Driving into a city should become as antisocial as smoking

Imagine a capital city where nobody has to die on the roads.

It may sound almost impossible, but last year not a single pedestrian, cyclist or child lost their life on the streets of Norway’s capital, Oslo; the only fatality recorded was a motorist crashing into a fence. (By comparison 12 people were killed in Bristol, a city slightly smaller than Oslo, in 2017 – and over half of them were pedestrians or cyclists.)

The catch? The lives saved in Norway seem to have been a byproduct of a bigger plan to become a carbon-neutral city that would probably spark a mutiny if you tried it here. Oslo has closed some streets to traffic entirely, removed parking spaces across the city to deter drivers, introduced measures to stop parents doing the school run by car and reduced speed limits. There’s plentiful public transport and lots of bike lanes but the bottom line is, as Oslo’s mayor says, that while cities will always have traffic, “the drivers should act as guests”. And not very welcome guests, by the sound of it.

Something like this would probably be the future for British cities, if we were serious about dealing with the air pollution filling urban children’s lungs, as well as tackling the climate crisis. This week, Birmingham announced proposals to stop people driving across the city centre, amid research suggesting that illegal levels of air pollution may be shortening the lives of children growing up in the city by up to half a year. Cars will be allowed into a new clean-air zone, but not through it to reach other parts of the city, forcing them out around the ring road, or otherwise encouraging drivers on to the bus.

It’s following in the footsteps of other cities, including Bristol, which unveiled proposals last autumn to ban diesel cars from parts of the city in daytime, and Oxford, which this week published plans for a zero-emission zone in the centre with a £10 charge for non-compliant vehicles. Suddenly you can imagine a time when driving into a smog-laden city, in all but the greenest cars and for all but the most essential journeys, will feel as antisocial as smoking on the bus.

Read more: The Guardian

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