Opinion: Paris in the Spring

Nick Ruxton-Boyle, Director of Environment at Marston Holdings, reflects on how traffic reduction measures and powers differ in the UK and Europe, and examines what we can learn from Paris’ approach to air quality. 

I have had writers block this month and could not decide which topic to cover. I started an article on the profession of transport planning, and how we can affect personal choice and travel behaviour last week, but thought it would be better timed to coincide with transport planning day, so keep an eye out for that one in November.

I travelled to Portugal last week and this got me thinking about how our European neighbours do things. Their towns and cities always seem to be a perfect blend of the old and the new. Their striking traditional architecture and road networks juxtaposed with the way in which they embrace new mobility. There is probably not a European capital or major city that does not have a plethora of low carbon, personal electric mobility options available on a number of apps.

high-rise buildings during daytime

The Europeans have also embraced road pricing in a way in which we never have. Toll roads are commonplace as are city centre ‘urban vehicle access regulation’ schemes or UVAR to give them their sexy acronym.

I love Paris on many levels, its grand boulevards, the food, the wine, the museums and art galleries. But the thing that really sets it apart, for me, is the powers the city has to act on pollution. Not a widely used power but the city can ban odd and even number plates from the roads on alternate days to reduce traffic in order to reduce pollution. This has only been done a handful of times in the last few decades, but the data shows that it can have a significant effect on the most dangerous pollutants.

Recently the energy watchdog has called for traffic reduction schemes, like the Paris solution above, to reduce global oil demand in response to the terrible situation in Ukraine. I looked through the list and it read like any number of transport policy documents I have drafted in the last 20 years. Work from home more, use active and public transport, reduce speed limits etc etc. These are policy and demand levers and tools that have, and are being, delivered by local and central government, with varying success over many years, but for varied reasons. The one that caught my eye was car free Sundays, which is probably the day I do most of my car miles!

Traffic reduction, which is what most of this is, is a politically unpleasant term that many have chosen to ignore. We have legally binding targets for the symptoms, air pollution and carbon to name a few, but not the cause, traffic. The benefits of low traffic policies and designs can help to address legacy environmental and social concerns as well as the new energy and climate crises.

Photo by Alexander Kagan


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