White Elephant Metro – Dirty Air – Car-Free Sunday Future – POLITICO

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A conversation about what makes a city livable.

Written by Esther King and Aitor Hernandez Morales

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happy thursday, City lovers, and welcome back to another edition of Politico’s Living Cities Project.

Aitor is off to basking in the sun on a well-deserved break, so I step out from behind the editorial curtain this week to present your favorite urban newsletter.

In the spirit of European Mobility Week and World Car Day, we take a closer look at the impact of car-free Sundays and the push to make them a more frequent feature of city life.

But first, we head to Charleroi. No, not to hop on a low-cost ride – we’re getting around a metro system stuck in time. fascinated by? It’s a very Belgian (read: surreal) story.

metro briefing

A story of decline – and revival: For many Belgians, especially the expat community, the southern Belgian city of Charleroi is synonymous with the hub of budget aviation – a gateway to the sunny climate. But it’s also home to another piece of transportation infrastructure: one with far fewer users and a more interesting story.

Belgian dribbling: In the 1960s, the Belgian federal government handed the city a mountain of money to build a sprawling 51-kilometer metro system. why? Not because the city desperately needs it. At the time, Belgium’s so-called “waffle-iron policies” required that infrastructure investment be divided equally between the country. The French-speaking south and the Flemish-speaking north – regardless of local needs To avoid exacerbating the conflict between the two regions.

nonsense what? The name stems from the idea that the machine leaves an identical impression on both sides of a waffle – just like public-reflective money meant to evoke a sense of equality between regions. (The policy ended in the late 1980s, when state reform gave regions more decision-making power regarding transportation and public works.)

bad timing: When plans were made, Charleroi – once a wealthy industrial center – was entering a period of sharp decline as factories in the region began to close. The metro network was built anyway, and then suffered from decades of underinvestment. These days, it’s rarely used: according to the city, more than 90 percent of trips are made by car.

New lease of life: Local politicians insist the White Elephant metro system has a future and say it should figure prominently in plans to revitalize the city and reduce car use. Read the full story from my colleagues Camille, Han, and Aitor here.

Fun fact: Dave Senardet, a professor of political science at the Free University of Brussels and St. Louis University of Brussels, said the Charleroi metro system wasn’t the only massive project that came from Belgium’s waffle iron policy. It took 20 years to build the Strépy-Thieu boat lift in the Hainaut county of Wallonia – linked to the expansion of the Zeebrugge port in Flanders – and was the tallest building in the world until it was overtaken by China in 2016.


With 51 kilometers of tracks and four operating lines, the Charleroi metro system turned out to be too large and expensive for the city | Han Cockelier

The most important landmarks of the city

Everything by bike: Prime Minister Elizabeth Born announced this week that the French government is allocating 250 million euros to help regions build cycling paths and secure parking. “The state has not allocated a lot of money in one year to help develop cycling,” Olivier Schneider, president of the French Federation of Bicycle Users (FUB), told Le Parisien newspaper. “This is good news because it will allow suburban and rural cities to finally join in,” he said. Transport Minister Clement Bonn said the measures were aimed at ensuring that cycling becomes a “real mode of transportation and not just a recreational activity”.

Regional Adaptation Guide: The European Commission for Regions (CoR) has published an interactive “handbook” on climate adaptation targeting local authorities across the European Union. Guide – Find it here – Lists options for preparing for the consequences of global warming broken down by country and climatic zone, as well as information on accessing financial and technical assistance. It is part of a campaign to engage local and regional actors in EU climate policy. As the House of Representatives said: “The European Green Deal will be won or lost in the cities and regions of the European Union, as the local and regional authorities … are responsible for its implementation.”

dirty air is coming Europe’s efforts to keep warm this winter amid rising energy prices appear to be exacerbating urban air pollution as people turn to coal, wood and even garbage to heat their homes. The worst effects are expected in Central and Eastern Europe, where many still burn solid fuels for heating. This is bad news for the region, which is already lagging behind when it comes to tackling air pollution. My colleague Antonia has the full story here.

Car replacement: “People who live in Europe’s largest cities are ready to move away from private cars,” says Gevgeny Kabanov, president of scooter rental company Bolt. But to make the change, he says cities need to ramp up and provide more infrastructure such as bike lanes and organized parking.

BRUSSELS TO AIRBNB OBJECTIVE: Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said on Tuesday that the European Commission will introduce new rules targeting short-term rental platforms such as Airbnb in the last quarter of this year. The new rulebook was originally scheduled for release in June, then October, but has been canceled twice, raising fears of further delays. In response to a letter from 77 European lawmakers and concerned city leaders, Breton said his goal was to ensure “that public authorities have better data to design and enforce proportionate rules on short-term accommodation rents”.

Cities join lawsuit against total powers: Paris and New York have Join a lawsuit brought by Green Groups against TotalEnergies. NGOs say the energy giant’s stated goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050 amounts to a greenwash as it continues to extract and invest in fossil fuels. “Some continue to believe that their financial interests come before the common interest and the protection of life on Earth,” Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris, said in a statement. “With this lawsuit, we want to compel a major energy player to honor the Paris Agreement.” The NGOs say it is in the best interests of local authorities to join the lawsuit – which is already being supported by a number of French cities, including Poitiers – because they “have to bear the costs of climate inaction”.

15 Minute City Occupation: C40 Cities – a network of mayors working to tackle climate change – has partnered with urban real estate investor NREP to fund a program to make cities more sustainable and “people-centred”. The goal is to “provide a proof of concept for 15-minute city policies,” according to C40 – the idea that people can access all services within walking distance and cycle. More information here.

urban trends

A day without cars: Today’s signs World Car-Free Day, a day that aims to raise awareness of the benefits of walking, cycling and using public transportation. On Sunday, a number of cities across Europe celebrated closing their streets to traffic from morning until evening in a bid to show the benefits of car abandonment to residents.

On the radar: Such initiatives are nothing new—Europe launched car-free days in the wake of the OPEC oil crisis in the early 1970s—but the growing urgency of the climate crisis and current debates about how to cut energy consumption is giving them new impetus. The International Energy Agency earlier this year Call For more car-free days to reduce fuel usage along with pollution. Even European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen cited car-free events of the 1970s in her State of the European Union address in the context of Europe’s energy crisis.


People ride bicycles during a Sunday without cars in Brussels on September 18, 2022 | Kenzo Tribouillard / AFP via Getty Images

Car free condition: In a report released today, lobbyists from the Clean Cities Campaign argue that implementing a weekly car-free day in all major cities in the European Union and the United Kingdom could “Reducing annual oil consumption from urban transport in Europe by about 3 percent to 5 percent” — a reduction equivalent to total oil consumption in the Baltic states. There are health benefits, too: the Brussels region found that concentrations of toxic nitrous oxide and nitrous dioxide were 80% lower in About 100 percent during last week’s car-free Sunday compared to the Sunday average, and about 90 percent below the weekday average. Meanwhile, there was a 40 percent reduction in noise levels in Paris during a car-free day, according to the nonprofit Bruitparif, which tracks environmental noise in the metropolitan city of Paris.

general appeal: These events are also a key tool for building public support for broader measures to reduce traffic in cities, as residents see firsthand the benefits of fewer cars on the road. Brussels Mobility Minister Elke van den Brandt excitedly chirp A montage of kids riding bikes safely in the streets on Sunday, saying, “This is what happens when you give kids more space and more freedom to move, play and explore the city.” She told Politico by email that Brussels, which has the largest car-free zone in Europe, “was able to breathe” that day. She said that more than half of residents now want more car-free days, but preparing that will depend on negotiations with the city’s 19 counties — and not all of them have the same green mindset.

In Koorgem, in the county of Anderlecht, there is strong opposition to the new mobility plans: last week, a council meeting was forced to end early when opponents became verbally abusive and threatened a council member with violence.

Not there yet: With motorists’ groups dying out against the car ban, a number of cities are wary of doing more. In Germany, the push for more car-free days citywide – rather than cities only closing some streets – is often met with resistance from the cities themselves, raising legal concerns about implementing a complete ban.

Brand problem: Marco T. Brommelstroit, who is president of Urban Mobility Futures at the University of Amsterdam, thinks advocates should rethink how they talk about these events. Instead of a “car-free” Sunday, he wondered, why not call it “clean air” or even a “bird song” on Sundays. In the city of Colombia Bogota, the first city in Latin America to organize such events, activists point to “opening the streets” to people, rather than closing them to cars.

Stats and the city


public forum

Last week we asked you about ways to improve your local transit system.

Andrew Pritchard of Oxford, England, wrote to suggest that the answer could be “an urban transport authority with authority over privately operated bus systems to determine routes and timings”. He said existing routes are not connected, which means passengers have to walk five to ten minutes between stations.

Antoine Bourg, writing from Prague, had few complaints about his local network – “Rush hour metro stations pass every 45 seconds!” – But suggest there is room for improvement when it comes to heating buses and trams in the winter, as they are often very warm and lowering the temperature may help save energy.

This week we ask: Has your city implemented energy-saving measures? And if so, did it have an impact on your daily life – for better or worse?

local library

– Who knows? King Charles III has a penchant for urban planning.

– Le Monde launched an interesting podcast looking at commuting in France. Accompanying articles – eg on obstacles to pedestrians and experiences of relying on a car while living outside of large urban centers – include some thought-provoking data analyzes (in French).

– Bloomberg showcased a fun piece in a soft spot in Berlin for its old Soviet memorials The pictures alone are great.

Many thanks to: Camille Giggs, Giovanna Coy, Hanne Coqueler, Joshua Possanier, Louise Giello, Peter Hayek and Wilhelmin von Breusen And the dia method editor James Randerson and the product Julia Poloni.

Politico’s Global Policy Lab is a collaborative journalism project that searches for solutions to the challenges faced by modern societies in an era of rapid change. Over the coming months, we will be hosting a conversation about how to make cities more livable and sustainable.

more than …

Esther King and

Aitor Hernandez Morales

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