New research finds air pollution on Oxford Street drops dramatically when the street’s closed off to traffic, reducing the health risks that come with poor air quality and account for 9,500 premature deaths in the city.

Oxford Street went vehicle-free yesterday (Sunday 6 November) from Oxford Circus to Marble Arch for VIP day. Visitors to the street were able to enjoy the Christmas lights being switched on without being surrounded by traffic.

Experts from King’s College measured the street’s air quality on the day and compared it with the average reading for September and October’s Sundays, finding that nitrogen dioxide levels reduced by nearly a third just a few hours after the street was closed to traffic and opened up to people on foot.

Oxford Street is one of Europe’s most polluted streets, breaching the annual legal EU limit for Nitrogen Dioxide just one week into this year. After just a few hours of the street being closed to traffic this weekend, nitrogen dioxide levels went from a seasonal average high of 88 microgram/m3 to 61 microgram/3 – demonstrating a reduction of nearly a third.

Exposure to high levels of NO2 can cause heart disease, stroke, lung disease and cancer, and is currently responsible for over 9,500 people in London dying prematurely.

London Mayor, Sadiq Khan has committed to make Oxford Street vehicle-free by 2020. Living Streets, the UK charity for everyday walking says this new evidence demonstrates why that commitment is so important and is urging the Mayor, TfL and Westminster Council to take action before Crossrail opens in 2018, bringing an estimated 150,000 more people a day onto London’s most iconic street.

Oxford Street is Europe’s busiest retail street but also frequently breaches legal limits for NO2.  These latest findings show how much we stand to gain by making it vehicle-free, improving our air quality and health.

Joe Irvin, Chief Executive, Living Streets

Joe Irvin continues: 

“Putting walking first throughout London’s centre will help create a world-leading city where people have the freedom to breathe fresh air, experience our iconic streets and stay healthy; not just during one-off days, but all year-round.”

Last week the government’s plans for tackling the UK’s air pollution crisis were judged as illegally poor at the high court.

Dr Gary Fuller, King’s College London said:

“Clearly Sunday’s closure of Oxford Street led to a big improvement in air pollution for the shoppers but the pollution didn’t reach zero.

“There was still traffic on the surrounding roads. This shows that solving London’s air pollution hotspots requires action over a wide area.”

Four in ten local authorities in Britain breached legal air quality limits last year. Living Streets hopes vehicle-free days such as Oxford Street’s VIP day will inspire other cities to follow London’s lead in creating a walking nation.