Driverless cars (autonomous vehicles)

Image courtesy of Automobile Italia

From page 91 onwards of volume 24.1 of the World Transport Policy and Practice (March 2018), Professor John Whitelegg reviews Christian Wolmar’s book, “Driverless Cars: On a road to no-where.” Whitelegg is the visiting Professor of Sustainable Transport at Liverpool John Moores University and Professor of Sustainable Development at University of York’s Stockholm Environment Institute. Wolmar is a writer and broadcaster specialising in transport.

In his book, Wolmar claims that our streets, roads and cities would have to be re-organised to make them friendly for driverless cars and to stop pedestrians and cyclists getting in their way. He quotes former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn who in 2017 said, “One of the biggest problems (for driverless cars) is people with bicycles. The car is confused by [cyclists] because from time to time they behave like pedestrians and from time to time they behave like cars.” Wolmar also claims that whereas the case for driverless cars is strengthened by the untested, evidence-free assumption that they would produce safer roads, they still take up space and move at speeds that kill children.

In his review of Wolmar’s book, Whitelegg concludes: “It is very clear indeed that the new technology on offer is a very simple extension of a very old technology and a deepening of a very old ideology. It is all about making us all even more car dependent, transforming cities so that they give top priority to cars and eliminate any obstacles to that prioritisation which will include making absolutely sure that pedestrians and cyclists are not allowed to get in the way. It is a rejection of several decades of intelligent and ethical thinking that has been going on to make our cities and regions safe, secure, clean, green, healthy, child-friendly places. It is a rejection of Copenhagen’s success in getting 50% of all trips every day for work and education accomplished by bike, a rejection of Freiburg’s achievements on modal split (<30% of all trips every day by car), a rejection of Oslo’s car free strategy, a rejection of wide-area congestion charging."

Covid-19 leads to increased home working

During a speech given today by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Jenny Harries stated that 41% of the workforce are now working from home, compared with 12% a year ago. Dr Harries showed a slide to support this statement (see above). And in a recently published survey commissioned by O2, respondents predicted that the increased level of home working is likely to become permanent. Leeds City Council and Metro need to consider the impact of home working on the A660’s traffic levels and on their plans to alter the A660 to deal with a traffic problem which may no longer exist.

Large parts of central London to become car-free

Shaftesbury Avenue in London. Image courtesy of Kaustav Bhattacharya

Today’s Guardian reports on London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s announcement that large parts of central London are to be permanently closed to cars. The measure is designed to facilitate social distancing by walkers and cyclists. All the main streets between London Bridge and Shoreditch, Euston and Waterloo, and Old Street and Holborn will become accessible solely by buses, pedestrians and cyclists. Work on the road closures will begin immediately and should be complete within six weeks.

Many other cities around the world have already announced plans to improve walking and cycling in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, but none of these plans are as ambitious as London’s. The measures announced by the mayor have had an enthusiastic response from environmental groups. Doug Parr from Greenpeace commented, “Not only will transforming our streets in a way that prioritises pedestrians and cyclists, and makes it safer for people to move about as lockdown restrictions are eased, but by permanently restricting car use we can keep toxic pollution from filling our air once again.”

Leeds Bradford Airport planning application

An artist’s impression of what the new terminal will look like

Planning application 20/02559/FU is to add a new terminal and new parking provision at Leeds Bradford Airport. It also seeks to extend the airport’s daytime operating hours. The application was submitted to Leeds City Council on the 4th May 2020. Currently, the deadline for commenting on the application is the 4th June 2020.

The application also involves building additional infrastructure to support the new terminal, re-configuration of the existing car parking, a new meet and greet building, a new bus terminal and taxi drop off point.

Currently, the airport’s daytime operating hours are from 7am to 11pm. If the application is successful, the daytime operating hours would be from 6am to 11.30pm. Daytime operating hours are in addition to the “night quota.”

The new terminal would cost £150 million and would open in 2023. It would enable the airport to handle 7 million passengers per annum by 2030. Currently the airport is handling 4 million passengers per annum.

The airport’s owners claim that the current terminal, which opened in 1965, is outdated and inefficient, and needs to be replaced by a terminal with a smaller environmental footprint. 

You can access the documents that were submitted with the application and comments that have already been made by clicking on this link. You can make a comment on the application by clicking on this link.

GALBA (Groups Against Leeds Bradford Airport) was formed to co-ordinate resistance to Leeds Bradford Airport’s proposed expansion. You can read their bulletin about the current planning application here.

Wireless charging for cars

Image courtesy of Garry Knight

On the 9th July 2019, the government announced that it was investing £37 million into electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Twelve projects are to receive a share of the funding, including wireless charging projects. Wireless charging would mean that electric vehicles could re-charge their batteries without the need to plug in a cable. The name for this technology is “inductive charging.” Although slower than conventional charging using cable connections, inductive charging is often considered more convenient.

In an article published this January, Car magazine, reported that Nottingham had won a £3.4 million government grant to trial inductive charging for its fleet of taxis. Initially, just ten taxis will participate in the trial, which involves induction loops and other infrastructure being installed at selected Nottingham taxi ranks, so that cabbies can charge their taxis whilst waiting for their fare. The trial is being run by Cenex, which describes itself as a low emissions vehicle research consultancy. Trials elsewhere in the country are being conducted by “Connected Kerb.” You can read more about these trials here.

New Chinese study suggests Covid-19 linked to air pollution

Image courtesy of Prachatai

A new Chinese study covering 324 cities has found that places with modestly higher levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution (10 micrograms per cubic metre) in the five years before the pandemic began had 22% more Covid-19 cases, whilst higher levels of small particle pollution saw a 15% rise. Another Chinese analysis of 120 cities also found a significant link. These studies are in addition to studies in Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States, which also suggest a link between Covid-19 and air pollution. Full details are available in this article published in today’s Guardian.

The lack of charging points in Leeds

A vehicle charging point in Birmingham. Image courtesy of Andrew Roberts

An article published in Leeds Live in April 2019, claimed that Leeds is one of the worst cities in the UK for vehicle charging points. According to the article, there were just 58 vehicle charging points in Leeds at that time, several of which were not publicly accessible. Leeds City Council disputed the figure, claiming that it had around 70 charging points. A list published in March 2019 by Zap Map gave details of 88 charging points in Leeds. But even with 88 charging points, Leeds compares very badly with cities like Manchester and York.

The lack of charging point in Leeds means that we don’t suffer to the same extent as other cities from the problem of charging points located on pavements. These can make it very difficult for disabled people to get past. Living Streets is running a campaign to ensure that charging points are placed so that the passage of pedestrians is not obstructed. Let’s hope that new charging points in Leeds are located with consideration for others. 

Covid-19 detected on particles of air pollution

Image courtesy of Fusion Medical Animation

Today’s Guardian reports the findings of a study which has detected Coronavirus on particles of air pollution. It is not known yet if the virus remains viable on pollution particles and in sufficient quantity to cause disease. If it is, it would enable the virus to be carried over longer distances and increase the number of people infected.

Leonardo Setti at the University of Bologna in Italy, who led the work, said it was important to investigate if the virus could be carried more widely by air pollution. This would explain higher rates of infection in parts of northern Italy before a lockdown was imposed. The region is one of the most polluted in Europe.

Previous studies have shown that air pollution particles do harbour microbes and that pollution is likely to have carried the viruses causing bird flu, measles and foot-and-mouth disease over considerable distances.

Air pollution linked to Covid-19 deaths in England

Photo courtesy of zibik

Today’s Guardian reports the findings of a preliminary study which has found the first evidence of a link between higher levels of air pollution and deaths from Covid-19 in England.

The analysis showed that London, the Midlands and the north-west had the highest levels of nitrogen oxide and higher numbers of coronavirus deaths.

“Our study adds to growing evidence from northern Italy and the United States that high levels of air pollution are linked to deadlier cases of Covid-19,” said Miguel Martins, of the University of Cambridge, who led team which produced the new analysis.

Experts accept that air pollution may increase susceptibility to Covid-19, but warn that early studies must be treated very carefully.

Air pollution linked to Covid-19 deaths

Photo courtesy of Free to Use Sounds

Today’s Guardian reports on research published in the journal “Science of the Total Environment,” which shows that almost 80% of deaths across four countries were in the most polluted regions. The research examined levels of nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant produced mostly by diesel vehicles. “The results indicate that long-term exposure to this pollutant may be one of the most important contributors to fatality caused by the Covid-19 virus in these regions and maybe across the whole world,” said Yaron Ogen, at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg in Germany, who conducted the research. Professor Jonathan Grigg, from Queen Mary University of London, said the study showed an association between Covid-19 deaths and NO2 levels. The article states that long-term exposure to dirty air before the pandemic may be more important than current levels of pollution.