The great winner of the European Commission’s Mobility Week Award in the smaller municipalities category (with less than 100,000 inhabitants), the city of Valongo is a model to Portugal and the whole of Europe when it comes to urban mobility initiatives and green policies.
Don’t be fooled by Valongo’s size. With just over 98,000 inhabitants and located a bit over 13km from Porto’s city centre, the city is a powerhouse when it comes to urban mobility and innovative initiatives to improve its citizens’ lives – from urban mobility to improving air quality, reducing noise pollution, and seeking to become carbon neutral.
From its pre-Roman settlements to Roman occupation and Barbarian invasions, leading to the Napoleonic invasion and finally, the years of the republic, Valongo’s past impacts its modern-day. And, as happens to any city with a rich and ancient history, urban planning is a challenge. Despite this, Valongo has persisted and is now collecting its well-deserved reward.
“This award aims to encourage and promote actions in favour of mobility and the environment. It was with great pleasure that we saw Valongo’s effort being recognised,” said José Manuel Ribeiro, Mayor of Valongo.
“I am very proud of the path we have been following up to now, and this award is undoubtedly a recognition of the several years of work we have been developing to improve mobility and the environment. This award shows us that it is worthwhile continuing to invest in awareness-raising initiatives, promoting sustainable mobility actions in a light and fun way, and implementing permanent measures to encourage a change in awareness and citizen behaviour.
It gives us a boost of confidence, to continue working harder and better,” he added.
Eurocities interviewed Mayor José Manuel Ribeiro to get to know a bit more about the city’s initiatives, challenges and the next steps on the path toward more sustainable and inclusive mobility.
Which projects led Valongo to be nominated and to win the European Commission’s Sustainable Urban Mobility Awards?
The municipality of Valongo has invested in sustainable urban mobility solutions, namely with the implementation of its Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan and the Municipal Plan of Accessibility for All.
We have been implementing permanent actions from which we highlight the increase and creation of pedestrian areas, the widening of pavements, the creation of wheelchair ramps, the improvement of sound and light signalling at traffic lights, the improvement of conditions for bus stops, the creation of infrastructures for bicycle parking, cycle paths and the urban cycling network, the creation of a pathway that intends to connect from the source to the mouth of a river of great importance to the metropolitan area of Porto and which crosses four municipalities – the river Leça –, the exchange of the municipal car fleet for electric ones, among other initiatives.
We also create awareness actions throughout the year, which take place all over the municipality through activities such as street theatre, the ‘Eco Cops Team’, actions directed to the youth by using interactive games, races and walks focused on mobility and sustainability, conferences on mobility, commemorative actions of the ‘European Car Free Day,’ and the implementation of the ‘Day with Train’.
In addition to these, Valongo, as the 2022 winner of the European Green Leaf award, has on its agenda several initiatives to increase sustainable urban mobility, aiming to highlight the benefits for the environment, and for the citizen’s health and life quality.
We joined the Green City Accord as a complementing long-term initiative to achieve our goals to provide cleaner air and avoid noise pollution for our citizens and we have also demonstrated our interest in integrating the Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities’ EU mission, supported by the project NetZeroCities.
Every year, we try to do more and better, faithful to a firm and consolidated strategy on the environment and mobility. Carbon neutrality is a major objective and we are taking consistent steps to achieve it. It is therefore with great pleasure that we see these efforts recognised, which also shows us the convergence and alignment of the municipality of Valongo with European strategies on this matter.
These actions were very well received by the community, with an average of 100 participants per activity, which shows the community’s willingness to learn more about new forms of sustainable mobility.
What are the main challenges faced in the process of project implementation?
The main challenge is undoubtedly the lack of resources to allow the necessary works to be carried out as soon as possible. The alternative is the phasing of the interventions, which often leads to a lack of understanding by the population and the need for intensive reinforcement in communication, awareness and involvement of all stakeholders, institutions, businesses and citizens in general.
On the other hand, the novelty, innovation and new challenges faced by the municipality (and by other municipalities) have led us to note gaps in specialised information and difficulties in selecting the best partners. Therefore, networking, sharing knowledge and experiences, the involvement of national and international institutions, the scientific community and also private companies and initiatives are decisive.
We have also been facing some inter-municipal constraints, such as the delay in contracting the public service of passenger road transport and the materialisation of other important investments for the municipality of Valongo.
What are the city’s next steps in improving its urban mobility?
The Municipality of Valongo, since 2017, has approved its Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP). This Plan defines the municipal strategy, regarding mobility, with direct and indirect impacts on the dynamics of the municipality, establishing a set of transversal measures and actions.
This includes the development of infrastructures and support services to soft modes of transport, the promotion and improvement of the conditions of collective transport supply, the requalification of public space, through the sharing of road space in safe conditions, particularly the implementation of the ‘Municipal Plan of Accessibility for All’ and of a bicycle path network, the reduction of road traffic impacts, the encouragement of the sustainable use of cars, as well as other actions on another scale, such as the articulation of territorial planning with transport planning and the adoption of concerted policies at a super municipal level.
The transformation of the municipality is a reality, which has been taking place on a daily basis and can be proven by observing the new interactions in the city. Besides the works in progress, such as the ‘House of Local Democracy‘ and the second phase of the ‘Pilgrim’s Way‘, significant alterations are expected in the very short term, in the centre of the towns of Valongo and Ermesinde.
The city also works on tactical urbanism actions and the re-ordering of automobile circulation, which will certainly change for the better the quality of life of the population, with the widening of pavements, the creation of spaces for socialising and leisure, the increase in parking spaces, also translating into improved conditions of access to local commerce.
In development, it is also worth mentioning the creation of a bicycle path that will link Ermesinde to Maia, co-financed by the Environmental Fund.
In the future, it will be to give continuity to the implementation of this ambitious plan, in its multiple aspects, since there is still a lot to do, and simultaneously proceed with an update of the SUMP itself. The theme of sustainable mobility has had an exponential evolution, and it is important to reconcile the intentions of the municipality with the technical and technological evolution, to meet the aspirations of the citizens of Valongo without neglecting the decarbonisation commitments assumed by this executive.