Even such relatively small states as Georgia implement projects that are impressive in their scale. One of them is the development of Batumi – the country’s most popular resort. The city’s rampant growth has led to an environmental crisis caused by motor transport. The green city project is aimed at resolving the crisis.
Batumi is one of the largest cities in Georgia with a population of over 163,000, its main Black Sea resort and a major port. Historically, the city developed as a grid of narrow streets perpendicular to each other, which is good for walking and short rides. But over time, Batumi expanded from 18 sq km in 1990 to 65 sq km in 2012. The city’s population grew from 123,000 to 154,000 people over that period. While planning the territorial expansion, the local authorities clearly took into consideration the growing numbers of vacationers and seasonal workers, primarily from Ajarian villages. The growth in the territory and population, as well as its influx, has led to higher level of motorization, which caused congestion on main streets and generally affected the efficiency of urban infrastructure and services, including the public transport system. The City Hall with the help of Western investors has started making efforts to resolve the transport problem.
Responding to the city authorities’ needs, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), with financial support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), has developed the project “Green Cities: Integrated Sustainable Transport for Batumi and Ajara,” aimed, among other things, at exploring green solutions in the Batumi transport system. In 2014, the city officially adopted the Sustainable Energy Action Plan. According to the plan, the main source of greenhouse gas emissions in Batumi is urban transport, which, according to 2012, accounts for 49% of all emissions.
The draft action plan was officially launched by Batumi mayor Lasha Komakhidze together with Lin O’Grady, EBRD Deputy Director for Municipal and Environmental Infrastructure. “Various large-scale infrastructure projects are well underway in the city. Along with construction work, there are also ecological issues being addressed. It is important to take the time to focus on environmental issues related to the city development and to achieve infrastructure development but at the same time to avoid drastic effect this development may have on the environment,” Komakhidze says.
According to him, “Batumi mayor’s office expresses full readiness to launch the project” and “has high hopes and expectations for the donor companies to be included in the next stages to the same extent as during the financing stage”.
So far, the efforts on modernizing the city population’s mobility have been focused around Batumi’s Old Town, where these efforts will result in a greater visibility and will be more efficient. Particular attention is being paid to the city’s two major transport corridors that link its southernmost area with its northernmost part. One of the major problems here is an increased activity of minibuses. The project developers believe that this issue can be solved primarily through improving competitiveness of the municipal public transport services; at the same time, conditions should be created to make the use of private transport in these corridors unfavorable. They also propose introducing bus-only lanes and restricting parking, which will result in a greater space for bus traffic.
It is clear that local authorities cannot simply prohibit parking. Given this, the project developers propose finding a couple of areas along the corridor to organize parking spaces, possibly intercept parking areas for drivers to arrive using their personal vehicles and then to travel by public transport. At the end of the corridors, bus stations will be built. According to documents, these bus stations will be designed for passengers who travel daily by inter-city buses and minibuses to and from Batumi; most likely, this will apply to routes from Adjara. This is especially relevant for the summer period, when many rural residents arrive in Batumi to work in the tourist service industry.
The only actual project to be soon introduced in Batumi involves electric buses. New low-floor vehicles will begin service through the assistance of the Eastern Europe Energy Efficiency and Environmental Partnership, financed by the European Union. Buses will run on battery power, which will significantly reduce hazardous substance and greenhouse gas emissions.
“The European Union is committed to the global transition to clean energy, and these buses are a perfect example of this”, European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic said at the ceremony to sign the agreement with Batumi mayor’s office. “The energy transition in the transport sector is already underway, and I am glad to see Batumi as the first city making such efforts not only in Georgia but in the entire region”.
By Roman Mamchits