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Cycling answer to worsening air quality

World Health Organisation and King’s College, London, professor cite cycling as key to air pollution solution

Cycling has been highlighted by both the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the professor of environmental health at King’s College, London, as part of the solution to the problem of worsening air quality.

Information released today by the WHO states that in most cities where there is enough data to compare current air pollution levels with previous years, the situation is getting worse.

The organisation estimates that outdoor air pollution was responsible for 3.7 million premature deaths of individuals under the age of 60 around the world in 2012.

The WHO director for public health, environmental and social determinants of health, Dr Maria Neira, underlined the prominent role that active transport and improved cycling infrastructure plays in the cities which have improved their air quality.

She said: “Effective policies and strategies are well understood, but they need to be implemented at sufficient scale.

“Cities such as Copenhagen and Bogotà, for example, have improved air quality by promoting ‘active transport’ and prioritizing dedicated networks of urban public transport, walking and cycling.

“We can win the fight against air pollution and reduce the number of people suffering from respiratory and heart disease, as well as lung cancer."

The government in the UK also issued figures last month that suggested 29,000 premature deaths per year came as a result of poor air quality.

In April the level of pollution in some parts of south-east England reached the top of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' ten-point scale, as a result of particular weather conditions and Saharan dust being blown north.

Experts were divided as to whether cycling in these conditions would cause harm or not, but both the WHO and professor Frank Kelly of King’s College, London, agree that it is key in solving the problem.

Kelly, professor of environmental health, wrote a piece for the Evening Standard in which he outlined his beliefs that London’s poor air quality now “poses a significant threat to our health.”

In the piece he highlighted the diesel engines that power nearly all of our public transportation vehicles and around half of the cars on the capital’s roads as the primary culprits for the city’s poor air quality.

He also suggested a number of measures that should be taken to improve the state of the city’s air, including improvements to cycling infrastructure regardless of the cost it may incur.

He wrote: “The UK’s air quality improvements have miserably stalled and in London especially this now poses a significant threat to our health.

“To cut pollution we must reduce traffic and ensure that what remains on the road is cleaner.

“We could do so through a more effective low-emission zone; investing in clean and affordable public transport; moving back from diesel to petrol or at least banning all highly polluting diesel vehicles; lowering speed limits and enhancing cycle routes.

“There will be costs — but these should be balanced against the cost of the impact of air pollution in the UK, estimated at up to £19 billion a year.”

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