Although UK cities only take up 6% of the UK by space, they are home to 83% of the population. UK transport, including cars, buses, vans and lorries, produces 27% of our CO2 emissions. This is concentrated in cities.
Transport is not only responsible for a large proportion of Greenhouse Gas emissions, it is also one of the main sources of air pollution that harms human health. The two main pollutants are Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and Particulate Matter (PM2.5 or 10). The World Health Organisation (WHO) says car exhaust emissions account for up to 30% of fine PM and 28% of nitrogen dioxide in urban areas.
Going car free
Now that the scientific bit is out of the way, I wanted to tell you a bit about my car free experience.
It has been nearly four years since we gave up our car. I had been using my reliable old Volvo for 15 years and giving it up felt unthinkable. It remained parked on our road most of the week as me and my partner travelled to work by tube. Weekends were ‘car time’ – we did our big shop, took our daughter to dance class and sometimes escaped London to visit friends.
Since we gave up our car, we have been doing our shopping on foot, and come back from the supermarket by bus – I can’t face walking up Telegraph Hill once I am laden with shopping bags! Our fruit and vegetables get delivered weekly and we use local shops for fruit and veg top ups, as well as for fish. We try not to eat meat most of the time but there are local butchers too.
Better on a bike
Our daughter has been riding a bike since she was five and thanks to the pandemic (there were a few silver linings) we have ridden our bikes further afield, and have grown in confidence on the roads. She is getting to know our local area as she has to watch where she is going. She is also learning to be careful and to acquire good travel habits, watch out for traffic, indicate, be aware of pedestrians etc.
A money saver
Getting rid of our car has also saved us money. Cars are extremely expensive — not only for the car payments themselves, but for fuel, oil changes, insurance, registration fees, parking costs (and sometimes tickets), inevitable repairs, and cleaning.
Looking after our streets
If those of us who could gave up our cars, imagine our streets. We could create parklets with benches and more trees and flowers, as well as having more bike sheds. Our kids could play outside more and we could meet our neighbours again.
Did you know, that even in a car you are breathing in pollution? Cars are not built to be airtight and therefore pollutants from the cars around you enters your car. Children sitting in the back of the car are likely to be exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution – 9 – 12 times higher than outside the car.
What can we do on World car free day?
If you don’t live too far from your office, from your children’s school, or from the shops, and are able to, walk there.
Enjoy the buffer walking to work creates between you and your desk. It’s a good time to process the day, or create a space between your work day and your evening. Research in the UK has found that workers are more likely to meet recommended physical activity levels if they walk or cycle to work.
It can also help you get to know London better. Walking to London Bridge station allowed me to get to know the area I used to only cross underground. I noticed that I was less stressed too – a 15 minute daily walk has significant impact on our mood. Walking released endorphins and looking around cleared my head.
Walking to school is also a good way for children to connect with their wider environment – looking at trees, houses, meeting people and sharing a smile or a hello. Very often my daughter and I see an older gentleman who walks his two small dogs on our walk to school. A few months ago we noticed him with only one dog and we were able to tell him we were sorry for the loss of his dog. Walking can create community.
Use public transport
London is blessed with a very good public transport infrastructure – use it as much as you can! It is more expensive than in many other European cities, but you keep your CO2 emissions low, and travelling by public transport is a great time to read, catch up on messages or people watch. TFL has very helpful information around accessibility, too.
To add a bit of exercise into your day you could even walk to the next bus or tube stop, rather than the one nearest to you.
So let’s imagine our streets with fewer cars, and built for people instead.