Last week, we told you how Bristol is looking to ban cars from the city centre, seemingly in a desperate move to avoid paying back £1million of government money; it’s becoming no surprise that ‘radical’ measures are being touted by most authorities as a way to tackle air pollution and congestion.

That’s all well and good, until we replace ‘radical’ with ‘desperate’, which seems nearer the truth. Thursday 20th June 2019 was national ‘Clean Air Day’, and London Mayor Sadiq Khan wasn’t going to miss out on the action, surely this could be another great demonstration of his commitment to cleaning up the city?

Reimagine

Mayor Khan took the opportunity to announce that on Sunday 22nd September, there would be no cars allowed in the City of London, a complete ban including taxis. “We’ve called our range of events ‘Reimagine’ so that Londoners get an idea of what some of the busiest parts of our city would be like without cars or traffic, and let them reclaim the streets and allow for children to play freely and communities to enjoy parties in their areas”.

While that sounds all very admirable, and actually a nice thing to do as a one-off; families being able to enjoy the City of London with entertainment such as live music, guided walks, pop-up playgrounds and street performers, the question that has to be asked, is whether Khan has a vision for the future with this?

Worryingly, Silviya Barett, the transport research manager at the Centre for London warned that “one day of action will only go so far – we need to lock-in car-free lifestyles for good. The Mayor should introduce city-wide charging schemes which charges drivers per-mile on the most congested and polluted roads”. That sounds pretty ominous for the motorist.

Over 12 miles

In total, there will be around 12.5 miles that will be closed to all transport, including Tower Bridge, but there will be a bus service crossing London Bridge on the day, and so far, 18 different boroughs have signed up to the car-free day, all pledging to do something to mark the day.

Again, that’s all fluffy kittens, but what of the businesses affected by the closure? Taxi drivers, in particular, are going to be hit hard, the elderly and disabled won’t benefit from having free access to the road surface, traffic is likely to be in more chaos than usual, and if you need to get from one side of the city to the other, how will that work?

Could this be classed as another ‘radical’ approach to congestion and pollution? Is this yet another attack on the innocent motorist going about their business? Will it actually make a difference to the pollution?

Keith Prince, Greater London Authority Conservative Transport spokesman is quite vocal – “Londoners want cleaner air, but car-free days risk travel chaos if managed poorly, all while doing little to tackle the air pollution problem”. It’s the last few words of that sentence that are important – it won’t really tackle the air pollution problem.

Future shut-downs

If this had been addressed as a ‘family day’ or suchlike, there would less of an outcry and perhaps a little more support for the idea, but the fact that it’s being touted as a possible way to help with the pollution problem, it’s easy to see that this is just the first step to something bigger.

We’re being warned that we should get used to living a car-free existence, or at least pay the (not insubstantial) price for the privilege of owning and using a vehicle, and although we’ve been watching it coming over the last few years, with the introduction of congestion zones, ULEZs and ridiculous parking charges (more so if you happen to drive a diesel), the reality is that it’s perhaps closer than we thought.

Of course no one is denying that air pollution is a problem that has to be tackled, but crucifying the private motorist with taxes and inconvenience can only go so far, and the bigger picture is that cities will become places of no-go areas for the motorist – just as we’ve seen with out-of-town retail parks increasing their footfall, as large cities lose the equivalent amount. And that’s before we get to any financial impact on the businesses affected by the loss of traffic.

Schemes like car-free days could work in conjunction with other measures, but they can’t be the only, single solution; Keith Prince: “Instead of virtue signalling, the Mayor should focus on cleaning up TfL’s bus fleet to improve air quality”.

What do you think to a car-free day? Is this something that’s just another inconvenience to the motorist? Or will it be part of something bigger? Let us know in the comments.

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