Cities around the world are driving vehicles off the streets by imposing strict anti-pollution measures, but the car still rules in the United States.
This week, the city of Paris launched a ban on vehicles built before 1997 during weekday daylight hours. Mayor Anne Hidalgo has been candid about her desire to expand the ban to cut back on smog from diesel cars and to “reclaim” the city for pedestrians and bikers.
London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, proposed higher taxes on polluting vehicles coming into a downtown “low emissions zone,” like diesel cars or older models. Oslo, Norway, will ban cars from its downtown entirely by 2019. Other cities in Europe and Asia have implemented various partial bans or fees to cut down on private vehicle use.
In the United States, cities aren’t going after cars to curb pollution in quite the same way.
Americans’ vehicles now represent the largest source of carbon emissions in the country and often account for an even larger share in city centers. But rather than crack down on cars, U.S. leaders say they hope to ease people from decades of private vehicle use into less carbon-intensive ways of getting around by electrifying fleets and boosting public transportation.
“We’ve been giving large incentives to people to drive more and live a more suburban life for the last half-century. That’s been shifting over the last 15 years or so, but it’s going to take a significant period of time for the car dependence to diminish,” said Michael Replogle, deputy commissioner for policy at the New York City Department of Transportation and an international expert on sustainable transportation.
U.S. cities are pursuing a variety of tailored strategies to curb pollution, as are European cities. But generally, U.S. cities will try to reduce emissions by changing how Americans use the car, rather than whether they use one at all, he said.
“Ultimately, if cities make it easier for people to get around without owning a car, then people will own less cars,” Replogle said.
Cracking down on cars with schemes like congestion pricing or bans can be politically fraught. The measures often require approval by multiple levels of government. New York City considered congestion pricing under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2008, for example, but the state Legislature blocked the move.
No Metro: a &squo;major environmental disaster’
Many European cities have a more expansive public transit system and more fuel-efficient cars, a cultural difference that could be partially at play in the number of cities there cutting private vehicle use, said Gunjan Parik, who leads the transportation initiative at the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, a network of cities working to tackle climate change.
Liz Babcock, the manager of air, water and climate for the city of Denver, said banning or putting a price on private vehicle use concerns her because it might shut out people from low-income communities who have no other way of coming into the city.
“With any kind of policy, you have to be careful about unintended consequences,” Babcock said.
Denver’s climate action plan mentions congestion pricing as one of a series of measures that could reduce air pollution and meet the city’s climate goals, but the concept hasn’t moved forward. Denver is investing in public transportation with newly expanded rail transit and encouraging residents to switch to electric vehicles.
Tommy Wells, the director of Washington, D.C.’s Department of Energy and Environment, said the city has so far focused mainly on improving walkability and biking and on encouraging people to use more public transit.
With the D.C. Metro system partially shut down for maintenance this summer, however, commuters are turning back to their private vehicles, he said, though there aren’t any solid data yet.
“I view it as the major environmental disaster in the city this year,” he said.
Sounding frustrated, he said he expects to propose some disincentives for people in private vehicles this fall, like ending free downtown parking for workplaces.
“The greatest gains are not made by electrifying personal vehicles,” he said. “The greatest gains are getting people out of vehicles into public transit.”
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500