Opinion: The Olympic task of cutting car-use

Nick Ruxton-Boyle, Director of Environment at Marston Holdings, reflects on the importance of behavioural change in achieving air quality and environmental goals, and the challenge that lies ahead to cut congestion in London. 

I have been working on a project recently that is all about public messaging, and how messaging and access to data influences behaviour change. Behaviour change is after all key to us achieving our air quality and carbon objectives. If we, as a human race, continue to do things in the same way we will get the same results, polluted air and carbon emissions. Einstein is [misquoted] as saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

I think most of us recognise that we need to act on air pollution and climate change, it is however more difficult to make changes, and the right changes, to our lifestyles to make an impact, however small. I recently signed up to a new milk round in my area and according to their cool app I have saved 22 plastic bottles. Not much you might say, but it’s a start.

time lapse photography of person riding bike near red sedan and telephone booth

The Mayor of London has recently stated that in order for the capital to meet its climate ambitions, traffic levels need to reduce by 27%. This means that over a quarter of the trips currently being made by road will have to be transferred to public transport, active travel or not made at all. This does seem a tall order to convince all those drivers that this is the right thing to do.

I was lucky enough to work for a London Borough ten years ago when the Olympics came to town. It was an unforgettable summer with our athletes’ outstanding performance. If you lived in or around London at the time you could not have missed the fact that the Olympics and Paralympics were happening, and that you would have to make changes to your travel. Roads were closed for events and the tube was full of supporters travelling between venues to cheer on their countries.

The overall messaging was clear and unambiguous about travel, and as a result the roads were about 30% quieter than usual – a reduction that allowed the network to perform sufficiently to ensure London was still open for business and for the Games to be a success.

This is the Olympic task that The Mayor and TfL are facing if they want to achieve a similar wide scale behaviour change and traffic reduction without the Olympic movement to support, from both a feelgood factor and budget. The public need to know why it is that they need to change, what the alternatives are, the benefits and the effects of their action, or inaction.

Traffic reduction is part of the solution, alongside electrification, and I applaud those towns and cities that are taking bold steps to achieve this. The pollution and climate change benefits are clear, we just need to ensure the messaging is as clear and that it reaches the right audience.

Photo by Franco Ruarte


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