Icelandic municipalities will be able to limit or even temporarily ban vehicular traffic to reduce pollution levels when new traffic legislation takes effect in January, RÚV reports. The legislation aims to decrease particulate pollution, which has plagued urban areas in Iceland, particularly on still, dry winter days.
Particulate pollution in the Reykjavík capital area has exceeded safe limits 14 times this year, while nitrogen dioxide (a gas present in car exhaust) has been measured above safe limits on three occasions, one of which was yesterday. To combat the issue, municipalities will soon be permitted to banning or limit traffic when air pollution levels are high, or there is a risk of pollution levels exceeding safe limits.
Many forms of restrictions
The restrictions can take many forms, as outlined in the legislation. Municipalities will be able to temporarily lower speed limits on certain streets or restrict larger vehicles. They will also be able to ban private vehicles in specific areas. Such a ban would not apply to all vehicles, however, but rather would be based on licence plates. For example, one day cars with licence plates ending in an odd number would be banned from certain areas, and then next cars with licence plates ending in an even number.
City Councillor and Chairperson of Reykjavík’s Environment and Health Committee Líf Magneudóttir expressed enthusiasm for the legislation. “This is a very welcome licence as municipalities have long called for different measures than just restricting the travel of people with respiratory illnesses or restricting children’s outdoor activities,” she stated in an interview. “Now we can finally do something about the issue when the legislation takes effect.” Lif stated that she has put together a task force to prepare how the legislation would be applied. “This is a huge project, as I see it. This is a public health issue, this is a health issue and of course also an environmental issue.”
Municipal authorities in Akureyri, North Iceland, are less keen on applying restrictions to traffic, according to RÚV’s sources, even though the town of 19,000 has also faced elevated particulate pollution levels due to cars. While a recent attempt to combat the issue by spreading saltwater on roads proved effective, the town’s residents complained it resulted in dirty cars.