Lockdown has been positive in some ways. Over the past year, as more people stopped their morning commute, less trips were made to see friends and families, and holidays were cancelled, there were several unforeseen benefits for city life across Europe. Less noise. Cleaner air. A more natural and calm urban public space. In fact, for many people, it was eye opening just how quickly they felt the benefits of a healthy urban environment.
In Riga, which hosts the largest number of jobs in Latvia, drawing in a significant number of daily commuters from neighbouring regions, this takes on a deeper resonance. As such, the city of Riga is eager to learn lessons from the pandemic, and to use the proposed EU recovery funds to continue its evolution into a green capital, while easing the travel burden for commuters.
“Without this type of project, the urban sprawl will continue,” said Vilnis Ķirsis, Vice Mayor of Riga (image). “The quality of life in Riga would deteriorate, there is a risk that residents would continue to leave the central part of the city, as more continue to move to nearby municipalities, and would come to Riga for work only with their private cars.”
With this in mind, the plans submitted by Riga to the national government, which amount to almost €150 million, centre on the creation of a joined-up city network of transport and mobility infrastructure. Included in the plans, for instance, is the creation of a single purchase transport ticket to work across the various services and regional municipalities.
“The reform of the current public transport system will also foresee a reduction of the carbon dioxide emissions of the transport sector and will significantly improve the sustainable, safe and efficient public transport services available to the residents and visitors of Riga in general,” commented Ķirsis. Morover, this links to the direction of the new political leadership of the city that wants to promote an ambitious climate neutrality agenda.
In the proposals, the creation of six new mobility points at railway stations, are intended to improve the connections to ‘green’ transport (trolleybuses, trams, zero-emission buses), as well as providing convenient and safe access to railway stations. For example, at the upgraded Sarkandaugava railway station, a new passenger terminal would connect with the existing trolleybus stop next to the railway station, as well as to an extended tram line and new bus terminal to connect new routes. In addition to this, two more points in the wider Riga region will also be improved.
A brand-new bus metro line (to Dreiliņi) will significantly improve the capacity and speed of the public transport services from the suburbs. Moreover, the creation of a bicycle path alongside it will give additional options to commuters – perfect for those who wish to continue with a new, healthy, lifestyle, or for maintaining physical distancing when necessary.
The city administration will support recent shifts in people’s habits, by introducing more green areas and bicycle lanes. Therefore, expanding cycling infrastructure is a key element of the city’s proposals: €35 million is earmarked to establish new cycle paths connecting Riga with its wider region – to Ulbroka and Kekava, for example.
The hopes do not stop there: the purchase of new low floor trams and zero emission electric busses would both embrace Riga’s proposed green city model, while breaking down some of the barriers experienced by those with disabilities.
Other key investment areas that the city hopes to get support for include increasing the energy efficiency of buildings and bio-waste management systems.
In sum, Riga is dreaming big: for a greener future for its residents and visitors, and, according to Ķirsis, early talks with the national ministry of transport have been positive. Perhaps not everything will be accepted, but soon Riga could be on its way to a greener, more connected, urban landscape.
#TalkWithCities – Europe’s recovery will start in cities, and they’re ready to invest in new infrastructure, culture, research and sustainable mobility. The EU is prepared to distribute funds for this recovery to member states, but 70% of cities surveyed by Eurocities believe the national consultation process has been insufficient as it has failed to adequately involve cities. Find out why Europe’s leaders must talk with cities.