Driv­ers re­sist low-emis­sion scheme as Lon­don strug­gles to clean up its air

Iran Daily - - Cultural Heritage & Environment -

As the lights change, the thun­der­ing morn­ing traf­fic comes to a stop at one of Lon­don’s busiest junc­tions.

Hun­dreds of peo­ple on bikes seize their chance and stream across the seven-lane in­ter­sec­tion be­fore dis­ap­pear­ing into the rel­a­tive safety of the UK’S first ul­tra-low emis­sion area, the­guardian.com wrote.

The net­work of streets in east Lon­don has be­come a haven for cy­clists and pedes­tri­ans since two lo­cal coun­cils banned all petrol and diesel cars, vans and lor­ries dur­ing morn­ing and evening rush hour.

The aim, in one of the most pol­luted ar­eas of the cap­i­tal, is to ‘re­claim the streets’ from pol­lut­ing ve­hi­cles, cre­at­ing a health­ier and safer en­vi­ron­ment for pedes­tri­ans and cy­clists.

And there is good rea­son for ac­tion. Air pol­lu­tion in the UK causes at least 40,000 early deaths a year — 9,000 in Lon­don — and is linked to a grow­ing num­ber of de­bil­i­tat­ing con­di­tions, from heart dis­ease to can­cer and Alzheimer’s, as well as a de­cline in in­tel­li­gence.

Re­search has also high­lighted its po­ten­tially dev­as­tat­ing im­pact on preg­nant women and school­child­ren, as well as its role in in­creas­ing rates of de­men­tia.

Most of this deadly pol­lu­tion comes from traf­fic, and the UK’S first ul­tra-low emis­sion ve­hi­cle (ULEV) area is one of a num­ber of ini­tia­tives be­ing in­tro­duced across the coun­try to try to tackle what MPS have de­scribed as a pub­lic health emer­gency.

But the schemes are facing fierce op­po­si­tion. The new zone in east Lon­don — while wel­comed by clean air cam­paign­ers, cy­cling and walk­ing groups and many lo­cals – is not with­out its op­po­nents.

Sit­ting in a cafe a few hun­dred me­ters from the net­work of low-emis­sion streets, Feryal Demirci, who or­ches­trated the plan for Hack­ney coun­cil, said she reg­u­larly faces ‘hate and anger’ when the coun­cil pro­poses new anti-pol­lu­tion ini­tia­tives.

The lat­est scheme was the sub­ject of a le­gal chal­lenge from one lo­cal busi­ness within days of it be­ing launched.

“It is a sim­i­lar story ev­ery time we try and do any of these schemes to tackle pol­lu­tion and make the roads safer and cleaner,” said Cllr Demirci.

“More than any other is­sue – hous­ing, crime, you name it – for a cer­tain type of per­son this is the thing they care most about: Their right to drive wher­ever they want, when­ever they want, what­ever the wider cost to the com­mu­nity.”

In Hack­ney, about onethird of house­holds own cars, and Demirci said the most vo­cal op­po­nents are of­ten rel­a­tively well off.

“Oth­er­wise ra­tio­nal peo­ple can be­come quite ag­gres­sive and irate — I have been called scum in pub­lic meet­ings and have peo­ple who fol­low me round from meet­ing to meet­ing to op­pose what we are try­ing to do,” she said.

Among the cy­clists and pedes­tri­ans on the street, there is a wholly dif­fer­ent at­ti­tude. One after an­other, they wel­come the lat­est at­tempt to tackle air pol­lu­tion — and any­thing that makes the area, an ac­ci­dent blackspot, safer.

Wait­ing to cross the junc­tion at Old Street and Great Eastern Street is Ni­cos Dermi, who cy­cles to work most days.

“Of course I worry about cy­cling, be­cause cars and vans of­ten don’t see you or give you enough space, so it is very good to have qui­eter streets,” he said. Dermi said the pol­luted air was also a con­cern.

“It is some­thing I think about but there is lit­tle you can do be­cause you have to get around,” he added.

“I have re­ally started to no­tice the im­prove­ment as more streets are made qui­eter and bet­ter for walk­ing and cy­cling — it means it is safer, cleaner and in the end, peo­ple can get to where they are go­ing more quickly.”

Other cy­clists also wel­comed the scheme, al­though many said the area it cov­ers is too small and it does not tackle traf­fic on main roads.


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