Züleyxa Izmailova: Let's ban pollution in the city, not mobility

Züleyxa Izmailova
Züleyxa Izmailova Source: Kalev Lilleorg

For every need in the city, there must be an alternative to cars. This is the essence of transport diversification. Amongst all of this, pedestrians should not be forgotten, because, ultimately what binds multimodality together is the human engine, writes Züleyxa Izmailova (Eesti 200).

For a long time, architects, as well as urban and transport planners in Estonia, have been thinking about mobility instead of traffic, especially in Tallinn. When I was organizing engagement meetings in the city administration, I vividly recall a meeting about Main Street (Peatänav), where deputy mayor Kalle Klandorf (Center) and Tõnis Savi, an architect and one of the authors of the Bicycle Strategy, clashed due to their differences of opinion (on the issue).

Reducing the number of cars in the city

Apparently, he need for development is now better understood than it was then, as it was only that recently (Tallinn) deputy mayor Vladimir Svet (Center), mentioned multimodality when talking about the need to rebuild Pärnu maantee. Unfortunately, and rather strangely, restricting (the street) to public transport, but nevertheless (he mentioned it).

It will soon be a year since the (last) local elections. As a result of those elections, the Social Democrats are now working with the Center Party in Tallinn. New blood has been brought into the capital's government in the form of deputy mayors for urban planning and enterprise. These are very important positions, and it is good to see, that from among the possible options, it is new people filling them.

As deputy mayor for the environment in Tallinn, I often clashed with those colleagues during cabinet meetings, who were reluctant to go for significantly greener options (Izmailova was a Tallinn deputy mayor with responsibility for environmental issues from November 2017 to April 2019, representing the Estonian Greens – ed.). Be it the construction of a hundred solar parks on the roofs of city-owned buildings or the Main Street (peatänav) project.

As a green deputy mayor, I would have been delighted if, instead of (former Tallinn Mayor Andrei) Novikov's (Center) traditional, car-centric thinking, the urban planning office had been represented by someone with the experience of Madle Lippus (SDE). However, in recent weeks, there have been several successive ideas from the SDE in Tallinn, which involve banning things from the city.

Deputy mayor Joosep Vimm (SDE), with whom we protested outside the Superministry in Tallinn against Elron's introduction of bicycle fares (on trains) as recently as last summer, has now set his sights on restricting night-time use of electric scooters.

The party that, ahead of the elections campaigned for a night mayor and night buses, has, instead of offering real solutions, started to restrict freedoms.

Bolt recently celebrated its tenth anniversary, and on this occasion was reminded of the goal it has been fighting for: to reduce the number of cars in cities. I think it is a serious problem, and (Bolt co-founders) Martin and Markus Villig's approach is the right one - to create a rental market that is easier, quicker and cheaper than owning a car. These entrepreneurs saw the problem and set about solving it. However, when a politician sees a problem and sets out to solve it, he or she seems to do so by implementing bans and orders.

The idea of banning cars over 20 years old in certain areas has also been mooted, although the noise and air pollution problem, which (the proposed solution) attempts to address, is a national one. The problem is so serious that, in some places, residents have to endure noise levels several times above the norm.

Traffic noise causes chronic health problems for the citizens of Tallinn, at a cost of at least €126.5 million per year. But even if the use of vehicles which are over 20 years old is banned tin the city, unfortunately the noise levels will not be reduced, as they will be replaced in droves by newer cars.

For too many people, especially those travelling (into the city) from further afield, public transport is still not a viable alternative and, until it is, change will be difficult to implement.

Let's ban pollution, not mobility

Moving around Tallinn, you come across (plastic) packaging lying around at almost every turn, which eventually end up in the sea. And, while reusable alternatives to single-use plastic containers are well-established, plastic cups and other containers from petrol stations and fast-food chains continue to litter our urban spaces and green areas. Why don't we hear of any politicians proposing to restrict their sale? This would not only have benefits for the environment, but also for many people's health.

Before imposing restrictions on people's movement (in the city), it is the  municipality's responsibility to ensure that citizens have access to basic public mobility services. This includes real (not just planned) cycle path, accompanied by infrastructure to support cyclin in the form of cycle parks. High quality public transport around the clock, whether paid or free, as well urban spaces that facilitate (cars traveling at) lower speeds and help reduce the number of serious road accidents, while also encouraging people to try other ways of getting around.

For every need in the city, there must be an alternative to cars. Amongst all of this, pedestrians should not be forgotten, because, ultimately what binds multimodality together is the human engine,

But if the desire to ban something is so great, then let's ban air-pollution, noisy leaf blowers and fireworks. It's obvious, almost nobody likes them.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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