I got giddy on my vacation in London when I came upon this sign at Hyde Park Corner; it signaled that I was entering the downtown congestion pricing zone.

According to a 2016 report by the Center for Public Impact, congestion charging in London is making London a greener city:

The charging area now extends from Kings Cross in the north to Elephant and Castle in the south, Hyde Park Corner in the west and Old Street roundabout to the east. The charging period runs from 7am to 6pm and the standard charge is currently £11.50 per day. Charging zone residents receive a 90 percent discount while certain vehicles are exempt, such as buses, taxes and electric vehicles and certain drivers, such as the disabled.

The primary aim of the programme was to reduce the number of private vehicles entering central London during the day and “to facilitate greater use of transportation alternatives, producing environmental and safety improvements and in turn, raising substantial net revenues”.

The Public Impact

The scheme had significant impact from the outset:

There was a 37 percent increase in the number of passengers entering the congestion charging zone by bus during charging hours in the first year.

“Greenhouse gas emission was reduced by 16 per cent from 2002 to 2003. NOX and PM10 within the congestion charging zone decreased by 18 per cent and 22 per cent, respectively, by 2004.”

The scheme generated £122 million net in 2005/2006.

By 2006, the congestion charging zone had reduced congestion in central London by 26 per cent from its 2002 levels.

There have been between 40 and 70 percent fewer accidents that resulted in personal injury within the zone.

Based on the original £8 charge, the scheme was estimated to save £2.5 million per year as a result of a reduction in vehicle mile travelled, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

The scheme achieved a cost efficiency of £78 million when all costs and benefits were considered.

The congestion charge boosted sales of hybrid cars.

While these eco and economic wins are excellent news, they aren’t the only reason I think a downtown congestion pricing zone makes sense in a city like Seattle.

I support it because I think it would be a fair rejoinder to single-family zone protectionists who champion our city’s current land use code that reserves more than 60 percent of Seattle’s developable land exclusively for single family houses.

Short of levying a lot-size property tax on single family homes to help mitigate the impact SFZs have on the city (skyrocketing rents, for example), we should find a way to tax this cavalier land use. Just as we tax other things we want to discourage—like cigarette smoking and pollution—people whose outer-tier lifestyle of car-oriented development,  extended yards, free parking, and inefficient utility use should pay a fee to drive into the dense downtown and inner-city neighborhoods that subsidize their cars and homes with cheaper more sustainable (denser) infrastructure.

Thirteen cities around the world, including London with its congestion pricing scheme, are already enacting stern policies regulating cars in the city core.

For example:


Madrid plans to ban cars from 500 acres of its city center by 2020, with urban planners redesigning 24 of the city’s busiest streets for walking rather than driving.

The initiative is part of the city’s “sustainable mobility plan,” which aims to reduce daily car usage from 29% to 23%. Drivers who ignore the new regulations will pay a fine of at least $100. And the most polluting cars will pay more to park.


The German city plans to make walking and biking its dominant mode of transport. Within the next two decades, Hamburg will reduce the number of cars by only allowing pedestrians and bikers to enter certain areas.

The project calls for a gruenes netz, or a “green network,” of connected spaces that people can access without cars. By 2035, the network will cover 40% of Hamburg and will include parks, playgrounds, and sports fields.

I think the idea of the “Gruenes Netz” is similar to the “Seamless Public Realm” that New York City’s parks department is working on, but it certainly sounds cooler in German.



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