Last week I spoke about air pollution and how cities across the world like Beijing are trying to improve air quality with traffic restrictions.
But as World Car Free Day approaches on 22nd September, and on the second anniversary of the first “car free day” in central Paris, which subsequently marked the start of “car free Sunday” on the first Sunday of every month, it has made me question whether whole cities should be (or are planning to be) car free as a stricter measure to cut air pollution?
What is World Car Free Day?
World Car Free Day is a way of reminding people across the world that we can live without relying on our cars. It enables communities, neighbourhoods, towns and cities to glimpse how our urban spaces could look without the traffic. It also highlights the alarming levels of air pollution and noise pollution that we live without day to day.
How has Paris gone car free?
As mentioned above, as part of World Car Free Day, Paris held its first official car free day on 27th September 2015 and since then they have made a year on year expansion of the plan. In 2016 Car Free Day was expanded to include major areas such as the Champs-Elysées, and following its success, a lower level car free zone was implemented on the first Sunday of every month (originally held as part of Paris Breathes Day).
The aim of the car free days is to highlight to the rest of the world how we can live in a city without a car and it subsequently produced results such as a 40% drop in nitrogen oxide in certain areas of the city, and a 50% reduction in noise levels.
This year however, the expansion will be even larger in order to comply with Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s strategy to reduce pollution. Other aspects of her strategy include pedestrianising roads, banning highly polluting cars, and banning all diesel cars by 2025.
How has Reykjavík gone car free?
Reykjavik in Iceland was one of the first cities to go car free for a day in the mid-90s (along with Bath in England). Since then it appears to have stuck to this annual event. Reasons being that air pollution in the city is bad, especially as it can go for days with barely any wind so the pollution builds up into a hazy film.
In 2016 Reykjavik announced plans to go carbon neutral by 2040, part of its plan to achieve this is by encouraging residents to walk, cycle or use public transport. The transport plan includes a bigger investment in bike paths, the installation of more electric car charging points and new bus or light rail systems.
How has Oslo gone car free?
Unlike other cities across the world that have or are implementing temporary measure to ban traffic, Oslo in Norway is set to be the first European city to permanently ban all cars in its centre. The target for the plan is 2019 and aims to put pedestrians first. It will even be removing street parking by the end of 2017 and an additional 60km of cycle tracks will be added as part of a $1 billion investment in bike infrastructure across Norway.
But for more information on Norway and the lessons we can learn for them, my colleague Gemma Lakin has written an article about it here.
Can cities like London go car free?
Back in 2016 London Mayor Sidiq Khan announced that he wanted to improve public spaces by implementing car free days and pedestrianising Oxford Street.
In fact, car free days appear to be backed by Londoners as this YouGov poll highlights. The poll states that Londoners would support a similar monthly car ban to that in Paris with 63% supporting a car-free day in central London and 58% in favour of making this a monthly event.
When it comes to pedestrianising Oxford Street however, plans were met with disagreement. The Mayor’s original plan was for a complete ban on vehicles, allowing full pedestrianisation, however major shops on the street have called for a watered down version which allows traffic to flow across Oxford Street on adjoining roads. This version also only limited the traffic ban between the hours of 10am and 10pm, so that deliveries can still be made.
Updates on this plan have not been announced yet.
Of course in June this year, plans were announced to ban all new petrol and diesel cars in the UK by 2040 which will obviously have a major effect on pollution across the country. But for the 9,000 a year killed by air pollution in the capital, 2040 is too far away and as we can see learn from the above examples, measures can be taken now (or be implemented a lot sooner).
I look forward to seeing what plans are released in the future regarding pedestrianising roads and the potential of car free days in the capital and other major cities in the UK and beyond.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic, so please feel free to Tweet me at @MEUK_LES. Or to see some fantastic photos from World Car Free Day last year, click here – cities include Bogota, Paris, Detroit and Istanbul!
Here’s hoping by next year, we can include London in that list too!
Ellina Webb is a Marketing Specialist at Mitsubishi Electric
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