric car use. But even though consumers pay no taxes when they buy electric cars, they still are very expensive, he added.
Plans also are underway for additional city bus routes and another metro line, according to Als. The city has 400 diesel buses and is trying to convert them to hybrid vehicles, he said, and in six months will be testing some electric buses.
Fossil-fuel-free by 2050
Stockholm, the first city to win the European Green Capital award in 2010, has tackled green mobility by promoting public transportation and cycling and making its public transit system as fossil-fuel free as possible.
Currently, 70 percent of motorized trips during rush hours are made by public transportation and the goal is to raise the figure to 80 percent by 2030, said Kerstin Alquist, a traffic planning strategist for the City of Stockholm.
The city has shrunk carbon dioxide emissions by 25 percent per inhabitant since 1990 and is aiming to be fossil-fuel-free by 2050, and use only fossil-free city vehicles by 2030.
City authorities also continue to research alternative fuels to further their green mobility goals. “We believe there is not one alternative fuel, but many,” said Eva Sunnerstedt, who oversees clean vehicles in Stockholm.”We work with various things — electric, electric-hybrid, bio-gas, methane gas and [different types of] ethanol.” In the city’s center, all buses operate on renewable energy, including 500 buses that use ethanol, the largest fleet of ethanol buses in the world; and another 250 buses run on biogas, according to a report on the city’s climate initiatives.
One-hundred percent of city vehicles bought last year were clean vehicles, Sunnerstedt added. All companies that want to work in the city — such as taxi drivers and waste removal firms — must operate clean vehicles. Consumers also are offered significant tax breaks and access to parking if they purchase alternative fuel vehicles.
The city also is moving to limit parking on major roads in Stockholm to create more room for buses and bicycle lanes, noted Sunnerstedt. ”We want to prioritize walking, biking, and public transportation, and then if people use a car, it should be a clean car or a car pool.”
Public support is high for these initiatives; 79 percent of Stockholm’s population believes it is important to travel in an environmentally-friendly way, according to a 2010 survey.
Hydro and geothermal energy sources
Reykjavík city planners are trying to replicate their success in virtually eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from heat and electricity production in the transportation arena. Aalmost all electricity and space heating in the city comes from renewable hydro and geothermal energy sources. About 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are from transportation on the roads, and the goal is to reduce that by 35 percent by 2020 and by 73 percent by 2050, compared to 2007 levels.
Plans involve replacing fossil fuels with biogas, starting with city-use vehicles, and promoting the use of electric vehicles. “Our goal is to get a larger proportion of green cars,” said Hrönn Hrafnsdóttir, project manager, policy and development, in the city’s Department of Environment and Planning. “About 80 percent of city cars are environmentally-friendly.” The center of the city now has three charging stations for electric cars and EV drivers receive about 90 minutes of free parking. Reykjavik also has the infrastructure available to service methane cars and the number of people buying them is growing, said Hrafnsdóttir.
A major obstacle to reducing car emissions is the city’s layout. The availability of land led to developments spread out across the city, making planning public transportation difficult, said Pálmi Freyr Randversson, project manager, city design, for the city’s Department of Environment and Planning. Car ownership per household is very high, about 680 per 1,000 people. “That is changing a bit now, following the economic crisis,” Randversson added. “People are more open to the possibilities of public transportation.”
Nine goals involve green mobility
Officials in Helsinki have similar goals to their neighbors, in terms of reducing green house gases by turning to biofuels and encouraging greater use of mass transit and bicycles. The city is aiming to cut green house gas emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020 and also convert 20 percent of its fuel use to biofuels by the same year.
In 2010, Helsinki City Board set criteria for low-emission passenger cars and implemented measures to promote low-emission transport. A 50% discount on parking fees is granted to all vehicles meeting the low-emission criteria. When purchasing vehicles, the city departments must also apply the low-emission criteria. Helsinki also started a two-year pilot project in 2011 to promote the use of electric vehicles. Charging spaces for full-electric cars and chargeable hybrids will be built in the city centre and in some park-and-ride facilities. The city is also planning to purchase more electric cars for test use.
Helsinki also is changing its approach to bicycles to encourage more widespread use. “The underlying principle behind the guidelines is to treat bicycles as ‘slow vehicles’ instead of ‘fast pedestrians,’” said Outi Väkevä of Helsinki’s City Environment Centre. “In quiet streets it is considered safe for cyclists to use car lanes, but special bicycle lanes are needed in busy roads where cars drive at high speeds.”
The city has improved the winter maintenance of bicycle lanes so people can ride in the winter. Bike parking facilities have also been improved in the city and in park-and-ride facilities in the railway stations of the suburbs. A bike center that opened last year in the city center rents bicycles, as well as provides storage and maintenance services and advice on planning bicycle routes. A new city bike system with about 500 bikes also is in the works.
The current version of the Helsinki Region Transport System Plan (HLJ 2011), a long-term plan dealing with developing high quality, environmentally-friendly transportation, has 12 key goals, nine of which involve green mobility, and deal with reducing emissions and improving the efficiency of public transportation, said Mette Granberg of the Helsinki Region Transport Authority. About 72 percent of people use mass transit in the city’s center on weekday mornings.
Critical to all green mobility plans are a variety of efficient, easily-accessible, reliable and inexpensive modes of transportation that are as simple to use, or even simpler, than driving a car, said Copenhagen’s Als.
“Efficient transportation is a hit here,” Als said of his own city. “We want a broad spectrum of ideas, since most of mobility is affected by people making their own decisions. If only once a week, we make people consider doing something else instead of just grabbing the car keys hanging from the magnet on the refrigerator, we’ve done something. We need to make it as easy as possible to choose green options.”