We interviewed Giuseppe Grezzi, Councilor for Sustainable Mobility at the Valencia City Council, one of the cities that has become a benchmark of mobility in recent years.
Let’s start with some more personal questions. How do you get around the city?
I cycle around Valencia every day.
How did you start to claim sustainable mobility in the city of Valencia?
I arrived in Valencia in the summer of 2000 from Bologna, Italy. I used to cycle there regularly. So one of the first things I did when I landed here was to buy a bicycle. And from then on I began to become familiar with the city and its problems, thanks also to the membership of Valencia in BiciAcció Ecologista Agrò, which organized activities and actions to propose a friendlier city, with more sustainable mobility alternatives.
In just a few years, Valencia has become one of the leading cities in sustainable mobility in Spain. What has been the model to transform the city?
We knew that Valencia had a strong potential to become a more sustainable city. The starting conditions are optimal: compact, flat, with good weather, a citizenship eager to recover the right to their city. From then on, with a well thought-out project for the future, we won the 2015 elections and began to promote measures to reduce motorised traffic, traffic calming and pedestrianisation; a strong increase in investments in public transport; and the construction of cycle lanes to complete a capillary network that until then had been disconnected, not very intuitive and unsafe. In six years we have turned it around and now we are a benchmark city in Spain and abroad.
What are the biggest difficulties you have faced in implementing sustainable mobility solutions?
The key ones are the typical resistance of many social sectors, especially the business and trade, which are understandable especially at the beginning, but which doesn’t make to continue once the benefits of the proposed measures have been demonstrated. And, why not, there was also some misunderstanding within the government itself, due to fears that quickly proved unfounded. On top of all this, there is a certain lack of preparation of the administration to give adequate speed to the implementation of the projects, something that generates a lot of frustration among us and among the citizens as well. In any case, 6 years later, we have reached cruise speed.
Years ago the pedestrianization of streets, bike lanes or restrictions on cars in the city could become unpopular in their initial phase. Do you think this trend has changed?
My feeling is yes. Also because, as I explained, the fears prove to be unfounded and the data show that there is a clear benefit. We had a real referendum in the 2019 elections, after 4 years of government: the citizens’ vote was polarised by the opposition parties around mobility issues. Well, the government came out stronger: my party, Compromís per València, even increased citizen support in the neighbourhoods where we built bike lanes.
Has there been much opposition from shopkeepers or neighbours to the changes that have been made in Valencia?
More than is desirable, without objective data to motivate the exaggerated protests.
Do you regret any project launched over the years?
None. The balance is very positive. The city has improved a lot and Valencia has become an example to be followed.
How far can cities go to displace the car from public space, and can we aspire to live in car-free cities?
I see it difficult. I also believe that there should and can be a residual presence of motorised vehicles, with as little pollution as possible, to meet the special needs of the people. A very high percentage of the remaining journeys can be made by combining other modes of travel, starting with walking.
What would you say to those who refuse to give up their car to commit to sustainable mobility in Valencia?
There are many material and even sociological circumstances that hold back the step, however there are very encouraging data that show that there is a change in trend. To those who are afraid or resistant to change, I would tell them to try to move in a different way, to calculate what it costs them to maintain the car. Now there are more and better options, they will feel it financially, in better air quality, in better health, in better shared spaces, in reduced emissions. All benefits!
Cultural change or forced change?
Both. However, from my experience as head of the Sustainable Mobility and Public Space Department, without forced change, no cultural change is possible. Or, if you like, cultural change is much slower, it requires some pushes.
What do you think is the best thing about reclaiming public space?
Everything: children playing, quiet and noise reduction, green areas, universal accessibility, etc etc….
What has Valencia done to increase cycling by more than 214%?
Built a capillary network, very well designed: safe, wide, interconnected, better signposted cycle lanes, with more bike parking infrastructure. It is also very important to promote cycling, for example we organise courses in schools, we organise bike fairs, concerts, bike rides, we promote knowledge of the results obtained by other cities. And, as I said, policies to discourage the car. Keynotes.
One of the biggest concerns of bicycle and scooter users in cities is safety. What can be done to build trust in urban bicycle parking facilities?
Indeed, it is one of the scourges that most discourage bicycle use. Obviously this is an insecurity situation that police forces must address with the highest priority. In the Sustainable Mobility Department we have carried out several campaigns to inform about the guidelines that must be followed when parking the bike, types of locks, ways of tying the bike to the bike racks, etc. The more bikes on the streets, the greater the dissuasion and the greater the feeling of security, something that is increasingly evident in Valencia.
Companies also have a key role in promoting sustainable mobility. How do you think they can contribute to this?
A great deal. They play a key role in promoting the use of bicycles for employee commuting, for example by providing bike racks in offices, transforming them into bike-friendly spaces. In many countries, cycling is even encouraged due to its obvious benefits, including employment and economic advantages. A good way would be to carry out company mobility plans, to find out the mobility needs and habits of employees, a good way to start improving them and generating improvements in productivity, as has been shown in many European countries.
The electric scooter is increasingly visible in cities, but the bicycle has presented an unprecedented sales rebound – are these two vehicles destined to be the major players in the city of tomorrow?
Their versatility and adaptation to new urban realities have made them upward mobility options. However, it is necessary to distinguish between one and the other: while the bike contributes to health, as it is active mobility, the scooter, on the other hand, has no ‘human’ traction and therefore results in non-active mobility, which in the long run may reduce the benefits of use. Although, of course, it is always more preferable to motorized vehicles.
Is the walk-by-bike-public transport triad the basis on which the mobility infrastructures of cities should be built?
Obviously! It is the basis on which we have to build the mobility pyramid of the 21st century. Only in this way will we be able to reverse the car engine paradigm that has been force in our cities for far too long. In our city we see ourselves heading in that direction, in fact València is walking towards the future.