By Jonnie Allen

So apparently I live in a city that is happy that people drive to work, increasingly in 4x4s, but tells me that I should not cycle.

On the 10th of April pollution levels in London were considered bad enough that those that live in the city were encouraged to not do exercise outside. Following this advice I did not cycle to work (as I normally do). I thought that this in itself was bad enough but then walking through central London I passed the usual London traffic with the ever increasing number of people that have made the astonishing decision to drive large 4x4s to work. I am told not to cycle but nobody is telling them not to drive.

Due to the craziness of this situation I decided that I had to do something so I contacted the elected representatives that are charged with managing and improving our city. We had reached a stage at the start of April where our air quality is so bad we cannot exercise outside (what will it be like in the summer). Of those that I contacted the only one to reply was Richard Tracey, London Assembly member for my area and Conservative Lead on Transport. A well placed person to comment on the subject. Richard started his response by saying that he understood my concerns and that, “at City Hall it is the reason why the Mayor has announced the Ultra Low Emission Zone from 2020. That may seem rather late to you, but we have been conducting large scale monitoring of London pollution levels for some years”.

I know that it is easy to snipe from the sidelines but this astonished me. I have a two year old daughter and the best the decision makers can do is to say that in five years they will be able to tackle some of the bad polluters in a small area of central London. They have been doing testing though so they know that it is really bad (and this from a mayor that reduced the size of the congestion charge zone when first elected).

As you can imagine some of my more radical suggestions went down badly, Richard’s response was, “As regards banning some cars, that is a much more draconian measure, but, from what you write, it is one you would support. Clearly we all hope that persuasion would work with those particularly who drive very large 4×4 cars or others which have very large engines. How successful we shall be with persuasion remains to be judged, but we are all doing our best to put across the message.”

So until 2020 we are trying to persuade people to not do the wrong thing whilst other cities act. My frustration was furthered by discussion with the head of the Cundall Transport team who instantly pointed out that there are a number of things that could be done to help with these issues. More to follow….

***UPDATE*** To read Neil McAlpine’s response to this blog click here!

Find out more about Cundall – http://www.cundall.com/

Join the conversation! 13 Comments

  1. Great blog- politicians should remember the Clean Air Act of 1952. A Law which changed how people heated their homes would not have been popular but had a huge positive impact including saving peoples’ lives.

    Like

    Reply
  2. What an absurd and depressing situation. Have I read this correctly? Air pollution levels are drastically high – so the city authorities try to deter commuters from using non-polluting methods of transport and drive cars instead? What happens when a building is on fire – do they hand out canisters of petrol for people to pour on it?

    Like

    Reply
    • It is an absurd situation but not that absurd. The aim was not to deter non-polluting methods of transport but that air quality was bad enough that it was not healthy to exercise outside. You are right however that it is all totally mad.

      Like

      Reply
  3. Not surprised wealthy self serving politicians have no interest in doing anything about it. How would they and their chums in the city get around London without their Range Rovers? Hardly going to slum it on the tube or on a bike like us peasants.

    Like

    Reply
  4. I know what is being put forward here – but I am afraid that the gearbox and drive train configuration do not make too much difference to the overall pollutants discharged from any vehicle . Diesel however with its tendency to produce acidic sulphur trioxide and carcogenic hydrocarbons is another matter . How I dream of the old days when there were electric vehicles in abundance ( trolley buses , milk floats ) perhaps we should look at the ridiculous strategy of Government departments since 1970’s to actively promote Diesel as the fuel of the future ( funnily enough they seem to be swinging the other way now )

    Like

    Reply
  5. No surprise politicians sitting on it and doing nothing, I remember being on transport presentation some time aqo and the team had some really interesting ideas, especially about proposals for getting people out of their cars and commuting in and around Piccadilly I think it was.
    There are works at the moment in Manchester city centre where between dawn and dusk cars, hgv’s, taxi etc will have to go use the outer ring round rather than short cut through certain parts of the city, it will be public transport, emergency services and pedestrians and cyclists only with Dutch cycle lanes and wider pavements. I’m hoping this will be extended to the rest of the city centre. i’m surprise that with all the public transport and push bike, motorcycle and scooter hires dotted all over, that so many are still driving to work.
    With London being the capital if anything it should be leading the way with lowering emissions and setting the standard for the rest of the country not lagging behind.

    Like

    Reply
  6. What amazes me is that the discussion on sustainable transport seems to completely ignore the impact of air pollution on our health. Some studies have put the cost to our NHS at £12-£18 billion per year. When you factor this in alongside the need to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, the case for decarbonising our transport system is really strong – yet as you’ve shown, those with the power to instigate this seem to do very little.

    Like

    Reply
  7. I feel your pain Jonnie – on a daily basis. I live in the city that you are angry London might become (Shanghai) and it is not fun. The government told you not to exercise outdoor because the AQI hit something like 100 – This is national news in the UK. I count myself lucky if the AQI is below 100 during the day – and we regularly hit levels of 200, 300, I’ve even witnessed a 550+ ‘airpocalypse’ where I couldn’t see more than about 25 metres in any direction (the WHO scale stops counting at 500!). It is awful, particularly for the young, old and those with asthma (of which China has an ever growing number of sufferers). I also cycle to work and on a good number of days have to wear a 3M filtration mask, designed to protect industrial workers from particulates, but equally suitable for filtering the diesel, coal and building site emissions that swamp the air here. If I don’t wear one and ride to work when the AQI is up above 150, I get heart murmurs, feel light headed and sick.

    The bottom line is people won’t change their bad behaviour unless there is a clear incentive to do so. The current government policy on air quality is recognised by many to be woefully inadequate.

    If you want to see how bad it can be, I would recommend looking up the excellent Chinese documentary ‘Under the Dome’ on Youtube – if anything it’ll at least make you feel better about the air in London!

    Like

    Reply
  8. For those that are interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6X2uwlQGQM

    Like

    Reply
  9. I shared my blog post with Richard Tracy (the London Assembly Member who is quoted) and he has once again been very good at getting back to me. He said that he passed on my original comments to the Mayor’s office but has not yet had a response. He also pointed out that since our initial conversation the UK Supreme Court has called for a faster response from Government and local Government to London pollution problems so we will see what happens now. He also felt that I was selective in my quotes from his initial response so here it is in full (I live in Putney which is why he mentions it in particular):

    Dear Mr Allen

    Thank you for writing to me. I do understand your concerns very clearly, and at City Hall it is the reason why the Mayor has announced the Ultra Low Emission Zone from 2020. That may seem rather late to you, but we have been conducting large scale monitoring of London pollution levels for some years, Wandsworth Council has monitoring stations in Putney High Street which, because of its “canyon” construction and position in relation to prevailing winds, has had seriously bad pollution levels in past monitoring. The Council, Justine Greening MP, and I have regular discussions with TfL Buses about reducing pollution levels by their bus fleet which use the High Street a great deal. We have succeeded well in reducing the diesel polluting buses with retrofitting of the older buses, but, more important, introducing hybrid and new low diesel buses. We have not yet got electric buses on the High Street but, believe me, we are working on it.

    Beyond those measures, we have given much thought to reducing pollution caused by diesel taxis, diesel lorries, and other commercial vehicles. Apart from some of them progressively becoming hybrid and, in the more distant future, electric, the other solution would need to be diversion of them from the High Street which would of course entail finding alternative routes and that would of course inconvenience other residential streets. As regards banning some cars, that is a much more draconian measure, but, from what you write, it is one you would support. Clearly we all hope that persuasion would work with those particularly who drive very large 4×4 cars or others which have very large engines. How successful we shall be with persuasion remains to be judged, but we are all doing our best to put across the message.

    Good wishes

    Richard Tracey JP AM
    London Assembly Member for Wandsworth & Merton
    Conservative Lead on Transport

    Like

    Reply
  10. Amazing what we celebrate today might be seen as madness in the future. Oh how they cheered the end of the London tram so they could drive their cars! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7toEdHXI08

    Like

    Reply
  11. […] you have recently read Jonnie Allen has had an interesting conversation with members of the London Assembly and the ‘greenest ever’ […]

    Like

    Reply
  12. The problem is politics and the desire to place a political career before social and environmental needs.
    I moved from what appeared to be the freedom of a democratic political structure to the benevolent dictatorship of the UAE.
    Whilst the region may not (currently) be setting the standard for global sustainable living there is no nonsense or debate in implementing policy change. And there have been significant changes in enviromental policy in the 8 years I have lives here.
    The region has a massive Expat population and we simply get on with it because we know we have no choice.
    We have only one planet so surely we should all accept that we have no choice.

    Like

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Category

Jonnie Allen, Sustainable Design, Transportation

Tags

, , , , , ,