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Green groups aim to reclaim cities from cars

Basel is affected by a lot of traffic, say campaigners

(Keystone)

The first of five initiatives across Switzerland aimed at stopping cars clogging up urban areas has been launched in Basel.

The move, by traffic and environment group umverkehR, aims to increase the use of public transport and bicycles in these cities by ten per cent in the next decade.

To highlight the launch members of umverkerR and other organisations gathered at Basel's Heuwaage Viaduct, a notoriously busy part of the city, where they unfurled a ten-metre banner showing a picture of what the city would be like with no cars.

"Traffic is continuously increasing in cities and agglomerations and at some point the amount of car traffic will no longer be supported," umverkehR's Yvonne Joos told swissinfo.

"The public transport, pedestrian and cycle infrastructure is already pretty good but it could be greatly improved and we want more people to change from their cars to other means of transport," she added.

Joos is coordinating the initiatives – the next one will be launched in Zurich next week, followed by Lucerne, St Gallen and Winterthur in the summer.

For Lena Girard, of the Basel section of umverkehR, the city has particular traffic problems.

"It's a small city but a huge amount of people live here and there are just too many cars for this area," she said.

Life quality and environment

The organisation says that fewer cars will mean a better quality of life for urban residents in Switzerland with less pollution and noise, and be better for the environment.

It claims that a modern tram offers room for 253 passengers, roughly equivalent to the number transported by 210 cars in morning traffic.

Joos is confident the initiative will gain support. "Not everyone will want to leave their car at home, but if the frequency of public transport was increased, the links were good and one could get quickly from A to B, I'm convinced people would change."

More people would be encouraged to use bikes if it were not so dangerous and there were more bicycle paths, she added. According to an article published by the Basler Zeitung newspaper earlier this week, people in Basel and Zurich are turning their backs on city cycling over safety concerns.

Stephanie Fuchs, director of the Basel city and country section of the Swiss Transport and Environment Association, agreed that on the whole public transport was good in Switzerland.

"But this also comes from the fact that it is a small country," she told swissinfo.

"There is still a lot to do in Switzerland. We have to set our own standards, we can't compare ourselves with other countries and rest on our laurels."

Politics

For Fuchs, the political world is not doing enough, especially in light of recent environmental reports warning of too much pollution.

The initiatives are at the moment regional, but Fuchs could eventually see a nationwide vote on the issue. Still under consideration is whether French-speaking Geneva will take part in the city initiatives.

For their part, Basel residents approached by swissinfo said they would largely favour the plans. But some said they still wanted to use their cars.

The motoring organisation, the Touring Club of Switzerland, said that it was still too early to comment on the initiatives, which are just being launched. "We consider public transport well financed," said spokesman Stephan Müller.

The government has recently supported two new high-speed rail links through the Alps for freight. It has said that it wants to continue its plans to expand public transport.

umverkerR says traffic investments will have to be made and this would be more efficient if spent on public transport. It would not necessarily mean more funding from the government or cantons but a different allocation.

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson in Basel

Key facts

UmverkehR (a word play on Verkehr, the German word for traffic) is an environmental organisation that has around 6,000 members.
Its French name is active-traffiC and in Italian, Straffico.
The group, which has its headquarters in Zurich, is not affiliated to any political party.
Founded in 1990, it lobbies for increased use of public transport.

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Cities initiatives

The city initiatives are aimed at stopping traffic "chaos" and improving quality of life in urban areas, through air better air quality, less noise and traffic jams, as well as by offering better bike paths and public transport.

It also wants better use made of existing main roads. New routes or improvements to main arteries should only come if traffic is reduced elsewhere, says the organisation.

Five cities – Zurich, Basel, St Gallen, Lucerne and Winterthur – are involved.

umverkehR says cities are the main traffic problem. It says going by foot, public transport or bicycle is a better alternative.

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