“It is important to calm the traffic and that the bicycle can be more permeable in the whole of the city”

Interviewing Joana María Seguí, Professor of Human Geography and Director of the Interdisciplinary Mobility Observatory of the Balearic Islands, UIB (University of the Balearic Islands).


What should we talk about when we refer to Sustainable Mobility?

Mobility capable of meeting society’s needs for freedom of movement, but without compromising other present or future human or environmental values. Sustainable mobility must above all be mobility for people, so it must protect pedestrians, cyclists or scooter users. Sustainable mobility must also improve public transport, which allows universal and therefore equitable access to goods and services. Sustainable mobility will therefore also be more efficient, as it offers greater transport capacity and therefore consumes less energy.

Do you think the term is being appropriated to cover forms of mobility that are still not sustainable?

Sometimes yes, for example with electric mobility. It is not possible to replace the current fleet of vehicles based on fossil fuel consumption by the same but with electric batteries. The transport and city model will be the same, although it is true that emissions will be lower. The problem is to manage the presence of cars in cities.

In your case, you have focused a large part of your research on mobility in the Balearic Islands. What would be the current diagnosis that could be made today in the islands regarding the progress towards new mobility? What can we expect in the future?

It is not easy to radically change the transport model, i.e. the modes of transport that make the most of commuting. The development of motorization in the Balearic Islands happened thanks to private transport. The car/road was the binomial of travel, based on the expansion of infrastructures, without regard for other actions on the territory. The train has been dismantled and government policy in favor of more sustainable mobility is very recent and started around the turn of the century. In recent years, many efforts have been made to promote intercity public transport, intermodality, touristic corridors, banning private vehicles in specific sections, etc., including limiting the number of vehicles accessing Formentera. The way to sustainability, including tourism travel, must be maintained and expanded. The island territory is small and very vulnerable.

Particularly in the case of Mallorca, it is worth mentioning the current transport aspects: the bus-HOV lane, the construction of the new tramway and the announcement of free public transport in 2023. What impact do you think each will have? Will this promote more sustainable mobility?

These roads are geared towards the ambitious goal of removing as many cars as possible from the city’s main thoroughfares and reducing their presence on the roads. Whether public transport or carpooling will get you there faster, like in many other cities, is a matter of time. There must be good planning for each action and good communication to the public to justify and explain the measure. The new tramway will allow faster urban travel, and for this reason alone, it becomes a mode that attracts demand, as it will run on separate tracks throughout its route. Free travel by 2023 should lead to greater use of public transport, which must be accompanied by greater capacity, as demand increases and can lead to frustration. In addition, in no case should the same level of traffic be maintained, but public transport should absorb the traffic jams generated by the overuse of private transport.

Where should private motor vehicles be placed in a city like Palma? 

Access should be provided for residents and for freight transport to businesses and services. Passing traffic looking for parking should be gradually eliminated, as well as short trips of less than 15 minutes that should be made on foot. At the urban level, proximity should be generated to satisfy the demand for goods and services so that motorized modes are not necessary. Peripheral and dissuasive parking, in good combination with public transport lines, should allow residents and foreigners to be unable to access the city center by car.  

One of the main protagonists of the new mobility dynamics is the electric scooter, with an increasingly widespread use, but with higher accident rates and road violations than bicycles in urban environments. What role should this type of vehicle play in the mobility of the future?

They are an alternative to bikes, but also to electric bikes, and they simply have to respect the established circulatory rules. What causes accidents is regulatory indiscipline. Scooters and bikes should be able to travel on roads where they co-exist with the car, which should facilitate traffic. With the expansion of the 30 zones, this should be possible.

One of the pillars that will mark the future of mobility in Spain will come from the new Mobility Law that will be implemented soon. It includes a section that will force some companies to have a Sustainable Transport to Work Plan. What should companies do to promote more sustainable mobility dynamics among their employees?

Empowering their employees to use carpooling or access to the workplace through public transport could be carried out through economic and/or social incentives, for example, to make change attractive. Bonuses, incentives, parking reservations for cars with higher occupancy, etc… The Son Castelló industrial estate in Palma has the metro line that crosses it and yet it is used very little by the people who work there. 

A common political catchphrase to promote sustainable mobility refers to the number of kilometers of bike lanes built during a legislature. However, what else does an urban environment need to be considered a truly cycling-friendly space?

Fewer cars on the roads and, as I have already said, calmer traffic, to make cycling more attractive and safer.

In 2016, you published an article with other researchers analyzing the public bike system in Palma, with unflattering results at the time, representing 10% of the total number of cycling commuters within the city. Do you think it has improved since then?

Now, in recent weeks, the switch to a more digital system and the presence of electric bicycles is underway. The increase in bike lanes and the change of system may contribute to increased use. In any case, it is important to calm down traffic so that bicycles can become more permeable throughout the city, can occupy more space and make it safe. Palma is a city with few uneven slopes that allows a high use of this mode of transport.

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