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Tour de France massively improved air quality in Huddersfield

Monitoring adds weight to argument that cycling is key to air pollution reduction

The air quality in Huddersfield improved dramatically when roads closed around the Tour de France Grand Départ in July, monitoring has found.

The council shut dozens of roads around the route,  from Ainley Top to Holme Moss, as well as a large number of feeder roads.

Monitoring stations in the town have found that as a result, there was a big fall in air pollution during the times of the road closures.

There was a huge fall in nitrogen dioxide levels, a gas caused by heavy traffic.

Clr Steve Hall, Kirklees Cabinet member for Environmental Health, told the Huddersfield Daily Examiner: “We noticed a striking difference when the roads were closed to traffic. The drop in the pollution level was dramatic and immediate.

“The unusual situation created by the visit of the Tour de France highlights how our car use affects pollution levels and shows the benefits of cycling and walking.

“I hope that one of the legacies of the Tour de France is to increase the number of journeys, particularly those done by commuters, completed by cycling and walking which will benefit people by increasing fitness levels through exercise but also improving the quality of the air we breathe.”

Earlier this year we reported how cycling was highlighted by both the World Health Organisation (WHO), and an eminent professor of environmental health as part of the solution to the problem of worsening air quality.

In most cities where there is enough data to compare current air pollution levels with previous years, the situation is getting worse.

The WHO estimated 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.

Prof 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.”

After an unpromising start, having to be bribed by her parents to learn to ride without stabilisers, Sarah became rather keener on cycling in her university years, and was eventually persuaded to upgrade to proper road cycling by the prospect of a shiny red Italian bike, which she promptly destroyed by trapping a pair of knickers in the rear derailleur. Sarah writes about about cycling every weekend on road.cc.

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