Analysis of measures aimed at increasing walking and cycling in the north London borough of Waltham Forest suggest that residents’ life expectancy may have increased up to six weeks, air quality researchers claim.
Waltham Forest’s £30 million ‘Mini Holland’ scheme – largely funded through grants from Transport for London – has sought to reduce residents’ dependence on private cars for short journeys, and encourage them to cycle or walk when travelling within the borough.
To achieve this Waltham Forest council has overseen major infrastructure changes throughout the area since 2013, to encourage modal shift among residents by prioritising walking and cycling over private car-use.
The project, now dubbed ‘Enjoy Waltham Forest’, is nearing conclusion and has to date included establishing 37 ‘road filters’ (closing roads to through traffic), laying 22km of segregated cycle lanes, building 104 new pedestrian crossings as well as reducing speed limits to 20 mph in most residential and some main roads, and installing around 250 secure bike ‘hangars’.
Despite some local opposition, the measures have largely been judged as a success, with a recent study led by Westminster University suggesting that people living near to where Mini Holland schemes had been implemented may have increased their time spent walking or cycling by up to 41 minutes per week.
Waltham Forest council has sought to further quantify the health benefits of the scheme within the borough, commissioning King’s College London to carry out an analysis of how the measures may impact on the life expectancy of infants born within the borough.
Using projected changes in air pollution concentrations between 2013 and 2020 and then applying models of the possible benefit this could have on health, the King’s team has projected that the population in Waltham Forest could gain around 41,000 life years over the next century as a result of the scheme.
Put more simply, this represents an increase in life expectancy of around 1.5 months for a child born and living in the borough since 2013, if air pollution concentrations improve as projected to 2020, the researchers say.
Councillor Clyde Loakes, Waltham Forest council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for the environment has been one of the driving forces within the council behind the implementation of the scheme.
Although the measures have not been universally popular among residents, he makes no apology for the council’s ambition in increasing active travel and improving air quality.
“We could’ve spent two or three years explaining air quality and that the motor car is its biggest impact in this borough,” he told airqualitynews.com this week.
“We could have talked about sole occupancy car journeys, in some respects we have spent the last 20 years talking about that. We know the evidence and the science has been driving us to this place but we have been doing traffic management schemes, traffic calming schemes, all have been about the car being able to get from a to b, so actually it hasn’t really done what it set out to do.”
Instead, Councillor Loakes believes that a majority of residents within the borough are seeing the benefits of the Mini Holland scheme, which he thinks will be further boosted through evidence that the measures are likely to be benefitting the health of the borough.
“I can look at the evidence about the positive improvements in air quality within the borough, and hopefully soon the active travel impacts as a consequence of these interventions,” he said. “I have to reflect on that and think that people are starting to embrace [it], people are starting to enjoy and people are starting to notice it has made an impact on the quality of their lives.”
As part of its work for the council, the King’s team also looked at the impact of the school run on air quality, using monitoring data from 2013 and modelled data for 2020. This provided an estimate that traffic involved in taking children to school in the morning contributes to 14% of all Nitrogen Oxides and Particulate Matter emitted from cars in the borough during the rush hour.
King’s modelled that Waltham Forest’s interventions between 2013 and 2020 could bring a 7% reduction in emissions between during the morning rush hour.
David Dajnak, a researcher from King’s College London was among the team to have carried out the project on behalf of the local authority. He said that the team tried to approach changes in the borough’s air quality from a number of viewpoints to add to the discussion around air pollution in Waltham Forest.
“We tried to look at different angles,” he explained. “One is the life expectancy change due to the air quality change, one is the exposure and one is the awareness of the [impact of the] school run.”
He added: “The school run is only between 8am and 9am, but then people go on to go shopping or they use the car to go to the gym and they drop their kids to nursery.
“Whatever the findings are between 8am and 9am you could apply it to later in the day and say that if we all do a better job then, in combination with mini Holland, with Sadiq Khan’s push for better air quality, and, possibly from central government as well, we are going to start living in better, healthier cities.”
Elsewhere the borough is looking to step up its efforts to tackle air pollution, having set out a five year air quality plan early this year, which includes work to address engine idling and increasing the provision of car sharing services within the area (see airqualitynews.com story).