More people on bikes and fewer people in cars is key to improving air quality, says new study

File this one in the do-bears-poop-in-the-woods category – a new study has found that a key way to cut air pollution from transport is getting more people out of cars and onto bicycles.

The study was commissioned by the European Cyclists’ Federation and carried out by RICARDO-AEA.

The main conclusion from the study is that the bolder the measures taken by urban authorities, the better the results for air quality.

City authorities who want to protect their citizens from health risks due to bad air quality, have to act thoroughly, said Secretary General of ECF, Dr Bernhard Ensink:

“Transport systems in European cities need to be transformed drastically. Motorised traffic has to be reduced. We recommend cities to invest in large scale and high quality cycling networks and extensive car-free zones. Keep your city vibrant, by switching from motorized transport to cycling.”

The health benefits for citizens kick off immediately, claims ECF. Even with the smallest improvement in air quality, the potential years of life lost due to premature death and years of healthy life lost due to poor health or disability decrease. In addition, climate change, noise, access to mobility and economic benefits should be taken into account when authorities discuss cycling investments from the point of view of air pollution.

Technical measures such as Euro standard emission norms for vehicles, which have been in place for over 20 years didn’t succeed in decreasing the air pollution from the transport sector sufficiently. Many Member States & cities are still not complying with EU limit values. Vehicles are still polluting more than expected, motorized traffic has increased and there is a higher share of diesel cars. The scenarios proposed in the study measure the impact of non-technical measures, such as increasing cycling and car-free-zones, to improve air quality. They are realistic and achievable by many cities in a short time. The stronger these measures are, the better the results for air quality.

The city of Seville is an example of what can be done, says the ECF. Seville’s cycling mode share increased from 0.5% to 7% in a few years, thanks to investments in cycling, and substantial measures to reduce motorised traffic, which allowed the city to comply with the EU Limit Values for air pollution.

Benedicte Swennen, ECF’s Urban Mobility Policy Officer, said:

“We want to point out that this battle should not be left to cities alone. Air pollution travels freely across city and state borders and cities do need support from Member States and Europe.” Cities are actually asking for more ambitious national and European policies to support their local actions for cleaner air.”

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