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Moving towards a green and healthy city - transport measures to calm emissions

Empty centre? Lime electric bikes and London diesel bus on Lower Regent Street, mid-morning in May 2021

Future Cities Forum's transport and energy forum next month will look at improving city infrastructure for healthy lifestyles and future plans for meeting net zero targets. Questions will be asked on how public transport might need to flex in order to cope with the return to the office commute, following the UK government encouraging employees to consider the traditional patterns of working away from home, now Covid Plan B has been lifted.

The forum will follow on from findings at our recent Infrastructure event hosted by abrdn PLC in the City of London, led by the IPA's Deputy Chief Executive, Matthew Vickerstaff. Discussion took place on the topic of the '15 minute city' where Director of MICA Architects, Gavin Miller, said the practice had been working with Steer and with data and regeneration specialists PRD, to analyse trends around transport patterns in London and surrounding suburbs.

'We did an assessment on London on the theme of the '15 minute city' where the scores were pretty good except for the posh suburbs. London is well configured as a compact, sustainable urban model, made up of villages, but the data we got from the research indicated the doughnut model with a centre that is (currently) dead. St Pancras and Euston station districts are at 25% footfall, and even inner boroughs like Camden are struggling to pick up. The outer centres such as Romford, Croydon and Stratford have recovered well to 75% footfall of pre-pandemic levels, but the risk lies in the fact that it's a car led recovery. What is disturbing is that the city is well set up to be sustainable, TfL has its healthy streets campaign and investment in bike lanes, but no-one is coming back to the city centre, with an increase in traffic in the suburbs and outer centres.'

Gavin concluded:

' TfL has five scenarios: business as usual; London fends for itself; low carbon localism (which accepts a contraction of the city); remote revolution; and 'agglomeration, agglomeration, agglomeration'. As part of the project we took a poll and the trend that got the vote was 'remote revolution' where technology changes the way people live, work and travel. That model accepts that not everyone will come back, and that there will 20 to 30 per cent surplus building stock.'

Will employees return to the office and by public transport or through their own vehicle use because of remaining fears - and perhaps unfounded ones - about infection rates on buses and trains? What will the levels of pollution in cities rise to and can there be measures put in place to reduce these?

In latest news, the UK government has now announced that Olympic champion Chris Boardman is to lead a new body, Active Travel England, which will seek to improve infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians as well as funding to improve air quality. In addition, a report published by Element Energy, commissioned by the Mayor of London, sets out the scale of the action required to move London towards a greener future and net-zero carbon emissions by 2030.

The Mayor's office says that the new analysis shows that more action will be required by City Hall, particularly around reducing vehicle use in London, but that the Mayor alone does not have the funding or powers to deliver everything that is required. Sadiq Khan will call the report a stark wake-up call for the Government on the need to provide much greater support to help London reach net-zero by 2030 and help the UK reach our national target, announced before COP26. It states:

'Between 2000 and 2018, London achieved a 57 per cent reduction in workplace greenhouse gas emissions, a 40 per cent reduction in emissions from homes, but just a 7 per cent reduction in emissions from transport.

'In order to reduce transport emissions by anywhere close to the amount required to clean up London's air, achieve net-zero by 2030 and cut congestion, the capital will have to see a significant shift away from petrol and diesel vehicle use and towards walking and cycling, greater public transport use and cleaner vehicles. At the moment just two per cent of vehicles on the roads in London are electric.

'The toxic air pollution being caused by London traffic is leading to nearly 4,000 premature deaths a year and children growing up with stunted lungs. The action already committed by the Mayor will reduce the number of air quality related hospital admissions by one million by 2050, helping save the NHS and social care system £5 billion.

'The report sets out that to achieve anywhere near a 27 per cent reduction in car vehicle kilometres, London will need a new kind of road user charging system implemented by the end of the decade at the latest. Such a system could abolish all existing road user charges - such as the Congestion Charge and ULEZ - and replace them with a simple and fair scheme where drivers pay per mile, with different rates depending on how polluting vehicles are, the level of congestion in the area and access to public transport.

'The Mayor and TfL will now begin a period of consultation with Londoners, local government and businesses about the way forward to achieving the clean, green and healthy future London and the world desperately needs.'

Join us for our transport forum at the end of February to debate the requirements on future transport plans in cities to save on carbon emissions and the march towards net zero.


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