London: The Price of Traffic
Narrated by Brad Pitt
As of 2008, cities were responsible for about 80% of greenhouse gas emissions and consumed roughly 75% of the world’s energy. Given that half of humanity lives in cities and that number is expected to grow to two-thirds by the year 2030, local policymakers in cities have a unique opportunity to affect the global climate crisis for better or worse. Ken Livingston, the first directly elected mayor of London, has taken advantage of that opportunity to institute a number of policies that respond to London’s growth while also improving its livability.
The mayor created Transport for London (TFL), a local government body, that looks at all types of transportation including not only buses, subways, trains and motorists but also pedestrians and cyclists. TFL’s findings and actions have led to the reallocation of some roadways away from automobiles to buses, pedestrians and cyclists, resulting in a more equitable use of public space.
In 2002, the mayor launched the One Hundred Public Spaces Program to create or upgrade key public spaces and improve the quality of life in London. Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square and Kensington High Street are three of the places that have benefited from an initiative to give pedestrians priority over cars. While there is slightly less space on the roads for cars, which has upset some, the increased pedestrian traffic has revived London’s street life and changed the culture of the city for the better.
In 2003, against the advice of many of his advisors, Ken Livingston took a risk by implementing congestion charging in central London. According to Nicky Gavron, the Deputy Mayor of London, the idea for congestion charging in London first surfaced in 1988. In the 1990s, she commissioned a study to look at congestion charging as well as other measures like improved parking and investment in buses. While the research determined that an expansion of the public transportation system would help curb the growing congestion problem in downtown London, the notion of congestion charging -- collecting money from the motorists who cause the congestion to pay for public transportation -- was controversial.
The system requires motorists to pay £8 per day to drive within the congestion zone, which is defined by a map published by TFL.A system of cameras monitors the edges of the zone and checks the number plates of all the vehicles that enter and exit against a database of those who have paid. Vehicle owners who have not paid the proper fee receive a £120 penalty charge notice in the mail.
While there was a lot of early resistance to congestion charging, the significant expansion of the bus system, bike lanes and pedestrian sidewalks that were funded by the charge were well received. The implementation of congestion charging resulted in reductions in traffic, congestion, CO2 emissions and the release of other pollutants and a 5% increase in the number of Londoners who use public transportation, a significant number considering that over 7.5 million people live in London.
In 2012, London will host the Olympics, which have been dubbed the Transport Games because of the significant amount of new public transportation that is being built to accommodate the athletes and spectators who will travel to and from events. It is estimated that 240,000 people will be transported each hour by rail alone. The revitalization of the Lee Valley, where the games will be held, is an enormous undertaking, but the result will be a sustainable neighborhood with green spaces, access to the Lee River, affordable housing and comprehensive public transportation. For East London, which has high unemployment rates and poor health care and is in the bottom 5% of the country in terms of socio-economics, the physical changes and new job opportunities in the neighborhood will provide an improved quality of life that is long overdue.
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May 22, 2009, 21:03:09
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