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Empty Cities: Could New York and London Be Car-Free?

Can cities known for their congestion get cleaned up?

Clean and Car-FreeClean and Car-FreeBig roads, big cars, idling vans and plumes of exhaust smoke. Are these archetypal images of the city becoming outdated? London's been imposing congestion fines on inner city drivers for 4 years, and New York is about to follow suit.

On January 31st, a state commission passed a bill to charge drivers an $8 entrance fee for the innermost areas of NYC. It still has to get through the local legislature, but the New York Times is saying that residents are the big winner. Almost $500 million a year raised from dirty drivers will be turned into a better public transit system.

London's a few years ahead, and now that their congestion zone is working well, they've started a new plan to make sure big vehicles aren't big polluters. As of today, certain trucks, buses and large vans need to get green or get out of the city.

A low emission certification will let them off scot-free, but uncertified vehicles will be stuck with a bill up to £200if they head into London.

Other cities have gone farther: Paris has a large car-free zone, and Rome only allows residents, buses and taxis to drive during the day.

But are New Yorkers ready to give up the car keys?

While Londoners let fines discourage them from driving, New York drivers are already paying for the privilege. Commuters' toll fees match the proposed congestion fee, and residents pay more for parking than some plane tickets. Are another few bucks going to change someone's habits?

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