Air Clean Up
London Goes Car-Free to Tackle Pollution
Sep 22 2019 Read 803 Times
Today marks the largest car-free day to ever take place in the UK’s capital, with London Mayor Sadiq Khan having closed 12.3 miles (20km) of roads in the centre of the city. The most affected area is in the centre, around London Bridge and Tower Bridge, although boroughs all across the greater metropolitan area are participating through walking, cycling and “playing” incentives.
The plans were first announced back in June as a method of both cleansing the city’s abysmally polluted air and giving the public a chance to experience what a car-free London could be like. It has been welcomed by environmentalists and local residents alike, with more than 150,000 people expected to take part in events, drives and festivities all across the city.
First of its kind
The event represents the first time that such a large swathe of London’s streets have been closed to vehicular traffic since the inception of the motor car. Khan has indicated that he hopes as many people as possible will get behind the idea and take the opportunity to explore the city on foot or by bike, with public transport providing options for those must travel longer distances.
As many as 18 boroughs have worked closely alongside their local residents to come up with activities aimed at children, creating hundreds of “play streets” right in the city centre. “For a few hours, children, whose lives are most negatively affected by traffic, will take priority,” explained Fiona Sutherland from London Play, a charity geared towards allowing youngsters room to express themselves in the capital. “We hope that it will be the beginning of long-term change.”
Air quality experts were also welcoming towards the incentive. “Being aware of the scale of air pollution health problems is not enough,” said Dr Audrey de Nazelle, a scholar on the topic at Imperial College London. “Actually living the joys of a car-free or carless city will do much more to create a positive vision of what a future healthy London could be like.”
A dire situation
The initiative follows successful experiments in cities across the world, including a car-free day in Paris as long ago as 2012. It has been precipitated in the UK by terrible air quality in London, which regularly falls afoul of EU standards and has incurred hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of fines, as well as three court cases by environmental law firm ClientEarth.
So far, the government’s proposals have been universally derided by environmentalists, opposition politicians and British citizens alike, with their latest proposals labelled “inexcusable” by medical professionals and “woefully inadequate” by municipal leaders. Every London resident is exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution on a daily basis, with as many as 9,000 killed prematurely as a result of the toxic air. Over 50% of that contamination is caused by vehicle exhaust fumes.
Despite these alarming statistics, the government’s attempts to improve air quality and reduce transport-related pollution have fallen some way short of the mark. By closing a significant portion of the city’s streets for a single day, Khan can give the issue even greater publicity and offer Londoners the opportunity to see the vast potential that their city holds.
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