Rosalind Readhead is fed up with the toxic smog and terrible traffic in London, where nearly 10,000 people die from long-term exposure to air pollution every year.
So she’s vying for the 2016 mayoral election with a controversial platform: banning cars from the city center.
“To get us down to the legal pollution level, we need to do something pretty radical,” Readhead tells Tech Insider.
Under Readhead’s four-year plan, London would
kick cars out in phases. She would first introduce a ban on non-local cars, then a permanent one on all private cars.
“We are living in a changing time,” Readhead said. “People have an appetite for change in a way we haven’t seen for a while.”
She cites a new survey from marketing research firm YouGov UK, which polled 1,258 London residents. It revealed that 58% support a monthly car-free day in the city center.
The stakes are high. Diesel cars, which emit up to 40 times the legal level, cause most of the city’s pollution. A permanent car ban would cut total greenhouse emissions by 50%, Readhead said.
The European Commission said London will need to meet air quality standards by 2020, or the city will pay a fine of up to 300 million euros, or $US331 million, per year. Yet London isn’t even on track to be compliant until 2030, despite a $US12.70 congestion fee per car during rush hour.
“If I was born to do anything in life, it’s this,” she said of her campaign. “Because I’m running as an Independent, there’s no reason for me to be anything but honest about the health impacts on society and the environment.”
Before Readhead decided to run for mayor, she worked as a freelance textile designer. She never applied for a driver’s licence, and she’s always got around London by train, bus, bike, and foot. After her three sons moved out of the house, she started connecting with environmental activists.
The more she learned about London’s pollution crises, the more she wanted to help.
She started campaigning last year, joining up with grassroots organisations who want to ban cars in London. Her platform also includes plans to improve London’s metro, create extensive bike lanes, plant trees in former parking lots, and cut transit fares altogether.
She said her campaign has gathered growing endorsement. Fellow mayoral candidates, urban planners, and influential environmental writers like Mayer Hillman and Holly Chabowski have contacted her to express approval. The public backing of car-free days, reflected in the YouGov UK poll, also shows that her campaign is on the political agenda.
But because she will run as Independent, she anticipates tough competition from the Conservative and Labour Party candidates, Zac Goldsmith and Sadiq Khan. Londoners haven’t elected an Independent candidate since mayoral elections started in 2000. Although it’s harder to be heard over party candidates, Readhead said her platform is more authentic. She doesn’t feel pressure from other party members.
“In politics here, there are certain subjects they do not want to touch,” she said. “And one of them is the car problem. I want to open up the debate.”
Readhead said a ban will take gradual steps, like car-free days, which are happening in other European cities. A Parisian politician invited her to visit the city for its first car-free day in September. For the day, the city cleared all eight traffic lanes around its Place de la Concorde fountain.
The visit further convinced Readhead that London should ban cars too.
The city could build housing with the current 6.8 million parking spaces, she said, and if people were walking or taking public transit, they’d be more likely to talk with strangers — which psychology research suggests makes everybody happier.
“I like being on the ground and chatting with people,” Readhead said. “You can tell somebody on the train a personal story as you travel together, even if you never see them again.”
Even if London doesn’t elect her, she would call her campaign successful if the next mayor adopts some of her policies, like new bike lanes or closed roads. She also celebrates other countries who lead the global car-free movement. “Of course I am happy every time a new city goes car-free — whether it’s for a day, a month, or completely,” she said.
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