London's Low Emissions Zones Prove Successful

London's Low Emissions Zones Prove Successful

Since 2016, the city of London has reduced car traffic, a climate benefit that also reduced emissions of carbon and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a pollutant that causes lung damage. But this change wasn’t overnight or free. The city implemented several tactics to ramp down driving, including:

  • Creating an Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) that charges cars and trucks driving into the city center and heavily-polluting vehicles using roadways in surrounding areas
  • Adapting residential streets to be more human-centric
  • Adding miles of distance to cycle lanes

However, even with these new measures in place, car traffic has remained stubbornly consistent through the pandemic years. According to a city-wide report, biking rose by 22% compared to 2019, but public transit ridership remains below pre-pandemic levels. And more than a third of car trips made by Londoners could have been walked in under 25 minutes, while two-thirds could be cycled in under 20 minutes.

What’s Hot London?: Ultra Low Emission Zone Explained, April 3, 2019.

Sky News: London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone just got bigger, October 25, 2021.

Why This Matters

Cars are the second-largest source of pollution in Europe, and just SUVs cause more pollution worldwide than all of Germany. Reducing vehicle emissions is both a climate and public health imperative, as air quality effects can be felt almost immediately. In London’s city center, the ULEZ helped reduce NO2 concentrations by 44% and PM2.5 concentrations by 27% in less than a year.

The figures imply that cities are a good place to start reducing emissions, requiring shorter travel distances from point A to B, and presenting plenty of opportunities for pedestrian, bike, and transit infrastructure to expand.

Despite resistance from some residents to shift away from car-focused transit, J. H. Crawford, author of Carfree Cities, told Wired that if a sensible program is adopted to really reduce or eliminate car usage in a central urban area, it seems to stick. If you go back a year or two later, people will just say: well, this is the best thing we ever did.”

WRI: London's Ultra Low Emission Zone | Prize for Cities 2020-2021, April 27, 2021.

NBC: New Study Finds Pollution Caused Nearly Nine Million Deaths Worldwide In 2019, May 18, 2022.

City Beautiful: Can we make cities car free?, December 12, 2020.

The Oslo Approach

Personal vehicles are responsible for 33% of emissions -- higher than waste incineration and energy supply at 23%. In Norway’s capital of Oslo, and like many cities worldwide, private cars and vans are among the top three sources of carbon pollution. Currently, drivers of petrol-fueled vehicles are charged more to drive and park in the city, but soon Oslo’s new emission-free zones will prohibit them from entering at all. The strategy is in line with a recent Case Studies on Transport Policy analysis that identified congestion charges as one of the best ways to get cars out of European cities.

Open House Oslo: Going Green | Living the Car-free Cycling City, November 14, 2020.

The Situation Stateside

Officials in the car-centric city of Los Angeles are drafting a proposal to prohibit the building of no new gas stations. Those hopeful to pass the measure feel commuters and residents are moving away from fossil fuels and seeking alternatives. They also cite the county’s ban on oil new drilling and a phase-out of existing wells in unincorporated parts put in place last September, adopted by the City of Los Angeles in January. On the other coast, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu is working to launch fare-free busses, which she plans to phase in early next year.

CBS: Los Angeles Bans New Oil And Gas Drilling Projects, January 26, 2022.

Boston Orange: Boston Mayor Michelle Wu explains her plan of 3 bus lines free for 2 years, November 18, 2021.

TED: End fossil fuels to protect human health | Carolyn Orr, March 1, 2022.