- London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced plans for the city’s largest "car free day" in September. More than 12 miles of roads in the city center will be closed to all vehicle traffic on Sept. 22.
- The event is meant to draw attention to the United Kingdom’s dangerously high levels of air pollution, which are linked to 40,000 premature deaths each year. More than 50% of London’s air pollution comes from cars, according to city data.
- In a statement, Khan said the event would help Londoners “see the city from a different perspective.” There will be events to promote walking and cycling, including “play streets” that will encourage residents to play and socialize in empty streets.
Khan has made reducing air pollution from cars a centerpiece of his agenda. In April, the city launched an Ultra Low Emission Zone in the city center, which requires that vehicles meet environmental standards or face a fine. That's on top of the Low Emission Zone policy that covers most of Greater London to limit diesel cars and trucks.
In a Transport Strategy published last year, Khan wrote that “London must become a city where walking, cycling and green public transport become the most appealing and practical choices for many more journeys.”
Cutting car use for one day won’t make much of a dent on overall pollution trends, although advocates are hopeful it can draw attention to the short-term impacts and demonstrate to residents what options are available besides driving. Though London’s pollution problem is well-known and can often be visible, a recent survey by the city transportation agency found that nearly one half of respondents did not know vehicles were the main contributor.
Fiona Sutherland, deputy director of London Play, said in a statement that the event could be “the beginning of long term change.” The city says that the September event may be the start of "weekly and/or monthly car free days in different locations across London."
As more cities consider car-free zones and schemes like congestion pricing to increase the use of alternative transportation modes, one-off events like this could build momentum and show residents the potential of a car-free lifestyle.