London is a challenging city in which to be fit and healthy. Not least of these challenges is London’s appalling air quality. As a personal trainer who travels round London to train my clients, I experience it every day.
In 2012, local environmental groups in east London took the initiative and set up 32 roadside air pollution monitors, which showed that nitrogen dioxide levels from vehicle exhaust fumes exceeded EU levels by a staggering 50% in some locations.
Meanwhile the government is busy cutting back on local authority air pollution monitors in London. This will enable them to cover-up the true extent of our capital’s air pollution, which will be music to the ears of the car-lobby and road-freight industry. What isn’t measured isn’t managed, and this seems to be the government’s strategic plan.
Dangerous airborne gases and carcinogenic particulates are a major contributory cause of premature deaths from respiratory diseases like asthma, and heart disease.
Jenny Bates, a pollution expert with Friends of the Earth, says that “government does not expect London to meet EU limits for at least 12 years.” Meanwhile, the health of Londoners is put at unnecessary risk.
Director of the campaign group Clean Air in London, Simon Birkett, says that air pollution “kills more than ten times as many people as traffic accidents” in London. Clean Air in London has several high-profile supporters such as Bianca Jagger, and Keith Taylor MEP.
In November last year, the Evening Standard reported that death rates for pollution-related diseases had increased in half of London’s boroughs. The worst offenders were Hillingdon, City of London, Westminster, and Kensington & Chelsea.
Solutions to air pollution in London
London Mayor Boris Johnson says that tighter emission standards for lorries and vans, together with a new fleet of low-emission hybrid buses, will help reduce air pollution. However, unless these standards are widely enforced, (and unless all buses are to become low-emission hybrids) this will have little impact.
Older cars and diesel-emitting black cabs should also be tested. And further tax breaks for electric cars and hybrid cars would be a big incentive to switch.
Boris Johnson wants a new Thames bridge for vehicle traffic. Why not make the new Thames bridge a ‘pedestrian & cycle only’ bridge? This would go some way towards making London more cycle and pedestrian friendly. We could do with half a dozen such new bridges, not just one. The problem is that there is no political will for radical change to make London healthier. The most we get from government is timid steps in the right direction, coupled with major strides in the wrong direction.
Dominic Londesborough is a personal trainer in London.