Caminhos Cruzados: Let’s celebrate active and sustainable mobility

Caminhos Cruzados is a virtual debate to discuss one topic from different perspectives. We invite two guests to answer to three questions — but they also comment on the other guest’s response. This is an effort to build a rich dialogue by revealing differences and similarities between each point of view but also unique visions on the topic.

Let’s celebrate active and sustainable mobility

With Leticia Sabino, director of SampaPé!, and Juan Caballero, coordinator of EuroCities.

1. What were the motivations to promote commemorative dates for active mobility? What was the context?

Leticia Sabino: The main motivation to create a Week dedicated to celebrate walking in cities is a result of 5 years working on the topic and realizing that this mode of transportation still remains invisible. “We are all pedestrians” activists say. But by using the word “all” , it feels like “nobody”; and nobody wants to identiFy themselves as “pedestrians”. It became clear that walking needs to be treated with care and sensibility to show the importance for something that is so simple and delicate and at the same time complex and powerful.
The choice for the date was inspired by the commemorative (and not official yet) International Pedestrian Day, celebrated on the 8th of August. In this day back in 1969 was taken the photo of The Beatles crossing the Abbey Road. This picture became the symbol of walking in the cities as a way of transport because the main element is the pedestrian crossing and the traffic signs ordening who walks around the city. This is the date that inspired the “Walking Week” (Semana do Caminhar) that will take place this year between 7 and 13 of August.

JC: Initiatives like that one organised by SampaPé! are much needed. It is important to promote walking in the cities as a mode of transportation. To be a pedestrian is a choice, beyond the principle that could be seen as a resignation for the impossibility to have a vehicle or use public transportation.
More and more cities empower pedestrians by making possible that pushing a button they can stop the traffic and cross the street safely. This gives the pedestrians the feeling of freedom and enjoyment on their daily commute. We can’t forget about the economic, health and environmental benefits that walking provides us.
Celebrating the Pedestrian Day on the anniversary of the famous picture of The Beatles at Abbey Road is a good idea to grab attention from the media looking for news during the summer.]

Juan Caballero: The European Mobility Week (Semana Europeia da Mobilidade, in portuguese) is an initiative from the European Commission, to encourage and support cities in Europe and other places, to celebrate seven days of activities to promote sustainable mobility. The final goal is rase every citizen’s awareness that future also involves types of mobility to alternatively replace the use of motor vehicles. The campaign is celebrated since 2002 always at the same dates (from 16 to 22 of september). The reason for that is simple: 22 September is celebrated the “World Car-Free Day”, the highlight of the week.
It is not just a message for the citizens, but also to show and convince cities that is necessary their commitment with sustainable mobility. Therefore, one of the criteria to participate in European Mobility Week is to implement new permanent measures, like the improval of infrastructure, increase of public transport lines and implementation of intelligent transport systems. The main idea is to show some measures during the commemorative week for residents to be aware of the many alternatives available at every city.
Every year, the European Mobility Week is focused on a concrete theme. In 2017, cities in Europe and around the world shared the same message: “Sharing takes you farth”, to promote clean, communal and smart mobility.

LS: September 22nd is celebrated around the world [as World Car Free Day] with a very clear message: car is not a solution. Sounds to me interesting the event’s approach that Juan coordinate by asking for a commitment from the participant municipalities, extending the event from a week to long-term impacts. Another relevant point mentioned by him is giving travel options for the citizens. To be able to walk by option, with safety, and comfort and with intermodality options is the best scenario you could ask for a city. I believe that when the citizens CHOOSE walking, this must be a good way to measure the success of a city.

2. How important is to have commemorative dates to strengthen the active mobility agenda?

Leticia Sabino: Celebrating is a complete and diverse way to call for attention on a theme. It is extremely important to value not just who walks but also the initiatives that contributes qualifying the walking experience in the cities. Furthermore, we are clashing and contesting an already established culture — the car’s culture — and there is a need of interdisciplinary and culture action, approaching many ways of communication, like artistic and social manifestation.
This year the slogan of the week was “Walk links” (“Caminhar dá liga”) and through this message we want to reinforce that walking connects other modes of transport. And because its characteristics of low speed and interaction with the environment walking also makes possible creating links with other people, with the landscape and with the city. Thus, many activities, from a walk during 10 hours crossing the city or a walk in an urban street gallery, composes the schedule as a way to achieve the meaning and magnitude of walking in the cities.

JC: I couldn’t agree more with Leticia’s point of view: celebrating is a way to call for attention. Walk is the most independent mode of transport and is a topic that is interesting for everyone. In fact, the quality of the walking experience in cities is shaped by many different aspects, including, from a macro perspective, urban planning tools, but also the relationship among the different users of this public space, which should be respectful .
The cultural and entertainment aspects are essential for any awareness campaign. It is not only about sending a message effectively but also awarding those who changed the way they move around with cultural or other type of events for example, during the European Mobility Week, some cities encourage citizens to go to work by bicycle giving them free coffee, and in other countries employees receive a small financial compensation or additional vacation days if they go by bicycle to work. Something similar could be done with campaigns that promote pedestrian mobility.

Juan Caballero: The European Mobility Week is seen as a festive event in many cities, rather than an opportunity for claiming for demands. Many citizens open their minds for active mobility during these events and having them once a year more people get ready to walk or bike to get to work. Even though many cities have already a high number of people that chose these modes of transportation, there is always the opportunity to encourage more people and, why not, celebrate together.
There isn’t a single group of residents that don’t see itself affected by urban mobility. When we talk about anti-smoking, sexual health promotion or civic responsibilities campaigns we are possibly targeting specific groups. However, urban mobility involves everyone, regardless of age and other conditions. We can’t forget about the human scale when designing urban mobility campaigns.
At EUROCITIES, our cities are concerned with promoting active and safe mobility, and for this reason a working group was recently created under this title and it is led by Lisboa.

LS: I am very glad there is a working group focused on active mobility in EUROCITIES. Picking up on what Juan said about european cities having a high percentage of active commutes, it is worthwhile to remember that the difference between those cities and brazilian cities is the quality of the infrastructure. In Brazil, the percentage of active commutes is higher than in Europe, but they exist because of the lack of transit options and of the poor infrastructure and this is why we have a bigger challenge here.
And I want to add a consideration: isn´t it the time for those events focus on solutions for more active and sustainable cargo transportation? We don´t move only people in our cities, moving freight has a huge impact on urban dynamics. When a city is already compact and is well structured, and offers differentn options for people to move around, it also needs to create human solutions for freight transit. I would like to see this topic being discussed on the European Mobility Week.

3. Do you see a clear impact of these campaigns on public policies for active mobility?

Leticia Sabino: The biggest impact and goal is to strengthen and consolidate the walking culture in cities. Culture should be seen as an essential element for society development and as an aspect that affects people’s everyday choices. The commemorative date was created recently and the expectation is, in first place, an increase in the number of people engaged on the activities and through communication elements. We should also get more city officials, and civic organizations, that also believe in the cause, involved and promote walking activities officially within these organizations.
We also expect the model (including topics and approach) to evolve along with the cities´own development. In other words: hopefully in a few years cities will be aware of the importance of walkability and we won’t have to spend time with convincing them about it but rather get to another level of discussion.

JC: The campaign objective released by SampPé! is realistic and will benefit other cities. However, I believe that is important to define more concrete targets that can be easily measured. People usually worry about financial investments and having powerful numbers could enhance the campaign message.
Cooperation with other organizations and support from government and institutions are essential to the success of the campaign. I believe that SampaPé! goes “step by step” the right direction.

Juan Caballero: The European Commission has many ambitious goals to reduce their emissions and the transport sector is one of them. Two of those objectives are accelerating the transition to zero-emission vehicles , by replacing high-emission vehicles by 2050 and having zero-emission freight transportation before 2030. Cities can contribute a lot on achieving these goals and, each year, the European Mobility Week shows that we are closer to them.
The number of cities which participate in the campaign has been increasing since the European Commission launched it in 2002, reaching 2.427cities in September 2016, which is is the highest number seen so far.

LS: Instead of having a goal focused on reducing emissions — which encourage the use of electric cars — wouldn’t it be better to aim at having no individual motor vehicles? Or increase the number of active mobility — only streets?
I hope this kind of events give space for diverse initiatives around the cities regardless of their size. After all, cities are made by people.
I hope these events transform people and change themselves through time.
It was a pleasure to participate on this conversation and I expect that we can exchange more ideas, thoughts and lessons learned between countries and organizations.

Leticia Sabino is founder and director of SampaPé!. She holds a Masters degree on Urban Design and City Planning from UCL, in London and a degree on business administration from EAESP-FGV. Walker and observer of street and sidewalks details (@porondeandeisp).

Juan Caballero coordinates projects in europe focused on sustainable mobility at @EUROCITIEStweet, a network that represents the 140 most populated cities in Europe. Given his previous experience as journalist, he has been responsible since 2015 for coordinating the european secretariat from European Mobility Week campaign. @mobilityweek