Air pollution is one of the UK’s biggest killers: 40,000 deaths are attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution every year. That’s more than obesity or alcohol. Dirty air leads to worsening asthma symptoms, heart disease and even lung cancer. Air pollution has even been associated with changes in the brain linked to dementia and can lead to children growing up with smaller lungs. There is no safe level.
The biggest problem for air pollution is road traffic, and diesel is the worst of all. Diesels are a major source of the toxic gas nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the air we breathe. Vehicles also produce tiny particles, known as particulate matter (PMs), that find their way deep into our lungs and some of them in to our bloodstream.
Bristol’s air pollution exceeds government limits for NO2 (the government’s focus), and WHO limits for particulates (the health experts’ focus), on some of its busiest roads. The pollution is worst where traffic is queuing or stop-start. The pollution is actually worst for drivers as they breathe in the fumes from the vehicle in front.
Following pressure from Client Earth, the government has required a number of cities including Bristol to consider introducing a Clean Air Zone. Bristol Council is likely to make a decision on this in autumn 2018.
A city centre Clean Air Zone will help, but it does not solve the whole problem because poor air quality affects arterial roads too. Electric vehicles help but they do not solve the whole problem because particulate pollution arises from tyres, brakes and road dust. And they will take time to become widespread.
The only thing that will really help is lower volumes of motor vehicles, especially queuing and stop/start traffic. The only way to prevent queuing and stop/start traffic in a city centre is through pricing and/or physical measures that control the volume of motor traffic, and measures to free up road space for sustainable transport and active travel modes.
Pedestrians on pavements close to queuing and stop/start traffic are exposed to high levels of air pollution. In places of high footfall, like shopping streets, placing a barrier or buffer corridor between the traffic and the pavement can make a big difference.
BWA is joining with other organisations in Bristol to:
- lobby Bristol Council to introduce a Clean Air Zone that covers a wide area and a wide range of diesel vehicles
- lobby the Council and West of England Combined Authority to include the other transport policy measures necessary to tackle air quality
- raise awareness of the air quality issue amongst the general public