Just five days into 2017, Brixton Road in Lambeth breached one of the EU’s annual air pollution limits. It was shortly followed by Putney High Street in Wandsworth and Brompton road in Kensington.
Since then, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has issued the first ‘very high’ air pollution since he took office. Being a cyclist in London, it’s hard to avoid the warnings – they’re plastered on most bus stops, on the front page of the Evening Standard and all over twitter.
Official advice is for people to reduce the amount of physical or strenuous activity you do outside.
Easy to say when you’re not training for a marathon, eh?
But air pollution is serious, and an incredibly under estimated thing. It has been linked with heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, asthma, stroke, cancer and a whole host of lung conditions.
So what’s the solution? Clearly, it is possibly – Oxford Street has dramatically reduced air pollution, after reporting extremely high levels and breaking the yearly limit in only four days in 2011.
But it’s not that simple – air pollution is affected by the weather. Apparently, it’s worse in hot weather, when it rains or snows, when it’s windy… sunny… so really, London is screwed.
We need to be calling for more cycling, more cycling super highways, more public transports, higher taxes for cars and diesel engine, more green buses, encouraging people to walk or run into work… But how can you begin to make a start on encouraging people to use alternative methods of transport, like cycling or their own feet, when the air pollution quite frankly makes it dangerous?
I’ve been there. It’s disgusting cycling behind a chain of dirty great buses and lorries – on high pollution days I get off my bus and feel like I need to jump straight into a shower. I’ve noticed that my skin gets worse, and (too much information) that my snot turns sooty coloured! I used to joke that the fumes used to keep me warm while commuting in the winter, but it’s no laughing matter.
Other cities are leading the way: Madrid, Paris, and Brussels have made public transport cheaper, or even free, during pollution episodes, and Paris banned odd- and even-number-plated cars from the city center on alternate days.
There is a way forward. Sadiq Khan is releasing his air pollution policy on April 24. And it can’t come quick enough.