by Chiara Smits
The city of Antwerp calls itself a sustainable city, but is it really? There are many ways to assess the sustainability of a city, one of which is transportation. Motorized transportation accounts for more than 15% of CO2 emissions worldwide. Mitigating this has become crucial to curb climate change. An added bonus in lowering these emissions is reducing car traffic and congested roads. With cities becoming more crowded each year, congestion is reaching its limits and air quality is decreasing rapidly, resulting in a loss of livability in the city (Verbavatz & Barthelemy, 2020). This article will look at 3 key points of a sustainable city’s transportation system based on the book “The Sustainable city” by Steven Cohen published in 2017: public transit, bike path network and electric car infrastructure.
Public transportation and bike path network
Public transportation, together with an efficient bike path network, aims to decrease the number of private cars on the city streets. This will lead to decreased congestion, reduced emissions and lowered CO2 per person in the city. However, it is difficult to motivate residents to take public transport, such as bus or tram instead of using their car. Why would they give up the comfort of their own car to sit on a bus full of people? The biggest motivation is avoiding traffic when congestion of roads becomes too cumbersome. Public transport should be the logical solution, provided that this alternative assures reaching destinations in time and in a comfortable way. Sadly, this is barely the case in Antwerp. Belgium in general is subpar in the quality of their public transportation: comparing price, speed, punctuality and frequency, our country ranks only as number 17 of all the 26 EU members (Willocx, 2020). Many Antwerp residents who take public transport take their bus or tram often half an hour earlier than necessary to have some assurance of reaching their destination in time. In a world where time is money, this demotivates many people. Generally, people would rather sit longer in traffic in the comfort of their own car than wait 30 minutes for a delayed bus that sometimes does not even arrive (radio 1, 2017).
Bike path network
Why then, not take the bike? It is reliable in terms of timing, it is healthy and with the new electric bikes it is not even that intensive a workout. However, the state of the cycle lanes in and around the city of Antwerp is not that great, with holes, tears and some cycle lanes abruptly and randomly stopping in the city centre. Another threshold is, again, time. Even if it is more reliable, with Belgium’s famous gloomy weather, people looking at a bike ride of more than 10 km are rarely motivated to take their bicycle. Although there is a long way to go, progress is being made with continuous investments in the quality and quantity of cycle paths. The so-called bike-highways connecting Antwerp with several surrounding suburbs is a well appreciated and well used illustration of this evolution.
Electric car infrastructure
Lastly, there is the aspect of electric car infrastructure. Electric cars might not solve the congestion problem, but they do reduce CO2 emissions and enhance the air quality in the city. However, to make electric cars a viable option as part of the solution, the deployment of the infrastructure for electric cars is of utmost importance because urban residents rarely have a house with a driveway. Right now, people are hesitant to buy an electric car due to a (perceived) low number of charging poles in the immediate neighbourhood. Some investments are currently being made in this department. The number of electric cars are increasing partly due to the fact that the multiple businesses and governmental institutions are changing their policies of company cars in favour of electric or hybrid cars. However, the number of charging poles are not yet growing equally, causing a larger demand for charging stations than the current supply (Simoens, 2020).
Is Antwerp becoming a sustainable city?
All in all, a truly sustainable city of Antwerp is still a long way off. Traffic on the Antwerp ring is at an all-time high, parking spots in the city are in high demand due to the many cars in the city. Furthermore, each bus or tram that doesn’t arrive on time, which is sometimes due to traffic, is a potential loss of a public transport user and an extra car in the streets. On the positive side, the number of cyclists is clearly going up and the city should keep investing to maintain this growth. There are some steps being taken, but the pace is slow. With a right-wing party in charge in Antwerp, which traditionally does not place sustainability measures at the top of their agenda, these investments in sustainable transportation are likely to remain slow. Because of this and the prevailing issues with public transport, Antwerp is only making small steps forward. Therefore, it does not seem Antwerp will become a renowned sustainable city - a city of tomorrow - in a very near future.
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