How can we ensure sustainable mobility for city residents and make Belarusian cities more livable? Participants of the seminar "Sustainable Mobility: Time to Unite and Act" held in Minsk discussed factors that influence mobility of city residents, as well as ways to make city transport more environmentally friendly and cost-effective. The event was organized by ODB Brussels and the Belarusian Union of Transport Workers.
|Uladzimir Pryshchepau, Head of the Section of Road Network and Transportation of Design and Research Municipal Unitary Enterprise "Minskgrado" (Belarus)|
Presenting a project of Minsk general urban development plan, Uladzimir Pryshchepau, Head of the Section of Road Network and Transportation of "Minskgrado", noted that layout-wise, the capital is currently being developed in an unbalanced way, with the process being conditioned on the increasing volume of car traffic, which replicates policies used in North American and European cities in the middle of the last century:
"It is recognized that strategies in which cities are adapted to car traffic patterns make the city less fit for life and harm the environment. We openly declare that the era of automobilization must come to an end. We have to adopt best practices used in Berlin, in Scandinavian countries, and implement them here."
"Minskgrado" representative noted that the use of tram, which is a more eco-friendly mode of transportation, has been almost curbed. Belarusian capital only has 25 km of tram tracks, and the share of tram in the city traffic constitutes a mere 4.5%, even though this "green" mode of transportation is considered to be one of the most efficient in terms of passenger carrying capacity and is second only to railroad in terms of the volume of passenger traffic.
|Valiantsina Liaonchyk, First Deputy Chairman of the Republican Public Association "Belarusian Union of Transport Workers"|
EU residents use trams to travel not just within city limits or between different cities but between different countries as well. Valiantsina Liaonchyk, First Deputy Chairman of the Republican Public Association "Belarusian Union of Transport Workers", gave examples of best practices, including the skillfully-applied inter-city approach in the Polish "Silesian Interurbans" tram network and the successful setup of an inter-country transportation system between France and Germany.
"Minsk tram network is not being developed at all as we are going down the same unfortunate path that the Russian Federation has already trodden, where the development of tram networks is stalled or slowed down, thus aggravating transport programs", says "Minskgrado" representative Uladzimir Pryshchepau, pointing out that one of the factors conducive to tram network development in Minsk is the fact that Belarus has its own train manufacturer, "Belcommunmash". According to the expert, the planned municipal transport network is aimed at developing the "high-speed high-efficiency rail modes of transport (subway, city train, tram)" in order to reduce the time costs. The city development project envisions an additional 69 km of tram ways.
|Viktar Rameika, Deputy Head of "Road Traffic Organization" (Belarus)|
Viktar Rameika, Deputy Head of "Road Traffic Organization", says that the increasing appetites of car owners cannot be a priority for the city: "If our focus is solely on how to make life easier for the drivers, we will destroy everything else. We won't have any pedestrian traffic, and even so, the drivers will not have the best conditions", adding that a parking ban and expansion of one of central avenues in Minsk to 8 lanes have ultimately brought no improvement: it led to a rapid increase of capacity and traffic speed, so a lot more drivers began using the avenue, while systemic problems were left without a much-needed solution.
|Yury Parakhnevich, Chief of the Interdistrict Department of Traffic Management at the City Traffic Police Department of Internal Affairs of Hrodna Region Executive Committee, Belarus|
Yury Parakhnevich, representative of Hrodna Regional Automobile Inspection, cited an example of Olshanka district in Hrodna, saying that nowadays people settle into new neighbourhoods before any strategic transport infrastructure is established. For example, population of Olshanka currently is 25 thousand people and on track to increase up to 75 thousand, but all the transportation "exits" from Alshanka to Hrodna at the moment only exist on paper, in planning decisions. According to him, people living in suburban high-rise residence neighbourhoods have to opt for cars because they have no access to the alternative of municipal transportation, which is hardly used in the outskirts of the city, as bus routes planners normally start from the city centre.
Yury Parakhnevich stressed that mass automobilization of high-rise residential neighbourhoods results in a lack of parking spaces and causes distraction for the traffic police as they have to deal with cars that are not going on roads but are parked in tight spaces on house access roads.
"Trained employees who are supposed to work on dangerous cases virtually become backyard dispute mediators", says Yury Parakhnevich. - "We see a number of issues with the traffic system and with the traffic inspectors, such as the lack of developed urban infrastructure able to resolve comprehensive issues of city transportation, including road traffic.
There are many planning organizations, but they have no one to report to, so everything is directed to the traffic inspection. At times, traffic engineers will receive a general plan but have no way of translating it into practice because there has been no interaction or collaboration before."
Dzmitry Zabalueu, Head of Traffic Inspection at the City Traffic Police Department of Internal Affairs of Minsk City Executive Committee, agrees.
|Dzmitry Zabalueu, Head of Traffic Inspection at the City Traffic Police Department of Internal Affairs of Minsk City Executive Committee|
According to Dzmitry Zabalueu, new residential areas emerge before any roads are built to access them. In his opinion, to improve urban planning it is necessary to examine transport infrastructure and assess how well it could satisfy the existing demand. He believes that no obsolete approaches should be used to resolve these issues.
Palina Vardevanyan, expert at the Belarusian Union of Transport Workers, presented a European transport policy tool - sustainable urban mobility plan, saying that the new document is a cross-sectoral one: "In the Belarusian context, it must be integrated within city development projects. General city plans currently determine that buildings of a certain kind will be constructed in certain locations, while city transportation layouts establish a number of people who will be able to travel to a number of destinations, should the city plan be implemented. The problem is that these documents have no consideration for the logic to be followed by prospective users of transport infrastructure, nor do they provide any urban planning tools that can push people towards using a more reasonable mode of transportation. As a result, the goal of improving mobility for all citizens boils down to enabling the growing traffic of personal cars. This approach, which has been in place since the times of Soviet industrialization, is primarily focused on the normative length of time that the commuters need in order to get from their home in a residential area to the factory where they work.
|Palina Vardevanyan, Belarusian Union of Transport Workers|
A mobility plan is a plan of action: it ascertains who is responsible for what in a city. This is what will help us make inner-city travel more convenient in the long-term 25-year perspective", explains Palina Vardevanyan. Sustainable mobility will result in reduced time of travel and increased quality of service, as well as other benefits. "For example, mobility plans have a number of indicators, such as eco-friendliness, they aim for energy saving and reduce the amount of harmful vehicle emissions. Traveling will become more efficient if we aim at making vehicles smaller and cutting down transportation costs", - adds the expert. According to Palina Vardevanyan, EU recommendations say that mobility plans should be developed for cities inhabited by more than 100 thousand people.
The European mobility tool provides a different perspective of inner-city travel development, enables us to change the economy and strategy of transport development: reduce the number of short-distance trips or avoid them, thus giving priority to more economical and ecological modes of transport.
|Valiantsina Liaonchyk (on the left), First Deputy Chairman of the Republican Public Association "Belarusian Union of Transport Workers", Alyona Lis (on the right), ODB Brussels Senior Programme Officer|
Valiantsina Liaonchyk, First Deputy Chairman of the Belarusian Union of Transport Workers, pointed out to the participants of the seminar that sustainable mobility is a major factor in development strategies of modern successful cities, as it is considered to be a quality of life indicator. With sustainable mobility, all residents can choose their preferred mode of transport regardless of their age, physical ability, time of day, etc., and all modes of transport are interconnected, i.e. there is intermodality.
|Valery Shkuratau, Head of "Capital Transport and Communications" (Belarus)|
Valery Shkuratau, Head of "Capital Transport and Communications", says that one of the ways to make getting around the city easier is to create transport hubs, where modes of transport with larger carrying capacity are connected to flows of other, less speedy methods of transportation, e.g. walking or cycling. In his opinion, different modes of transports must be well integrated in terms of both their functionality and the time schedule of connections: possibly, in future it will be possible to buy a single ticket to make several connections within the inner-city and the suburban networks, with the travel fee charged for the time of travel rather than the number of rides. Municipal transport, in his opinion, needs to have a priority lane on the road. Public transport carrying large numbers of people, according to Valery Shkuratau, must be treated with higher priority than private cars, which can only be used by one or several persons at a time.
Speaking about the suburban transport development, Kiryl Sinyutich, Deputy Head of the Department of Passenger Transportation of "Capital Transport and Communications", noted that many bus routes in the Minsk region have stayed the same for decades:
"This is a widely accepted practice in Minsk region; I would say that some things have been left unchanged for about thirty years. In order to get an understanding of whether a certain route is in demand, we need to have it up and running. Some private transport companies say, however, that in order to have a "popular" route, for people to start using it, it should in place for about half a year. We have yet to have any success with a state organization setting up a route and keeping it up for half a year."
The expert noted that the flow of suburban traffic is "centered" in the capital, which is why sometimes, in order to get to a village or town located relatively close, residents have to go the long way via Minsk. In his opinion, the system of social standards does not reflect the issue of mobility.
|Kiryl Sinyutich, Deputy Head of the Department of Passenger Transportation of "Capital Transport and Communications" (Belarus)|
Only in 2013, the population of the Belarusian capital increased by 20.9 thousand people, in 2015 - by 16.5 thousand people. The proposed general plan of Minsk is designed to curb the growth of population in the capital by developing so-called satellite cities. The aims of such project solutions, as a rule, are not specified in the general plan. At the same time, says Palina Vardevanyan from the Belarusian Union of Transport Workers, simple analysis of basic technical and economic indicators of urban development projects makes us question whether it is possible to raise enough funds to implement them. For example, in general plans for Belarusian cities with populations of about 100 thousand, expected population increase of 7% means that the territory will grow by 36%, while the plan envisions that the main streets will become almost twice as long as they are now.
"We will not have enough funds to actually build this", - said the expert when explaining the statistics. - "It is evident that the city budget has no funds to realize these development parameters. If we consider costs of all transport facilities envisioned in the city development projects, we can safely say that neither local funds not state budge will cover it."
According to the proposed 2030 general plan of the Belarusian capital, a ring subway line should be constructed, and railway transport should be included in the city transportation network. At the moment transport network project for the next 15 years suggest that the load on the Kupalauskaja-Kastrycnickaja subway hub station should be decreased only 1.5 times based on the current population. Other measures, according to the general plan, include increasing the total length of Minsk subway lines to 84.4 km, bringing the total number of subway stations to 64 in the long term, and the share of subway in the total city passenger transportation volume - to 38%.
According to "Minskgrado" representative Uladzimir Pryshchepau, planners expect that there will be 380 km of bicycle lanes in Minsk by 2030, presuming that bicycle will be used as a way of commuting "from home to work".
|Uladzimir Pryshchepau (on the right), Head of the Section of Road Network and Transportation of "Minskgrado" Design and Research Municipal Unitary Enterprise (Belarus), Maksim Padbiarozkin (on the left), "Clearing House" programme coordinator, ODB Brussels|
Participants of the "Sustainable Mobility: Time to Unite and Act" were introduced to recommendations of the Belarusian Union of Transport Workers on how to align laws to be able to effectively use the mobility tool for various Belarusian cities, discussed possibilities of creating mobility centers and enabling decision-making processes on the national, regional and local level in view of the changing approaches to urban planning and the development trends in the transport sector.