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Green City, Part 2: In times of climate crisis, sustainable forms of propulsion, comprehensive charging infrastructure for electromobility and safe route concepts for cyclists are needed to advance the transport turnaround. Mobility behaviour can only be changed profoundly if the advantages of the new systems outweigh the need to do without them. 

By Kay Alexander Plonka

Mobilität in Paris
By 2026, the network of cycle paths is to be continuously connected on all major and secondary roads in Paris. © Paris Tourist Office, Photographer: David Lefranc

In no other European metropolis does the transformation of the transport system seem to be happening as fast as in Paris. Mayor Anne Hidalgo has introduced a 30 km/h speed limit almost everywhere and is giving more space to cycling without any ifs or buts. Around 400 kilometres of new cycle paths have been built in a very short time. On the most important roads in the city centre, car lanes have been converted into cycle paths. Traffic-calmed zones have been created everywhere. With almost 21,000 inhabitants per square kilometre, Paris is the most densely populated capital city in Europe. There are already over 60,000 bicycle parking spaces. In addition, thousands of car parking spaces have been removed or now serve as charging points for e-cars and parking spaces for rental bikes and e-scooters. By 2026, the numbers are expected to multiply and the network of cycle paths will be continuously connected on all main roads and side streets. The transformation of the French capital into a climate-friendly metropolis is in full swing and is having an effect: Parisians are enthusiastic about cycling. The mayor’s declared goal is a mobility turnaround characterised by micromobility and public transport, which promises the inhabitants a green city of the future.

Green City – the ndion series
We have to rethink the city: housing shortage, expansion of e-mobility, desolation of inner cities – cities are facing great challenges, cities should become greener.
What can urban concepts look like in the future? And where can we already find innovative ideas for rethinking cities? That is what the ndion series “Green City” asks. We take a look back at the past, at tomorrow’s mobility concepts and at the design of inner cities.

Mobility in the city by bike

A study by the market research company Ipsos on the occasion of the UN World Cycling Day shows that the population around the globe perceives cycling as essential for achieving climate goals. At the same time, there are big differences in the willingness to cycle – depending on how safe it is perceived to be. In the Netherlands, the country with the best cycling infrastructure in the world, the willingness is the highest. In Utrecht, the fourth largest city in the Netherlands, the world’s longest solar cycle path (330 metres) has been opened as part of a pilot project. The project is intended to test the dual use of land. In order to avoid placing solar panels in nature, a special translucent plastic surface was embedded in the roadway to cover the solar panels. The cycle path not only produces enough electricity to supply around 40 households, but also provides energy for its own lighting and heating in winter. And the municipality of Romont in the Swiss canton of Fribourg is testing an innovative solar tunnel for cyclists designed by architect Peter Kuczia on a 300-metre pilot route. The cycle path canopy is being built in cooperation with the start-up Solaroute and is expected to generate up to 2,000 megawatt hours of electricity per kilometre per year in the future, which will not only provide cost-effective lighting for the cycle path at night, but will also be able to supply up to 750 households with electricity. A positive side effect: the tunnel protects cyclists from wind or rain and no further areas need to be sealed in order to install the arched scaffolding construction over the existing cycle path.

And in Germany?

Critical turning situation for lorries and bicycles in Dresden, © ADFC / Juliane Mostertz

In Germany, there is enormous pent-up demand for safe and innovative cycling infrastructure. 42 percent of those surveyed for the Ipsos study consider cycling dangerous. The ADFC cycling club is therefore calling for continuous and safe cycle paths throughout the country. ADFC national director Ann-Kathrin Schneider says: “The Ipsos study impressively confirms that more cycling traffic does not come by itself, but only through good cycling infrastructure on which people feel safe. And there is still a lot wrong with this in Germany: almost half of the German citizens say that they find cycling too dangerous. This is an indictment – and shows how much potential politicians are giving away in the climate-friendly transformation of transport. What we have are chaotic and broken-down rumble roads or the compulsion that cyclists have to share the lane with fast car and truck traffic. What we need are continuous and safe cycle path networks in all towns and villages that literally invite people of all ages to use the bicycle instead of the car. To give municipalities the necessary freedom to redesign roads in a bicycle-friendly way, we need a major reform of the Road Traffic Act.

Meanwhile, in Berlin, the implementation of a long-awaited project is being planned: The “Radbahn” (cycle track) under the U1 underground line in Kreuzberg. In the medium term, an approximately two-kilometre-long cycle path is to run under and along the railway viaduct from Kottbusser Tor to Oberbaumbrücke and later be extended westwards to Zoo station by another six kilometres. So far, the space on the first section is mostly used for parking. The open spaces next to the cycle path are to be shaped by the citizens. To this end, a 200-metre-long test area is to be created between the underground stations Kottbusser Tor and Görlitzer Bahnhof to fill this urban space with new life.

Mobilität Radbahn Berlin
Project in planning: The “Radbahn” in Berlin, © fabulism

E-mobility in the city improves the quality of life

Also in the capital, even the Berlin fire brigade has successfully completed test operations for vehicles with hydrogen and e-drives. While the Toyota Mirai in the passenger car sector still brings the emergency command to the scene without pollutants or noise, the fire engine from the manufacturer Rodenbauer relies on a four-wheel e-drive and was tested for over a year at three Berlin fire stations in almost 1,400 missions. The news that the logistics company DHL is considering transporting parcels on the Spree with a solar-powered boat is a bit curious. But only when hydrogen and electricity to power the vehicles come from sustainably generated wind and solar energy will this type of propulsion be truly environmentally friendly and, at best, climate-neutral.

Mobilität Hyperloop
The TU Munich’s Hyperloop could transport goods and people in an almost airless tube at speeds of over 800 km/h, © Futurium / berlin-event-foto.de

Another piece of news is that Autobahn GmbH plans to roof a section of roadway on the A81 in southern Germany with solar modules for test purposes before the end of this year. Photovoltaic modules with a surface area of 10 × 17 metres will then be installed on a steel structure at a height of more than five metres. The installation will be accompanied by measurements and scientific research for more than a year and is intended to provide findings for a possible permanent operation of such special structures. In addition, following a test on the A3, it is planned to increasingly equip noise barriers with photovoltaics for energy generation in the future. And while in Lower Saxony the first hydrogen train fleet was put into regular operation to replace diesel locomotives – in Germany about 40 per cent of the rail network is not yet electrified – the Technical University of Munich announced at the end of September that the ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of a Hyperloop test track had taken place. Elon Musk’s Hyperloop idea envisages transporting goods and people in an almost airless tube by means of a capsule travelling at speeds of over 800 km/h. 

While the Chinese car manufacturer Niu is planning the first battery-changing stations for its vehicles in Munich and Berlin, the long-awaited wish of the Berlin company Ubitricity is finally coming true after the not-so-young start-up was taken over by the energy giant Shell: Berlin will get 1,000 street lamps at which e-cars can be charged. In Great Britain, the provider wants to install 50,000 so-called on-street charging points by 2025 to offer e-car drivers without their own charging infrastructure access to the electricity grid in public spaces.

This would also be urgently needed in German cities. After all, the fundamental renewal of the delivery traffic, which has so far been primarily based on diesel vehicles, is not only the solution for complying with the CO2 limits, but also for substantially reducing noise. At the IAA Transportation in Hanover, three electric light vehicle prototypes from the German manufacturer ElectricBrands celebrated their world premieres. The XBUS S is designed to master the last mile as a van, refrigerated box or flatbed version with minimal consumption, little space requirements and plenty of transport capacity. The Evetta Cargo model, like the other Prima or Openair models, is distinguished by its striking front door and is intended, for example, for stylish espresso vending carts and other urban delivery and business trips. The NITO C+S was designed for the growing European market for electric delivery and sharing scooters. The solid electric scooter with a low centre of gravity is intended to meet professional requirements of e.g. goods and grocery delivery and guarantee a long service life in vehicle fleets. 

Mobilität XBUS
The XBUS, a light electric vehicle prototype from the German manufacturer ElectricBrands, © ElectricBrands

“If we want to preserve nature, our resources and our planet, the time for ever heavier, larger and unnecessarily faster vehicles seems to be over. Our philosophy is to question the existing and to rethink electromobility. We are constantly discovering new things that can help restore the ecological balance of mobility for future generations,” explains ElectricBrands founder and CEO Ralf Haller.

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