21st April 2022
The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast
EPISODE 295: The best electric car is a bicycle — in conversation with sustainability scientist Kim Nicholas
SPONSOR: Tern Bicycles
HOST: Carlton Reid
GUEST: Professor Kim Nicholas
TOPICS: This show is a little under an hour with Professor Kim Nicholas, an American sustainability scientist based in Lund, Sweden. She’s co-author of a new study which ranks the 12 best ways to reduce car dependence in cities.
Carlton Reid 0:13
Welcome to Episode 295 of The Spokesmen cycling podcast. This show was engineered on 21st of April 2022.
David Bernstein 0:24
Hey everybody, it’s David from the Fredcast. And of course, I’m one of the hosts and producers of The Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast since 2006. For shownotes links and other information, check out our website at www.the-spokesmen.com. And now, here’s my fellow host and producer Carlton Reid and the Spokesmen.
Carlton Reid 0:51
Thanks, David. And welcome to the show, which is a little under an hour with Professor Kim Nicholas, an American sustainability scientist based right now in Lund, Sweden. But before we get into this great episode, I have some thanks to give, and a welcome to make. Those of you who have listened to the show for a wee while will know that our long term sponsor has been the American online retailer, Jenson USA. Amazingly, they’ve been our title sponsor since 2008, two years after the show started. Now, 14 years is a long time to retain the same sponsor. And we are so grateful — that’s me and David — for Jenson USA’s support over those years. But all good things must come to an end and Jensen is now taking its leave. But we’re not. And I am thrilled to report that we have a new title, sponsor in Tern Bicycles. You’ll know Tern, of course, from the GSD electric cargo bike and other modern classics. Tern is a longtime friend of the show — co-founder, Josh Hon has been a guest several times — and so it’s a great fit. Tern’s support will enable us to continue producing the Spokesmen podcast. We’ll be working with Tern on intros and audio bumpers, and all the other things that podcasts do with their partners but, for now, let’s get started with today’s show, which is my conversation with Professor Kim Nicholas co author of a new study, which ranks the 12 best ways to reduce car dependence in cities. Before we get into the paper that you you’ve co authored with, with Paula Cuss, I first came upon you, because you had this viral placard-stroke-poster because you’re a climate scientist. So tell me what that that placsrd-stroke-poster said.
Kim Nicholas 3:30
That was from my first climate protest in 2014. It’s based on a framework I’ve been teaching for a long time, and it’s almost a haiku of everything you need to know about climate change boiled down to five statements. So “It’s warming. It’s us. We’re sure. It’s bad. We can fix it.”
Carlton Reid 3:51
Yes. And then you’ve you’ve taken that haiku. And you then made a book out of it in effect. So under the sky we make as your latest book. So is that would I be right in thinking that is an expansion upon that, that that number of linked very short sentences? Is that is that the expansion of it?
Yes, I do use that framework in Under the sky We Make. I also organise the book by facts, feelings, and action. Those are the three secret ingredients we need to actually tackle climate change. And I talked about the facts of how we know that it’s warming, and it’s us and that scientists are sure I deal with some of the emotional impacts in the feelings because it is really bad. And that’s something that’s tough to face. And we need coping skills and ways to face it in order to do the work and find purpose and meaning and doing the work. And then the majority of the book is focused on evidence based action. So what does research show actually works to make a fast and fair transition to a fossil free world and how can all of us be a part of making that happen?
Carlton Reid 4:59
I think I don’t think I’m totally out of the ballpark here. But it just seems that in the last six months, perhaps a year, perhaps even after, don’t look up the movie, we’ve seen more climate scientists actually taking quite direct action. Would you say that’s right? Is it something is that? Is that a sign of desperation that more climate scientists are not just saying, you know, yes, here we can fix it. And and this is the yes, it’s we’re sure, elements of your hatred, but also, the but we can fix it part has been ignored.
Kim Nicholas 5:37
I think it’s fair to say there’s increasing frustration and even desperation among climate scientists and climate experts, we’ve really had the scientific knowledge that we need to tackle this problem since almost my whole lifetime, or before I was born. And the fact that we’ve done so much additional research and crossed all the T’s and dotted all the I’s and gotten the error bars down to these tiny margins, and done what science can do to point out the problem, which is basically burning fossil fuels and destroying nature. Point out the solutions, which are getting on clean and renewable energy and transforming to a sustainable system of food production. We know how to do those things, but governments and people in power are not making them happen. And it’s really increasingly terrifying to feel like we’re standing by and watching those warnings, and that evidence being ignored. So I think that people are getting really compelled to speak up and take more direct and personal action so that we can try to sleep at night and say, Look, we didn’t just stand by and, you know, let society failed to act when we knew what to do. So I think you’re right that people scientists are getting more directly involved.
Carlton Reid 6:54
Now I’m gonna be this — normally I’m a smug cyclist, but I’m actually gonna be a smug motorist here now. So right this second in time on my driveway is an electric car. It has been charged from the solar panels on my roof. So I’m incredibly smug in that, you know, I’m not powering that the car from from dinosaur trees, I’m absolutely just going from the perfect renewable, the sun. So that’s why I’m kind of smug here. However, if if people like me and the millions of people like me, actually just thought, well, we’re going to solve the climate crisis by doing what I’m doing here. Now, that’s actually going to lead to another problem. And that is, you know, mass car use if everybody starts driving around because they think that being friendly to the to the planet, by being smug and having an electric car with a solar power, charging it, all that does is actually lead to other problems. So how can you square that circle as a climate scientist?
Kim Nicholas 8:03
So your electric car being charged by solar panels on your roof is the second best kind of car. It’s definitely better than a fossil powered car. But the best kind of car is actually car free. So this is what our new study is focused on. With Pollack, who’s you know, we start from the the understanding that, actually to meet climate and health goals and to reduce inequalities and to make cities safer and more livable, and more beautiful. We actually need to reduce cars themselves, electric cars are a big step forward from a climate perspective, compared with fossil cars. And all cars need to be fossil free. But actually, the biggest benefits and gains will come from reducing unnecessary cars as much as possible. So that was the focus of our new study.
Carlton Reid 8:52
So let’s, let’s talk about your new study. This bubbled up for me. I know two, three days ago, I know you’ve had a you’ve had the paper, then there was a conversation piece. And then as a guardian piece. So this is bubbling up in many different places. And this is me, this was me, that’s going to bubble up for people to this total points, you’ve got that I would like to go through that like point by point and let’s let’s go backwards until we get to V key ones that you think what cities should be, should be doing. But first of all, yeah, one of the kind of overriding things. And this perhaps is counterintuitive to too many people is it’s not so much what national governments do. Most of the work on climate is actually being done, or reducing cars for it. Most certainly is being done by local governments by municipal governments. So is that a good thing or a bad thing? Is that a neutral? Should there be more national government stuff anyway? Where do you where do you sit on that particular angle?
Kim Nicholas 9:56
Well, we definitely need much more National Climate Action, we know that government’s current pledges are most likely not sufficient. And if they are barely sufficient with the most optimistic assumptions to meet the agreement of the Paris Agreement, so are to meet the climate targets in the Paris Agreement. So, countries are not doing enough, especially historically high emitting countries like the UK and the US. Those national governments need to do much more, there are about 20 countries who have been slowly reducing their greenhouse gas emission. So that is good news. But that needs to be stepped up much more. At the same time, there are several 100 cities more than 300 cities who have been reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. So just by the numbers, we see that cities are actually doing a better job of putting policies and practices in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And it doesn’t let national governments off the hook. But it shows that there are important climate actions to be taken at every level of government and really in every place, because ultimately, to stop climate change, we have to humans have to completely stop emitting carbon dioxide and adding it to the atmosphere. So to do that, every city has to do that every sector, every industry, every country, so it’s a lot. It’s a big job. And we do need everybody to help out.
Carlton Reid 11:17
I might be wrong on this, globally, but from a UK perspective, it seems that cities are able to do this, because they have leaders in the UK, it’s kind of these these effects voted in members, so elected members who some of their biggest portfolios are transport. So that’s why cities are quite progressive on this, because the things that that mares tend to have control over is, you know, things like getting cars out of their cities, is that a fair reflection globally? Or is that just Am I just looking at purely as a UK thing.
Kim Nicholas 11:57
So our study focused on Europe, which, in the EU, we have a mission to deliver 100 Climate Neutral cities by 2030. And that is very soon as you know, it is less than eight years away. So it’s a big job. And there are many cities that are interested and have signed up. But basically no city that is on track to do it yet, or is has all the policies or practices in place to make it happen. So it is the case, though, that our study found in Europe that local governments were key in implementing these policies that actually did work to reduce car use. So what we studied was, where has car use actually been measurably reduced already in practice? So not just models or projections, but actually, where has this already worked on the ground? And we found that more than three quarters of these cases, the initiatives were led by local governments.
Carlton Reid 12:56
I kind of mentioned globally there and you brought absolutely back to the focus of your study, which is a you But let’s actually geographically ground you here. So where are you talking from today? And where did you originally come from? Because your accent is not we’re you’re speaking from?
Kim Nicholas 13:15
Fair enough. I grew up in California in a town called Sonoma, which is about an hour north of San Francisco. And my PhD was actually about the impact of climate change on the wine industry, which is the lifeblood of that region and connection for my family and part of that landscape and history. Then in 2010, I moved to loon Sweden, which is where I’m speaking to from today. So I’m a sustainability scientist at Lund University.
Carlton Reid 13:41
I know Sonoma I have cycled in in the Sonoma Valley. So yes, it’s a beautiful part of the world. Let’s, let’s talk about your study now from it from a slightly different angle in that when there was a tweet, I don’t know if you’ve answered this or not. But in one of the tweet threads where you mentioned your study, and you gave the link to the original paper, Henk Swarttouw of the European Cyclists’ Federation, said, yeah, they’re all great. All those those, that those those 12 things you’re talking about, but you’ve missed one. And what you’ve missed is cycleway networks is bike infrastructure, basically. And it’s either you or somebody else. I can’t remember who kind of then kicked back on that and said, well, actually, so we didn’t if it was you who entered that, but can you enter it now? I mean, is the number 13, 14 Whatever is it, you know, get more people on bikes?
Kim Nicholas 14:37
No, it’s not. And I did answer that tweet. And I think it’s a really important finding from our study, which is that the most effective thing we can do to reduce cars in cities is to focus on that outcome directly and to use both carrots and sticks to reduce car use and increased public transport, walking and cycling. So there’s been a lot of focus, and especially policymakers and elected officials really like to focus on carrots on more good stuff. Here’s more bus routes, here’s more cycling lanes, pedestrianised streets, those are all wonderful. And those did feature in many of our top strategies, which I know we’ll get into more in a minute. But the important point is that those carrots alone are not sufficient to overcome the entrenched infrastructure and incentives, which today favours car use. So to really move the needle and to get people out of cars, and using other forms of transport, which is what we actually have to do to reduce emissions for climate change, to protect public health to make cities and streets safer and more livable, we have to actually reduce car use along with increasing sustainable mobility. And to do that you need to tackle both of those at the same time.
Carlton Reid 15:54
So I know this is tough, but let me just think about the percent terms of how big a carrot versus how big a stick. So in percentage terms, what are the different sizes there between those two tools?
Kim Nicholas 16:09
Let’s see. I’m just looking at the table. Now. I mean, I think it’s quite hard to make an apples to apples comparison, not least because so we screened nearly 800 studies and cases to look for initiatives that had already attempted and succeeded to reduce car use. And we ended up finding 12 different ways to do it, and almost as many different ways of measuring the reduction in car use. So one, you know, kind of wonky conclusion from our study, which is relevant for researchers and people planning interventions. So city planners and policymakers is, please, please, for the love of all that is good and holy measure kilometres travelled per person per day in these different modes, because that is what we can actually convert into emissions. And we can talk about health and climate savings. A lot of these studies measure things like one that we’ll talk about was about using an app for sustainable mobility. And they said that a very large percent of people who use the app reported in the app that they had reduced their car use, but they did not report by how much and you know, if they skipped one, you know, five minute trip to the store down the street versus a year of long car commutes? That’s a very, very different impact for, for climate and for traffic. But we can’t tell from the data. So I guess I’m hedging and not really answering your question.
Carlton Reid 17:47
Oh, cuz I was I was wondering like a 20%, carrot, 80 percents. But you’re, you’re you’re being you’re being a scientist, and you’re giving giving very complex?
Kim Nicholas 17:59
I’m kind of I’m kind of opting out of that one, because our data, unfortunately, don’t really let us say so. Well, I mean, maybe it will be more obvious when we get into talking about each measure. Because, um, I mean, one, one carrot that is really effective as a carrot is mobility services for universities, or commuters. So basically giving free transport passes and linking transport with shuttles for students at a university or for commuters at a workplace that is quite effective.
Carlton Reid 18:33
So that’s been done in sort of interrupting them, but when that’s done, and when that was done in Davis, California, you know, the very, very good bike network that was in use, you know, since the late 1960s. In Davis, very well used over many years, when, when they introduced a free bus service for for academics, I believe, even for people who live in the town or the city. Bike use just, you know, just got cut off by the knees. So it’s that sort of thing. So your mind, you know, think you’re doing great by, you know, making public transport for free. But then that actually cuts out a helpful form of transport. So how do you again, how do you square that circle?
Kim Nicholas 19:21
Well, I think you’re just reinforcing my point, Carlton, which is to beg researchers to please actually report the kilometres travelled by mode share, because as you say, if an initiative it succeeds in getting people off of bikes and walking, which is an even healthier and lower emission form of travel than public transport, which is also very good. But you know, if you’re switching a cyclist to a bus rider, as opposed and you haven’t reduced driving and all you really haven’t done anything for climate or health, so we really need to be able to measure those directly. But I mean, what I can’t say from our study is that we identified these 12 have measures that have demonstrably worked to reduce cars. And were able to report that in some quantifiable way. The metrics vary between studies, but they’re clear that they do work to actually produce cars. And again, the most effective ones that reduce cars the most for the largest population are for the largest proportion of the city are those that combine carrots to make sustainable mobility, walking and biking and public transport cheaper and easier and more accessible, and simultaneously use sticks to restrict and charge for driving and parking.
Carlton Reid 20:36
So you mentioned their apps for sustainable mobility. That’s actually number 12. So we’re gonna do like a pop countdown here. So in at number 12, is apps for sustainable mobility. And you mentioned there belanja that had a developed an app that bang, bang, got people out of cars, but only a slight amount, I mean, these things, because it’s not the be all and end all. It’s just partly, in many cities actually doing just one or two of these things. And if a city did all 12 of what you’re saying, if we just reduce car use overnight,
Kim Nicholas 21:17
I would love to visit the city that implements all 12 of these measures. That would be amazing. I mean, yes, I think it would be you know, the more we know from previous research that policy bundles are more effective. So in other words, having a comprehensive approach, taking combining different measures. So for example, including something to do with prices, so that you’re steering people towards the healthy and sustainable choice with prices, it shouldn’t be the cheapest option to do something that pollutes, simultaneously having information campaigns and public goods and services to provide alternatives like safe and attractive walking and cycling and public transit. Those are what really works.
Carlton Reid 22:02
And on that note, we could go straight into personalised travel plans. Because that definitely involves some of that. I know that from from Sustrans in the UK has has done these very successfully done them. But they’re phenomenally expensive, because you are literally going to one put one on your one on one. And then you know saying to them, Look, did you realise there’s a bus right outside your door? That kind of granularity, but that’s phenomenally expensive to do that one on one?
Kim Nicholas 22:34
Yes, so we looked at several different kinds of travel planning. And the number 11 was personalised travel planning, which you just mentioned. And number 10 was school travel planning, for example. And those are carrot only measures. So they’re making it cheaper and easier to use public transport and offering advice on how to walk bike or take public transit to school or work or wherever you’re going for the personal use. So those the personalised travel planning reduced, car use about six to 12%. And pretty similar for the school travel planning that was five to 11% in less cars used to drive kids to school. So that’s substantial and worthwhile. But again, I think those measures and we don’t have an example that perfectly compares to this, but combining that with restrictions to discourage car use, while providing good alternatives would make those much more powerful.
Carlton Reid 23:36
So that’s, that’s the level and 10 Nine is car sharing. I know. I’ve talked to a number of people who are bike advocates, in fact, who have gone on to found car sharing clubs and what and one of the ones that was basically 70s and 80s, which is quite as quite successful Claire Morrisette of Montreal, who … the main cycleway through through Montreal is named for her. And she founded a car club. And she did that exactly even as a bike advocate. She was doing that to reduce reduced cars and then a number of other people I know have done it in more modern times. But is that what you mean by car sharing? So car clubs, you know rental cars, is that what you mean?
Kim Nicholas 24:27
Exactly as a car sharing would be a scheme where members can easily rent a car that’s nearby for a few hours, there would be a car let’s say on the street or in a parking garage, maybe a few blocks from your house. And as a member, you could use an app to unlock it and rent it and borrow for a few hours. So maybe you’re going to IKEA or doing a big shop or you need to take a special trip or whatever. So the idea would be that it helps helps people that when it is good for them producing cars. It’s when people actually had their own cars and choose to get rid of them because they don’t need them anymore. And they only use the car when they really need it from a car sharing service. So if that’s the case, then we found that can have a big impact. So the the places that have done that are Bremen, Germany, and Genoa, Italy. And there, they found that having a car sharing car replaced 12 to 15 private cars. So that’s obviously really good news for space in cities. And that’s something that often gets left out of the discussion. But, you know, the This is one reason that electric cars are not the answer to sustainable mobility, because there’s still cars and cars are still pretty inefficient ways to get people around, they spend about 95% of their time parked on the street, and or wherever they’re parked, they’re taking up that space. In Sweden, the estimate is that a car uses 100 square metres of city space. And when you think, okay, that’s an apartment size, we could certainly find a more beautiful and you know, beneficial use for 100 square metres than some parking garages and parking spaces on streets. So the parking issue I mean, car sharing can really help if it’s actually reducing the total number of cars. The issue with our sharing, though, is that there’s some other research suggesting that it has the potential at least and may induce the opposite effect. In other words, it might induce people who don’t have cars to start using cars more because there is a car in the neighbourhood that’s so easy and frictionless to use. So to reduce emissions and to reduce car use. Overall, we have to be sure that we’re designing programmes that effectively do that and encourage people to replace their previous cars with a car sharing car.
Carlton Reid 26:51
And extrapolating forward. The same could be said for autonomous cars, in that that could actually lead to a huge uptick in the number of car journeys. If you if you if you make a car use frictionless, which which autonomous driving would do, then you just massively increased driving.
Kim Nicholas 27:09
Yes, we didn’t look at autonomous cars in this study. But other studies have, indeed found that and there was a study in the last year on the ride hailing services Uber and Lyft. In the US that found that cities car use increased in cities that had Uber and Lyft. Especially in particular, with higher income households, it tended to replace transit. So unfortunately, those ride hailing services seem to be increasing card use and increasing emissions rather than reducing them.
Carlton Reid 27:44
So number eight, we’ve kind of discussed this already in the example you give it and here is Catania. So this is mobility services for university where they they’ve given a transport public transport pass to to students who we talked about that. But then why is university travel planning which is in at number seven? Why is that different to personalised travel planning and school travel planning?
Kim Nicholas 28:12
Well, it seemed to work better that seems to be the reason it was different. So number seven, and eight were both to do with university as you said, and providing students with a free public transport pass and shuttle connection reduced car commuting by 24%. And they combined stick and carrot of reduced parking on campus, and then discounts and improvements to transit and cycling and infrastructure and advice on how to use them reduced car commuters, by the whole university populations of staff and students by up to 27%. There were several different places that that combined those initiatives.
Carlton Reid 28:53
Hmm. Yeah, so University of Bristol did rather well there. Six workplace travel planning, is that in with number seven there, or was that gonna be a bit different?
Kim Nicholas 29:08
It’s a similar idea. So removing parking, and that’s the stick and then combined with making it easier and cheaper to use public transport and cycling. So with physical infrastructure, cycle lanes and infrastructure, better public transit, and also advice on how to use those things. They’re the studies that looked at that site up to an 18% drop in car use.
Carlton Reid 29:36
Number five is a one that I’m quite familiar with in that when I cycle in Nottingham on the very nice wide cycleways when I use one of the rental bikes in Nottingham ditto, it’s all been paid for by this method. So in at number five is workplace parking charges.
Kim Nicholas 29:56
And it’s interesting that you are actually benefiting from that That’s nice to hear and Mmm, yeah, exactly. So the most successful was in Rotterdam in the Netherlands. So they reduced card commutes by employees 20 to 25%. Where I mean, basically a number of studies have shown this, that it is just really nonsensical to provide free parking for workplaces, that that’s a basically a subsidy to driving. And when you price those parking spaces are often worth 1000s of dollars per year. And because City’s space is limited and precious and could be used for other things, and it really makes a lot more sense for to charge, you know, the cost for those parking spaces. One different study that we didn’t look at here, but previously has shown that you don’t only have to, I mean, something that works very well is to make the full cost visible. And for example, you can cash out employees, I mean, people, unsurprisingly, don’t like the idea of having to pay for something that they’ve previously always gotten for free, and suddenly it cost them 1000s of dollars. I mean, often what blocks climate action is a small group of outraged, very vocal, sorry, often middle aged men, our research shows is often the group that does that. So you can reduce a opposition to climate policies, by for example, offering people to cash out, so instead of saying, Okay, we’re not going to charge you, you know, $2,000 a year for this parking space, for example, you could say, we’ll give you $2,000 a year if you don’t use this parking space. And, or we’ll give you a credit equivalent value, or we’ll give you free public transit, if you don’t use your parking space, or a credit towards which you could use to buy a nice commuter bicycle and save storage and showers at work. So there are different ways you can structure this so that it would be politically popular and also effective.
Carlton Reid 32:00
Yes, politically popular is the holy grail there, because these things very often aren’t politically popular. how familiar you are with UK internal politics on the NHS. But when about two, three weeks ago, free parking for members of the NHS, who were obviously worked very hard during the pandemic was removed. So doctors and nurses had their free car parking removed, and there’s a huge fuss about how terrible this was, and how all political parties that there was, this wasn’t a, you know, a left or right thing, all political parties were pretty much in favour of giving doctors and nurses free car parking. And so I made, you know, a cynical comment at the time saying, Well, okay, where are the free bus passes? And where are the free bikes? And nobody can understand that. It’s like, well, you would, it’s just obvious to give doctors and my wife is a doctor to give doctors free parking. But nobody, as in I suppose in the in the cashing out equivalent that you said, nobody is saying we should give people free bus passes or very, very infrequently. Give them free bus passes, and free bicycles to doctors that that just doesn’t come up as conversation because it’s, it’s politically just doesn’t register. So that politically unpopular thing, how can you make something that’s incredibly politically unpopular popular?
Kim Nicholas 33:33
Yeah, great question. I mean, I think there’s a really important discussions to be having, because we know that we have to reduce over dependence on cars in order to meet climate targets and health targets. And then we do need to be having these discussions of okay, well, what is a valid use of a car? Who gets to drive and what should we prioritise? I think there’s a very strong argument that people who are dependent on cars for mobility and social inclusion, so those who have disabilities, for example, that require a car, I think that’s a very valid use case for a car. And I can understand if there are doctors and nurses and other essential workers who have to be at work, you know, before public transit is running or work long shifts, maybe that is a good use for a car, but then I think we should be having those conversations explicitly. And you’re absolutely right, that there are ways to incentivize sustainable mobility that could actually improve health which last time I checked, doctors and nurses are very keen on doing. We know that active transport is much better for people’s both physical and mental health. And to actually, you know, move more is one of the key ways to address a lot of the health issues that we have today. So I think there’s a lot of scope for making those improvements.
Carlton Reid 34:52
And for the record my wife cycle to work today despite having this we’re despite having smug solar power panels charged In her electric car, it is really her car. She still cycled to, to work. So it is possible, even if you are in many other respects potentially being a doctor being normally assumed to be car dependent. So
Kim Nicholas 35:15
to her, I approve. Yes,
Carlton Reid 35:18
yeah, thank you. I think she’s doing for fitness to tell the truth, I don’t think climate comes into it. It’s very much a fitness and health anyway. mobility service for commuters that sounds like this is number four. That sounds very much like travel planning.
Kim Nicholas 35:36
Yeah, the difference there that made it even more effective is that it was a collaboration between local government and private companies to provide free public transport passes to their employees, and to connect those transit stops to the workplace directly with private shuttles. So they made it really seamless and then promoted it. And that actually was quite a big reduction, 37% reduction in this year of commuters driving,
Carlton Reid 36:03
you add all these percentages up, and that they’re getting to be like 200%. Three, we need we need a city to do every one of these. And then you have minus cars, it’d be great.
Kim Nicholas 36:15
It’d be wonderful. I mean, this is the issue that, you know, some studies measured employees as a population and measured school, children’s and measured University, either staff or students or both. So measured geographically who’s coming in and out of the city. So there are different metrics. But I agree that I mean, this also shows there’s a lot of scope for, for example, employers and schools and universities and hospitals, to engage and to lead these initiatives and to collaborate with local government and other stakeholders to actually put these things into place. So we don’t have to wait for someone else to do these things. There are opportunities already today.
Carlton Reid 36:55
Hmm. Right. And here, you’re coming to be a bit more radical. And this is definitely politically unpopular. And that is when you it’s you’ve said it limited traffic zones, which is a software of saying banned cars, basically, and used Rome as one of the examples there. So why Rome.
Kim Nicholas 37:15
So Rome was the case that we found that is actually implemented this and reduced traffic 20%. During so basically, the design of their policy was to restrict car entry in certain times and certain parts of the city centre only to residents. So you can’t drive a car as a way of getting from point A to point B through the centre of Rome. And that worked to reduce cars by 20% through in that whole city centre area during those times. And it also worked, even when it wasn’t in place. So even during the hours where that wasn’t the case, it was still 10% less cars and less traffic. So that was quite effective.
Carlton Reid 37:55
So we’re restricted how with automatic camera recognition that number plates with barriers, what worked in Rome, and what what do you suggest cities should do?
Kim Nicholas 38:10
Oh, good question actually don’t have the answer to that, at the top of my head. The specifics of how they implemented I think one part of the equation that was important for Rome was that they use the violation fines to finance their public transport system. So again, coupling, the stick to the carrot is a really important way of gaining public acceptance, because I think cities need to make the case. And I mean, the the piece that I wrote for the conversation, my editor called an evidence based rant against cars. So there’s plenty of evidence of you know, why is it that cars are a problem? What is it that’s unequal and unfair about the way that cars are used, especially in cities today? So we have that evidence. And I think people in positions of power need to use it to make these arguments of look, you know, the current system is really unfair, that it’s generally a small number of people who drive the most, and those tend to be the wealthiest. So it’s increasing inequity, the way to make things better is to reduce over driving by those who drive the most and use the funds that that raises, to make sustainable mobility more affordable and more accessible and better for everyone
Carlton Reid 39:25
that you’ve mentioned that Rome there, and then I’ll just do a quick search there because I can’t find Paris. So Paris is normally used by lots of people, including myself as like the poster child. For a lot of these policies, like the moving car parking places and stuff, and that, you know, the 15 Minute city, but you haven’t got Paris, so why haven’t you got Paris?
Kim Nicholas 39:47
No, I agree. I’m also a bit surprised. I think it’s a function because I think the 15 Minute City is a brilliant idea and it’s very effective. And it’s a way of integrating many of these different instruments and policies that we have Talk about these car reduction strategies. And I think the only reason it didn’t come up is that it didn’t fit our search term. So to screen these 800 cases and papers, we looked for studies that had specifically set out to reduce car use as an objective, and combine that with something demonstrating measured effect of how successfully they did that. So it must have you know, there wasn’t something published in English, after the year 2010 That specifically said it aimed to reduce car use and measure that reduction, or else we would have caught it in our study. So somehow Paris slipped through the cracks there.
Carlton Reid 40:39
Hmm. So we need some more studies done on Paris because they do seem to be doing many of the things which you’ve which you’ve, you’ve mentioned, they’re certainly they’re doing very well on certainly planning to remove car parking spaces and then de mer and held algo saying that this has to do with with equity reasons, and female equity reasons, and all sorts of stuff like that. Whereas mostly it’s men who are doing the bulk of the of the driving in Paris, and she wants to, you know, make a fairer transport system. So yes, we need more studies from Paris, or France to No, no, no Paris to come in. So we’ve mentioned parking there for Paris, but that isn’t number two. For you, so parking and traffic controls, why is parking such a, an emotive issue for a start? Because that does seem to if you look at, you know, local newspaper, I don’t know what it’s like in Lund, Sweden, but it’s sent if you look in local newspapers in the UK, you know, parking does seem to be one of the major stories, you know, for for local newspapers, you know, you remove somebody’s parking, and that’s, you know, three weeks of solid news for some newspapers, because it leads to incredible friction. So, so talk me through parking and how that can be parking and traffic controls and how that can be done and and politically managed.
Kim Nicholas 42:08
Right? Well, I think a lot of it comes back to the equity issues that you were mentioning a study by Felix Kritsa, and others found that in Berlin, car, users use three and a half times more city space than non car users. And a lot of that is through on street parking. So basically, it really is an equity issue, that the parking spaces for people who are over using cars, takes away limited space that others also need and deserve. And what Oslo did, which is the the example for this number two parking and traffic control was remove parking spaces that were formerly in the city centre and alter traffic routes. And replacing this space that had been dedicated to cars to car free streets, bike lanes and walkways. And that was really successful. So it reduced car use 19%.
Carlton Reid 43:02
But going back
to where I started with on that, in that is you’re touching the third rail, you know, you’re touching a live wire, basically, by removing parking, so so maybe looking at maybe just not so much something you’ve studied, but how Paris is doing and just the way that they’re doing it, you know, incrementally so they’re not doing it, you know, overnight, removing every single parking space, but they’ve got a goal to remove parking space. Is that the way to do it? Do you think to do it almost by stealth? Because if you actually said we’re going to remove, you know, half the parking spaces in this city, it would just be politically unpalatable.
Kim Nicholas 43:43
I think it’s actually important to make the case publicly and to share the data on how unequally distributed driving is in the UK 40% of the lowest income households don’t have a car, whereas almost 90% of the highest income households do. So privileging driving is really privileging those who already are the most privileged. And I think that’s a very tough case to make.
Carlton Reid 44:09
You’re right. But I mean, you even though you’re right, when when that comes into the letters in the pages, and it comes into the like the shock jocks talking about this, it always, you know, said people, you know, hard working motorists. And when you point out to these people, actually, you know, the poorest people really are not in cars. It almost as though they haven’t actually thought about that. It’s never really they’ve already figured that out that the very poorest in society really aren’t in cars.
Kim Nicholas 44:42
Yeah, that’s right. And I mean, we see from the data that when you reduce over auto mobilisation when you free cities from unnecessary cars, they become nicer places to live and work and they become actually better for everyone there. The air is easier to breathe. There’s More conviviality and interaction on the streets, people actually get to know their neighbours and use the outside space because it’s not given over to cars. I think something that really struck me, a good friend of mine actually bicycled from Stanford where we were studying to the southern tip of South America over two years. And he had an incredible journey and met so many people along the way, and was hosted by people and gave talks along the way. And when he did that same when he crossed the US by bike, he said he could never find people because they were never visible, they were always in their cars, the only place he could actually meet people and talk to people was either at gas stations or grocery stores. So I mean, when you think about the way that cars divide society and separate people from their neighbours, they actually have a lot of really negative effects. And the cities that have succeeded in reducing cars report really positive benefits from the way that the streets look and feel from the business that are thriving, they’re from the way that actually space is used in a much more inspiring and beautiful way. And the way people have more time to do the things they want, because they’re not stuck behind the wheel of a car,
Carlton Reid 46:17
not just behind the wheel of a car stuck behind the wheel of a car with a roof on. And with Windows and with air conditioning and with your own music and etc. It’s that you’re enclosed, you’re in a you’re in a little bubble, which is perhaps one of the reasons why your friend didn’t see people because they’re they’re inside an enclosed space. But might in the beer an argument. I’m not being totally serious here. But might there be an argument for in effect, going back to the original motorcars, which were ruthless, and you could then talk to people? Okay, they were doing 90 miles an hour, so maybe you can’t but but it’s that it’s that enclosure of motoring. That’s one of the big problems. And we actually if you if you remove the roof, and you made all cars into convertibles, in effect, that might actually that might actually be a social good. Outcome helped me out how serious Am I
Kim Nicholas 47:17
I’ve got it, let’s remove the roof of ours, let’s shrink them so that instead of 95% of the weight of the car being the car itself, rather than the person you’re transporting, so let’s make the majority of the vehicle actually the person themselves. And let’s make them run on your energy so that you’re actually exercising at the same time. You know what we’ve just invented the bicycle, the bicycle is the perfect car. In all seriousness, and something we didn’t look at, in this study that didn’t come up in our in our search terms, but that other studies have found is really effective is electric bikes, those can really replace cars. And the research has shown that people do tend to use them to replace cars rather than just avid cyclist cycling more, for example. But having an electric bike can make it more feasible for someone who lives a bit further from work, or maybe who has a family and needs to pick up kids and groceries that might be difficult by car, or sorry, excuse me by bike, it can really extend the capacity of what a bike can do. And then you also have the social benefits of you know, being actually physically present on the street and able to talk to your neighbours.
Carlton Reid 48:32
Mm hmm. Yes, I wasn’t mean totally serious, I guess. Because yeah, you’re right. A bicycle is a much more convivial tool, and then even the nicest of convertible sports cars. So now let’s get on to number one. And I’ve used an example. And that is London has come on in leaps and bounds with they have got very, very good protected bikeways we’ve got a very good city bike share scheme, there’s all sorts of things you know, a lot of the roads in London are now you know, majority of them actually cyclists whereas used to be majority of them were motorists. It a lot of it, I think you can absolutely tie down to your number one thing here and that is a congestion charge, charge motorists for coming into cities.
Kim Nicholas 49:25
Yes, make the cost of driving visible because at the moment, a lot of the costs are hidden. Society pays a lot of the costs of driving in the form of pollution and traffic and delays and accidents and health and climate change. Whereas we really need to make it more visible that the polluters should be paying for using this polluting technology of a car. And when you do that, like in congestion charges, London reduced centre city traffic by 33%. So that was by far the most effective of intervention in our whole study, because that was for the entire region, the entire geographical area of the city. So not just a certain population of workers or university staff or so on, but for the whole city.
Carlton Reid 50:13
So that also answers Henk Swarttouw’s point of do you need to put bike lanes in everywhere? Well, yes, maybe, but potentially have more use is actually just reduce the amount of driving by making sure the polluter pays.
Kim Nicholas 50:33
Yeah. So again, this was an example of linking carrots and sticks. So the majority of the funds raised from the congestion charge in London has been used to fund public transport investments. So again, that’s the kind of thing that really makes it possible to gain political support because people recognise that is fair, okay, if we’re charging for polluting transport, we want to make it easier and cheaper and more accessible to use non polluting transport. So directly linking the fees from one to support reducing the cost of another is something that increases legitimacy because people perceive, understand that connection there.
Carlton Reid 51:15
But many cities actually give you discounts, or perhaps even a don’t charge at all if you’re an electric car. So that’s not the polluter isn’t paying there at all, because they’re not polluting that source. So you think electric cars should also be charged here, because they’re their car shaped object.
Kim Nicholas 51:34
They want to be bicycles, right? They’re just on the journey to bicycles. Well, I mean, that’s a little bit of a separate issue, those congestion, the incentives to make it cheaper to use electric cars are designed to speed up and incentivize the transition, which doesn’t need to happen to make all cars fossil free. So I think it does make sense to have to make it economically advantageous to drive an electric car because we need to turn over the fleet of cars. The problem is that that is happening far too slowly at the moment to make a big dent in emissions, especially by 2030. And we know from science that we globally have to cut greenhouse gas emissions about in half, by 2030, to avoid catastrophic climate change, so we actually need to retire fossil fuel infrastructure early in order to do that. That means closing down power plants and pipelines and cars and things that run on fossil fuels ahead of their planned lifetime. So I do think it makes sense to have incentives to switch to Fossil Free cars. But we also need to be thinking the best car is actually a bicycle or a bus or a train or walking or not a car at all. And how do we prioritise people, not cars at the centre of cities?
Carlton Reid 52:50
Hmm, yes. And that’s, that’s a good note to stop. Actually, I do like that definitely prioritise people and the car. The best kind of car is a bicycle. Yes. So where can people find this paper? Like I’ll in the show notes, I’ll give the links to everything. But let’s give an audio one. So right now. So where can people find the paper? And then if you could also tell us where people can find you?
Kim Nicholas 53:17
Sure. Well, I’ve been tweeting an awful lot about it. So you can certainly find it on my Twitter. I’m ka_Nicholas, on Twitter. I’ll be writing about this paper in my monthly climate advice column, which is called we can fix it and you can subscribe over on substack. Those are probably the best places to find me. Okay, and the paper itself, or the paper itself is published in case studies in transport research and the conversation UK has the piece that’s called the 12 best ways to get cars out of cities, ranked by new research, and then the Guardian ran a condensed version of that over the weekend. Yes.
Carlton Reid 53:58
And we are now looking for a city to implement at least 10 of
Kim Nicholas 54:07
you are going to I will ride my bicycle there from Luna, if it’s anywhere in Europe, and I would love to see it. So please, please cities. I would tell me if you’re doing this and I would love to visit
Carlton Reid 54:20
Thanks to Professor Kim Nicholas there aand thanks also to you for listening to episode 295 of the Spokesmen cycling podcast now brought to you in association with Tern Bicycles. Watch out for the next episode popping up in your feed real soon. But meanwhile, get out there and ride