Covid-19 detected on particles of air pollution

Image courtesy of Fusion Medical Animation

Today’s Guardian reports the findings of a study which has detected Coronavirus on particles of air pollution. It is not known yet if the virus remains viable on pollution particles and in sufficient quantity to cause disease. If it is, it would enable the virus to be carried over longer distances and increase the number of people infected.

Leonardo Setti at the University of Bologna in Italy, who led the work, said it was important to investigate if the virus could be carried more widely by air pollution. This would explain higher rates of infection in parts of northern Italy before a lockdown was imposed. The region is one of the most polluted in Europe.

Previous studies have shown that air pollution particles do harbour microbes and that pollution is likely to have carried the viruses causing bird flu, measles and foot-and-mouth disease over considerable distances.

Air pollution linked to Covid-19 deaths in England

Photo courtesy of zibik

Today’s Guardian reports the findings of a preliminary study which has found the first evidence of a link between higher levels of air pollution and deaths from Covid-19 in England.

The analysis showed that London, the Midlands and the north-west had the highest levels of nitrogen oxide and higher numbers of coronavirus deaths.

“Our study adds to growing evidence from northern Italy and the United States that high levels of air pollution are linked to deadlier cases of Covid-19,” said Miguel Martins, of the University of Cambridge, who led team which produced the new analysis.

Experts accept that air pollution may increase susceptibility to Covid-19, but warn that early studies must be treated very carefully.

Air pollution linked to Covid-19 deaths

Photo courtesy of Free to Use Sounds

Today’s Guardian reports on research published in the journal “Science of the Total Environment,” which shows that almost 80% of deaths across four countries were in the most polluted regions. The research examined levels of nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant produced mostly by diesel vehicles. “The results indicate that long-term exposure to this pollutant may be one of the most important contributors to fatality caused by the Covid-19 virus in these regions and maybe across the whole world,” said Yaron Ogen, at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg in Germany, who conducted the research. Professor Jonathan Grigg, from Queen Mary University of London, said the study showed an association between Covid-19 deaths and NO2 levels. The article states that long-term exposure to dirty air before the pandemic may be more important than current levels of pollution.

Oslo cuts pedestrian deaths to zero

Waterfront development in Oslo. Image courtesy of Cycling Man

In 2019, Oslo (population 673,000) recorded zero pedestrian deaths. Several innovations achieved this. Over the previous five years, the city replaced almost all on-street parking with pavements and segregated bike lanes (over 1,000 parking spaces were removed). Major streets were closed to cars, and congestion charging raised the fee to drive into the city centre by 70%, with the aim of making most of the city car-free by 2019. Car parking charges were increased by 50%. Speed humps were introduced. The city also lowered the speed limit. The result was that in 2019, the city recorded zero pedestrian deaths. This is a significant improvement on an annual average death rate of 3.6 over the previous five years. By comparison, in 2018, there were 57 pedestrian deaths in London. Oslo’s “Vision Zero Strategy” aims for no traffic related fatalities or serious injuries on its roads. You can read more about the measures used to achieve Oslo’s zero fatality rate in this Guardian article.

Leeds Clean Air Zone

Map showing the Clean Air Zone

From the 28th September 2020, high-emission HGVs and buses will be charged £50 per day to drive in the city. High-emission taxis and private hire vehicles will be charged £12.50 per day, and vehicles licensed with Leeds City Council will be eligible for a reduced £50 per week rate.

300 automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras have been installed at over a hundred junctions around the perimeter of the zone.

More than £5.4 million in financial support has been awarded to help local businesses switch to cleaner vehicles and an additional £3.1 million has been provisionally approved.

The zone was created after the Government told Leeds to tackle air pollution as soon as possible after finding that parts of the city would probably exceed legal air quality limits in 2020.

For more detailed information, please see the council’s web page.

Frankfurt’s Ban on Night Flights

Frankfurt Airport. Image courtesy of Carsten Frenzl.

In April 2012, a federal court in Leipzig ruled that the planned expansion of the airport could go ahead, provided that there was a permanent ban on night flights between 11pm and 5am. The ruling was the result of an action by local boroughs, residents and businesses concerned about the airport’s expansion plans. A temporary ban on night flights had been in place since October 2011. Lufthansa chief executive Christoph Franz says the ruling was a “heavy blow for Germany.” Frankfurt is Europe’s fourth busiest airport after Heathrow, Charles de Gaulle and Schiphol.

Mayor Andy Street’s 2040 Birmingham transport map

A map showing how Birmingham’s transport network might look if Andy Street is re-elected as mayor

Birmingham’s mayor Andy Street has released a map showing how the city’s transport system could look by 2040 if he is re-elected as mayor in this May’s mayoral election. Street has put a £15 billion price tag on his plan, which is what Crossrail was originally meant to cost. For Street to put the plan into effect, he would have to negotiate with both Network Rail, and local authorities controlled by opposition parties, The practical difficulties involved in implementing the proposal mean that it’s unlikely ever to happen. It’s possible though that the purpose of the plan is simply to get Street re-elected. You can read more about the scheme in this Guardian article.

Birmingham’s Draft Transport Plan

Cyclists in Birmingham. Image courtesy of Birmingham City Council

At a cabinet meeting on the 21st January 2020, Birmingham City Council agreed that from the 28th January, it will put out for consultation, a draft transport plan to limit the access private cars have to the city. Through trips would be prohibited. The plan is modelled on Ghent’s zone-centred traffic circulation plan of 2017. Birmingham’s measures are designed to reduce the “damaging” impact transport has on the environment and support Birmingham’s commitment to become carbon-neutral by 2030. The plan prioritises people over cars. It proposes:

  • Limiting access for private cars to the city with no through trips, and creating a network of pedestrian streets and public spaces that are integrated with public transport and cycling infrastructure.
  • Reallocating road space in order to discourage single-occupancy private cars.
  • Prioritising active travel in local neighbourhoods. Walking and cycling will become people’s preferred mode for travelling around their locality. A limit of 20mph will be standard on all local roads and residential neighbourhoods.
  • Managing demand through parking measures. Parking will be used as a means to manage demand for travel by car through availability, pricing and restrictions. Where development potential exists, land currently occupied by car parking will be put to more productive use.

Waseem Zaffar, cabinet member for transport and environment, said: “The more journeys we take by walking and cycling, the more we will improve air quality and our health and the more we will reduce congestion. For longer journeys, buses, trams and trains will be the backbone of a new, go-anywhere transport system.” The introduction of Birmingham’s Clean Air Zone, Zaffar continued, reinforces the council’s commitment to establish a zero-emissions city.

More information about the plan can be found on the Birmingham City Council website. This article from the Guardian gives details of Ghent’s transport plan on which Birmingham’s plan has been modelled.

Nottingham’s Workplace Parking Levy

Image of Nottingham tram courtesy of Kneiphof

Nottingham’s workplace parking levy raised £60.8m in its first seven years. Nottingham introduced the levy on 1 April 2012 and remains the only authority in the country to have done so. The levy applies to employers providing 11 or more liable spaces. It began at £288 per space and this year is £415.

Nigel Hallam, workplace parking levy service manager, told councillors that 100 per cent compliance was achieved in the first year, no penalty charge notices had ever been issued, and less than £10,000 of bad debt had been written off. Hallam said that the money raised has been used as leverage to obtain funding for Nottingham’s two tram line extensions. Hallam also commented that other councils are considering introducing a similar levy.

You can read more about the scheme in this Transport Xtra article from 22 November 2019.

The Connecting Leeds proposals for Lawnswood roundabout in relation to the climate emergency

Aerial photo showing the Lawnswood roundabout and mature trees

“In March this year, Leeds City Council declared a climate emergency and committed itself to reducing net carbon emissions to zero by 2030. This commitment is at odds with the council’s support for the “Connecting Leeds” project, which by narrowing pavements and encroaching on green space along the A660 and A6120, would effectively increase road capacity and air pollution. The recently discarded Connecting Leeds proposals relating to Lawnswood roundabout and its environs, would have resulted in the destruction of the roundabout and the potential removal of up to 49 trees around the roundabout and within the grounds of Lawnwood School. As trees help to remove carbon from the atmosphere, as well as reducing other airborne pollution, their removal would not help Leeds to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2030. Furthermore, all available bus data shows that any savings in bus times to the city centre would be negligible.

The council needs to make an immediate start on reducing carbon levels to achieve its aim of reducing emissions to zero by 2030. And so the A660 Joint Council supports the “Save the 49 Trees” campaign in its efforts to save these trees and the roundabout. We applaud the scrapping of the previous proposal and call on Leeds City Council to maintain this iconic northern green gateway into the city.”

This statement was today sent to councillors and the press.