Low-traffic neighbourhoods make air pollution WORSE, report indicates

The level of a toxic car exhaust pollutant dropped across parts of south London following the scrapping of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTN), according to a report.

Levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) were higher at 11 south London streets when residential roads were closed and dropped when seven Wandsworth Council schemes were halted, The Telegraph reports.  

Four weeks of analysis revealed in a council review show that pollution levels were higher on main roads where congestion had shot up considerably, often coming to a complete stop during rush hour.  

The borough had brought in seven LTNs in August amid a Government drive to promote walking and cycling following the lockdown

Trials were halted in September because of the ‘impact on access for the emergency services’ and ‘significant and sustained traffic congestion on the main roads was identified, raising concerns about pollution’, according to the 25-page report. 

The report says that the LTNs led to ‘an unexpected and unacceptable outcome that required the council to take the decision to pause, step back and review’ them. 

It comes amid claims that Boris Johnson went ‘ballistic’ in a row over a controversial cycling lane – and his cycling tsar pledged to send the Prime Minister riding down it if council leaders agreed not to remove it.  

Levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) were higher at 11 south London streets when residential roads were closed and dropped when seven Wandsworth Council schemes were halted, reports say (file image, central London, November 26)

Levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) were higher at 11 south London streets when residential roads were closed and dropped when seven Wandsworth Council schemes were halted, reports say (file image, central London, November 26)

Levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) were higher at 11 south London streets when residential roads were closed and dropped when seven Wandsworth Council schemes were halted, reports say (file image, central London, November 26)

The cycle lane in Kensington High Street became the unlikely battleground in the row between cycling zealots and furious drivers. 

Last night, the row took a bizarre turn when it was revealed that Mr Johnson‘s £95,000-a-year cycling tsar told the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea not to rip out the bike lane – and even pledged to send his boss along to be pictured riding down it. 

Andrew Gilligan made the outlandish offer as he desperately pleaded with transport chiefs over the Kensington route amid nationwide fury at the new £250 million bike lanes that have caused major congestion and blocked emergency vehicles in traffic across the country.

His move came as Labour’s London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, last week threatened to seize control of the road from the Tory-controlled local authority, reinstate the lane and force council chiefs to repay the £300,000 of public money used to put it there in the first place. 

The LTN review by director of environmental and community services, Paul Chadwick, reveals the effect of road closures and cycle lanes on pollution. 

It says: ‘The results in comparison of air quality data between the period monitored during the LTN showed an increase in NO2 when compared to the suspension of the trial. This increase was predominantly around main roads.’

The report authors say that the data should be viewed with ‘heavy caveats’, including the unusual patterns of travel amid the Covid-19 pandemic and the limited monitoring period.  

Typically, air quality surveys are conducted over six months, so the four week 'sampling window' can only provide a 'snapshot', the report authors say (file image)

Typically, air quality surveys are conducted over six months, so the four week 'sampling window' can only provide a 'snapshot', the report authors say (file image)

Typically, air quality surveys are conducted over six months, so the four week ‘sampling window’ can only provide a ‘snapshot’, the report authors say (file image) 

Typically, air quality surveys are conducted over six months, so the four week ‘sampling window’ can only provide a ‘snapshot’, they add.  

The council monitored levels of nitrogen dioxide at 11 locations in and around LTNs when road closures were in force and after they were stopped. 

Each location showed that the levels of NO2 pollution – emitted from car engines – were higher while LTNs were in force, compared to when they had been discontinued.  

Four areas saw NO2 levels soar over the council’s air quality objective. When the council scrapped the project, NO2 levels dropped dramatically, with just one slightly over the recommended level, reports indicate. 

Potential reasons for higher traffic and slower 999 response times  include the introduction of cycle lanes – meaning a removal of some vehicle lanes.

Another reason for increased congestion could be sat navs and emergency services not ‘picking up’ newly closed roads. 

A Department of Transport spokesman said: ‘As the report itself makes clear, it is impossible to draw any firm conclusions from this limited data, and therefore it is misleading to imply that the Low Traffic Neighbourhoods in Wandsworth led to a worsening in air quality in the area.

‘Well-designed cycling and walking schemes can bring environmental and other benefits for everyone, but as we have emphasised it is essential that proper consultation is undertaken with local stakeholders before they are introduced. Cycling and walking schemes should be kept under constant review, including their impacts on air quality and traffic.’

The news comes as ministers pledge £3.9million to plant more trees in towns and along rivers to reduce the risk of flooding.

The funding will help Boris Johnson‘s Government reach its target of planting 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) of trees every year across the UK by 2025.

From the cash boost £2.5million will go towards planting in cities, towns and the countryside to tackle climate change and create new habitats for wildlife.   

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