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ENVIRONMENT

Copenhagen best, Rome worst for clean, safe roads: study

Bike-friendly capitals Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Oslo have Europe's cleanest and safest transport systems while heavily congested Rome has the worst, a Greenpeace study found Tuesday.

Copenhagen best, Rome worst for clean, safe roads: study
Cyclists in Copenhagen. Photo: Bjarke Bo Olsen/Ritzau Scanpix

“Safe roads and clean air go hand-in-hand,” said Greenpeace Clean Air campaigner Barbara Stoll.

“This study shows that when you improve a city's public transport infrastructure in a sustainable way, people breathe cleaner air and their roads are safer.”

The report, carried out for Greenpeace by Germany's Wuppertal Institute, ranks 13 European capitals based on factors ranging from air quality to the affordability of public transport and the use of car-sharing services.

Car-and scooter-mad Rome, where 65 percent of all journeys are carried out by privately-owned motor vehicles, was deemed the biggest sinner.

Cheap parking and sub-par public transport discouraged drivers from abandoning their cars, the authors found, worsening the city's air pollution and making its traffic-clogged roads dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists.

The Eternal City was also the worst on road safety, the report said, giving the figures of 110 crashes for every 10,000 bicycle trips and 133 crashes for every 10,000 pedestrian trips.

Rome was far from alone in breaching European Union air pollution limits, the report pointed out, and Budapest, Paris and Moscow all fared worse in the air quality ranking.

The report comes just days after the European Commission announced it was taking six countries — including Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and Italy — to court for failing to tackle air pollution.

“Many European cities struggle to provide reasonable air quality,” the study said.

“Reducing the share of internal combustion engines should be a priority,” it added.

The study's top three cities Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Oslo won plaudits for their high use of public transport, clearly marked and safe cycling and walking paths and cleaner than average air.

Oslo was singled out for praise for closing its city centre to cars, and Copenhagen ranked first when it came to new mobility services like car-sharing and using smartphone apps to navigate public transport.

Zurich meanwhile has the most affordable public transport, the study found, while London was commended for introducing the congestion charge and more recently the T-charge, which taxes older, more polluting vehicles.

“Top-ranking cities kept in mind the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and other road users while planning,” the report said.

“Cars do not dominate the design, but are just another user of the space.”

The authors said that if Rome wanted to improve its ranking, it should do more to separate cyclists from scooters, and follow the examples of other capitals by making inner-city driving more expensive.

READ ALSO: Danish municipality uses drivers' Bluetooth to solve traffic issues

ENVIRONMENT

France gets help from EU neighbours as wildfires rage

Firefighting teams and equipment from six EU nations started to arrive in France on Thursday to help battle a spate of wildfires, including a fierce blaze in the parched southwest that has forced thousands to evacuate.

France gets help from EU neighbours as wildfires rage

Most of the country is sweltering under a summer heatwave compounded by a record drought – conditions most experts say will occur more often as a result of rapid climate change.

“We must continue, more than ever, our fight against climate disruption and … adapt to this climate disruption,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said after arriving at a fire command post in the village of Hostens, south of Bordeaux.

The European Commission said four firefighting planes would be sent to France from Greece and Sweden, as well as teams from Austria, Germany, Poland and Romania.

“Our partners are coming to France’s aid against the fires. Thank you to them. European solidarity is at work!” President Emmanuel Macron tweeted.

“Across the country over 10,000 firefighters and security forces are mobilised against the flames… These soldiers of fire are our heroes,” he said.

In total, 361 foreign firefighters were  dispatched to assist their 1,100 French colleagues deployed in the worst-hit part of the French southwest.

A first contingent of 65 German firefighters, followed by their 24 vehicles, arrived Thursday afternoon and were to go into action at dawn Friday, officials said.

Among eight major fires currently raging, the biggest is the Landiras fire in the southwest Gironde department, whose forests and beaches draw huge tourist crowds each summer.

It had already burned 14,000 hectares (35,000 acres) in July – the driest month seen in France since 1961 – before being contained, but it continued to smoulder in the region’s tinder-dry pine forests and peat-rich soil.

Since flaring up again Tuesday, which officials suspect may have been caused by arson, it has burned 7,400 hectares, destroyed or damaged 17 homes, and forced 10,000 people to quit their homes, said Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Mendousse of the Gironde fire and rescue service.

Borne said nine firefighting planes are already dumping water on the blaze, with two more to be in service by the weekend.

“Gigantic”
“We battled all night to stop the fire from spreading, notably to defend the village of Belin-Beliet,” Mendousse told journalists in Hostens.

On several houses nearby, people hung out white sheets saying: “Thank you for saving our homes” and other messages of support for the weary fire battalions.

“You’d think we’re in California, it’s gigantic… And they’re used to forest fires here but we’re being overwhelmed on all sides — nobody could have expected this,” Remy Lahlay, a firefighter deployed near Hostens in the Landes de Gascogne natural park, told AFP.

With temperatures in the region hitting nearly 40C on Thursday and forecast to stay high until at least Sunday, “there is a very serious risk of new outbreaks” for the Landiras fire, the prefecture of the Gironde department said.

Acrid smoke has spread across much of the southwestern Atlantic coast and its beaches that draw huge crowds of tourists each summer, with the regional ARS health agency “strongly” urging people to wear protective face masks.

The smoke also forced the closing of the A63 motorway, a major artery toward Spain, between Bordeaux and Bayonne.

The government has urged employers to allow leaves of absence for volunteer firefighters to help fight the fires.

Meanwhile, in Portugal, more than 1,500 firefighters were also battling a fire that has raged for days in the mountainous Serra da Estrela natural park in the centre of the country.

It has already burned 10,000 hectares, according to the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS).

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