Air pollution from vehicles – what can be done?

Most of the street-level air pollution in urban Bristol is understood to come from vehicle exhausts. The obvious collusion is that fewer vehicle journeys means less pollution. I wouldn’t dispute this (more later) but it’s hard to achieve. So what else could be done? Here’s some ideas (let us know yours):

  • Target the most polluting vehicles: this is likely to be those with the biggest and oldest engines. We occasional see (and smell) smoky exhaust pipes – if these contribute far more than other vehicles then few people would be against targeting them. How? Maybe a hotline to report dirty vehicles (which could then be traced to the keeper’s address) or roadside checks?
  • Target the vehicles that are on the roads most – probably vans, lorries, buses and taxis. Can they be required to perform better? The Council managed to force taxis to be painted blue a few years ago, maybe they can force them to be cleaner? Maybe we could mandate stop-start systems or more frequent engine checks or even electric vehicles? The Council could start with its own vehicle fleet, then mandate changes for its suppliers.

The council is already putting in place a raft of measures which can be expected to reduce the number of vehicle journeys within Bristol – residential parking, increased parking costs, 20mph zones, etc. These all make driving less convenient and less fun. What else could reduce the incentive to drive?

  • Low emissions zone – already being talked about.
  • Better public transport – local rail infrastructure is improving; bus services are poor but the Council has limited influence; smart cards for cashless buses might help.
  • Better cycling facilities and other encouragement for cyclists – progress is being made but there’s plenty of scope for improvement.
  • Encourage walking – targeting journey types such as travel to school; improve pedestrians’ experience by having traffic lights that work for the convenience of pedestrians rather than motorists.
  • Reduce the need for journeys – local shops, schools and other facilities.
  • Reduce rat-runs – design street networks that funnel through-traffic onto through roads, keeping traffic off residential streets. This would probably increase journey distances, congestion and pollution initially but like other measures it would dissuade

How else could traffic pollution be reduced?

  • Keep traffic flowing by better designed roads and traffic light systems.
  • Do more to encourage electric vehicles – including charging points, preferential parking, etc.
  • Reduce the numbers of delivery vehicles on the roads – both commercial and domestic deliveries. Deliveries could be made to a Bristol hub and individual areas covered by fewer delivery vehicles using efficient route planning.
  • Social change – attitudes change: generations ago sexism and racism were considered acceptable, years ago smoking in public buildings was accepted, in years to come maybe driving a polluting vehicle will become less acceptable. What can we do to make this happen sooner?

Gloucester Road could be a good place to experiment with measures to reduce air pollution, because:

  • it’s badly polluted,
  • it’s a showcase bus route and also one of Bristol’s most used cycle roads,
  • it’s often heavily congested with traffic,
  • it’s a place that people like to visit and to live, and they’d like to breath cleaner air.

Some good news:

  • People are learning to drive and owning cars later in life than they used to. Walking, cycling and public transport habits formed before they start to rely on driving can be expected to stay with them to some extend.
  • Vehicle technology is continually improving emissions levels (partly as a side-effect of fuel efficiency improvements). As older vehicles are replaced by newer vehicles we can expect levels of pollution per mile to decrease.

Let us know your view and your ideas for reducing air pollution – contact us.

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