Four international lessons on how London could cut air pollution

London. We think. Image: Getty.

Earlier this year, Sadiq Khan unveiled his ‘Cleaner Vehicle Checker’, a joint bid with Paris to help curb the air quality crisis engulfing both cities. The problem of air pollution is aligned with a wider issue: London’s roads and streets are not coping with the pressures they are facing.

London’s problems are not unique, and so as the mayor looks abroad for partnerships, what lessons can it learn from other cities? Nowhere is wholly comparable, nor does any solution tackle every problem, but lessons can be learnt: parking efficiency improved, encouraging shifts from cars to public transit, promoting active modes and improving the quality of place.

Parking

It is thought around 30 per cent of urban congestion is caused by cars looking for parking. San Francisco deals with this via block-by-block demand-based street parking prices, using sensor technology. Prices change no more than monthly, and rise by no more than 25¢ per hour, nor falling by more than 50¢, in one go. Results are promising: vehicle miles travelled in pilot districts fell 30 per cent, and average searching time decreased by five minutes.

Drivers in London typically spend eight minutes searching for somewhere to park, so change could be effective. But parking places are often in high demand, and it’s a hot political topic – Westminster’s Council Leader stepped down in 2012 amid a row over proposed increases.

Promoting public transport use

London’s private car use is slowly falling, but we should be looking at radical methods to reduce ownership and usage. In Murcia, Spain, residents could swap roadworthy vehicles for lifetime passes on their new tramway network.

In London, such an initiative would face issues around funding and logistics, but it offers two lessons: financial incentives to trade in cars are reasonable to discourage use; while people are happy to surrender their cars when public transport provides a convenient alternative.


Walking and cycling

In New York and Paris over half of central journeys are on foot; the London figure is just over one third. Though London’s centre is much more dispersed, we can do better.

Paris has been aiming to increase its attractiveness to pedestrians since 2001, but a turning point was introducing the Pedestrian Paris Initiative in 2012. The scheme has seen pavements widened and Parisians now engage with their streets more, aided by some streets closing to cars one Sunday a month, which also improves air quality and encourages active modes.

Cycling is rising in the capital – inner London saw it rise from 2.5 to 4 per cent of trips in a decade, equivalent to 120,000 journeys, according to a TfL survey  – but there are still ways to increase its attractiveness. To combat the frustration of hitting red lights, which affects journey reliability, Utrecht uses a system of sensors determining a cyclist’s speed, telling them to slow down or speed up to make a green light. Connected to wider dynamic light systems, it highlights small actions that persuade people to cycle regularly.

Public space as a priority

New York underwent a transformation over 2007-2013, thanks to the work of Janette Sadik-Khan as transportation commissioner. Her redesign focused around Broadway, installing 60 plazas, and the development of the High Line.

London has made progress in particular areas and employed innovative solutions to problems, but can still follow New York in making public spaces more attractive, improving perception and reality for walkers and pedestiran. Enhancing the public realm could have economic effects, as workers want to work in cities where high quality public spaces facilitates a higher quality of life.

London needs strong leadership – à la New York and Paris – in City Hall and the boroughs to revive our public realm, to create a healthier, cleaner and more successful city.

Tom Colthorpe is a researcher at Centre for London. The think tank has convened an expert Commission to analyse the problems facing London’s roads and streets. It will get different parties to cooperate and will propose solutions, in a report due out later this year.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.

 
 
 
 

London Overground is experimenting with telling passengers which bits of the next train is busiest

There must be a better way than this: Tokyo during a 1972 rail strike. Image: Getty.

One of the most fun things to do, for those who enjoy claustrophobia and other people’s body odour, is to attempt to use a mass transit system at rush hour.

Travelling on the Central line at 6pm, for example, gives you all sorts of exciting opportunities to share a single square inch of floor space with a fellow passenger, all the while becoming intimately familiar with any personal hygiene problems they may happen to have. On some, particularly lovely days you might find you don’t even get to do this for ages, but first have to spend some exciting time enjoying it as a spectator sport, before actually being able to pack yourself into one unoccupied cranny of a train.

But fear not! Transport for London has come up with a plan: telling passengers which bits of the train have the most space on them.

Here’s the science part. Many trains include automatic train weighing systems, which do exactly what the name suggests: monitoring the downward force on any individual wheel axis in real time. The data thus gathered is used mostly to optimise the braking.

But it also serves as a good proxy for how crowded a particular carriage is. All TfL are doing here is translating that into real time information visible to passengers. It’s using the standard, traffic light colour system: green means go, yellow means “hmm, maybe not”, red means “oh dear god, no, no, no”. 

All this will, hopefully, encourage some to move down the platform to where the train is less crowded, spreading the load and reducing the number of passengers who find themselves becoming overly familiar with a total stranger’s armpit.

The system is not unique, even in London: trains on the Thameslink route, a heavy-rail line which runs north/south across town (past CityMetric towers!) has a similar system visible to passengers on board. And so far it’s only a trial, at a single station, Shoreditch High Street.

But you can, if you’re so minded, watch the information update every few seconds or so here.

Can’t see why you would, but I can’t see why I would either, and that hasn’t stopped me spending much of the day watching it, so, knock yourselves out.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.