Streets packed with cars in traffic jams are now very hard to find amid the coronavirus restrictions, with most people staying at home to avoid a further spread of the virus. This has caused cleaner skies and lower levels of air pollution.
But will this last? That’s up to the public’s willingness to use more public transportation and drive less. In the UK, a survey has shown British drivers are indeed willing to do such changes to keep the air cleaner.
In a survey of 20,000 drivers, half said they would walk more to maintain the current lower levels of air pollution, while 40% said they would drive less. Meanwhile, four out of five said they would take action to reduce their impact on air quality.
“We have enjoyed the benefits of cleaner air during lockdown and it is gratifying that the vast majority of drivers want to do their bit to maintain the cleaner air,” said in a statement Automobile Association (AA) president Edmund King. “Walking and cycling more, coupled with less driving and more working from home, could have a significant effect.”
The survey also showed that up to a quarter of the drivers were planning to start working from home more, meaning less driving. Meanwhile, another quarter said they would fly less in the future and one in five said they would start cycling more instead of driving.
Since the lockdown started in the country in mid-March, air pollution levels have dropped drastically across the UK. The levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), an air pollutant released from cars, dropped up to 60% in some UK cities compared to the same period last year.
Jenny Bates, a Friends of the Earth clean air campaigner, told the BBC: “Seeing this drop-in air pollution shows that less traffic can quickly lead to cleaner air. Once this dreadful situation is over, we don’t want to rush to go back to where we were or worse, and we can’t have an accelerated return to business as usual.”
British towns and cities are making more road space available for pedestrians and bike riders, with the government pledging to spend over $300 million for improvements in infrastructure – the first part of a $6 billion plan by the Department of Transport.
Glasgow, Leicester, York, and Brighton have created new space for walking or cycling last week. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said he would be shutting some of the busiest roads in the city. This would create one of the largest car-free areas of any city in the world, he said.
“By quickly and cheaply widening pavements, creating temporary cycle lanes and closing roads to through traffic we will enable millions more people to change the way they get around our city,” he added, acknowledging the disruptions that this would bring for many Londoners.
Now, with a more relaxed lockdown, many are going back to work in the UK. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said people should drive rather than use public transport, when walking or cycling is not a viable option.. Researchers warned that traffic could surge back onto the roads, in a study published last week.
In that context, the AA has asked the government to find solutions to help people travel where walking and cycling are not an option, avoiding increases in traffic. The organization called for setting up emergency parking and cycle sites at the edge of the cities.