David Smith is a father on a mission to reduce the effects of London air pollution by reducing the highly polluting fumes children breathe everyday whilst they travel to school. He’s campaigning for ‘Keep Clear’ road markings to be used at bus shelters to prevent traffic idling whilst children wait as part of his work to address the toxic school run.
Following a meeting with Alex Williams, Transport For London (TfL) Director of City planning on Tuesday 14th August 2018, David is fast gathering public support for his idea. Show your support by tweeting @LittleNinjaUK #NO2idling and sign the petition!
As you may know, the Road To Zero report was published in July 2018. This is the UK government’s plan to cut air pollution and improve air quality by transitioning to a low-carbon road network. Whilst this is a great achievement, Road to Zero’s plan is a long-term plan. The Road to Zero plan means children will have cleaner air to breathe in 10-20 years. It also means that our babies and young children are expected to breathe dirty air throughout their childhood. I believe we need to act sooner. There’s simple, quick solutions to London air pollution that we can put in place alongside Road to Zero’s policies.
When I think about protecting the public from air pollution, I start with the fragile developing lungs of a baby in the womb, a newborn, an infant, a toddler, or young child. From the evidence I’ve seen, this is where protection from air pollution is needed the most.
A child’s greatest exposure to air pollution is arguably 8am till 10am, when morning traffic is heavily congested and millions of children are travelling to nursery and school, often accompanied by pregnant mum and a younger sibling in a buggy.
You might have heard of Ella Kissi-Debrah ‘s story. A young Londoner who died from asthma-related breathing problems in 2013. In an expert report for Ella’s family; “her serious form of asthma and her death in February 2013 is linked directly to the illegal levels of pollution from diesel traffic thundering daily down London’s South Circular Road near her home.”
We are learning the hard way - when the focus is on keeping vehicles moving at any cost, children suffer and children die.
What’s the scientific and medical evidence that air pollution affects children’s health?
We know that damage to the lungs in early age is irreversible and that children and infants draw between two and four times more pollutants into their lungs, compared to adults in the same environment.
There is a significant impact for children’s health when they regularly breathe high concentrations of diesel vehicle exhaust. The UK has one of the highest rates of asthma in the world and London air pollution rates are especially high. When London air pollution is high, our hospital pediatric wards are filled with children fighting to take the next breath. In the words of Dr. Guddi Singh: “In many cases the toxic drugs and steroids we give them aren’t enough, and we have to breathe for them. Sometimes we have to put them into intensive care. Not all survive.” Data from the National Office of Statistics shows that more than a dozen children aged 14 and under die from an asthma attack every year. How many of these deaths are due to air pollution?
Many children are able to walk, scoot, or cycle on quiet roads and arrive at schools hundreds of metres away from busy roads. Excellent work is taking place to ensure that more parents and children can do this, but we need more. However, many children live near busy roads, their schools are near busy roads and their journeys to nursery/school are unavoidably along busy roads.
We are told that we are living in a “clean air zone”, areas where the air quality problem is most serious. It’s great that clean air zones are trying to tackle the problem, however, it’s not enough- children in these ‘clean air zones’ still have a 10% reduced lung capacity.
We are told that the roads our children travel on to school are “Low Emission Zones”. Low emission sounds positive. However, the dirtiest, most polluting diesel vehicles that travel through Low Emission Zones have not been deterred by the financial penalty, they simply pay a fee to repeatedly brake, idle, and accelerate in congested traffic.
Whilst there are ‘Low Emission’ bus stops, did you know that 70% of London buses are diesel-powered and that Diesel is one of the worst air polluters? 99% of London bus journeys are powered by diesel – even worse, about 89% of diesel buses are over 5 years old.
As Londoners, we are advised to stay away from the kerb and walk on the building side of the pavement. This is good advice as there is a significant reduction in pollution levels for every additional metre of space between our children’s lungs and the vehicles exhaust.
However, for those of us using buses, we are directed to wait at bus shelters located at the kerb of the very roads we have been advised to avoid and stay away from the kerb on.
On average, our children wait at the roadside bus shelter for up to 12 minutes for our diesel-powered bus to arrive. That’s an hour a week, a day and a half per year that are children breathe high concentrations of diesel exhaust. This is simply to get to school by bus. Once on the bus, a child continues to breathe in the polluted air from the diesel bus idling in congested traffic.
As citizens, many of us are already doing our part. The majority of us don’t have cars. We already walk, cycle or use public transport. The diesel HGVs, coaches, articulated lorries, trucks, and vans creating the London air pollution are not from our local neighbourhood, but we are the ones affected.
Our solution is simple- let’s take a well-known road symbol and use it for a different but related purpose.
London drivers already know not to stop and idle where there are Keep Clear road markings at the junction to side streets. We should make drivers aware that they are approaching an area where children gather and wait by the roadside. Surely, this is as important as making drivers aware that they are approaching a side road?
Drivers do not intentionally stop and idle their vehicles engines next to children. They are watching the road ahead and often do not notice the baby in a buggy or young child at a bus shelter until they are already stationary and idling next to them.
A suitable area on the road in front of bus shelters is already marked out containing the words ‘bus stop’. Vehicles stop and idle on the words bus stop. There is sufficient space in this marked area for Keep Clear road markings. It’s a small change that could make a huge difference.
I believe this is a simple low cost way to significantly reduce pollution exposure for millions of people who use the bus network every day. Observing Keep Clear signs makes little difference to drivers or their journey time, but a huge difference on child health and London air pollution.
I had a one hour meeting with Alex Williams, TfL Director of City planning on Tuesday 14th August 2018, to discuss this idea #NO2idling and other solutions to significantly reduce vehicle emission during rush hour #startstopidling.
So far, the petition for Keep Clear road markings at bus shelters has received a huge number of ‘likes’ and 184 signatures. I'm keen to get more signatures to prove the huge public support for this low-cost, highly effective solution to London air pollution ready for our next meeting. Let’s make it happen!
Thanks for your support to reduce London air pollution, David and #ToddlerBiker