Transport still ‘major contributor’ to EU air pollution

Despite increases in cycling and improved public transport, Europe’s transport sector is still a ‘major contributor’ to excessive levels of air pollution and noise, according to the European Environment Agency (EEA).

A report published by the Agency yesterday (December 3) states that urban transport in the EU has a marked effect on quality of life for three quarters of Europeans living in cities.

A high proportion of people in cities are being exposed to pollutant levels above EU and World Health Organisation (WHO) standards, the EEA report argues

A high proportion of people in cities are being exposed to pollutant levels above EU and World Health Organisation (WHO) standards due to road traffic, the EEA report argues

And, it argues, road transport is a major source of air pollution in cities, leading to a high proportion of the population being exposed to pollutant levels above EU and World Health Organisation (WHO) standards.

The EEA highlights the seriousness of the issue by the fact that the WHO officially classified air pollution as a human carcinogenic in October (see airqualitynews.com story).

The report states: ‘Air quality remains a key concern. Limit values for NO2 and PM10 continue to be exceeded in a large number of locations. Worryingly, the most recent data on transport emissions of air pollutants indicate that the long‑term trend of decline is no longer taking place in 2011.’

However, despite initial opposition when cities have restricted car use and encouraged people to switch to public or non-motorised forms of transport, the report argues that schemes – such as Stockholm’s congestion charge zone – become ‘very popular’ with residents over time.

Furthermore, according to the report, better cycling infrastructure in many cities is starting a ‘self-reinforcing pattern’ of increasing bike traffic.

It cites the city of Seville in Spain, which recently moved up to fourth place in the Copenhagenize Index of bicycle-friendly cities due to new infrastructure for bikes. Bike traffic has increased in Seville from 0.5% of the kilometres travelled to 7% in the last few years.

The findings are put forward in EEA’s annual Transport and Environment Reporting Mechanism (TERM), which analyses the effect of transport on the environment.

Traffic noise

The report also looks at the impact of transport noise on the environment and human health in Europe, stating that it is a major health issue in many cities.

More than a quarter of the inhabitants of the cities of Sofia, Luxembourg , Paris and Talinn are exposed to night-time traffic noise above WHO limits, according to data on 17 cities published in the report.

Furthermore, the report argues, quality of life is also affected by commute times, with commuters in London and Budapest most likely to travel more than an hour to work.

Commenting on the report, Hans Bruyninckx, EEA executive director, said: “Many cities are applying innovative ideas which will make the car-based transport system seem like an idea belonging to the last century. City life does not have to mean polluted air, congestion, noise and long travelling times. New ideas in urban transport are transforming many cities into more pleasant, healthy places to live.”