Sustrans is leading calls on Mayor of London Boris Johnson, as well as the candidates looking to succeed him following this May’s mayoral elections, to commit to spending more money on walking and cycling to help reduce the effects of air pollution in the capital following research that showed “incredibly strong results showing the dramatic benefits in air quality on quietly trafficked and off road routes.”

It has also highlighted a recent study it undertook that it says demonstrates the benefits, in terms of air quality, of the London Greenways network of cycling and walking routes, revealing ““incredibly strong results showing the dramatic benefits in air quality on quietly trafficked and off road routes.”

The sustainable transport charity was joined in making the appeal by nine other organisations – the Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH), the Campaign for Better Transport, Clean Air in London, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH), Environmental Protection UK (EPUK), the Healthy Air Campaign, 
London Play, Mapping for Change and Ramblers.

The coalition of groups has addressed a motion to Mr Johnson and the other mayoral candidates that says: “We call on the Mayor to commit to a major increase in investment in walking and cycling as part of wider approaches towards the reduction of harmful emissions from road transport.  We also call on the Mayor to make resources available for the education and involvement of communities in local air quality monitoring.”

Pointing out that Mr Johnson himself is on record as saying that 4,300 deaths in the capital in 2008 were due to people suffering long-term exposure to dangerous airborne particles, Sustrans said that its own research, in which it commissioned monitoring of air at five locations in London, found a significant improvement in air quality compared to nearby major roads.

Carl Pittam, Sustrans London Director, commented: “Our study shows just how important it is that we see the wider benefits of making spaces for people to walk and cycle.

“London Greenways are a unique and high quality network of routes which offer people a green, healthy way to travel and we need to ensure that the network can be expanded.

“Sustrans hopes that this study will show the mayor and all mayoral candidates just how important it is to ensure a major step-up in investment for walking and cycling infrastructure,” he added.

Simon Birkett, Founder and Director of Clean Air in London said that action needed to be taken to combat what an issue that is affecting the health of many of those living in London, often with fatal consequences.

“In the last 10 years scientists have discovered that the health impacts of long-term exposure to air pollution are ‘around ten-fold greater’ than the effects of short-term exposure,” he explained.

“As a result, we now know there were more early deaths in London in 2008 than we thought occurred during the Great Smog of 1952. 

“A major increase in cycling and walking must be at the heart of efforts to tackle this invisible public health crisis as these activities reduce pollution and make it easy for people to avoid the most polluted roads.”

The London Greenways network seeks to provide safe, quiet routes for cyclists and walkers, linking parks and woodland throughout the city, including following quiet residential streets and canal and river towpaths.

Examples of routes included in the project are the Regents Canal towpath, the Wandle Trail and the Hackney Parks Olympic Route.

It is funded by a variety of organisations including Transport for London (TfL), the Olympic Delivery Authority and local authorities in the capital, and encompasses projects including some delivered by Sustrans itself under its Connect2, National Cycle Network, and Greenways for the Olympics and London (GOAL) project.

An overview of some of the more recent developments and research into use of the network can be found in the 2010 London Greenways Monitoring Report, published by Sustrans in partnership with Transport for London (TfL).

One criticism that has been aimed at the London Greenways network is that it is primarily aimed at leisure use, rather than providing an alternative to busy roads on key cycling routes in the city, although many cyclists will follow sections as part of their commute.

A brief review on the website Garden Visit says: “Cycling is restricted on too many sections of London's Greenway Network, resulting in the network being underused,” and adds “The aim should be to create a continuous network of greenways in London.”

It also points out, in a comment on the South London Green Chain, that “people do not want to walk from the [sic] Crystal Palace to Chislehurst or from Chislehurst to the Thames Barrier,” and in a damning verdict of the chain’s easternmost outpost, says it is “doubtful if anyone wants to visit Erith.”