Oxford: The first Zero Emission City

Oxford: The first Zero Emission City

By Robin Tucker, Co-Chair of the Coalition for Healthy Streets and Active Travel (CoHSAT)

Away from the war in Ukraine, climate change disasters continue to escalate, with climate-accelerated storms, wildfires, famine and disease killing 150,000 people a year (WHO). Transport is the largest contributor in the UK, and the UK is committed to decarbonising the transport system by 2050.

This can’t be done by a simple switch to electric vehicles. Department for Transport (DfT) analysis shows this would be too slow, use too much energy, and add 52% traffic to the South East’s over-burdened roads. And it doesn’t solve any problems for the quarter of households who don’t have a car.

The solution is a blend of transport, with walking, cycling and public transport doing more in cities where there are many short journeys. European cities such as Ghent, Oslo and Paris have shown the way, with many more following.

Now, DfT has chosen three cities to be the first Zero Emission Cities for transport, and Oxford is one, alongside Bristol and Norwich. This will see the city gain funding for planning and projects, and become a guiding light on a path that soon all cities and towns must follow. 

Four aspects provide a guide:

Bringing goods into the city and distributing them remains essential. 

Technology programmes are tackling the challenge of zero emission heavy goods vehicles. Inside the city, a variety of vehicles will replace the ubiquitous diesel van. Electric vans are available, but look inside a typical delivery van and you’ll see it is mostly empty, hence the rising popularity of cargo bikes and ‘electric assist vehicles’ which carry up to 250kg mixing pedal and electric power. In a local blend of tradition and technology, The Covered Market are using one made by Upper Heyford based EAV.  Now Oxfordshire County Council have won funding to help businesses set up their own cargo bike deliveries, drawing on Pedal & Post’s expertise.

Buses will be a big part of the future – electric buses. 

Oxford’s two biggest bus operators have just won £33 million Government funding to enable their own investment in 159 electric buses. These buses have a lower lifetime CO2 emission per mile than a diesel ‘SUV’, but each can hold as many people as a quarter-mile traffic jam. Bus priority measures will get the buses through the city more quickly and make the services more attractive – private cars will have to go the long way round. This will get more people on the buses, which in turn means more bus services can be run. 

Cycling is the low-cost liberator of transport, enabling people to reach jobs and social opportunities outside their immediate area at almost zero cost. 

Oxford is the right size for almost any journey to be cycled in 15 minutes, and cycling already brings as many people into Oxford centre as cars or buses. Too many people are put off by cycle routes that feel dangerous, and getting to zero emissions requires high quality cycle routes, so people of all ages and abilities are happy to ride on them.

Finally, there are the spaces that we walk – often forgotten, vitally important. 

With traffic taking less space, there is a great opportunity to widen pavements and reclaim acres of bland tarmac for more creative and human uses.  What started with ‘Broad Meadow’ last year, could grow into projects across the city of small and large areas for people to sit, relax and meet.  

Did you notice the hidden benefit? Each of these steps gently encourages exercise in daily routines, reversing health problems, as well as climate problems. 

With changes like these, Oxford will be leading the way towards a cleaner city, fit for the future.

Photo: courtesy of Pedal & Post


One Response

  1. […] cycling tours that visited recent improvements to the city such as car-free Broad Street, the pilot Zero Emission Zone, and the cycle routes and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods of East […]

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