Clean Air Day, the UK’s largest campaign on air pollution, takes place on 16 June 2022. Organised by Global Action Plan, Clean Air Day is a chance to find out more about air pollution, share information, and make the air cleaner and healthier for everyone.
Our PR & Communications Coordinator, Hilary Arrowsmith, explores why Clean Air Day is important and how Living Streets is supporting it.
There are three primary actions the Clean Air Day campaign is promoting this year. One of these is to encourage people to walk their short distance trips and leave the car at home where they can – this is something Living Streets can really get on board with. Air pollution is one of the greatest environmental and health challenges in our time. Against this backdrop, the need to rethink how our streets work has never been more urgent.
At Living Streets, we see promoting walking as a vital tool in reducing the motor traffic that generates so many emissions.
However, at the same time, we know that poor air quality is something that prevents plenty of people from walking. So that’s why tackling pollution is central to so much of our work – from supporting anti-idling projects and calling for car-free school gates, to supporting local authorities to take the strongest action possible.
Leaving the car at home is a key action on Clean Air Day 2022. Below are some reasons why we’re campaigning for walking and wheeling to lead the way.
The World Health Organisation and the UK Government recognise that air pollution is the largest environmental health risk we face today. It can harm every organ in our body and can shorten our lives. 40,000 premature deaths each year in the UK are attributable to air pollution. The European Heart Journal found toxic air is killing more people than smoking. Children’s growing lungs are particularly vulnerable to air pollution, and it’s thought that pollution could be responsible for between 15-30% of new cases of childhood asthma in Europe.
Walking increases life expectancy and decreases the likelihood of developing long term health conditions. Adults are recommended to be active for 150 minutes a week to stay fit and healthy but many of us don’t achieve this. By choosing to swap short car journeys for a walk instead, we can easily fit more exercise into our day. Direct NHS savings from an increase in urban walking and cycling have been estimated at £17 billion over 20 years.
Addressing Climate Change
Over 70% of air pollution is produced by road traffic and 51% of car trips are under two miles. By walking short journeys instead of driving it would save £16m in fuel and the population would burn an additional 3.6 billion calories. Walking short trips instead of driving is a great way to reconnect with our local community, breathe cleaner air and get some exercise. We need to do more to enable people to walk or cycle these journeys if we’re to get to Net Zero and help address the climate emergency.
WOW - the walk to school challenge
Walking helps to create less polluted and greener streets. WOW – our walk to school challenge, rewards children who walk, wheel, cycle or scoot to school at least once a week with collectable badges. It typically increases walk to school rates by 23% and reduces car journeys to the school gate by 30%.
With traffic being one of the leading causes of deaths for children worldwide, walking helps to reduce road danger.
Toxic air from exhaust lingers around the school gates long after the cars have left. Setting up a School Street to create a car-free zone around the school gates helps ensure that children aren’t surrounded by air pollution. Park and Stride (parking a short distance away from the school gates and walking the last ten minutes) can help children fit more active minutes into their day, and the reduction in cars around the school gates can lead to parents feeling more comfortable to walk the whole journey.
If you drive, turn off your engine when your vehicle is stationary. Idling causes twice as much pollution as a moving car. While some car journeys cannot be helped, pollution from stationary vehicles is just unnecessary.
Walking is the most inclusive form of active travel for many as it is free, but we need to ask local and national decision makers to make it easier for everyone to walk more and have clean air in their communities. Cluttered pavements particularly impact on older people, families with young children and those living with sight loss. Our research also finds cluttered pavements can impact on everyone’s desire to walk more, with over a third of people (34%) saying they would visit their local High Street more if pavements were less cluttered. Streets that are designed around people rather than traffic, create community and are better places for people and children to meet and play.
Support us to make streets that are safe and welcoming for people from all walks of life.
Walking is the cheapest, greenest, healthiest transport there is. It’s the best way to reduce road danger, congestion, air pollution and inactivity all at once. This Clean Air Day, let’s all take steps to cut pollution to benefit our health, planet and community!