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    London's Mayor Wants to Ban Most Traffic From the City's Center by 2020

    By By Jeremy Lovell, E&E European correspondent
    February 19, 2013, 6:05:47 AM EST

    LONDON -- The center of London could become a clean air haven under a proposal announced by Mayor Boris Johnson. He wants to turn the traffic-clogged area into the world's first "ultra-low-emission zone" by 2020.


    Johnson, a member of the Conservative Party, is facing criticism for having done little to fulfill the raft of environmental pledges he made when first elected in 2008. London regularly breaches European Union air quality regulations, and Johnson said limiting traffic in the center of the city to electric or low-emission vehicles would have a dramatic impact and spur sluggish sales of clean and electric cars.

    "Creating the world's first big-city ultra-low-emission zone has the potential to be a game-changing moment in the quality of life of our great capital," Johnson said as he announced that he was asking the city's traffic manager to study the idea and draw up detailed plans.

    "My vision is a central zone where almost all vehicles running during working hours are either zero or low emission. This will deliver incredible benefits in air quality and stimulate the delivery and mass use of low-emission technology," he said in a speech at City Hall.

    Green groups welcomed the proposal, despite the lack of detail, but the reception in the blogosphere was somewhat less enthusiastic. Commentators noted that by the time the plan would come into effect, Johnson, re-elected in 2012 for a second four-year term, will have moved on, leaving the difficulty of implementation to his successor.

    They also pointed out that in the same speech in which he announced the ultra-low-emission zone idea, Johnson also watered down a plan tackling commercial vehicle emissions in the wider city, with new limits on nitrogen oxide set to come in from 2015. The new plan would restrict the change to buses instead of large trucks and vans as well.

    Central London has had for the past decade a congestion charge zone running from Hyde Park in the west to Tower Bridge in the east and St. Pancras station in the north. The aim was to reduce air pollution and cut commuting times for the 150,000 vehicles that enter the zone on weekdays between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m.

    'Congestion zone' still congested But while the number of vehicles has dropped, commuting times have remained stubbornly slow and air pollution illegally high, with an estimated 4,000 premature deaths each year as one result.

    A spokesman for Johnson's office said it was too early to say what form the ultra-low-emission zone would take -- such as a fine or a ban on offending vehicles -- or what area it would cover.

    But he said it would be logical for it to operate in the existing congestion charge zone, where enforcement is carried out by cameras that read licence plates and computers that issue fines to owners of vehicles that have not paid the daily fee.

    Currently, motorcycles and scooters are exempt from the congestion charge, although there has been much speculation that the city's transport planners would like to include them. There are about 300,000 motorbikes registered in Greater London.

    As soon as Johnson made his announcement last week, the Internet was buzzing with comments expressing fears that this might be yet another bid to attack motorbikes.

    "He has certainly put the cat among the pigeons with this," said Craig Carey-Clinch, spokesman for the Motorcycle Industry Association. "We see motorbikes as one of the many parts of the solution, not as the problem. They do emit carbon dioxide, but far less than cars, and they reduce congestion rather than adding to it."

    He added, "We have already made representations to Transport for London about this and will want to make sure we are involved in the consultation process they have been told to undertake."

    Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500. E&E Publishing is the leading source for comprehensive, daily coverage of environmental and energy issues. Click here to start a free trial to E&E's information services.

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