Air quality

More cycling contributes to cleaner air
Cherry Allan's picture

Air quality

Cycling contributes to cleaner, healthier air. Encouraging more people to cycle reduces emissions from road transport, and gives the UK a better chance of fulfilling its responsibility to protect people from the harmful effects of air pollution.

Headline Message

  • Motor vehicles are a major source of pollution, which imposes significant human and financial costs on society.
  • ​Cyclists are probably less exposed to pollution than drivers and, in any case, the health benefits of cycling significantly outweigh the risks presented by pollution.
  • Cycling should therefore be encouraged as a way of reducing pollution. This would help the UK comply with its legal limits on air quality and improve public health. 

Policy Key Facts

  • In the UK, road transport is responsible for about a third of nitrogen oxides emissions, and over a quarter of particulate matter. These are known health hazards. .
  • Poor air quality in urban areas costs the English economy between £4.5 to £10.6 billion a year (at 2009 prices and values).           
  • Road transport is likely to be responsible for about half of the deaths attributed to air pollution in the 34 OECD countries.
  • Every year in the UK, outdoor pollution is linked to around 40,000 deaths.
  • 74% of Londoners see air cleanliness as a problem in central London, and 67% think the same of London as a whole.
  • Exposure to roads with high vehicle traffic accounts for 14% of all asthma cases in children (a similar impact to that of passive smoking).
  • Air pollution has been classified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a leading cause of cancer, especially lung cancer. WHO recognises that transportation is one of the predominant sources.

Cycling UK View

  • The cumulative effect of traffic-related pollution undoubtedly causes serious, significant and costly harm to health, leads to health inequalities and has a detrimental impact on cyclists, pedestrians and drivers alike.
  • Evidence suggests that the health benefits of cycling still outweigh the risks, even when exposure to pollutants is taken into account.
  • Cycling should be seen and promoted to the public as a way to help reduce a major source of pollution (i.e. motor traffic), for improving compliance with EU air quality laws (especially on NO2) and for its benefits to public health.
  • The UK should introduce a new Clean Air Act.
  • Central government and/or its agencies should:
    • Co-ordinate effective action by local authorities and other bodies to tackle air pollution, and in particularly in areas with Clean Air Zones (CAZs);
    • Use the tax system to discourage activities that contribute to traffic-related air pollution through, for example, fuel duty, vehicle tax and emissions based road user charging;
    • Produce a national framework for local road user charging, which should adopt a presumption in favour of charging for CAZs;
    • Regard cycling as a preferable solution to relying on ‘green’ cars and other ‘techno-fixes’, given its wider benefits;
    • Introduce a nationally co-ordinated scrappage scheme that not only supports the purchase of the cleanest new cars, vans, buses and lorries, but also pedal cycles and cargo bikes, including e-bikes;
    • Take full account of the impact of road building on air quality;
    • Make it clear in national planning guidance that all development projects should be vetted for the impact they are likely to have on road traffic pollution, and ensure that local planning authorities can easily dismiss applications on air pollution grounds.
    • Work through Public Health England to ensure that local authorities recognise air pollution as an urgent public health problem.
  • Local authorities should:
    • Recognise that tackling air pollution is a key duty;
    • Make the most effective use of local air quality management measures available to them (e.g. Ultra Low Emission Zones and Air Quality Management Areas);
    • All charging CAZs areas should be covered by a Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan (LCWIP), and some of the revenue generated should go towards high quality infrastructure improvements to make non-polluting, active travel more appealing;
    • Build strong partnerships between those responsible for transport, air quality and public health to address the harm caused by road transport pollution in the locality, and promote cycling as a healthy and sustainable alternative;
    • Promote car-free days and other events as a means of highlighting the need to improve air quality through local action and behaviour change. 

2017-08-14 00:00:00 Europe/London

Download the full detailed campaign briefing:

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