I responded to Coventry City Council’s Air Quality Consultation. You can find out more and also respond to the consultation here: https://www.coventry.gov.uk/airquality
Coventry City Council
25th April 2020
Dear Sir / Madam
Thank you for taking the time to explain your plans for Coventry’s Local Air Quality Action Plan to me on 16th March 2020.
I was enthused by Coventry City Council’s original plan which included four high-quality cycle routes, whereas the latest plans include just one, linking Coundon with the city centre.
Air pollution is of great concern to the people of Coventry. It is estimated that 1 in 18 people in Coventry die from pollution-related illnesses; across the country around 40,000 premature deaths are contributed by experts to air pollution each year.
We have seen a rapid and positive change in air quality in the city following on from lockdown measures relating to COVID-19. We’ve seen the level and speed of interventions required to make serious changes to a public health emergency. Our approach to the air pollution crisis should be no different.
We have a golden opportunity now to reshape our transport habits in Coventry, but it concerns me that the Council’s proposal and Defra’s guidance to the council focuses heavily on “quick fix” measures to reduce NO2 as fast as possible, which has led to a plan of “optimising” existing motor traffic and increasing road capacity. Back in 1955, urbanist Lewis Mumford observed that trying to address congestion by building more traffic lanes is like trying to prevent obesity by loosening one’s belt.
Decades of road projects and capacity expansion in Coventry has led us to where we are today and quick fixes won’t serve the people of the city in a couple of years’ time, because of induced demand.
I understand that Defra’s instruction to the Council is to reduce NO2 as fast as possible, but it is my view that the Council should simultaneously take a proactive and broader approach to protect the future health of its citizens. I think it is fair to say that particulate matter is likely to be the next major issue for the city in terms of air quality. Although particular matter measurement is not mandated by Defra, it has horrifying implications for the health of citizens, especially young children.
I note that the largest contributors to Coventry’s toxic air are private vehicles, with buses (which, while improvements can be made, transport people efficiently). We need to be reducing all forms of air pollution to a low a figure as possible and this won’t happen through trying to maintain existing travel habits; in Coventry, this is overwhelmingly private car usage. We need to fundamentally change our relationship with the private motor vehicle and not simply replace diesel cars with electric ones. This will be difficult and, in places, unpopular, but we have no choice.
While electric vehicles produce zero emissions at the tailpipe, they are not so neutral when it comes to the effects of PM2.5 through brake, tyre and road wear. Coventry has a longstanding relationship with motor vehicle manufacture, but we should resist the temptation to electrify ourselves into new problems. We won’t know the full extent of harm particulate matter causes people, especially children, for many years. Worryingly, this is unlikely to stop a concerted push in the short term from local and national government towards adoption of electric vehicles.
The bicycle, another Coventry success story, has stood the test of time and can help solve many of society’s complex problems, including health and air pollution; we need to be careful not to overlook it.
I would urge the Council to focus as much effort and budget as possible on behaviour change and modal shift, encouraging short journeys to be made by foot or by bike. We can only do this by making it more inconvenient to drive and drastically improving cycling provision in the city.
I note five key opportunities to improve air quality which I would request are implemented:
- Road widening at Spon End/J7. As part of these plans, I would urge – at the same time as the main works – for a high quality segregated cycle route to be built offering a safe and protected route into the city. Adding traffic lanes without decent cycling provision would be a wasted opportunity.
- Low traffic neighbourhoods / modal filters. These are not referenced or mentioned in the plan but are very cost-effective to install and have a huge long-term impact in reducing car usage for short journeys, preventing rat running and increasing cycling and walking activity. Waltham Forest in Greater London has demonstrated wholesale reductions in NO2 using filtered neighbourhoods and there is additional national government funding on the table if Council capital funding is unavailable.
- High quality segregated cycle routes. The Coundon route in your plan is labelled as “high quality”; I would ask that all new cycle routes follow the TfWM design guidance and are continuous in that they do not force people on bikes to stop and give way across turnings. I would also ask that all route designs are worked on collaboratively with myself as well as active travel design specialists.
- Binley Road segregated cycle route. Funding is available for this route via WMCA and my understanding is legals for the funding have already been signed. I understand from officers that design planning for the route will start “sometime in 2020”. I ask that this is expedited, using external resource if required. While it doesn’t feature in this air quality plan, it obviously has a huge potential to improve air quality in a congested corridor of Coventry.
- Measurement of PM2.5 and PM10 is rolled out urgently across all air quality monitoring sites in Coventry, including currently unmeasured “hot spots”.
Lastly, the proposed plan includes a new junction off the ring road and past the entrance of St Osburg’s Catholic Primary School. This school has long experienced the negative effects of air pollution and more traffic should not be diverted past a school, especially as the Council is not currently mandated to measure or act upon PM2.5, most harmful to children.
As always, I am here to support the Council in any way possible to improve cycling and walking provision in the city. A greater focus by the Council in this area will lead to a healthier, happier and more sustainable Coventry for future generations. We have to start now.
Bicycle Mayor for Coventry