Traffic levels in some of the UK’s biggest cities have now returned to near pre-pandemic levels, sparking major air quality concerns, according to new data sourced by Siemens Mobility Limited in partnership with HERE technologies.
In January 2021, traffic levels in the majority of the UK’s major cities remained close to the levels seen before the Covid-19 pandemic, despite the introduction of strict lockdown measures across the country.
The data for Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield revealed that the current Winter 2021 lockdown has had a far smaller impact on traffic and thus air pollution than the first lockdown in Spring 2020.
The data revealed that traffic levels in these cities were more than three-quarters higher (76%) in January 2021 than April 2020 – and approximately twice as high in Bristol (112.9% increase) and Newcastle (93% increase).
Despite these trends, a number of cities have taken the decision to pause the decision-making process around the implementation of Clean Air Zones, citing the impact of the pandemic on traffic as their reasoning.
Bath, Portsmouth, Bristol, Birmingham and London are the only cities to make commitments so far, leaving people in cities across the North of England to miss out on the quality of life benefits that Clean Air Zones can bring, however, this data reveals that the pandemic will not have any lasting downward effect on air pollution.
In fact, Covid-19 could actually drive up traffic levels beyond pre-2020 levels with people opting not to use public transport in favour of cars. In October last year, Bristol and Sheffield recorded increases in road traffic compared to February, registering a 1.8% and 0.9% increase in average volumes respectively.
Wilke Reints, managing director of intelligent traffic systems at Siemens Mobility Limited, said: ‘This data lays to rest the idea that the pandemic might have a long-lasting effect to improve air quality. In fact, the picture the data is increasingly painting is that it could actually increase traffic levels as people return to work choosing their cars over public transport.
‘What’s more, we know that Clean Air Zones work. In London, after just ten months of operation, reports showed that NO2 emissions from road transport in the central zone had reduced by 44%, a direct result of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone. However, we must see action across the country, benefitting all those who live in urban areas to help ensure a green post-pandemic recovery.’
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