In cities, we rely on various means of transport to get from one place to another. Transport is also needed to move food and other goods to stores (see Challenge 2 on sustainable food supply). Although transport has evolved by leaps and bounds technologically, the last several decades have seen an overreliance on single-occupancy vehicles.
Use the activities below to design a teaching session on green transport.
Explain to your students how the high volume of cars on the roads results in severe environmental and health impacts, and that cars are uneconomical — from both an individual and a societal perspective. As cities grow and become increasingly important centres of activity, the demand for efficient, versatile transport grows. Compared to single-occupancy cars, alternatives such as public transport, shared mobility (e.g. car pooling and car sharing) and cycling are more efficient, less polluting, less expensive and often faster.
Describe how a key problem in larger cities in Europe is traffic congestion, which occurs when roads have to accommodate more vehicles than they’re designed for. In practice, this means that morning and evening commutes take longer than they should. In Europe’s most congested city, Brussels, the average person loses 83 hours a year due to congestion, or more than half an hour every workday.
Begin an open discussion with your students about the advantages and disadvantages of private cars. How much of the urban infrastructure in your city is dedicated to prioritising private cars? What are the impacts of “car culture” on society? Would the introduction of electric vehicles solve all car-related problems?
Along with the enormous use of space for roads and parking, cars:
Begin the discussion by explaining to your students how urban density allows people to work, develop, research and evolve in a relatively small area. Point out to them, however, that more and more space is needed for housing, which often results in the creation of suburban areas and residential districts, leading to urban sprawl. Transportation from outlying areas is especially difficult and creates an incredible amount of pollution. This results in massive environmental damage.
Ask your students to think of possible solutions (e.g. high-rise buildings; more but smaller cities; improved public transport).
Divide your students into groups of four. In each group, ask two students to take on the role of parents (their own or imaginary) who use a car as their primary mode of transport. The other two or three students in each group represent themselves (as children), trying to persuade their “parents” to reduce car use in the family’s everyday life.
Ask all the groups to propose alternatives to car use and to spend five minutes debating (parents vs. children) the relative merits of cars and alternative transport modes. Alternatively, students can rearrange their chairs into two small rows and have the discussion in their “car”.
Have a full class discussion to sum up and reflect on the arguments that emerged within the groups.
Based on the case studies from Paris and Tallinn, ask your students to think of city-level initiatives that might contribute to relieving traffic congestion where they live. Many cities are making big investments to encourage alternatives to car use: What makes such investments worthwhile?
Bike sharing in Paris and beyond
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Riding for free in Tallinn
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Organise a bicycle trouble-shooting tour in your town. Ask the students to observe and describe any changes to the roads, signs, traffic lights or other infrastructure that would make cycling safer and more practical. Summarise their suggestions in a letter and send it to the relevant authorities at City Hall. You could even request a meeting at City Hall, during which students can present their recommendations in person.
Organise an urban bicycle tour during gym class. Ask for the support of a local cycling association to present rules and advice on urban cycling, and provide bicycle inspections to make sure that students’ bikes meet relevant legal and mechanical standards. If possible, have the cycling expert guide a tour around the local neighbourhood to illustrate some of the previously explained rules and advice.
Appoint senior students to act as mobility ambassadors to promote sustainable transport modes among their peers, setting a good example and creating a snowball effect. They could, for example, help to organise a walking bus for younger students, or they could explain the benefits of sustainable mobility to classes during European Mobility Week
Create a neighbourhood map of the school area (or of each student’s own neighbourhood). Identify transportation options using different marker colours and mark the distances. You might, for example, draw a circle with a radius of 400 metres around the school/home so that students can see what is within a five-minute walk. You can also highlight bike paths and calm roads for cycling in the neighbourhood, and indicate which streets are best for buses or cars.