Thoughts on the Future of City Transport – Steve’s Congestion Suggestion

Outer Thinking Division
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The year 2050. Central London. Governments have recently banned petrol and diesel engines; not just in London, not just in cities across the UK, but in major cities the world over. On Oxford Street, the crowd of tourists, shoppers and office workers murmurs gently as Lycra-clad cyclists whizz past. Streamlined buses turn soundlessly onto Regent Street. There are no revving engines, no blaring horns, no frustrated drivers exchanging insults in the traffic. Oxford Street is, relatively speaking, quiet.

Fictitious reckonings aside, the above scene is rooted in official proposals; most notably in London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s recent transport strategy, which includes plans for a city-wide ban of petrol- and diesel-fuelled vehicles by 2050. Khan’s proposals follow announcements by the mayors of Paris, Mexico City, Athens and Madrid, who have unveiled plans to ban diesel cars from their city centres by 2025.

Pollution in London

In London, worsening congestion and critical levels of pollution in the city centre have led to Khan’s drastic transport strategy. And the effects of London’s congestion are becoming increasingly evident. Public use of the city’s bus service is declining for the first time in years, and taxi drivers are reporting more and more passengers getting out of cabs to walk to their destinations simply because the traffic has hit a stand still. When it comes to the causes, the issue centres on population growth. The increasing number of people residing in London hasn’t only meant more cars on the roads; it has led to a rise in the number of delivery vans and heavy goods vehicles, which transport the construction materials needed to build the new homes that the city’s growing population so demands.

Of course, the black fumes billowing out of the exhaust pipes of these vans, trucks and lorries as they chug along the congested city roads isn’t doing the air quality any favours. In 2017, London exhausted its annual air pollution limit in just 5 days. The city’s pollution is related to over 9,000 deaths every year. And although a new measure which charged highly polluting vans and lorries to enter the city was introduced in 2008, London’s air quality has failed to improve. Levels of the harmful air pollutant nitrogen dioxide (NO2) have gradually increased over the past few years; furthermore, researchers have found that the concentration of NO2 on Oxford Street is the worst on the planet.

Possible solutions

So, what’s the solution? Khan’s proposals to categorically ban all petrol and diesel engines from London by 2050 – together with the government’s pledge to ban the sale of all new petrol and diesel cars after 2040 – appears to suggest that fuel type is the problem, and cleaner vehicles are the solution. But with increasing numbers of people flocking to cities, cleaner vehicles fail to resolve the growing problem of congestion. Although they emit less pollutants, electric and hybrid cars will populate London’s roads just like diesel and petrol vehicles. At the current rate of city population growth, the proposed shift to electric cars simply isn’t sustainable.

So, it seems as if the real problem lies in our habits and attitudes towards travel. Since the 1940s, owning a car has been a widespread aspiration and a symbol of status and independence. But as our cities become increasingly overcrowded, the idea that the bulk of us can continue to own cars – electric or otherwise – is unfeasible; we need to radically change the way we think about transport and travel.

Normalising public transport

As a population, we must warm to the idea of public transport as our primary mode of travel. This will come about through a widespread shift in public opinion towards car ownership, together with the introduction of an improved and expanded clean public transport system. Of course, electric vehicles will play a role; but overall, the emphasis needs to be placed not on cars but on electrically fuelled buses, along with clean trains, trams and a further push towards cycling and walking as primary means of transport. The future success of our cities will rely not only on vehicle legislation and investment in public transport, but on a radical shift in the way we think about getting from A to B.

As the sustainable transport options of our future begin to take shape, a revolutionary new mode of travel is picking up speed right here in the Steve Edge Design studio. Steve is thrilled to unveil The Flying Angel. A ground-breaking, zero-emission form of environmental transport, it will transform the habits of commuters the world over. The Flying Angel is the act of one person travelling on the shoulders of another. It frees up 50% more space on the pavements of our cities, and presents opportunities for fresh perspectives and multi-levelled conversation. Having trialled the new method of transport around the studio, Steve can confirm that The Flying Angel isn’t just environmentally friendly; it’s also fantastic fun.

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