Europe

Authorities in Krakow and its residents come together to fight air pollution

The Polish city of Krakow dates back to the 7th century. It has a lot of history and there are many places in this ancient place that have remained unchanged for centuries. However, there are also places that have changed a lot in recent years. Signs of these changes are becoming more and more visible, like the abundance of cars on the roads for example.

Lukasz Franek, the director of the Public Transport Board in Krakow says there are now 700 cars per 1000 inhabitants and the city was not built for this many cars. “We just don”t fit in with these cars. Our streets in the historic part of the town are not as wide as in Warsaw, Wrocław and Poznań”, he adds.

With almost a million inhabitants, the city now has a problem with air quality and pollution is being fought on all fronts.

Pollution fighting initiatives

The city now has a deliberate policy in place to push private cars out of the centre and some streets are only open to residents, cyclists and scooters.

Krakow has one of Poland’s largest footbridges for pedestrians and cyclists.

It has also launched an electric public bicycle system as part of the EU’s Low-Carb project. We caught up with one of the city’s residents, Marek Rybarczyk, who is a regular user of the public bike system. He is happy with the price as “they’re free”, he says with a smile. But more seriously, he thinks they’re located in convenient places and he loves the fact that they’re electric.

Opponents

Changes to the organisation of traffic in Krakow have their opponents. They are mainly entrepreneurs from designated Clean Transport Zones. In these areas, deliveries of goods to restaurants and shops are allowed only at certain hours and clients are not allowed to drive there at all. Entrepreneurs say that this has a direct impact on their income.

Izabela Bobula is an entrepreneur from the Kazimierz district, where these restrictions are in place. She tells us that “when people buy a lot of things, they prefer to drive somewhere by car where they can buy everything in one place and they do not have to carry their purchases in bags or in trolleys.”

The authorities in Krakow say that they are aware of this and although they do not intend to change the path towards cleaner air, they admit that they will take further steps only after consultations with residents.

These consultations are expected to take place towards the end of the year or the beginning of next year. According to Andrzej Kulig, the deputy mayor of Krakow, “discussing urban mobility issues is crucial” to the mayor. He further states that they don’t want to do anything top-down because they want to work together with the locals.

A time for talks

The climate for talks was eased by the COVID-19 pandemic. When many residents started working remotely and fewer cars appeared on the streets, the air quality in Krakow showed an immediate and significant improvement. everyone was in favour of this.

In some districts, Krakow wants to implement the idea of a 15-minute city.

The goal of this is initiative is to have everything people need within a 15-minute walk or bike. For this, the authorities would need the green light from the city’s inhabitants.

This story is part of Mobility Week on Euronews. From September 13th – 17th 2021 we are exploring the trends shaping the future of transport and personal mobility. See more stories here.

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