Westport group visits smarter travel town in Germany

A delegation from Westport recently travelled to the smarter travel town of Freiburg, which is located in south west Germany near the Black Forest, for a smarter travel study tour. The university city is know for its advanced environmentally friendly practices and therefore the tour from Westport explored the area over two days in order see how Westport can approach the development of such sustainable mobility as Freiburg.

The trip comes on the back of Westport being selected last year as one of three towns in Ireland selected as a Smarter Travel Demonstration Areas 2012-2016, with €5 million in funding available for Westport over the five year period. The aim of developing Westport into a smarter travel town will encourage a behavioural switch to more sustainable forms of transport, benefiting people’s health and fitness, as well as enhancing town and streetscapes locally. Freiburg, a vibrant city with a population of 22,000, is a prime working model of such sustainable transport development.

The group from Westport which comprised the town manager, town clerk, town architect, town engineer, a green schools representative, a tidy town representative, a member of the local chamber of commerce, three town councillors, along with media representatives, learned that the reason the sustainable mobility concept is such a success is due to the participation of citizens in embracing the use of public transport, and walking and cycling more.

The tour was led by Hans-Jörg Schwander, the director of the Innovation Academy — a non-for-profit association in the city which organises such thematic trips. He informed the delegation that in 1969 Freiburg undertook to develop an urban transport policy that sought to ensure a good level of mobility that did not encroach upon positive urban development, nature, and the environment. It prioritises environment-friendly modes of transport such as walking, cycling, and public tranport.

In 1973 the entire city centre was converted to a pedestrian zone . The public tramway network comprises 30km and is connected to the 168 km of city bus routes as well as to the regional railway system. Seventy per cent of the population live within 500 metres of a tram stop. The city has some 400km of bike paths, many of which are new fast bike lanes, and the use of bikes continues to grow. In the centre there are more than 9,000 parking spaces for bikes and there are also bike and ride locations. The speed limit in the city is also reduced to 30km/h to make safer travel conditions for those travelling by bike, etc. Parking space management also contributes to the reduction of motor vehicle traffic. Multi-storey garages are located at the edge of residential districts and at major mass transit stations. Car-sharing is also encouraged. Traffic avoidance is achieved in conjunction with urban planning that makes Freiburg a compact city with strong neighbourhood centres where people’s needs are within walking distance.

Statistics show that between 1982 and 1999, the contribution of cycling to the city’s volume of traffic increased from 15 per cent to 28 per cent and public transport from 11 per cent to 18 per cent, while distance travelled by motor vehicles fell from 38 per cent to 30 per cent. Interestingly, Freiburg has the lowest motor vehicle density of any city in Germany with 423 cars per 1,000 people. With such a proactive approach, Freiburg was awarded the European Local Public Transport Award.

The extremely informative study tour gave the Westport delegation much information to digest and was a great way to see how beneficial smarter travel is to any town, which is clearly evident in Freiburg. Officials and councillors were given great local insight which they might collaborate into smarter travel plans for Westport.


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