OPINION: How do we fix the issue of air pollution as we take to the roads again?
- Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021
How’s your getting ‘back to normal’ going?
How’s the commute to and from work every day? Unless, your journey is from the bedroom to the kitchen, you’ll be suffering the daily nightmare nose to tail post-lockdown traffic, wasting hours of your day in various levels of frustration on car-clogged roads?
You might think that switching to two wheels a couple of times a week would do you good and beat the traffic, but then end up with lungs choked with exhaust fumes from flying along cycle lanes next to hundreds of stationery cars in gridlock pumping out petrol and diesel emissions.
Traffic into Norwich and Ipswich and towns everywhere is worse than ever now the world is opening up again.
Running late for an appointment last week, I sat in traffic for more than an hour watching empty buses sweep past in bus lanes. Meanwhile, most cars, like mine, carried just one person, the driver, as car sharing still feels too risky when there are still Covid germs to be shared.
People are rightly nervous to share air on public transport or car shares, putting even more cars than usual on the roads as we all go solo. Experts reckon health concerns about using public transport is putting up to 2.7 million more people using cars for commuting trips alone.
That’s a huge amount of extra pollution.
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Add to that all the extra delivery vehicles on the road because the nation has a taste for online shopping, it’s even worse. It’s great that the increase in online shopping has created new jobs, and we all love the convenience of ordering on a Saturday for a next-day delivery so we shut our eyes to the pollution.
Look upwards. Those clear clean skies of mid-pandemic when roads were empty and air traffic was rare are murky again. The cleaner pandemic skies showed how fast we can bring down pollution – and we’ve proved how quickly they can accumulate again.
The World Health Organisation points to dirty air, both indoors and out, for killing seven million lives annually worldwide as a reminder how deadly our clean-air-turned-grimy can be.
When we moan about the traffic delays losing our time, there are bigger issues at stake than our time lost. Pollution kills.
Traffic and its allied effects can have various adverse health consequences.
In urban areas, traffic is one of the major sources of air pollutants and it’s not just vehicle exhausts. Blended with secondary pollutants like road dust and tyre wear adds to the risk to our respiratory system.
There’s also evidence that road traffic noise significantly increases the risk for heart-related diseases, such as high blood pressure, heart attacks. It can also induce adverse effects on the nervous system, leading to the increasing levels of anxiety, irritation, and sleeplessness
We have this golden opportunity to use this comparison of mid and post-lockdown as a catalyst or tipping point to embrace the benefits of clean air from lighter traffic,
We all talked about learning lessons from lockdown with a new appreciation of what is important, what we want retain s and what we want to change.
But it feels that we’ve gone straight back to our old habits.
Cars suit our lifestyles. We want the convenience and freedom they bring. We all want one. Outside some homes, there are four cars. No wonder our air is clogged.
Any change in how we move around will be uncomfortable and inconvenient and we need to be prepared to make big changes to reduce emissions, decarbonise transport and do our bit to keep climate change manageable for future generations.
My journey to work takes three times as now as it did during the lockdowns. I could get from door to door in under 20 minutes every day in lockdown on clear roads. That’s the convenience we all want.
I’ve tweaked my journey times to miss the traffic but am still pumping fumes albeit less. I could get a train and take my bike on the train for the journey at both ends, adding time to my day, and my working hours limited to train times.
Sitting in traffic jams increases stress and blood pressure. Accidents happen when angry people take chances and miscalculate through lapsed attention.
We’re all missing appointments and being late for meetings sitting in gridlocks, which is doing nothing for efficiency.
But the so-called ‘healthy’ options cycling to keep fit are compromised by the risks of asthma-inducing toxic waste from the traffic.
Last week, when a woman on a cycle with her small child strapped on the front whizzed past in the cycle lane, all I could think about was what those tiny lungs were breathing in from the fog of emissions around him.
What’s worse, is that dirty air makes Covid19 even more lethal.
One day we’re told obese people are at greater risk from Covid, then if those people take to their bikes to try to do something about it, they’re putting themselves at risk from the fumes they inhale.
We’re in a dilemma. We know which way we should turn but who wants to make the sacrifice for the greater good. A post-lockdown conundrum that needs strong solutions and leadership and more than walking and cycling schemes.
But if we don’t change, motor traffic will only grow with more traffic jams, more road injuries and more pollution.