Boris Johnson: Cars keep streets 'lively'
Pedestrianised streets can be "soulless" and cars are needed to "keep them lively," Boris Johnson has said.
Ruling out banning cars from major thoroughfares, the Mayor of London told MPs that "something funny" happened to streets when vehicles disappeared.
Appearing before MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee, he defended his record on air pollution.
He cited figures suggesting London was healthier than many of its European and global rivals.
Mr Johnson told MPs he wanted to counter those who claimed London was the most polluted city in Europe, suggesting research showed it was outperforming Paris, Munich, Rome, Milan and Istanbul among others.
In a report published by his office on Wednesday, London ranked ninth out of 36 cities around the world on the health impacts index, 15th on the citywide index and 17th on the traffic focused index.
The research, conducted by consultancy Amec, looked at the incidence of pollutants like particulate matter, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide and their effect based on different indicators.
He insisted he was not being complacent but claimed huge progress had been made in combating air pollution in the capital, which is thought to cause thousands of premature deaths every year.
The Mayor further claimed his "very aggressive" programme of measures to reduce emissions from public transport, private vehicles and new housing would continue.
Levels of nitrogen dioxide (N02) emissions had fallen by 20% since 2008, he said, while emissions of key dust particulates were 15% lower than when he was first elected.
Mr Johnson said the figures had never been "seriously challenged" but Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, who is a member of the select committee, said they were "assumptions" based on economic modelling.
In contrast, she said "actual readings" from King's College London suggested that roadside emissions of N02 over the same period were down 3% and the discrepancy between the two had not been properly explained.
"If I had to choose between assumptions based on your modelling and empirical data coming out of the back of a tailgate, I know which I would go with," she said.
Although he acknowledged there may be some higher readings from monitoring stations in the busiest parts of London, Mr Johnson said it did not invalidate the overall figures.
Mr Johnson also rejected suggestions his campaign to be elected MP for Uxbridge would drain impetus from his environmental agenda, saying he would continue to look after the interests of the entire city even if he won the West London seat.
"I don't think there will be any issue. We go on with the most ambitious programme for improving air quality that any city in Europe can currently boast," he said.
"The results you have seen already are very good."
As part of his efforts to deal with pollution hotspots, Mr Johnson was asked by Labour's Mike Kane whether he would support banning cars from the busiest roads, like Oxford Street and Whitehall.
In response, he said he was "not at all certain" that this was the right step.
"Something funny happens to streets when you pedestrianise them. They can become rather soulless. There is something about the effect of cars that can keep them lively."