IHBC Yearboox 2018

R E V I E W A N D A N A L Y S I S 39 SHARED SPACE PEOPLE, TRAFFIC AND HISTORIC TOWNSCAPE JONATHAN TAYLOR T HE NEED to reduce both carbon emissions and pollution from traffic means that our historic urban centres are on the verge of a green revolution. Proposals for vehicle restrictions which were unthinkable just a decade ago are now more likely to win public support, providing new opportunities for remodelling and regenerating many of our most important historic centres. Because transport contributes to around a quarter of the UK’s carbon emissions and affects air quality through toxic gases and particulates, especially in towns and cities, urban transport issues are the focus of particular attention. Particulates and nitrogen dioxide (NO 2 ) levels are linked to respiratory problems, and the European Environment Agency estimated that the UK had almost 12,000 premature deaths in 2013 as a result of dangerously high NO 2 levels – ours are the second highest in Europe. In one busy London street the annual quota for the number of hours pollution levels are allowed to exceed 200 µg m 3 NO 2 was broken just five days into 2018, and annual mean limits of 40 µg m 3 were exceeded at 59 of the 97 monitoring sites in the city in 2016. Action to reduce pollution in urban centres is particularly important because over 80 per cent of the population across Europe lives in urban areas. This rises to 83 per cent in England (Defra’s figures for 2014), and most people live in conurbations and cities which already have good public transportation systems. The increasing use of electric vehicles and the switch from diesel to petrol are likely to have a substantial impact on air quality over the next ten years. Although just two per cent of the UK’s current car sales are for electric vehicles (according to figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders statistics, March 2018), this is an increase of over 25 per cent on the previous year, and the trend is likely to accelerate. Oxford recently announced plans to ban petrol and diesel-fuelled vehicles from some city centre streets by 2020, and from the whole city centre by 2035. Other cities may follow suit. Since electric vehicles and their batteries are relatively expensive, at least at present, cities that follow Oxford’s approach are likely to see a substantial decline in private vehicle use in the city centres, and this favours further pedestrianisation. Pedestrianising individual streets and squares, however, will not change car use, and a more radical approach is outlined by Zaha Hadid Architects in Walkable London. ZHA’s report points to the continent where the trend is towards pedestrianising whole neighbourhoods. In Paris, for example, car ownership fell from 60 percent in 2001 to 40 per cent in 2014 as a result of its pedestrian-friendly policy. In London, ZHA proposes to prioritise pedestrian use in several main areas, and a comprehensive network of pedestrian routes would be introduced across the capital as an integral part of the city’s transport infrastructure. Aside from the obvious benefits that this would bring through the improvement in air quality and carbon emissions, ZHA highlights the health benefits. Walking just 20 minutes per day can cut the risk of heart disease by 30 per cent. The cost to the health service from physical inactivity has been estimated at over £10 billion, eight per cent of its total expenditure. Nevertheless, such schemes remain controversial. Proposals put forward by Transport for London, Westminster City Council and the Mayor of London for removing all traffic from Oxford Street and neighbouring areas over the next three years have met with significant opposition. A recent consultation on Zaha Hadid Architects’ proposals for the pedestrianisation of Oxford Street (left) and Upper Street (right) from Walkable London, which would see vehicles excluded from large areas of central London (Illustrations: Zaha Hadid Architects)