Walking and cycling key to tackling poor air quality in Birmingham

Cyclist passes square in Birmingham

Birmingham City Council are consulting on a new Clean Air Zone to tackle the most polluting vehicles in the city. Photo credit: ©Jonathan Bewly, 2017

30 August 2018

Earlier this month we responded to a consultation being undertaken by Birmingham City Council on a new Clean Air Zone (CAZ) for the city centre.

Although we welcome these plans, the Clean Air Zone won’t solve the air quality crisis on its own. A sustainable solution to our air quality crisis must involve fewer, not just cleaner, vehicles.

Even electric cars can contribute to poor air quality and in London last year a study found that up to 45% of the harmful particulates in the air we breathe came from tyre and brake wear.

Funds from Clean Air Zone should be reinvested into cycling and walking 

We believe that the best way to reduce the number of vehicles on the road is to achieve a ‘modal shift’ away from cars and towards more sustainable forms of transport, such as cycling and walking. To achieve this, we're calling on Birmingham City Council to reinvest any revenue it receives from the CAZ into alternatives that encourage people to walk and cycle. We'd also like to see funds earmarked for e-bikes and e-cargo bikes to help with deliveries around the city.

There were 19.5 million cycling journeys in the city last year alone with strong support from the public to make cycling easier. If people used alternatives for just two return journeys a week it would remove around 200,000 cars from the city’s roads.

Safety is clearly a barrier to cycling and last year’s Birmingham Bike Life study revealed that only 22% of residents think that cycling safety is good. However, it also found eight out of ten residents support the construction of more protected cycle lanes - even if it meant less room for other traffic. Clear evidence that more people will cycle with the right investment.

The Clean Air Zone proposal 

The proposal to develop a CAZ has been brought forward by Birmingham City Council in response to the threat of legal action from the EU. However, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels have breached safe levels in the city for some time and the whole city was declared an air quality management area in 2003. The City Council estimates that poor air quality is responsible for 900 early deaths in the city and up to 2,400 in the West Midlands.

A ‘class D’ CAZ is the option favoured by the Council which would levy a charge on every vehicle entering the area which doesn’t meet emissions standards. This would include diesel vehicles older than September 2015, petrol vehicles older than 2006 and HGV, coaches and busses which are older than September 2016. It’s thought that around a quarter of all vehicles entering the city centre would not meet these standards, equating to around 60,000 vehicles every day.

Commenting on the consultation Matthew Easter, Sustrans Director Midlands and East said:

“All the evidence shows that fewer, not just cleaner, car journeys are needed to improve air quality so cycling and walking must be part of the solution. That’s why we’re calling on the Council to reinvest the income it receives from the Clean Air Zone to make walking and cycling a safe and attractive alternative for short journeys. Let’s be clear, we’re dealing with a real air quality crisis which kills 900 local people every year – with many more suffering health problems. It really is time we tackled this problem courageously and collaboratively so our children can grow up in a safe and healthy environment”.

The consultation on the Clean Air Zone finished on 17 August and the Council will consider the findings before making a final decision. The scheme will then come into effect in January 2020, subject to approval by the UK Government.

Read our full response to Birmingham City Council Clean Air Zone proposal