London’s mayor Sadiq Khan has called air pollution “the biggest public health emergency of a generation” and has made tackling the problem an utmost priority during his tenure. This past April, London became the first city in the world to implement a 24-hour, seven day a week Ultra Low Emission Zone, inside which vehicles have to meet stringent emissions standards. And now, Khan announced that September 22nd will be Clean Air Day meaning that 12.4 miles (20km) of roads will be closed to cars in an effort to get Londoners to “reimagine” their city as car-free, and get around by either walking or cycling.
But Why? By The Numbers: According to CNN,
- More than two million Londoners live in areas that exceed legal limits for nitrogen dioxide — NO2— including more than 400,000 children under the age of 18, according to the mayor’s office.
- Vehicles are responsible for around half of harmful nitrogen oxide air emissions in the British capital, the mayor’s office said in April. They contribute to a toxic air health crisis that increases the risk of asthma, cancer and dementia as well as causing thousands of premature deaths every year, it added.
- A recent Transport for London survey found that almost one in two Londoners did not realize vehicles were the main cause of the city’s air pollution.
Perhaps what’s most scary, however, is that the risk of dying from long-term exposure to London’s toxic air has risen for the second year in a row.
Mayor Khan hopes that more than 150,00 Londoners will take part in car-free events across the city. Eighteen of London’s 32 boroughs have also confirmed events, including the creation of “Play Streets” where children and communities can gather safely.
Why This Matters: Air pollution is lethal–it kills more people than smoking and is a growing threat in many of the world’s cities. Part of the problem is that either people are used to getting around using cars or they simply have no other viable option to get to work and live their lives. It’s up to politicians like mayors to help citizens imagine their lives without reliance on single-occupancy vehicles and also to help provide adequate public transportation to meet the mobility needs of commuters. One car-free day isn’t going to solve London’s air pollution problem but it can help unite the city’s residents behind things like carpooling, biking, and increased use of public transit once they witness the tangible effects of something like Clean Air Day.