Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

“EU to ban cars from cities by 2050”

with 2 comments

That is the headline from the Daily Telegraph. That is not something I usually read – it’s a dreadful old Tory rag as far as I am concerned. And the reaction it chooses to emphasize shows that they really are stuck in the mid twentieth century.

My first reaction was that is is a very sensible idea, but that a forty year time horizon is a bit unrealistic. Will there be any oil at all by then?  Actually what they say is “no more conventionally fuelled cars in our city centres” which is not so much a policy as a prediction. And, of course, is rather more nuanced than the headline.

There will be cars, just not cars as we know them, Jim. It is part of a broader transportation objective aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions – and, as is obvious, business as usual is not a feasible option. But the reasons for banning personal motor vehicles – however they are powered – go far beyond ghg and, it seems to me, are incontrovertible. Most European city centres have already got much further in reducing car use than we have. They have excellent public transport systems that they are still steadily expanding. Everywhere there are car free streets and squares. Many have public bike sharing systems. In most major cities you can operate much better if you do not have to worry about a car, and the only time you might think about renting one would be for some rural jaunt.

Rue de Lutèce

Rue de Lutèce - car free Paris - Ile de la Cite

The progress that has been made in London since I left in 1988 has been remarkable – especially since I had spent the previous twenty years banging my head against the brick wall represented by the sort of ideas the Telegraph still espouses. If I had suggested electronic road pricing and a congestion charge I would have been laughed at. In fact I did and was. I even got into trouble for suggesting that Senior Civil Servants lose the privilege of parking on Horse Guards Parade – which has indeed been implemented. The tube network has been expanded, and an inner orbital railway – “The Overground” – opened. LIght rail came not only to Docklands but also Croydon – with on street running! There are bike lanes and bus lanes everywhere. And don’t forget even in 1988, 95% of the people in Central London got there by train.

It’s not just within cities that things changed. They have high speed electric trains that cover the main lines to Scotland and the North – and now to Europe too. Commuter trains from Kent that are capable of 125 mph to fit in between the Eurostars. Passenger travel on Virgin trains on the West Coast mainline has doubled since they took over.

It seems to me to be quite possible that London, Paris and Copenhagen could all ban internal combustion/fossil fuel cars in their centres much sooner than 2050.  2020 seems doable to me – and not at all unlikely just on “present trends continue”.

The challenge for us of course is much harder. First of all, our “city centre” is tiny by comparison – and we have yet to grasp why building and widening freeways across the region might not be too clever. The Daily Telegraph could produce a Vancouver edition quite easily – those quotes could just as easily come from our established “elite”.  And currently those ideas firmly hold sway – in both national and provincial politics. Just try to secure a small amount of space for cyclists and see what a ruckus that causes. Suggest we steadily reduce the amount of space devoted to cars in Vancouver – both moving and parked – and you will be looked at as though you are mad. Yet that is exactly what Copenhagen has been doing – for the past forty years! Paris is going to take the autoroute off the banks of the Seine and return it to the people. We can’t seem to grasp why taking down the viaducts should have been done years ago.

By the way if you want to read what the EU is actually saying (as opposed to what the Torygraph is reporting) you can download the pdf file of the White Paper (which means it is a proposal) “Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area – Towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system” (thanks to John Calimente for the link)

Written by Stephen Rees

March 29, 2011 at 5:09 pm

Posted in Transportation

2 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Bravo! Greenest city ON EARTH in 10 years? Coming from way behind, and it’s not as if the others are standing still. That’s quite a cultural shift GR’s promised, I hope he starts picking up the pace soon.

    Rev tw

    March 29, 2011 at 8:26 pm

  2. Thank you for posting the White Paper. Its nice to finally be able to look at the real stuff behind the panic journalism!


    April 13, 2011 at 9:27 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: