Governments should make it as easy to quit driving as to recycle

Amsterdam, where cycling is easier. Image: Getty.

Our reliance on cars means they get an easy ride in the fight on toxic emissions. Transport is the worst performing sector for carbon emissions, down only 3 per cent since 1990, and cars emit 18 per cent of all the CO2 in the UK. Cars are also a huge contributor to our air quality crisis, with 60 per cent of particulate matter coming from vehicles in London, and in places where legal limits are being broken they are responsible for 80 per cent of NO2 emissions.

Carbon emissions from cars continue to rise in all parts of the world. The common factor is that it’s politically off-limits to tell people they can’t go somewhere because of climate change.

However, people are increasingly aware of their impact on the climate. A YouGov poll published today by Sustrans has revealed that 83 per cent of parents said their awareness of environmental problems had increased in the last year. Over three in five (61 per cent) of those have reduced plastic usage, followed by recycling more (57 per cent) and walking for shorter journeys (38 per cent).

However, almost a third (27 per cent) of respondents said the inconvenience of planning a sustainable journey was a key barrier, and 26 per cent cited the cost. The survey shows there is public appetite to travel more sustainably, but families need the right infrastructure to help them act.

I recently travelled from Edinburgh to Corfu without going on a plane. It’s possible to get from the UK to Corfu by train and ferry in 36 hours. And just like cycling through town, overland travel makes it easy to break up a journey so that you can stop off somewhere interesting. My route from Edinburgh used the ferry from Newcastle to Amsterdam, where clean, efficient, comfortable trains can take you on wherever you fancy.

I took my time, stopping in Utrecht, Dusseldorf, Innsbruck and Bologna, before a ferry from Ancona to Greece. Watching the geography and greenery of Europe pass by was beautiful and it makes you value the distance you cover.

What made this easy was high-quality public transport. If people are to choose walking, cycling and public transport, this needs to be quick, affordable and convenient.

Closer to home, National Cycle Network makes it possible for 4.4 million people to travel actively every year, to work, school or for leisure.


Research by the University of Oxford demonstrates that walking or cycling can realistically substitute 41 per cent of short car trips, saving nearly 5 per cent of CO2 emissions from car travel. In combination with better public transport that’s a 12 per cent reduction in CO2 by 2030.

Electric vehicles are being developed, and they will help. But the energy they use is far from zero-carbon and they have a limited impact on reducing air pollution: 75 per cent of particulate matter from vehicles in London comes from tyre and brake wear, which electric cars won’t change.

So making active travel and public transport networks as convenient as driving is the only answer we have to tackle carbon emissions and pollution.  

Really making walking and cycling an easier choice requires money and cross-government action.

Public spending tells you how much of a priority walking and cycling is. Only 2 per cent of transport spending in England goes on walking and cycling. Outside London, it’s about £2 per person ringfenced for cycling and walking. This isn’t enough to prompt change. Scotland is comparatively lucky to see almost £16 per head spent on active travel. Wales isn’t far behind on £10 per head. We need more than this, but a similar level of investment across the UK would be a good start.

Our survey found that walking, followed by cycling are seen as the top sustainable ways to travel and our villages, towns and cities need to reflect this with more space for people on foot and cycles. There is public support for taking space from vehicles, like car parking, to make room for dedicated cycleways and wider pavements.

Individual choice is important, but on its own is not going to win the battle on carbon emissions. Government has the pivotal role to ensure that our streets and recreational areas promote walking and cycling and that everyone has reliable, affordable public transport options.

Alexander Quayle is senior policy officer as Sustrans.

 
 
 
 

17 things the proposed “Tulip” skyscraper that London mayor Sadiq Khan just scrapped definitely resembled

Artist's impression. See if you can guess which one The Tulip is. Image: Foster + Partners.

Sadiq Khan has scrapped plans to build a massive glass thing in the City of London, on the grounds it would knacker London’s skyline. The “Tulip” would have been a narrow, 300m skyscraper, designed by Norman Foster’s Foster & Partners, with a viewing platform at the top. Following the mayor’s intervention, it now won’t be anything of the sort.

This may be no bad thing. For one thing, a lot of very important and clever people have been noisily unconvinced by the design. Take this statement from Duncan Wilson, the chief executive of Historic England, from earlier this year: “This building, a lift shaft with a bulge on top, would damage the very thing its developers claim they will deliver – tourism and views of London’s extraordinary heritage.”

More to the point, the design was just bloody silly. Here are some other things that, if it had been built, the Tulip would definitely have looked like.

1. A matchstick.

2. A drumstick.

3. A cotton ear bud.

4. A mystical staff, of the sort that might be wielded by Gandalf the Grey.

5. A giant spring onion.

6. A can of deodorant, from one of the brands whose cans are seemingly deliberately designed in such a way so as to remind male shoppers of the fact that they have a penis.

7. A device for unblocking a drain.

8. One of those lights that’s meant to resemble a candle.

9. A swab stick, of the sort sometimes used at sexual health clinics, in close proximity to somebody’s penis.

10.  A nearly finished lollipop.

11. Something a child would make from a pipe cleaner in art class, which you then have to pretend to be impressed by and keep on show for the next six months.

12. An arcology, of the sort seen in classic video game SimCity 2000.

13. Something you would order online and then pray will arrive in unmarked packaging.

14. The part of the male anatomy that the thing you are ordering online is meant to be a more impressive replica of.

15. A building that appears on the London skyline in the Star Trek franchise, in an attempt to communicate that we are looking at the FUTURE.


14a. Sorry, the one before last was a bit vague. What I actually meant was: a penis.

16. A long thin tube with a confusing bulbous bit on the end.

17. A stamen. Which, for avoidance of doubt, is a plant’s penis.

One thing it definitely does not resemble:

A sodding tulip.

Anyway, it’s bad, and it’s good the mayor has blocked it.

That’s it, that’s the take.

(Thanks to Anoosh Chakelian, Jasper Jackson, Patrick Maguire for helping me get to 17.)

Jonn Elledge is editor of CityMetric and the assistant editor of the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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