Carfree London?

Imagine the plot… an evil tycoon or dictator plans to destroy the planet by pumping out carbon dioxide until irreversible climate change takes hold and we all drown, starve or kill each other in wars over scarce resources. Who or what could save us?

What’s that in the distance?

Is it a giant shield to deflect the sun’s energy?
Is it an electric car?
Is it the promised bionic duckweed-powered perpetual motion transportation machine of the future here today?
Is it Superman?

No! It’s a carfree London.

Move over Clarke Kent, today’s heroes are James Woodcock and colleagues at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Their recent research in medical journal The Lancet (too radical for the academic transport press?) examined various scenarios designed to reduce CO2 emissions from transport in London by 80%, in line with the British target enshrined in the Climate Change Act of 2008.

They found that a carfree Greater London with significant land use changes to reduce trip distances – facilitating a shift to active travel – and challenging transport energy efficiency improvements are required to reduce emissions by 83% on a 2000 baseline. Unfortunately for the ‘technology will save us’ brigade, business as usual with moderate efficiency gains would deliver a cut of only 11.5%. A third scenario of a carfree inner London with ‘hybrid suburbs’ would enable a maximum reduction of 55%.

As well as ignoring Londoners’ air travel and emissions associated with commuters and tourists from outside London, there are a host of optimistic assumptions in the modelling of these scenarios, ranging from de-carbonisation of energy supplies (vital for electric cars to deliver net carbon savings), measures to limit population growth in the south-east of England and implementation of policies to support active travel. So the message is clear: a carfree Greater London is required, but is just one of the policies we need if serious about reducing CO2 emissions from transport, currently the only sector in which they are still increasing.

Boris, will you be the superman who banishes the car and saves us from ourselves? Perhaps your near miss with a Luther Industries truck and parked car has focussed your mind somewhat? Over to you…

Simon Field

Note: please contact me if you would like a copy of the full text from the Lancet article.

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