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Hitting cycling targets could prevent pollution deaths

Words: Laura Edgar
Cycling / Shutterstock_181277675

If England and Scotland met their respective targets to get more people to walk and cycle, at least 13,000 premature deaths from air pollution could be averted over 10 years, says charity Sustrans.

Meeting the targets could also see £9.31 billion worth of benefits.

To support local authorities to make the case for investment in walking and cycling, Sustrans has partnered with environmental consultancy Eunomia to release a model to measure air quality benefits from reducing vehicle emission through more walking or cycling, and the changes in personal exposure to air pollution.

The model estimates the contribution of active travel in cutting levels of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide, and the resulting benefits to public health.

According to the model, if the targets to double journeys by bike and increase walking by 300 stages per person in the England’s Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy were met, this would prevent more than 8,300 premature deaths from air pollution and £5.67 billion saved.

Additionally, if the ambition of 10 per cent of everyday journeys by bike set out in Scotland’s Cycling Action Plan was realised, nearly 4,000 premature deaths would be avoided and £3.64 billion of savings would accrue over a decade.

Xavier Brice, CEO for Sustrans, said: “At a time when road transport is responsible for the majority of air quality limit breaches in the UK, it has never been more important to reduce the number of motorised vehicles on our roads.

“The new findings reiterate that walking and cycling have a huge role to play in tackling the air quality crisis that causes tens of thousands of premature deaths every year. If we are to make a major modal shift, we need to provide a network of direct protected cycle routes on roads in addition to quieter routes across the UK.”

He said the two organisations are urging all governments to include funding for walking and cycling infrastructure in their Clean Air Plans. They also want the UK Government to prioritise investment in active travel as part of wider urgent action to make air safe again.

Ann Ballinger, lead modeller and air quality expert at Eunomia, said: “Our analysis suggests investment in cycling and walking has considerable potential to improve local air pollution. We believe this innovative model could be of considerable value in supporting local authorities and government as these bodies consider options to tackle the air pollution emergency at a local level.”

The model and the accompanying research Air Quality Benefits of Active Travel can be found on the Sustrans website.

Image credit | Shutterstock