UK transport secretary Grant Shapps announced the government wants at least one city centre to be restricted exclusively to bikes and electric vehicles. In York, councillors are calling for York to bid to become the first such zero-emission city.
Earlier this week, Shapps presented £2 billion investment in green travel solutions. Among other things, this meant moving electric kick scooter trials forward to next month – a year earlier than planned. Overall, the scheme is aimed at getting more people walking and cycling in light of the requirements of public space due to the Covid-19 pandemic as well as addressing the problem that each year – even without Covid-19 – 20,000 Britons die from respiratory problems from transport pollution.
Part of the plan involves a showcase city, with a city centre that could demonstrate the benefits of green travel. This could mean only bikes, pedestrians and electric vehicles are allowed into the city centre as people are encouraged to cycle and walk, as public transport capacity is diminished due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Local authorities are already being asked to create pop-up bike lanes to establish more pedestrian zones, widen footpaths, create more bus-only streets and to boost bike-fixing hubs. These measures are targeted at reducing congestion and optimising space as well as improving air quality.
In York, the city keen to create the UK’s first emission-free city centre, Councillors have already voted in favour of banning private car journeys within the city walls by 2023. The only exceptions here are for people with disabilities or other conditions that mean that can only travel by car.
Councillor Jonny Crawshaw said: “Though Grant Shapps isn’t a natural ally of Labour we were pleased to hear how much Government’s thinking on future transport policy chimes with the steps York has already begun to take towards a lower-car, low-carbon, people-friendly city.” He added that “Lockdown has given us a glimpse of what significantly quieter, more peaceful streets can be like.”
York was also the first city in the country to roll out a voluntary clean air zone so that a bid for a carbon-free centre could be well supported. However, Cllr Paula Widdowson, executive member for climate change, while supportive of the idea pointed out that councils needed “clarity over national funding” and added this would need to include “support with zero carbon schemes, during the Covid-19 crisis”.
Additional reporting by Nora Manthey, UK.