People were encouraged to say ‘no’ to their cars this week and to make use of the environmentally- friendly options available to them as part of world car-free day.
The idea behind the international day is to raise awareness about how reducing traffic can change the way that our communities function.
In some areas, roads were closed off to give an idea of how a traffic-free zone could revolutionise how we live.
But there are also environmental benefits to turning away from cars.
Helen Davison, Green Party councillor for Belah and Kingmoor in Carlisle, said: “The use of petrol and diesel vehicles is having a significant detrimental impact on the environment and our health.
“The use of fossil fuels is increasing greenhouse gas emissions and worsening the climate crisis, and vehicle emissions contribute to air pollution which nationally is killing 40,000 people per year, not to mention the illness causes for those respiratory and heart diseases.
“Even getting electric cars has an environmental impact because of all the carbon emissions resulting from their production.
“So by not using cars or driving them much less than we currently do we play a part in reducing both greenhouse gas emissions and reducing toxic air pollution.”
Beyond the car-free days, the lockdown has had the unexpected benefit of showing people what the roads could be like if fewer people were out and about driving.
Government data has revealed that at the beginning of lockdown, transport usage dropped by more than 60 per cent across Great Britain.
This allowed people to become more aware of their surroundings.
“We learnt during lockdown about the benefits of fewer cars in the community,” said Dr Davison.
“The air was cleaner, our streets and environment were quieter and we could hear birdsong more.
“Also with less traffic on the roads people felt safe to get their bicycles out and cycle on the road, some people for the first time in years.
“We had a safer environment where people felt safer and happier to walk and cycle which was good for their own health and others because they were not adding to air pollution.”
Despite these benefits, there are many who would struggle without access to a diesel or petrol car.
For them, it isn’t as simple as giving up a necessity which helps them get to work or take their children to school.
Public transport is often touted as the next best thing to driving as it is more environmentally friendly than having multiple cars on the road at once.
Some buses have also made the move to electric making it even better for the environment.
Rob Jones, managing director for Stagecoach Cumbria & North Lancashire, said: “The positive impact on the environment as a result of less traffic on the roads during lockdown has been well documented. We believe that public transport, particularly the bus, is central to the air quality solution.
“Buses play a vital role in reducing journeys and providing more sustainable transport options.
“For example, one bus travelling with just seven passengers is more fuel efficient than seven single occupancy cars.”
On Monday, it was announced that the British government would be moving forward the ban on sales of fossil fuel cars to 2030 in a bid to speed up the shift towards electric vehicles.
Electric cars may not be an option for many people due to the cost, which is currently quite high.
There are options that may make this easier for those wishing to make the transition such as government subsidies or buying an electric car second-hand.
Phil Davies from Cumbria Action for Sustainability said: “New electric vehicles, which average 220 miles on a single charge, and which may cost as little as £10 to charge, are still relatively expensive to buy, starting at about £20,000 for a new car.
“But the Government’s subsidies for them, savings on road tax, very low servicing costs and especially the savings on fuel means that the ‘pay back’ is relatively quick, as little as three years against the cost of buying a new petrol or diesel car.
“There’s also up to £10,000 in tax relief for electric company cars. And leasing agreements mean that an electric vehicle might be yours for £200-£300 a month.”
Steps are already being taken within local communities to try and make the area a more sustainable place to live.
Richard Ingham is the elected bicycle mayor in Cumbria who is hoping to get policy-makers to see that cycling is a serious form of transport and that investing in it is more productive for the future.
There are also groups that are working on revolutionising the way that county residents drive.
Cumbria Action for Sustainability is supporting a project with the aim of expanding the county’s electric vehicle infrastructure by setting up electric vehicle charging points in towns and villages.
Phil Davies said: “We want to offer those without their own driveways the opportunity to benefit from the rapid transition to electric vehicles.
“Sixty-six per cent of the UK live in homes without driveways, so we need to ensure they can charge their cars too.
“It’s really heartening to see businesses, community halls and even hotels host the Charge My Street EV charge points.
“Often their customers and staff will use the charge points during the day, then open the charge points up to the public after the staff leave work or the business closes at the end of the day.”
However, as this is all happening on a larger scale it can be difficult for individuals to know what they can do in the here and now to help in their community.
Dr Davison said: “The less I have used a car, the less I want to. And in walking and cycling for the vast majority of my local journeys it keeps me fit, means I don’t need to go to a gym and saves me money.”
CAfS recommends thinking of travel in terms of a hierarchy, avoid it if you can but if not, follow this set of guidelines.
“If you do need to get somewhere, walk or cycle if possible,” explained Mr Davies.
“If this isn’t an option, then use public transport. If public transport isn’t possible, then use your car – but consider giving someone a lift or fetching something for a neighbour to save them a journey.”