What if famous cities lost their cars overnight?
Before we get started, any keyboard warriers out there, relax, this is just a bit of blue-sky-thinking fun…
The world going green by embracing zero emission electric cars is great, we’re all for it. But what if some of our planet’s biggest cities lost all of their cars overnight? What impact would that have?
We asked the AI at DreamStudio to design it for us.
An interesting idea…
The obvious advantage, of course, is the substantial reduction in emissions we produce. In the UK, 91% of emissions from domestic transport came from road vehicles, with cars and taxis contributing over 52%. That’s 51 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.
This is a huge problem in our cities, especially in those that are densely populated like London, with millions of people in a small space. Toxic fumes can’t escape the area easily and it means you end up breathing most of it in.
This came to light again recently with the introduction of the Clear Air (Human Rights) bill, currently passed in the House of Lords and awaiting a second reading in the House of Commons. After the sad death of Ella Kissi-Debrah, who in February 2013, lost her life due to “acute respiratory failure” as a result of “air pollution exposure”, her mum Rosamund has campaigned to have stricter laws when it comes to the pollution we’re creating in cities.
The impact of built-up areas losing their cars
There are four main things that we could significantly alter if our big cities lost their cars overnight. That said, of course, it’s not all for the better.
The big one. Big cities like London are known for having high levels of air pollution, with cars, vans coaches and lorries contributing an awful lot.
If we could take away just one portion of those contributors – the car – then we could reduce the toxic fumes we pump into our towns dramatically. We’ve already seen the impact this can have thanks to COVID. Data from 2020 was recently published in January this year, with analysis showing that (because of various lockdowns) CO2 emissions produced by transport were down 2 million tonnes. Emissions from Road Transport, Rail, Shipping and Aviation were generally down 22.5% over 2019. That may not seem a lot, but a change that large that sudden, is unheard of.
As mentioned earlier, toxic emissions can kill, so the potential for positive change is huge.
The overnight disappearance of cars in our cities isn’t just lung deep though, it’ll help our ears out too.
Noise pollution is a big reason why people choose not to live in cities, with traffic/transport noise one of the biggest contributors. Engines can be noisy, right? If we switched them all off or stopped using them, our streets would be considerably quieter.
That may not sound important but the European Environment Agency reckon that reducing noise levels in our cities could dramatically increase mental and physical wellbeing:
Long-term exposure to noise can cause a variety of health effects including annoyance, sleep disturbance, negative effects on the cardiovascular and metabolic system, as well as cognitive impairment in children. Looking at the current data, we estimate that environmental noise contributes to 48,000 new cases of ischaemic heart disease a year as well as 12,000 premature deaths. In addition, we estimate that 22 million people suffer chronic high annoyance and 6.5 million people suffer chronic high sleep disturbance. As a result of aircraft noise we estimate that 12,500 school children suffer reading impairment in school.
Besides, there’s not much more annoying that not being able to sleep because of your noisy surroundings, right?
It’s not all plain sailing though, of course. Busses and trains would get much busier if cars weren’t allowed into cities, but it would mean more space and room to have more of them.
And, I suppose, it’d encourage people to get fitter and think of healthier, non-vehicle related ways of getting to work (like walking or cycling). ‘Traffic’ could be a thing of the past.
And another quite big one. The automotive industry employs a lot of people in the UK, with London residents alone owning a lot of cars. If we got rid of them all, where would all those jobs go? It’s not just the sales teams selling cars that would suffer, it’s the breakdown assistants, mechanics and garages, tyre fitters and paint workshops… what are they all going to do if there are no cars to work on?
Plus, no need for petrol stations, so there’d be cuts there too. Our local economies could crumble.
But, all that said, it’s still cool to think about a world where cars are less relied on in in cities. So…
What would our cities look like with no traffic?
As artificial intelligence is pretty big at the moment, we asked it to show us what our cities would look like with no cars:
If Marble Arch didn’t have traffic everywhere
I used to drive around Marble Arch when I lived in London and did some volunteering. It was always total, abject, chaos. Not as bad as some other places in London, granted, but the traffic was usually a nightmare.
Being so close to lots of shops, what would Marble Arch look like without cars? Well, according to AI, it could mean the roads are lined with parasols and tables for dining (at least that’s what we think those things are on the right-hand-side of the road?).
What if Trafalgar Square was completely pedestrianised?
Look at all that room for walking!! Events at Trafalgar Square could basically double in capacity if we ditched the roads and expanded the walkways. West End Live could become a central London, musical theatre based Glastonbury!
A bus only London
Fewer cars mean less traffic for busses, right? The 88 will never be late again. Think about it, the reason busses are slow isn’t because they can’t go fast enough (the speed limit in London is mostly 20-30mph nowadays anyway), it’s because they’re sharing the road with everyone else. If everyone caught the bus and stopped taking up so much space driving around in and near empty cars, our public transport could thrive. In theory…
…but let’s not forget traditional busses aren’t great for the planet, especially when they’re diesel. That’s why Transport for London have committed to an all-electric bus fleet by 2034. Maybe this could genuinely start to make sense.
2. New York
Let’s go to the theatre! Broadway with no cars
Sure, rocking up to one of the latest productions on Broadway in a fancy car or an iconic New York taxi would great for the ‘gram’, but look at all the space you’d have to catwalk in your new outfit if there weren’t any cars in the way!
The Champs-Élysées & Arc de Triomphe… sort of
The Arc de Triomphe is famous for being one of the most bonkers roundabouts any driver could come across. 10 lanes and 12 exits of total carnage. Sure, in our AI generated one, it’s less the centre of a roundabout and more a U-bend, but it demostrates the point.
But, with an annual footfall of 1.5 million residents and tourists visiting each year, it’s totally plausible to suggest this area could be pedestrianised to make it safer for visitors. Plus, with so many lanes of traffic, all day long, this roundabout-on-steroids has quite a high accident rate (even if the accidents are quite low speed). You could stop thousands of cars needing repair if you just… didn’t let them through.
Of course, we know this is just fantasy
And rightly so; lots of people rely on their cars to get around, to live. We’re aware it’s fantasy to say we should just remove them entirely. Plus, if there were no cars, I wouldn’t have a job. And I quite like my job, to be honest.
But it is interesting to imagine a world where we relied on cars a little less. Especially in built-up areas where walking, or getting a bus, wouldn’t take all that much longer. It’s not that simple, though, of course.
It’s still possible to get some of the big benefits of a car-free society if we went electric, though, in the form of reduced emissions. EVs are zero emission vehicles, meaning much less nasty stuff would be ploughed into our towns and cities if we switched sooner. Great for the planet, and you still get to keep your pride, joy and freedom.
That wouldn’t solve the traffic though, sadly. 😔
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