Building traffic free routes and segregated cycle lanes in towns and cities across Scotland would help to prevent premature deaths from air pollution and save £364 million a year in Scotland alone, a report has claimed.
Walking and cycling charity Sustrans said the UK economy could save £931m annually from improved air quality, by meeting the stated goals to increase walking and cycling in Scotland and England.
Of this, savings of £364m would be realised annually from improved air quality in Scotland, while nearly 4,000 premature deaths would be avoided over a decade.
Developed in partnership with environmental consultancy Eunomia, the Air Quality Benefits of Active Travel (EAQBAT) report carried out modelling which analysed a number of cycling and walking infrastructure schemes run by Sustrans across Scotland and England and looked at the effects of possible city wide interventions.
John Lauder, national director of Sustrans Scotland, said: “The models created through our EAQBAT report show that building more segregated and traffic free cycling and walking routes in our towns and cities will help to cut the number of deaths caused by air pollution each year. The report helps demonstrate the good sense of the Scottish Government doubling the budget for walking and cycling. By providing a network of direct segregated routes along busier roads in addition to quieter routes will encourage more people to walk and ride a bike.”
Sustrans’ said its Connect 2 project in Glasgow, which completed an unfinished bridge across the M8 and delivered a partly segregated route from the city centre to Kelvingrove, is calculated to provide £104,820 in air quality-related health benefits each year.
The report said this large economic benefit is achieved because of the high numbers of people who have chosen to swap cars for cycling as a result of the creation of segregated infrastructure, but also because almost three-quarters of the route is located away from traffic and has lower pollution exposure levels.
The UK has repeatedly broken EU legal limits of Nitrogen Dioxide, derived mainly from Diesel vehicles, with tens of thousands of early deaths every year linked to breathing polluted air.
The Scottish Government last year increased the number of air quality management areas in Scotland from 34 to 38 and has consulted on proposals to introduce Low Emission Zones to four Scottish cities by 2020.
Ann Ballinger, air quality expert at Eunomia, said: “Our analysis suggests investment in cycling and walking has considerable potential to improve local air pollution.”
A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “We welcome this publication from Sustrans and will consider the recommendations in the report. We are committed to making cycling safer and more commonplace in Scotland and have pledged to double the active travel budget from £40-£80 million in the Programme for Government.”