Health agency calls for more serious efforts to reduce urban air pollution

Every week we are reading more and more about the harmful impact of air pollution. Now health experts in Britain are calling on local authorities to take more active efforts through the use of variable speed limits, removal of speed bumps and ‘no idling’ zones near schools amongst many other recommendations. Kevin Rawlinson provides a good account of the recommendations in a recent article in The Guardian.

 

Nice proposes ‘smooth driving’ measures to cut air pollution

Speed bumps should be removed, speed limits made variable on England’s motorways, sometimes dropping as low as 50mph, and a congestion charge considered in more cities to cut air pollution and save lives, health experts have said.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) released a series of recommendations on Thursday which it said would “promote a smoother driving style” and help keep emissions down.

Health officials said vehicles created more emissions when they were speeding up and slowing down, as on congested motorways. To keep a more consistent speed, they said, the limit could be temporarily lowered to 50 or 60 mph when traffic is stop-start. That represented a “more sensible” approach than having lower fixed limits, Nice’s Prof Mark Baker said.

The officials added that some speed bumps encouraged people to speed up, then slow down. They urged planners to consider using average speed technology on the roads to promote smoother driving. Figures released earlier this year by the RAC Foundation showed that cameras measuring average speeds were now monitoring drivers on more than 250 miles of Britain’s roads. Sections covered range in length from a quarter of a mile on London’s Tower Bridge to 99 miles on the A9 between Dunblane and Inverness in Scotland.

On top of that, they want towns and cities with pollution problems to consider implementing clean air zones and look into the possibility of introducing congestion charging zones.

The draft guidance for England also contains proposals for “no-idling” zones around schools to prevent parents leaving their cars running during school drop-offs. Air pollution is a contributory factor to about 25,000 deaths a year in England, almost 5% of all deaths, Nice said, and road traffic is estimated to contribute to about a third of air pollution in urban sites.

Provisional figures show that road usage is at record levels, with an estimated 320bn vehicle miles travelled on Britain’s roads in the year ending September 2016.

Health campaigners welcomed the draft proposals, which were devised for local authority staff and are out for consultation, but environmental groups called for more stringent measures.

The British Lung Foundation said it backed the plans because “air pollution contributes to tens of thousands of early deaths every year” and the British Heart Foundation called them a “step in the right direction”.

Jenny Bates, a Friends of the Earth air pollution campaigner, said the proposals were to be welcomed but that “we must deal with the real crux of the issue and reduce air pollution levels”.

She said: “Action is needed both to ensure vehicles on the road are clean and that there are fewer of them. Diesel vehicles, which are the most polluting, must be phased out and our transport and planning policy needs a radical overhaul.”

Nice officials called for a review of trees lining streets in urban areas. “In some cases, they restrict street ventilation, causing poorer air quality. In others they improve it”. It also warns that solid barriers placed next to roads to mitigate noise can actually lead to a wider dispersal of pollution.

Other suggestions by Nice included:

  • Town planners should avoid putting cycle routes on heavily polluted roads but, where this was unavoidable, they should consider using foliage to screen cyclists from vehicles. .
  • Local authorities may want to look into setting a standard for the types of cars used for taxis.
  • Some areas should consider public awareness initiatives such as “car-free days”. Those could be similar to measures sometimes used in Paris, which only allows drivers with a number plate ending in an odd or even number into the city on given days when pollution reaches high levels.
  • House builders should place living rooms at the back of houses away from roads and hedgerows should be grown to protect cyclists using cycle paths.

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