London set to go car-free for a day as clean air issue hits home By Earle Gale in London

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A cyclist wears an air pollution mask during the evening commute near Euston station in London on July 14, 2014. [Photo/IC]
Environmentalists and community groups have welcomed London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s announcement that London will go car-free for a day later this year.

The mayor chose Clean Air Day on June 20 to announce plans to close 20 kilometers of the capital’s roads to motorized vehicles on Sept 22 as part of World Car-Free Day. Closed-off streets include those in the financial core and adjacent areas that are popular with tourists as well as London Bridge and Tower Bridge.

Paul Hocker, director of London Play, a charity that campaigns for more opportunities for children to be able to play in the capital, said: “For 364 days a year, the car is king in the capital, but on Sept 22 it’s all change. Car-Free Day brings clean air, community fun, and play on the street to London.”

And Will Norman, London’s walking and cycling commissioner, said: “Transforming neighborhoods gives Londoners the opportunity to get to know their neighbors, strengthening their community. It will also help build on our work to reduce reliance on cars and clean up our toxic air.”

The event will feature 200 Play Streets across the capital’s 32 boroughs, and 100 Healthy School Streets, which will feature car-free roads around schools so families can walk to class in a stress-free environment. Parks and high streets will also be out of bounds to cars and trucks.And there will be live music, treasure hunts, pop-up playgrounds, BMX rides, and street performances as well.

Khan said he wants “as many Londoners as possible to join in the fun and see the city from a different perspective”.

The municipality is hoping as many as 150,000 Londoners will participate in activities on the day that will be aimed at promoting walking, cycling, and other non-polluting modes of transport.

The Guardian newspaper said as many as 9,000 people die prematurely each year because of toxic air in the United Kingdom’s capital and around 40,000 nationwide. Some 2 million people, including 400,000 children, live in parts of the capital that have air quality that does not meet the legal minimum standard.

Areeba Hamid, a spokesperson for Greenpeace UK, told the paper: “It’s exciting to see London adopting the idea of having a car-free day, something great cities across the world, from Paris to Bogota, have been giving a try … Reducing toxic air pollution and carbon emissions are vital, but they are far from the only benefit of reclaiming our streets.”

Last year, ajoint inquiry carried out by lawmakers in the UK’s Parliament described air pollution as a “national health emergency” and criticized attempts by the central government and by local authorities to tackle the problem as “woefully inadequate”.

Khan has set a target of, by 2041, having 80 percent of journeys in London made with alternative methods of transport to cars. The Evening Standard newspaper said the figure currently stands at 63 percent.