Front and centre on the EU mobility stage

18 October 2023

The 2023 Urban Mobility Days in Seville marked a significant milestone in the evolution of European urban transport. Eurocities took center stage at the event, cementing its role as a bridge between the European Union and cities engaged in sustainable mobility.

From recognising cycling as a pivotal mode of transport, to sustainable reconstruction efforts in Ukraine and the importance of mobility data space,  these takeaways from the event are essential reading for any mobility buff.

A cyclist in Sevilla.
A cyclist in Sevilla. Photo: Joan Oger

The European cycling declaration

When transport practitioners gather, they rarely make news. Rather, their conversations and ensuing decisions take years to bear fruit, sparking little excitement in the process. But departing from tradition, this year’s Urban Mobility Days began on a high note.

The launch of the first cycling declaration in EU history stirred widespread interest and elicited much hope among active mobility practitioners, including Eurocities.

After months of anticipation, on 4 October 2023, the European Commission officially adopted the proposal for a landmark cycling declaration. Adina Valean, the European Transport Commissioner, made the announcement in Seville at the Urban Mobility Days’ opening ceremony.

Eurocites' Juan Caballero standing next to Adina Valeanspeaking in Seville at the launch of the EU Commission's cycling declaration.
Eurocites’ Juan Caballero standing next to Adina Valeanspeaking in Seville at the launch of the EU Commission’s cycling declaration. Photo: Urban Mobility Days

The declaration is unprecedented. For the first time, the EU considers cycling to be a stand-alone, fully-fledged mode of transport and recognises its key importance for the environment, European society and the economy.

This development takes on board Eurocities’ advice published ahead of the cycling declaration and formulated by a dedicated task force of Eurocities members led by Copenhagen.

“From now on, European institutions and EU member states will be strongly encouraged to consider cycling more systematically in the national policies,” said Thomas Lymes, Eurocities’ Policy Advisor for Mobility and Air Quality, in response to the announcement. “The declaration will also support local authorities’ efforts to promote cycling and show urban inhabitants that their actions contribute to a wider European cycling culture,” Lymes added.

“There’s no quality of life in cities without sustainable mobility such as cycling”, echoed Eurocities’ Juan Caballero, European Mobility Week Campaign Manager, as he played the role of master of ceremonies at Valean’s announcement.

The Commission’s document will now serve as a basis for inter-institutional discussions ahead of the adoption of a final version of the cycling declaration by the European Parliament, Council and Commission, which is expected for next year.

A train painted in the colours of the Ukrainian flag in Prague as part of the "Ride for Ukraine" awareness-raising campaign
A train in Prague painted as part of the “Ride for Ukraine” campaign

Sustainable transport and Ukraine

With a conflict still raging on the EU’s doorstep, Urban Mobility Days panelists envisioned a green transport future for war-torn Ukraine.

For Eurocities, this was a chance to showcase its ‘Sustainable rebuilding of Ukrainian cities’ initiative. The pilot project promotes sustainable and inclusive urban reconstruction in the country by matching Eurocities member cities with municipalities in Ukraine.

André Sobczak, Secretary General of Eurocities
André Sobczak. Photo: Daniela Berretta

“Ukranian authorities are committed to rebuilding their cities in a sustainable way,” André Sobczak, Secretary General of Eurocities, told the audience at the Urban Mobility Community Support to Ukraine plenary session.

Sobczak also invited local governments to join the #RideForUkraine campaign by painting their public transport vehicles in the colours of the Ukrainian flag and a QR code leading to the United 24 fundraising page.

Navigating Mobility Data Space

Data is paramount to guide local governments’ actions towards a greener and digital future for transport systems. Establishing a common EU mobility data space will be essential to this task by optimising access to transport data and harmonising cities’ initiatives.

“We’re at the start of a very interesting adventure which may offer opportunities for public and private stakeholders to improve urban mobility in ways we may not have imagined yet,” Peter Staelens, the Head of Mobility at Eurocities said while speaking as a panelist of the ‘All you ever wanted to know about common European mobility data space’ event.

Staelens urged transport practitioners to put inhabitants front and centre in all their sustainable mobility efforts. “We want to foster a shift towards sustainable mobility, but first we need to understand how people move around, to what extent they’re willing to change and the real needs of users from different backgrounds,” the Head of Mobility said.

Peter Staelens at Urban Mobility Days
Peter Staelens (in red) on stage. Photo: Urban Mobility Days

With their decades-long experience in sustainable transport, local governments are spearheading efforts to make sustainable mobility systems not just data-driven but also human-centric. “We should tap into cities’ experience to integrate mobility data with social, health and other indicators to better respond to people’s needs,” Staelens encouraged the audience.  

As data takes centre stage in the wider green transition, Justine Gangneux, Eurocities’ Project Coordinator, contributed to developing recommendations for the Data Space for the Smart and Sustainable Cities and Communities initiative aimed at advancing the EU Green Deal Goals.

How do we measure progress on urban transport?

Given the importance of data, in a few years’ time, major European cities and metropolitan areas will be expected to collect urban mobility indicators – that is, a combination of figures and statistics that help municipalities measure the impact of their mobility policies and practices. The indicators also allow local authorities to track their transport plans’ progress and compare it with other cities.

With the EU set to establish common standard procedures for data gathering across the Union, the topic was actively discussed at the Sustainable Urban Mobility Indicators session. The debate concentrated on local governments’ best practices which can provide inspiration to EU legislators as they formulate the new rules.

Prague, for example, created a so-called ‘problem map’ to visualise data collected on the territory and inspire future urban mobility actions, panellist Thomas Lymes, Eurocities’ Policy Advisor for Mobility and Air Quality highlighted.

Thomas Lymes on stage at Urban Mobility Days
Thomas Lymes on stage. Photo: at Urban Mobility Days

During the session, the conversation focussed on the challenges lying ahead, including the upcoming revision of the Trans-European Transport Network. Also known as TEN-T, this EU policy refers to the transport connections that run across the European continent, linking cities, regions and territories by air, land and water.

Urban mobility indicators will be paramount to inform the choices of hundreds of cities located along the TEN-T corridors. Though this is a positive development for municipalities, Lymes called for a more collaborative approach among all parties involved – including EU member states – to help local governments improve their data collection methods.

“Collaboration is crucial for cities that will become urban nodes under the TEN-T Regulation revision. Eurocities guides municipalities through this process and offers them a platform to share best practices on collecting mobility indicators,” Lymes added.

Expanding sustainable mobility beyond local governments

Moving is a bit like breathing: people do it all the time – to go to work, school, home, a concert, shopping or reach the place of myriad other activities.

With transport touching so many aspects of city life, sustainable urban mobility cannot be the sole responsibility of municipalities. Workplaces, local businesses, universities, and event organisers can help local governments to switch away from a car-centric mentality and change travellers’ patterns.

Companies, for example, can encourage employees to opt for walking, cycling or shared mobility rather than driving to work. In turn, municipalities can assist companies in developing plans that best meet employees’ needs; for example, by offering financial incentives to those commuting to work more sustainably.  The concept, known as mobility management, is central to green transport efforts; so much so that Urban Mobility Days dedicated an entire session to it.

Eurocities' Juan Caballero speaking on stage at Urban Mobility Days
Eurocities’ Juan Caballero speaking on stage. Photo: Urban Mobility Days

Panellists speaking at the Best of Mobility Management Actions event included Eurocities’ Juan Caballero, European Mobility Week Campaign Manager, who invited participants to look at municipalities’ different roles. Besides helping businesses with their mobility management plans, “cities are themselves employers. Every day, hundreds of staff travel to and from their offices at the municipality. Cities are also event organisers, so when planning for an event, they need to offer green transport alternatives,” Caballero told the audience.

“Finally, cities are public buyers – to further promote green transport, they can make sustainable mobility and goods delivery solutions mandatory when setting public procurement rules,” Caballero added.

Interestingly, when invited to provide successful mobility management examples, all audience members listed initiatives developed by cities, highlighting local governments’ trailblazing role in this field.

Since 2022, European Mobility Week – the EU Commission’s awareness-raising campaign on sustainable urban mobility – boasts a dedicated award recognising civil society and business’ mobility management actions. Applications for this year’s Mobility Action prize will be open until 31 October 2023.

You can click here to learn more and apply. 

A fresh start for the CIVITAS community

The idea that cities can draw great inspiration from each other is at the heart of the CIVITAS Replication and Deployment programme.

Arianna Americo launching the CIVITAS Replication and Deployment programme at Urban Mobility Days 2023
Arianna Americo launching the CIVITAS Replication and Deployment programme at Urban Mobility Days 2023

Arianna Americo, Forum and Project Coordinator at Eurocities, launched a new call at Urban Mobility Days inviting municipalities to express an interest in joining the Replication and Deployment programme. Among all candidates, CIVITAS will select 12 challenge cities and 24 champion cities whose mission is to address urban sustainable mobility issues together.

Challenge cities will jump-start their green mobility journey by harnessing champion cities’ expertise, replicating their best practices and adapting them to their individual experiences.

“Peer-to-peer exchanges are at the core of Eurocities’ identity. The CIVITAS replication and deployment programme can offer cities all over Europe the opportunity to tap into the knowledge generated by the CIVITAS initiative, where municipalities have been testing innovative mobility solutions for more than 20 years”, Americo explained.

To learn more and apply, click here.

With the establishment of the CIVITAS Projects Exchange Programme, Eurocities also achieved another significant milestone. Projects currently implemented under the CIVITAS Initiative umbrella have been grouped in thematic clusters to foster exchange of ideas and best practices and avoid duplication of efforts.

Eurocities is leading this work within CIVITAS and aims at creating a dynamic platform for projects to share findings, results, and innovative solutions as well as identifying common challenges.

The CIVITAS thematic clusters will cover topics such as sustainable urban freight and logistics, new mobility services, public transport, urban public space design, governance and integrated planning.

By bringing together experts on these themes, the clusters will act as a coordination mechanism to gather insights on the latest trends in urban mobility innovation, scope areas of cooperation in terms of knowledge-sharing, capacity building as well as advancing policy recommendations.

A tram in Seville
A tram in Seville. Photo: Yuliya Matuzava

Defining the future

The 2023 Urban Mobility Days in Seville addressed the dynamic shift in Europe’s urban mobility landscape. Eurocities, in its central role, has spotlighted the imperative of collaborative efforts with the local level in redefining sustainable transport. The monumental launch of the European cycling declaration and initiatives like the CIVITAS Replication and Deployment programme signify the advent of a more holistic approach to mobility, emphasising both innovation and inclusivity.

As Europe’s Green Deal plan marches forward, these discussions set the tone for a future where mobility is not just a means of transportation but a pathway to a sustainable, more connected continent. Eurocities takes centre-stage at such events to underscore that the best way forward is to come together, championing shared knowledge, best practices, and collective ambition.

The next edition of Urban Mobility Days will take place in 2025.



Daniela Berretta Eurocities Writer