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I read an interesting article in The Guardian yesterday titled, ‘The car is ingrained into people here’: West Midlands faces air pollution crisis.’ See – http://bit.ly/2oY2Fv7
The West Midlands is a region in England identified as an area of high air pollution air due to motorways & other high traffic roads. The United Kingdom has ten pollution hotspots & five of them are within the West Midlands region.
“The government’s own figures show air pollution [in this area] is responsible for almost 3,000 deaths a year ……”
This grabbed my attention. 3,000 deaths a year from something preventable is astounding. What a powerful advertisement for public transport!
In June 2010, I posted about research on how living within a 500-metre radius of a major thoroughfare was likely to cause major health issues & early death. See – http://bit.ly/1MKStR8 I found it interesting to see that the distance from a main road in this UK study had dropped to only 150-metres. In reality the situation would be much worse had they included the other 350-metres.
The Guardian article said thousands of British children are being exposed to illegal levels of air pollution due to schools & nurseries located within this 150-metre zone. The article also said that none of the staff or parents of the ten worst affected nurseries in Birmingham were aware that this was a significant health issue for the children & employees.
Looking further, a whopping 2,091 places of learning for children from preschool to further education centres across England & Wales are within 150-metres of a high-traffic high-pollution road. This is not a great start in life for these children.
Birmingham Council said it “was a challenge to change people’s attitudes to driving in a city that “grew up on the car industry”. According to the council’s own figures 900 people die from poor air quality in the city each year, compared to 30 from road accidents.”
Birmingham Council is improving the cycle routes saying, “there are 200,000 journeys of under a mile in this city each day – it is about removing some of those trips.” Inner West & City of Sydney Councils are doing similar with cycleways being added to allow people to ride safely on the street.
This is a great start, but the WestConnex Motorway cleaving its way through our municipality is of great concern for the future health of our community. We are already burdened with a large number of high traffic roads through high density housing.
That the WestConnex Authority plans to install unfiltered stacks to release the air pollution from the tunnels has always concerned me. I don’t know how much it would cost to have the air filtered to trap particulate matter & other air pollutants, but I do know that the future health costs of the community around these unfiltered stacks will be considerable. Unless we go down in vast numbers, the health issues will be ignored & subsumed into the usual statistics. Personally, I think the government is playing risk games with the future health of the community.
Also interesting is the image in the article of the spaghetti junction near Birmingham. It reminded me of the spin we are being given about our own impeding spaghetti junction at the massive Dial a Dump site at St Peters.
The WestConnex Authority says the area underneath the St Peters Interchange will become a tree-filled park with cycleways & walking paths. It will be presented to the community as new green space in place of the large track of land & hundreds of mature trees taken from Sydney Park recently to widen the road for WestConnex Motorway.
This is an incredibly poor exchange – take from a beautiful & very much loved park & give back a spaghetti junction with hundreds of thousands of vehicles traveling above & spewing their pollution down on the new green space.
For the life of me I cannot imagine wanting to spend free time under a motorway with particulate matter raining down on me no matter how attractive it looks. However, what cannot be seen will likely entice some people to think it is nice & safe to play there & I bet barbeques will be added to lure people in.
To cope with a climate change future & to cope with the air pollution from increased traffic in our densely built municipality, we need more trees. We need trees & shrubs in gardens & more street trees. The street trees species need to be able to reach a height above 5-metres & have broader canopies. Big trees need to be planted in spaces where Energy Australia has no excuse to start pruning them because we can see that their pruning has reduced so many of our street trees into mangled messes or to a shadow of their former selves.
If we do not make a significant change in the streetscapes & gardens of our municipality, we will pay the price of increasing poor health in our children & ourselves & perhaps an early death.
We also need to ditch the car & walk, cycle & take more public transport whenever we can. It will take a shift in our thinking & motivation, but we can do it. I think one day we will be forced to.