In June 2016 Polotsk joined the international CIVITAS network, which spreads best practices in eco-friendly and sustainable transport among cities. Already in September 2016 members of the Working and Public groups involved in mobility development in Polotsk took part in CIVITAS Forum in Gdynia, in order to see transport solutions with their own eyes and take over the valuable experience from foreign colleagues.
Polotsk became the first Belarusian became to have joined the CIVITAS network. This will provide the city with additional opportunities in development “green” and at the same time sustainable and comfortable transport. These are exactly the principles included in Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan, worked out for Polotsk.
Among visitors to Gdynia were members of Working and Public Working groups on mobility development in Polotsk, including Sergei Leichenko, Deputy Chairman of Polotsk District Executive Committee, officials from Polotsk District Executive Committee, Polotsk bus depo, media, activists of cycling society Velo Novopolotsk, and student architectural association NASA, as well as managers from Interakcia Foundation, which acts as Polotsk partner in the project on mobility develoment.
CIVITAS is a European initiative, appeared back in 2002, as a mechanism of enabling cities develop “green”, safe and sustainable transport infrastructure. Its essential parts are testing, implementation of new approaches and methods, assessment of results and further sharing experience between the cities-participants. The network includes representatives of local authorities and NGOs, experts in transport sphere, activists from cycling communities from 250 cities, among them cities outside the European Union. All the knowledge and methods compiled within CIVITAS network are later presented at yearly conferences.
The 3 days were very productive. Belarusian participants met Marek Stępa, Deputy Mayor of Gdynia and leant a lot about the city’s focus on mobility. Since Gdynia, like Polotsk, was the first in it’s country to have signed the Covenant of Mayors, local authorities are aiming to develop the transport system as not only comfortable but also more ecologically friendly, energy effective and therefore use renewable sources of energy. But as Marek Stępa noted, changes should be introduced gradually, taken the mentality and habits of the citizens into account.
The city can boast a wide network of bicycle lanes, active usage of public transport, e-buses and e-bikes. Currently, Sopot, Gdansk and Gdynia are engaged in the project called TRISTAR on development of Intelligent Transport System (ITS). The project is supposed to solve the main transport problems of the three cities: conjunctions, frequent road accidents, and lack of up-to-date data on public transport. So, it includes 4 integrated systems for transport management — public transport management, road accidents management, data on transport and cargo traffic.
Some global tendencies mentioned at the conference are so evident and rapidly developing that cannot be ignored, like decreasing usage of personal automobiles (and creating more and more mobile applications as an alternative - for instance ones that help book a car or plan a day journey with several kinds of transport), car-sharing (with emerging websites for elderly people who own a car and give a lift to the same elderly ones not having a car), usage of e-buses, introducing pollution fees and other methods of tackling traffic jams. Participants from Polotsk learnt about mechanisms for working with community representatives opinion-makers. Social media play an essential role here, giving the place for each citizen or activist to express their opinion, report on the problem or accident, share their test-drive on the bike lane, or take part in an online poll (like practiced in Aachen, Germany).
In Gdynia one activist from Velo Novopolotsk community and one representative of the Polotsk bus park made a test-drive on e-bikes on the local bicycle lanes. The latter here are of three types: classic city lanes, mountain lanes and recreational. The cyclists’ rights are vividly respected in Gdynia, and cyclists are even being counted. The bike lanes are clearly defined throughout the whole city (including bridges and the city exit).
Conference participants were also offered to test the barriers in the wheelchair. It appeared to be rather complicated.
As for Polotsk, it’s Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan has already been developed. It will be publicly presented at the start of 2017, and will be implemented up to 2020. The Plan was worked out as part of the project From Energy Efficiency to Urban Mobility, being realised by Interakcia Foundation Polotsk Executive Committee with financial support of the European Union.