Closing streets to incentivise cleaner transport

London has an air pollution problem and needs to cut its carbon emissions. There are all sorts of schemes in place already, such as the emissions charging zone, bike path networks, gas powered buses and electric taxis. The city recently announced a new pilot scheme: closing a road to all traffic except ‘ultra low emission vehicles’ (ULEVs), such as electric, hydrogen or high-performing hybrid vehicles.

As it’s a pilot, the closure is very limited – just one end of short and quiet street in the city. It won’t inconvenience many people, but it will hopefully be enough to test out the idea and see what the effects might be. Perhaps more than anything else, it’s a statement of intent. It lets people know that parts of London could be closed entirely to oil-powered vehicles at some point, and commercial operators in particular will want to take notice.

The message from this kind of pilot project is that if you run a taxi firm or a delivery company, now would be a good time to accelerate any plans you had to switch to an electric fleet. If you don’t, you could find yourself at a disadvantage in the near future. Those who have switched to ULEVs will be able to take shortcuts that are closed to you, or guarantee a door-to-door service that you can’t promise.

This is a useful technique for cities wanting to improve air quality and reduce emissions, and there are lots of different permutations. Roads can be closed to heavy goods vehicles, or diesels. Like London, they can be closed to conventional oil-powered traffic. They can be closed on certain days or at certain times of day if necessary. Ultimately the aim is to make it easier for those choosing clean vehicles, and incentivising a change.

Road restrictions also allow cities to move faster than governments. Plenty of countries are talking about banning high-emission vehicles, but city authorities don’t have to wait for those policies to materialise. The business of cleaning up the air and the atmosphere can begin sooner than that.

Of course, there are more radical steps for those with the vision to take them. Chengdu, who got a mention on Friday for their space mirror, is planning to ban cars from half the city’s streets. Oxford is discussing a full ban of petrol and diesel vehicles from the town centre. Madrid will only be allowing residents and ULEVs to drive, and all delivery vehicles will be low emissions.

But if that’s all a bit too much where you are right now, start with a single street and see how it goes.


  1. I think it’s a great idea – but how do you keep the other vehicles out? Maybe a camera system that fines non-compliant vehicles?

  2. Hello Jem

    Please note that my new email address is

    Hilary’s is



    On Mon, 5 Nov 2018 at 13:01, Make Wealth History wrote:

    > Jeremy Williams posted: “London has an air pollution problem and needs to > cut its carbon emissions. There are all sorts of schemes in place already, > such as the emissions charging zone, bike path networks, gas powered buses > and electric taxis. The city recently announced a new pi” >

  3. Hi William,

    I thought of Madrid when I was reading this new plan, and then saw it at the bottom of the article. But as a “Madrilenian” I have to say that the information in that article that you link is not completely correct, as zero (and maybe low) emissions cars will be allowed to circulate, together with residents. If your google chrome website translator works, you can read this article, if interested:

    Thanks for the blog!

    María Guerrero


  4. Not really convinced.

    Restricting traffic in certain areas is only going to shift the problem to other areas, in my opinion- exactly the same as what I see with bus lanes, pedestrianisation etc. and may concentrate congestion and air pollution to those areas. Is it not better to incentivise rather than penalise?

    1. Bus lanes and pedestrianisation definitely count as incentives, in my view. Based on my experiences in places like Oxford, it’s much more attractive to take the bus because you can get into town quicker, and it’s much more attractive to bike or walk if you know there won’t be lots of cars cutting you up. But in fact I think we need carrot and stick, and these measures count as both. As regards displacing, in many cases there’s nowhere much to displace to — around Oxford (say), most people are trying to get to/from the centre, and all routes are in some measure restricted. So discouraging casual driving doesn’t seem to have much down side.

  5. Depends on your perspective, doesn’t it? EV-only lanes and roads are an incentive to drive low emissions vehicle. As for displacing traffic, it depends what you displace onto. Oxford has made it difficult to drive into the centre, and created a great park and ride scheme. So traffic has been displaced into buses. It’s unwise to just shut down drivers, but if it’s alongside other measures to allow people to shift to cleaner alternatives, people can make a real choice.

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