Klaipėda talks sustainable transport at the Port City Environmental Forum

May 22, 2021
Quiet evening in Klaipeda
Photo from Wikicommons
By Eko Diena in 

Klaipeda has big ambitions to be a green city, and right now they are up for discussion at the Port City Environmental Forum.

The forum is a series of events, organised by the Green Policy Institute, that aim to bring together experts from the the public and private sectors, as well as representatives of non-governmental organisations for a joint discussion on the future of Klaipeda as a green city. It is made up of three events, two seminars and a final conference.

The second seminar, held last Wednesday (19th May) focused on the future of green transportation in the city: "A sustainable journey through the city streets - is a mission (not) possible?"

Here is our quick look at some of the questions and ideas raised at the sustainable transportation seminar...

When will there be no traffic congestion, and when will polluting cars be replaced by green transport?

Traffic congestion formed during peak hours is becoming an increasing headache for the residents of large Lithuanian cities and local governments. Transport and green policy experts discussed how to encourage citizens to travel more often on foot or in environmentally friendly vehicles.

The participants of the seminar agreed that in order to change the travel habits of the population, it is necessary to create a safe, convenient and fast public transportation system, and that this also requires changes in the infrastructure.

Justas Ingelevičius, an architect who assessed the sustainability of the Klaipėda city transport system, a member of the Council of the Lithuanian Cycling Community and an expert in sustainable mobility, drew attention to the importance of proper maintenance of pedestrian and bicycle paths. He also noted that it is not enough to just install new bike lanes, they also need to be connected into a common system that would allow cyclists to move comfortably without major obstacles.

Moving to green public transport

Urban public transport should be climate-neutral. For example, electric buses manufactured here have already been running through the streets of Klaipėda for some time. According to Alvydas Naujekas, General Director of Vėjo projektai, ‘Dancer’ electric buses running in the port city contribute to the reduction of air pollution, and they have already saved carbon emissions of around 136 tons compared to conventionally powered buses.

According to A. Naujėkas, the breakthrough in electric transport began about four years ago, but when it comes to heavy transport, like trucks and buses, the sector is still in its infancy. In 2018, 95 percent of buses across European cities were powered by diesel fuel. Last year, around 8,000 electric buses ran in European cities, which is only about 1%. It is projected that by 2050 their number will reach 77,000. It is expected that in five years we will hit a turning point, with fewer diesel buses than electric or other renewable energy vehicles.

Planning for an electric car boom

Forecasts for electric cars are more ambitious. According to Simonas Ramanauskas, the head of Busnex, a company representing electric vehicles, the number of electric vehicles currently registered in Lithuania is approaching 3,000, but the plan is to increase this number to about 230,000 over the next decade. The number of charging stations in the country is a real problem, currently only around 450, but that is expected to increase to 60,000 over the same timeframe.

When reviewing the prospects for a switch to electric cars, Ramanauskas shared the example of Norway, where about 400,000 emission free vehicles are already running, and where in 2025 there will be a total ban on the sale of new vehicles with internal combustion engines. Other European countries, like The Netherlands have similar goals, set to come into force a little alter in 2030.

Klaipeda has award winning ambitions

A few years ago, the Klaipeda city sustainable mobility plan was approved, and the city even won a Future City Award for the most ambitious vision of sustainable mobility. According to the head of the transport department of Klaipeda city municipality, Lina Žemaitytė, this plan consists of 54 measures, most of them are already being implemented, and some have been completed. The main priorities are the development of public transport, the promotion of non-motorized transport and sustainable car traffic.

Speaking about the development of public transport, she said that one of the most significant achievements was the approved plan for the renewal of public transport. The municipality promises to ensure that by 2030 only clean public transport will run in the old town. They are planning to buy 10 new electric buses this year, and another ten in 2022.

The failing(?) example of Tallinn

The seminar also looked at the example of Tallinn, where public transport is free. Experts questioned the effectiveness of this idea, as research shows that real results have not been achieved in the Estonian capital.

According to Ieva Budraitė, an expert from the Green Policy Institute, since the introduction of free transport in Tallinn, the number of people using public transport has increased, but they are those who usually chose to travel on foot or by bicycle, while car drivers have continued to stay behind the wheel. According to her, this proves that not only price but also the quality of public transport is important to increase the number of users. Lithuanian municipalities should also speed up the implementation of smaller, but opt-in, measures to motivate people to adopt electric cars, such as parking tax incentives or the possibility to drive in special traffic lanes.

Remigijus Lapinskas, President of the Green Policy Institute, urged cities to follow the example of Stockholm, where all public transport is already clean. According to him, there is a transformation in technology, people’s thinking and behavior these days, so the planning processes that are currently lacking are very important at this stage.

The challenges of freight transport in Klaipeda have not been solved

Renaldas Kulikauskas, the head of the Klaipėda Communities Association, drew attention to the fact that Klaipėda differs from other major Lithuanian cities due to its geographical location and the presence of the port. He expressed the opinion that Klaipėda lacks a balance between the interests of the port and the city itself.

According to him, Klaipeda State Seaport Authority directs most of the funds to the infrastructure for ships. At the same time, only a very small proportion of the money is being invested in the common roads on which a large proportion of freight arrives and departs.

He proposed addressing transport challenges in the port city by installing a southern bypass, restricting freight access to city streets (especially during peak hours), planning second level crossings, expanding green areas, cleaning streets more efficiently and increasing the responsibility of construction contractors, improving cycling infrastructure, redesigning public transport routes. and automating traffic.

Should the government assist?

Since the port serves not only Klaipeda itself, but also the whole country, in R. Lapinskas' opinion, the city management and residents should strive to connect all Lithuanian resources and the Government's capabilities in solving the problems caused by the port.

"We are pleased that the city has a sustainable mobility plan and plans to buy more electric buses. This is a very good practice and I am sure the pace will accelerate even more. On the other hand, we have well over 10,000 tugs running through the city every day. These are incomparable weights of what causes problems, and it is not quite adequate for what we are trying to solve” Lapinskas said.

The final conference of the Port City Environmental Forum will take place on June 9th.

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