Thousands of air pollution-linked deaths would be cut if UK hit cycling targets

5th December 2017

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Christopher M Saville

More than 13,000 premature deaths from air pollution would be prevented over ten years if England and Scotland both reached their targets to get more people to cycle and walk.

That is according to new findings from the transport charity Sustrans, which reveals there would also be £9.31bn worth of benefits to the economy over the same period if the goals were met.

The research aims to support the case for investment in walking and cycling infrastructure, arguing the gains would be even greater if benefits to health and wellbeing from exercise were included.

The government says poor air quality is the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK, and that nitrogen dioxide levels in the air are above legal limits in almost 90% of urban areas – mostly caused by diesel vehicles.

“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,” Sustrans CEO, Xavier Brice, said.

The research shows if targets to double journeys by bike and increase walking by 300 trips per person in England’s Walking Investment Strategy were met, more than 8,300 premature deaths would be prevented.

This would also result in £5.67bn in benefits to the economy over ten years by avoiding the costs associated with poor air quality, including NHS treatment in hospital for respiratory diseases.

In addition, if 10% of everyday journeys were carried out by bike, as set out in Scotland’s Cycling Action Plan, nearly 4,000 premature deaths would be avoided and £3.64bn saved.

The government believes that poor air quality is responsible for approximately 23,500 early deaths in the UK each year, and costs the country around £2.7bn through its impact on productivity.

Sustrans said that 29 local authorities in England breaking legal air quality limits are to produce Clean Air Plans by November 2018, while the devolved nations are trialling a number of different plans to improve air quality.

“If we are to make a major shift, we need to provide a network of direct protected cycle routes on roads in addition to quieter routes across the UK,” Brice continued.

“We’re urging governments at all levels to include funding for walking and cycling infrastructure in their Clean Air Plans and to prioritise investment in active travel as part of wider urgent action to make air safe again.”


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