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Waltham Forest cycling scheme has reduced air pollution and increased residents' life expectancy

Dan Alexander
3 Aug 2018

Residents have been encouraged to cycle with investment put into cycling infrastructure

The London Borough of Waltham Forest has seen a reduction in air pollution and a resulting increase in life expectancy of the local population. As one of the capital's 'Mini Holland' areas, the improved air quality has been attributed to road layout changes that see street reclaimed by people on foot and bicycles from motor vehicles.

Dangerous levels of air pollution in the East London borough have been reduced by a council scheme to encourage cycling and walking as an alternative to driving cars.

The ‘Mini Holland’ scheme has seen £30 million invested into cycling infrastructure with 22km of segregated cycle lanes, 250 bike storage facilities and 104 pedestrian crossings built.

As a result, researchers from King’s College London estimate that life expectancy may have increased by up to six weeks compared to the level in 2013, and more than 51,000 households are no longer living in areas with dangerously high levels of air pollution.

Additional research carried out by Air Quality Consultants revealed that just 6,300 households are currently exposed to levels higher than the EU recommended maximum amount of Nitrogen Dioxide compared to the 58,000 that were exposed in 2007.

Nitrogen dioxide levels are expected to be reduced by up to 25% by 2020 with particulate matter reduced by 13%.

The scheme targeted journeys to schools, which contribute to 14% of all Nitrogen Oxide production. Shifting transport habits from driving to walking, cycling and public transport between 08:00 and 09:00 could bring about a 7% reduction in emissions according to the King’s research team.

The study also supports research compiled by Dr Rachel Aldred from the University of Westminster which found that residents in areas with ‘Mini Holland’ infrastructure are walking and cycling more than residents in other London boroughs.

As part of her research, Aldred surveyed 1,712 outer-Londoners and found that on average residents were walking an extra 32 minutes and cycling an extra nine minutes a week in areas where Mini Holland schemes have been tried.

Kingston and Enfield are other London boroughs that have implemented similar schemes.

Despite these improvements it is still estimated that 270 people in Waltham Forest die every year from issues related to poor air quality.

The King’s research team estimated that 250,000 years of human life could be lost in the borough over the coming century if no further action is taken to reduce pollution.

This number is equivalent to each of Waltham Forest’s residents losing nine months of life expectancy.

There were also 251 hospital admissions per 100,000 children for asthma related conditions in 2016/17.

Councillor Clyde Loakes, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for the Environment explained the scheme saying, 'It’s always been clear to us that improving our neighbourhoods to encourage more walking and cycling through the Enjoy Waltham Forest programme will have significant benefits for our residents, especially for their health.

'Now we have independent evidence that it is improving air quality, extending life expectancy and encouraging people to be more active.

'I thank the experts from King’s and Westminster universities for showing that our efforts have not been in vain.'

Greater London's Deputy Mayor for Transport Heidi Alexander has also heralded the scheme.

'Waltham Forest is leading the way on creating healthier streets and we want more boroughs to follow their example,' Alexander said.

'Investing in local infrastructure not only improves road safety, but has a direct impact on public health as well. This is important for all of us, but especially the next generation.'

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