Surely we all have the right to breathe clean air? It is likely most of us take it for granted. Worryingly Bristol, like many other urban areas, is grappling with the problem of poor air quality: Levels of pollutants in central areas frequently exceed national and European guidelines. The fact that there is no ‘safe limit’ for some pollutants means Bristol’s levels far exceed what is safe for human health.
Recent studies have identified that each year around 300 premature deaths in Bristol are linked to poor air quality. Unsurprisingly one of the biggest sources of air pollution in the city is motorised traffic – from diesel vehicles in particular. Yet again, we see another good reason to get more people walking and cycling.
Organisations like Life Cycle, Sustrans and Bristol City Council have been working tirelessly to promote sustainable travel in Bristol. Thanks to the public’s willingness to get on board, we have seen relatively high numbers of people shift from using motorised vehicles to walking, cycling or public transport, compared to most other UK cities.
However, Bristol’s air quality is still unacceptably poor: Whilst a greater proportion of people use sustainable modes of transport, the overall number of journeys made in Bristol has increased - and the number of car journeys has remained stubbornly high.
The UK Government has been taken to court (several times) by Client Earth for these breaches and as a result Bristol and many other local authorities are now legally obliged to improve the air quality in their areas.
You will be pleased to hear that Bristol City Council is taking its responsibilities seriously. It has identified five options for addressing our air quality issues. Each option contains a list of measures that will help reduce air pollution. These include: reducing ‘idling’ (e.g. by turning off engines whilst waiting/queuing in traffic); adapting vehicles to reduce emissions, and; greater priority on the roads for buses.
Significantly, four out of the five measures include proposals for a new ‘air quality charging zone’ (a bit like the Congestion Charge in London). The fifth includes a ban (instead of a charge), that focuses on diesel cars only, with a geographical zone yet to be determined.
Bristol City Council is currently consulting with the public on its plans to improve air quality and wants to engage as many people as possible. To find out more about the plans and to let the Council know your views, go to www.cleanairforbristol.org.