On your bike — or your rollerblades, skateboard, even an electric unicycle.
This Sunday, September 22, is London’s biggest Car Free Day yet, with 20km of roads across the city closed off to cars, vans and lorries from 10.30am-5pm, freeing them up for basically any other form of non-air polluting transport you can think of.
And before you grumble, consider this: two million Londoners are living in areas that have higher than legal limits of nitrogen dioxide.
Besides, going car-free is just better: it’s fun, healthy and cheap.
Here we talk to six Londoners who have been making alternative plans for years. So what are you waiting for? Get your skates on, London.
Skateboarder (pic above)
Teresa Geer, 32, Freelance content creator
“I’m so clumsy — the moment I met my husband, I fell off my skateboard onto my face,” laughs Teresa.
Yet clumsiness didn’t stop the Whitechapel-based freelance content creator teaching herself not only to longboard six years ago, but to do so around London. Her boarding journeys are short, mostly from Underground stop to office, but even such short bursts are “amazing exercise, and really fun, so it doesn’t feel like exercising — all while getting to where you need to be.
“People get so angry on the Tube,” she says. “When you transport yourself you feel alive, you feel your heart beating, you get fresh air and sunlight.”
Geer is also determined to get more women longboarding, running monthly all-women meet-ups through the London Longboards Facebook group.
Toby Standpoint, 37, Actor
Toby had always cycled around London before he and wife Victoria had daughter Maggie. Keen to avoid getting a car, the two actors discovered Enjoy Waltham Forest’s active travel scheme, which offers a free trial of a cargo bike: a reconfigured, elongated bicycle, with a large wheel-supported box in front of the handlebars, like a trolley.
When Maggie was nine months old, they took one for a spin — and haven’t looked back. “It’s amazing — a no-brainer. Everything you might need a car for can be done by cargo bike, faster, cleaner and safer,” says Toby.
They cycle everywhere from the playground to the supermarket and doctors. And IKEA: their cargo bike can hold an astonishing 200kg without hampering its cyclist.
Rupert Cadbury, 32, Portfolio strategist
When investment manager Rupert moved to Chelsea with his girlfriend (now wife) in 2014, he discovered he could get the RB6 Thames Clipper ferry service from Chelsea Harbour to Canary Wharf pier in 45 minutes. And it has been a “lifechanger.”
The ferry is “a world away from the hustle and bustle, deafening screeches and exotic aromas of the Underground”, he says.
“The morning sounds are now the calls of migrating Canadian geese, slapping waves and occasionally the gentle whirl of a coffee grinder.”
The Clippers have onboard bars, meaning Rupert can grab a coffee as he catches up with emails on the 6.03am service, and have a G&T on the way home. Taking the ferry has “undoubtedly” improved his mental health, and it’s sociable: sometimes his friends join him, and they’ve even spotted seals at Blackfriars Pier.
Alice Tate, 27, PR manager
PR manager Alice began running to work in Holborn as a way of fitting in training: she’s done three marathons — her fourth, in Berlin, is at the end of this month — and points out that “getting in a 10km before 9am is a great use of time.”
Even better, “it’s free.”
At the weekends she might run (one-way) from her home in Peckham to the supermarket, or to meet her boyfriend from work for a pizza at Theo’s in Camberwell that feels well-deserved indeed.
For her, running is a simple decision: “If I leave the house in a funk and take the train to work, I get there more in a mood. If I run, I’m pumped with endorphins and forget what I was worrying about.”
Afeez Kay, 38, Quality assurance manager
Kensal Rise-based Afeez had long been an advocate of electric vehicles for environmental reasons but found he wasn’t using his electric BMW i3 enough in London. So the quality assurance manager looked around for an alternative — and found it ridden on YouTube.
An electric unicycle (EUI) “sounds a bit circuslike,” he laughs, but his Ninebot Z10 is “the best electric vehicle on the market”.
It’s the size of a small suitcase so it’s portable, and Afeez often carries it onto the Eurostar or into a Chelsea restaurant. It also goes 40-50 miles on one charge.
The huge environmental and congestionreducing benefits of electric micromobility devices like EUIs, electric skateboards and electric scooters are such that Afeez is campaigning to promote their safety, legality and infrastructure in London.
German Moreno, 31, Office administrator
Battersea-based German took up rollerblading 15 years ago but it was only when he spotted another blader whizzing along the road that the possibility of commuting struck him. The office administrator now uses rollerblades to go five miles to work in Euston each morning, reaching speeds of up to 20mph, a rucksack with an office-appropriate shirt on his back.
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At first, he admits, “my colleagues laughed” and “thought it was for kids” — now they want to learn themselves (German is also a part-time instructor at rollerblading club London Skate Life).
He insists that the roads are “only dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing” — just respect traffic signs, make sure your blades are in good nick and never blade when you’re tired. Best of all, he says, “you’re a moving advert encouraging people to get out on their bikes, to get moving, to be healthier.”