Is Freiburg really as green as it claims to be?
1st part: Transportation
I have been living in Freiburg for almost six years now – and every time I mention where I am living, a blast of appreciation and admiration gushes towards me. Freiburg is perceived as the eco-town in Germany or perhaps even in Europe. This perception may partly result from a strong anti-nuclear movement in Freiburg since the 1970s when several nuclear power stations were planned around Freiburg – thus, green governance has a long and effective tradition in Freiburg.
But the picture of Freiburg as a centre of green living is also strongly enforced by the media – through Freiburg`s marketing, e.g. by the official city slogan “Freiburg Green City” and other marketing campaigns such as the one shown above in cooperation with the FWTM, as well as through thousands of articles. Magazines run stories entitled “Is this the greenest city in the world?“, “The World’s Most Successful Model for Sustainable Urban Development?” or “Freiburg: A Model of Sustainability” calling Freiburg the “ecological capital” of Germany. Even some reviewed articles transport an extremely green picture of Freiburg, as for instance Hopwood who describes Freiburg as a ”self-styled solar city […] which has ”become a journey to the heart of sustainable living” where the “local population have a unique influence into how their communities look and feel”.
But is Freiburg really as green as it claims to be? This is supposed to be the first of a series of blog articles investigating the question how sustainable Freiburg`s urban planning really is. In this fist article, we will have a closer look at sustainable transportation.
What is sustainable transport?
But let us at first take a look at the key elements of sustainable transport – which is a core issue to sustainable urban planning. According to Luederitz `s a city planning should“enable self-sufficient neighbourhoods to reduce residents’ need to travel. Create neighbourhoods that provide daily needs, amenities, employment, education facilities, and public institutions within walkable distances. Provide access to good public transport for all social strata and reduce motorized individual transportation. Design streets as public space and enhance bicycle use within and outside the neighbourhood through well-connected districts. Develop contiguous compact neighbourhoods around nodes of varying sizes and avoid urban sprawl.” (Luederitz, 2013)
So, sustainable urban planning should reduce the need for transportation in the first place and help people to easily get everywhere they need to by bike, public transport or by walking , which is also stated in the Freiburg Charter in 2012.
To measure and compare the level of sustainability of a city `s transportation network various research groups have developed indicators for sustainable transport (STI) as a basis for sustainability transport indices. Haghshenas and Vaziri (2012) developed a set of 9 STI, taking environmental, economical and social factors into account. The resulting composite index allowed them to compare various cities. Alonsoa et al. (2014) created benchmark-approach-based composite indicators to measure the sustainability of urban passenger transport systems, which they applied to 23 European cities as a means for identifying the most influential factors of sustainable city transport. They found that transport policies should aim to increase the share of public transport and avoiding urban sprawl.
But what influences the sustainability of a transportation network the most? Goldman and Gorham (2006) looked at transport innovation and found New Mobility, City Logistics, Intelligent System Management, and Livability as the most promising areas to achieve sustainable transport systems. Gösling and Cohen (2014) argue that European countries will fail to significantly reduce their passenger transport-related emissions due to ‘transport taboos’, which are unaddressed “barriers to the design, acceptance and implementation of transport policies, […] such as highly unequal individual contributions to transport volumes and emissions, social inequality of planned market-based measures, the role of lobbyism, and the various social and psychological functions of mobility”. They conclude those issues not being addressed within the EU policy because of a potential violation of specific interests within the neoliberal governance structures – which is of course a very controversial thesis. Grünig (2012) found financial and technological factors, but even more, the engagement of the public community via an open dialogue in order to achieve altered consumer behaviour to be important factors for a successful sustainable urban transport planning. So, is a democracy the way to sustainable transport?
Democracy and sustainable transport
Research has shown the significance of democracy and citizen participation in order to achieve sustainable transport planning. Or as a co-student nicely said during our September module:“A bus with 50 people in it should have 50 times the right to drive first compared to a car with just one person in it!”
And that is exactly what is going on around the world. Sagaris (2014) investigated the role of citizen participation in transport system planning in Chile. He regards “thinking about citizens as planners in their own right, rather than as mere participants at specific points in a planning process” as a way to include social, environmental, and other challenges into the planning process. Doi and Kii (2012) proposed a cross-assessment model which includes vision- and consensus-led approach to sustainable urban transport. When applying this to Japan `s urban areas as planned by 2030, they found the factors related to efficiency, equity and the environment not to be conflicting with each other and “a combination of urban transport strategies with land use control in the form of ‘corridors and multi-centres`” appeared to help emission reduction and provide user benefits.
With regard to Freiburg, the WWF credits Freiburg’s success mainly to its democratic strength with the key elements being direct citizen participation, dynamic planning, and consensus.
Transportation policy in Freiburg
But what about Freiburg now? The WWF describes Freiburg `s policy as:“the interconnectedness of accessibility and mobility with other issues is demonstrated by a city that started – earlier than most in the 1970s – with a decision to save energy. Citizens in Freiburg, a German university city, did not want to accept a planned nuclear power station. That first decision led to the development of Freiburg as a global first-rank model of sustainable urban life – for its leading solar industrialisation, high quality of life via energy-saving spatial and transport planning, and nature conservation, etc. Freiburg sought energy sustainability, and identified transport choices and urban sprawl as key factors.”
According to the city`s environmental policy (2011), the five pillars of Freiburg’s transport concept are an extended public transport network, the promotion of cycling, pedestrian traffic and liveable streets as well as a limitation of individual motorised traffic. This was confirmed by Ryan and Throgmorton (2003) who compared the transportation and land use planning of Freiburg (Germany) and Chula Vista (California). They found that Freiburg was pursuing a high density land development policy with transit service, in contrast to the car-centred urban sprawl observed for most US cities. And unlike many other cities, Freiburg has expanded its tram network with the aim of improving air quality, noise and energy consumption.
This planning policy reflects in the results of the last survey in 2012, which also show the importance of cycling in Freiburg for all kinds of activities.
The role of bicycling
The pastdecades, the role of bicycling has often been neglected as e.g. shown by Koglin and Rye (2014) who researched the scientific factors which led to the dominance of motorised transport in transport planning and compare them to the scientific research on bicycling. They found a marginalisation of bicycling in transport systems.
In contrast to that, Freiburg has, and still is, putting a lot of effort in bicycling transport planning. Within the cycling concept 2020, Freiburg invests significantly (3 Mio € within two years) in the improvement of its cycling lanes with the aim of increasing bicycle use to 30%. The core element of Freiburg cycling concept are “bike priority routes”, similar to the Dutch “cycling speedways”. On these priority lanes, which will crisscross the whole city in a few years, cyclists are supposed to proceed without having to stop. The first route along the river Dreisam – the important east-west axis through Freiburg – is already finished. Two more routes will pass through the city in a north-south orientation. According to the building authorities, the 6 km long cycling tour from Zähringen (north of Freiburg) to St. Georgen (south-west of Freiburg), will take about 20 min, compared to the 7 km car route which takes about 30 min. So it`s not only cheaper and healthier to take the bike, but also quicker!
A further measure to increase bicycle use is Freiburg is the enhanced visibility of bicycle lanes which is supposed to improve cyclists ` safety and this way to reduce the high numbers of bicycle accidents (in Freiburg: 602 in 2012)
And even a modern city bike was developed as a shared project by the Freiburg police department and the ADFC. The aim was to provide a safe, high-quality, durable bike. A funny project, but due to the high price (1590€) and the limited number of bikes, this projects appears to be rather a marketing gag than a real measure to provide safe and cheap cycling equipment for everyone.
Public transportation network
In terms of public transportation, Freiburg has put a lot of effort into increasing the share of public transportation. Fitz-Roy and Smith (1998) described “an enormous and unprecedented rise in the demand for local public transport [in Freiburg] since the early 1980s”. The authors found “the introduction of low cost `environmental’ travel cards with the key characteristics of transferability across friends and family and wide regional validity across operators” to be the major cause of this dramatic increase. In accordance with Fitz-Roy and Smith, a survey in 2012 showed that such a travel card is held by almost 40% of the households in Freiburg, or even by 47% when taking the student cards into account. Compared to other German cities such as Munich, this RegioCard is really cheap (currently about 50€ compared to about 200€ for the whole Munich area) which is a strong incentive to use public instead of individual, car-based transport.
In addition to that, Freiburg is currently improving the public transportation, car sharing and walking opportunities. The city centre is becoming a pedestrian zone with the tram lines being relocated to the surrounding area and extended to the more remote areas of Freiburg-Zähringen (completed: end 2013), Freiburg-Messe (planned: 2015). But even with all those plans waiting to be realised, inhabitant satisfaction regarding the public transportation system in Freiburg ranked highest of all Germany cities!
Also a sustainable electricity provision for the public transport has been considered: since the January 2009, Freiburg’s trams have been running completely on eco-electricity – the required 13 GW/yr have been provided through a mixture of hydropower (80%) and wind – and solar energy (20%). In addition, energy efficiency of the trams has been improved by 20% through energy recovery while braking (Freiburg, 2011).
We have seen that Freiburg has already come a long way in terms of sustainable transportation. Especially the important topics of public transportation and bicycling are highly adressed by the governmental policy which may lead to further improvements in the future. Motorised individual traffic is getting improved through car-sharing opportunities, partly with electric cars, and walking is promoted via pedestrian zones. So it seems as if in terms of transportation, Freiburg is really on the right way to become a truly sustainable city.
Parts of this blog article were published as an essay for the Sustainability and Adaptation Master course at the Centre for Alternative Technologies in December 2014.
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