On Monday 7 September 2020, for the first time ever, the world joins together to mark the United Nations’ (UN's) International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies. Its aim is to build a global community of action that encourages cooperation at national, regional, and international levels. The theme for 2020 is "Clean Air for All", inviting us all to consider how we can change our everyday lives to reduce the amount of air pollution we produce.
Cycling plays a key role in this consideration: it reduces air pollution on a daily basis, especially when used as a main mode of transport, replacing or reducing the use of motorised vehicles. Why not cycle to work to add some extra physical activity into your day? Or use a cargo bike to run daily errands?
Аir pollution is the single greatest environmental risk to human health and one of the main avoidable causes of death and disease globally, with some estimated 6.5 million premature deaths (2016) across the world attributed to indoor and outdoor air pollution by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Air pollution disproportionately affects women, children and older persons, and has a negative impact on ecosystems.
Today, the international community acknowledges that improving air quality can enhance climate change mitigation and that climate change mitigation efforts can improve air quality. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development also recognises that the reduction of air pollution is vital to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Cities promoting cycling to improve air quality
So where does cycling fit in?
The BreatheLife campaign – led in partnership by the WHO, United Nations Environment and the Climate & Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) to mobilise cities and individuals to protect our health and planet from the effects of air pollution - has highlighted several examples of cities using cycling to advocate for better air quality.
The city of Baguio in the Philippines is investing the equivalent of USD 88,000 towards bike lanes, in order to encourage safe and active travel during the pandemic, while controlling air pollution. And, like cities around the world (including Paris, Milan and Bogota) which have used the pandemic as an opportunity to introduce or speed up plans for infrastructural or policy changes and policy promoting cleaner, more active forms of mobility, bike lanes and other road safety measures have been the city’s way of “promoting health and wellness and environmental protection to help improve the city’s air quality and at the same time introduce an alternative mode of transportation”.
Meanwhile, Dublin has been pedestrianising five streets in the city’s main shopping area for several weekends, starting from the last weekend in July. Their “Enabling the City to Return to Work: Interim Mobility Intervention Programme for Dublin City” proposes measures such as more space for pedestrians and cyclists and in locations where people wait for public transport, as well as possible additional parking outside the city core area.
“Reduced traffic levels have resulted in many positive impacts including cleaner air, less noise pollution and an increase in people walking and cycling in their local neighbourhoods,” the City Council states.