Parking bans: is this the way to reduce city pollution?

Parking bans: is this the way to reduce city pollution?

An article last week on the BBC has demonstrated the competition between Scottish cities to become “net zero” – in other words, cities that have neutral greenhouse impact.  Part of this is the objective to drastically reduce the number of vehicles able to move around the city.

A long-term objective

Reducing traffic in city centres is not a new aim.  Cities have been looking at ways to reduce pollution for years.  Pressure increased after a 2015 Supreme Court ruling that demanded ministers take immediate action to cut air pollution.  Following this ruling five UK cities (Birmingham, Leeds, Southampton, Nottingham and Derby) set up Clean Air Zones (CAZ). This was in addition to London's Low Emission Zone which was established in 2008.  More cities have followed suit since. 

However, there is no common consensus on how to move forward, even across the different cities that are implementing CAZ.  Birmingham plans to charge a fee for access to its city centre for cars, taxis, buses and coaches.  Southampton has dropped plans to charge vehicles for access to the CAZ, preferring to use other means to reduce pollution.  Other cities have published plans to charge HGV vehicles and taxis for access to CAZ but not private cars.

Carrot and stick

Nobody benefits from traffic congestion.  Not only does it increase pollution in the air, it makes people late, there is evidence that it causes road accidents and can even lead to more road rage.  Many cities, particularly those that were created centuries ago, are badly designed to deal with modern volumes of traffic.  But reducing congestion relies on more than charging cars to enter a certain area. 

People need viable alternatives to driving a car into a city, whether that is reliable public transport or park and ride schemes.  These need to be convenient and cost effective enough to drive changes in behaviour.  Cities also have conflicting objectives: on one hand cities have a responsibility (and financial incentive) to encourage a thriving city centre retail environment; on the other, this can lead to more congestion.  Cities can take arbitrary measures such as banning all parking in a city centre, but this just generates new problems; what about private parking?  Will employers want to relocate to a city without these facilities for employees?  These are all legitimate concerns.

A fine balance

Reducing pollution is critical to city dwellers wellbeing.  But so is effective transportation, particularly when, by 2030 the United Nations estimates that 60% of the world’s population will live in a city.  It is therefore not surprising that most cities are having to think hard before deciding how to deliver the best possible environment for residents.  Cities will need to rely on more than blunt tools and balance business, retail and resident demands in planning consideration to ensure that the cities of 2050 are effective places to live and work.

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