Sustrans says that if government targets for walking and cycling were met in England and Scotland, it would prevent more than 13,000 premature deaths from air pollution and result in £9.31bn in benefits to the public purse over a ten-year period.
A new model from Sustrans aims to help local authorities make the case for investment in walking and cycling by expressing the extent to which sustainable travel can reduce levels of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide.
Ann Ballinger, lead modeller and air quality expert at Eunomia, said: “This is the first time that Sustrans’ data has been used alongside public health data to understand what impacts walking and cycling schemes have on an individual’s exposure to air pollution.
“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.”
Almost 40 million people in the UK are currently living in areas clouded by health-damaging and illegal levels of pollution from diesel vehicles, according to a recent study.
Many towns and cities are now also below World Health Organisation standards for particulate matter, 45 per cent of which comes from car tyres and brake wear and which therefore won’t be reduced by a move to electric vehicles.
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 has 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.
“We’re urging governments at all levels to include funding for walking and cycling infrastructure in their Clean Air Plans and the UK Government to prioritise investment in active travel as part of wider urgent action to make air safe again.”
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, today announced that London and Bengaluru in India will lead a new global partnership of up to 20 other world cities to tackle air pollution across the world.
The global air quality network will work to develop solutions and will be managed by the C40 Climate Leadership Group, an alliance of cities which have committed to tackling climate change.
“Only by working together will we help beat this international health crisis and protect people from breathing in air so filthy it damages their lungs and causes diseases,” he said.