Ahead of Car Free Day on Sunday (September 22), Larissa Lockwood of the Clean Air Day campaign writes about why she believes the streets of central London should be for the benefit of the majority, not a car-owning minority.
What is going on in London? Never have I lived in a city with such excellent public transport and where cycling and walking are actually options. Yet London has the worst air pollution in the UK, and itâ€™s drivingÂ overÂ 9,000Â of us to anÂ early graveÂ every year.
Air pollutionÂ is causing asthma in our children,Â giving usÂ heart diseaseÂ andÂ high blood pressure,Â andÂ is linkedÂ toÂ dementia and diabetesÂ too. Tell me you donâ€™t know someone in this city with at least one of these conditions.
Air pollution is worst in the inner London boroughs, yet household car ownership in these areas is far below 50%. And as many Londoners decry, who would want to drive in London when itâ€™s so slow to get around by car, and when there are decent alternatives. The streets of London should be for people and not for cars.
The majority of inner Londoners donâ€™t own a car, so whyÂ isÂ the planning system designed to benefit the minority (car owners) at the expense ofÂ everyone else? And by expense, I mean ill health and premature death. Itâ€™s not a price worth paying.
SoÂ letâ€™s embrace World Car Free Day,Â and push forÂ tipping theÂ transportationÂ balance in favour ofÂ people, public transport and bikes. Letâ€™sÂ takeÂ away the priority given to the car companiesÂ and privateÂ carÂ parks.
Letâ€™sÂ alsoÂ take theÂ upcomingÂ electric vehicleÂ revolutionÂ as a moment to make a more fundamental change to the way we get around. Instead ofÂ simplyÂ switching one engine for anotherÂ we shouldÂ focus on segregated bike lanes and safe, walkable neighbourhoods.
As many young millennials living in London will tell you,Â individual car ownership is soÂ 20th century.
AsÂ for the rest of the traffic on Londonâ€™s streets,Â letâ€™sÂ clean up these vehicles, and quickly.
We need cleaner buses (and a plan is in place), but we alsoÂ needÂ electricÂ vehicles for taxis, car shares, trade and deliveries.Â The governmentâ€™s target dateÂ of 2040Â for a ban on sales of newÂ petrol and diesel cars and vansÂ is too long to wait.Â Nobody wants to be poisonedÂ by theÂ 20,000Â breathsÂ we takeÂ a day.iiiÂ So hurry up vehicle manufactures and sell us theÂ electricÂ cars and vans weÂ need.
There are small but significant things we ourselves can do right now. Like doing ourÂ bit when it comes toÂ deliveries.
We could start bulking our purchases together so that they get delivered in one van, not three. And get stuff ordered to a local pick-up point, not our central London workplace. That would take some traffic off the streets.
There just doesnâ€™t need to beÂ so many vehicles on the roads in London. But we do needÂ moreÂ space to play, exercise and socialise. With the size ofÂ the averageÂ LondonÂ home decreasing, we could all do with a bit more space to escape.
More car-free streets, fewer polluted roads… we could all do with a bit more space to breathe.
Larissa Lockwood is head of health and air quality at Global Action Plan, the charity behind the Clean Air Day air pollution campaign.