Our national health emergency predates covid-19. Britain’s poisonous air causes 40,000 early deaths a year, with almost one in four of those occurring in London. Globally, air pollution kills over 4 million. Year in. Year out.
However, the covid-19 crisis is prompting the green shoots of change. New York has legalised pedelecs up to 20 mph, e-bikes up to 25 mph and electric kick scooters up to 15 mph. The Big Apple has had a fractious relationship with electric two-wheelers over recent years, but writing was on the wall.
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo told a press conference earlier this year that cars were paralysing city and that motoring had to be discouraged: “We need an alternative to automobiles driving in New York City. The volume is paralysing. The cost is prohibitive. It is environmentally destructive.”
Meanwhile here in Britain, local authorities are adopting a policy of tactical urbanism.
It’s a small start, but traffic levels over recent weeks have plummeted. Alongside tranquil streets, air pollution has fallen to its lowest level in twenty years. However, it remains to be seen whether we get a taste for cleaner, quieter and safer neighbourhoods.
The article above describes Car Free Day in 2001. It was an event that drew support from over 1,000 cities and towns. However, over recent years, the number of British towns staging the annual event to highlight alternatives to car travel has collapsed.
As the organisation that first coordinated the event in Britain, we wrote to over 400 local authorities around Britain some years later to ask if they were planning to support World Car Free Day; only two councils replied.
National health emergency
A joint inquiry by four committees of MPs described Britain’s air pollution as a “national health emergency”, which is hardly surprising given the government’s inability to tackle it. After all, the government’s clean air plans have been judged illegal three times in the high court. And the latest proposal, rejected by the high court earlier this year, was condemned as ‘inexcusable’ by doctors.
Car-free days are by no means a panacea, but our country’s seeming refusal to stage them speaks volumes.
When the coronavirus pandemic subsides, we have to ask ourselves: Do we want the cars back?
Not only are we ethical, we campaign for sustainable transport. Sometimes that means protesting until a school gets the zebra crossing they’ve been refused or running 60 roadshows this year to encourage people out of their cars, or fixing bicycles for free. We also launched Green Transport Week and helped establish Car Free Day and Twenty’s Plenty to name just a few.
We’ve been campaigning for sustainable transport in this way for over 30 years with the help of people like you. Supporting this work is easy – you simply have to take out home insurance, cycle insurance, travel insurance and breakdown cover and we take care of the rest. We provide an excellent level of cover while putting concern for the environment at the heart of all we do.