If the past 12 months have taught us anything, it’s that change is inevitable. Few people expected a year like 2020, where the pandemic and resulting lockdowns forced many of us to re-evaluate our priorities and life choices, but it’s not necessarily all bad. Change also gives us the opportunity to reset, to embrace a better quality of living, and this is particularly relevant when it comes to city life in the UK.
Cities like London are already facing unprecedented change. Companies are struggling. Commuters are staying home, and offices are empty. 70% of Londoners no longer feel comfortable with the idea of commuting to work via public transport, but are eagerly awaiting some sort of return to work.
London needs to reinvent itself, and not just because of the pandemic – there are much bigger challenges on the horizon. The UK is already committed to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and cutting road pollution will play a big part in meeting that target. With the UK also hosting the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, we’re in a great position to become a global leader in sustainability, but for that to happen, London and its ilk need to become smarter, cleaner and put people at the forefront. One progressive idea that challenges the status quo is the greatly debated 15-minute city.
The concept of a 15-minute city envisions the creation of a city in which work, home, education, healthcare and more are all easily accessible within a 15-minute journey. Consider London, and it’s easy to guess your first thought; after 15 minutes, you’re more likely to be stuck in traffic 100m from your starting point. And you’re right, at least if you’re driving a car. But things don’t have to be that way.
Paris – a city once renowned for heavy traffic and daunting roads (I’m thinking of you, Arc De Triomphe, with your crazy-looking roundabout) –has embraced the idea of the 15-minute city, led by Mayor Anne Hidalgo. Under Hidalgo’s stewardship, Paris has enjoyed a transformation over the past few years, doubling bicycle lane infrastructure between 2015 and 2020, with Parisians enjoying more than 1,400km of bicycle lanes as a result.
Hidalgo intends to turn Paris into Europe’s greenest city by 2030, and bicycle lanes are just the beginning. From 2024, all diesel cars will be banned from Paris, followed by petrol cars in 2030. It’s not about starting a war on motorists; Hidalgo wants to prioritise people and the environment, and reducing traffic is critical. Work is also ongoing to make it easier for people to access basic services, more efficient public transport and everyday amenities without needing to travel large distances.
Electric bikes have played an important part in the success of Paris’ transformation. 2019 saw the launch of an unprecedented e-bike share scheme that put 10,000 electric bikes on the streets, with a €500 government subsidy also helping to make electric bikes more affordable for those interested in ownership. With more kilometres of bicycle lanes than ever before and more bikes on the streets, the rise in e-mobility has certainly helped Parisians to explore their city in an entirely new way.
France isn’t the only country to enthusiastically embrace the idea of the 15-minute city, and Sweden has even considered refining the concept further. Over the past year, pop-up spaces including seating, bike racks and tables have been appearing in cities around Sweden as part of a government project called Street Moves. The aim is to discover whether every street in the country could potentially be healthy, sustainable and vibrant by 2030, with the experiment effectively creating a ‘one-minute city’.
While it’s difficult to imagine Londoners embracing the concept at the more extreme one-minute end of the scale, a 15-minute city more in keeping with Paris is certainly viable. After all, the stage is already set. The UK is committed to achieving net-zero emissions, and encouraging greener forms of transport is a great place to start. Ipswich already has plans to become a 15-minute city, the government has pledged to invest £2 billion in cycling infrastructure across the UK, and electric bikes can play a huge part in transforming city centres.
Electric bikes help to make cycling more accessible for all, providing a cheaper, cleaner and healthier option for commuters, without needing to be super fit. They’re ideal for older people, people who aren’t necessarily interested in fitness, or those who simply want to turn up at a workplace or restaurant without looking like they’ve just ascended Alpe d’Huez. Put simply, electric bikes make it easier to go further in less time, which is exactly the sort of transformation we need if London is going to help the UK to lead the way when it comes to sustainability.
Businesses can also make a big difference, not least by embracing cycle-to-work schemes that help their employees to ditch cars. At the moment, only 7% of workplaces in the UK actually offer a cycle-to-work scheme. This small uptake of the scheme is a reflection of its poor implementation to date and all-round frustrating user experience. Companies like DASH Rides are looking to change this with a re-invention of the Cycle-to-Work scheme. They even carbon offset every bike they provide to businesses by 400%, potentially helping companies to become emissions net positive.
The idea of transforming a sprawling metropolis like London towards a theoretical 15-minute city may seem like an incredible challenge, but if we work together to integrate e-mobility, redefining the daily commute to suit the changing needs of city workers and residents, it’s one I believe we not only can achieve but must, for the sake of the planet.
Read the original article on Open Access Government