By Sara Arko, PhD, IRI UL
Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenia, located at the border between Central and Southeastern Europe (or, the Balkans, as vividly explained in this short video clip by the famous Slovenian philosopher, Slavoj Žižek). One of the smaller EU capitals with a population of slightly less than 300.000, Ljubljana exhibits the mixed influences of its past times: its densely built old town and its narrow cobblestone streets are located between the medieval Castle hill and the Ljubljanica river. Proverbial Austro-Hungarian neatness and style are reflected in the city centre’s visual image, resembling Vienna or Budapest on a smaller and walkable scale. And we mean walkable literally – while cars could still be seen rushing over the Three Bridges some 20 years ago, the centre has since been closed for traffic, which might mark the beginning of Ljubljana’s path towards sustainable(r) mobility. In 2016, Ljubljana was awarded the European Green Capital title, recognising its transformation.
At the outskirts of the city, on the other hand, neighbourhoods are dominated by blocks of flats, many built in the 2nd half of the 20th century to cater to Ljubljana’s growing population. And while the population is still growing, Ljubljana offering employment opportunities as well as being home to the largest Slovenian university with over 40.000 students, rising housing prices also contribute to the so-called urban sprawl.
Urban mobility projects and programmes aim to accelerate positive change in the way people move around cities to make urban spaces more liveable. The key developments and initiatives foreseen on EU’s path towards sustainable(r) urban mobility are aimed to lead in particular to improvements in air quality, the reduction in noise levels, lower congestion levels, improved safety, while also resulting in a number of socio-economic benefits for EU citizens. There have been several developments, which have created a positive impact on mobility in Ljubljana, including strategic and policy interventions. The two most impactful Ljubljana’s green achievements related to urban mobility are one of the most used bike-sharing systems in Europe per capita (BicikeLJ) and having a (motorised) traffic-free city centre since 2008.
Nevertheless, there are still challenges ahead, connected to decades-long prioritization of personal automobiles as the primary mode of transportation, impacting infrastructure development and spatial policies. Even though many of Ljubljana’s residents extensively use active travel modes to move around the city, there are approximately 150.000 daily migrants who enter and leave Ljubljana every day for work or study, while the urban sprawl disconnected from an attractive public transportation system likewise impacts the city’s daily traffic. Ljubljana is also lagging behind in terms of mobility digitalization, although one of the successfully implemented recent initiatives is the Avant2Go car-sharing system. An important challenge in transforming Ljubljana’s mobility is a large number of stakeholders that are involved, while there is also a strong pressure from the public that may see some of the incentives as largely unpopular (e.g., cost of parking, transformation of road lanes into public-transportation only etc.).
There are also some relevant projects, which have tackled urban mobility challenges in recent years, such as CIVITAS ELAN, or the TRIBUTE project, aiming to enhance capacity for integrated transport and mobility services and multimodality. An example of a project that also involved an educational element on primary school-level is the Active Travel to School and Healthy Cities project (led by IPoP – Institute for Spatial Policies). Urban mobility is also a topic which IRI UL has been addressing, specifically in the field of its integration into higher education teaching and learning (projects UCITYLAB and Active8-Planet). In both, urban mobility challenges have been placed at the centre of a problem-based teaching and learning process.
One thing is certain, though – sustainable urban mobility will not be achieved solely by a speedy integration of new technologies or infrastructural tweaks: a crucial part of the process will be tackling the social practices and supporting lifestyle change through a diversity of initiatives. Therefore, there is a need for a people- and planet-centred approach and we are looking forward to contributing our bit within the UCAMP project!