Air Pollution in London

You can’t see it, but air is as bad in London as it was in the great Peasoupers. What does that mean? Not just more asthma but children with permanently reduced lung capacity, more chronic pulmonary problems (COPD), even an increase in heart problems.

Why? The biggest problem is traffic, and among those vehicles, 90% of the pollution comes from diesel. Tax breaks for diesel have boosted the number of private vehicles, while the building boom means more construction HGVs, and internet shopping means more delivery trucks. Black cabs remain firmly diesel (Green Tomato with its hybrids an honorable alternative). And although the Boris buses are better, most of the 8,500 Transport for London fleet continue to add to the problem.

So what to do?

As well as lobbying at the GLA – the Green members are particularly good on air pollution – there’s plenty we can be focusing on nearer home.


A recent report found that birch trees with their tiny hairs removed 50% of pollution from a school playground. We need a focused programme of planting green walls, hedges and trees to reduce air pollution.

Where there isn’t space to fit the trees on the pavement, they could be planted in pavement build-outs. The build-outs would have the added benefit of easing informal pedestrian crossing, while reducing traffic speeds by making the road seem narrower.

Safer Routes to Schools

A network of safe walking and cycling routes to schools would build an awareness of how pleasant it is to be out and about, and help kids build confidence and good habits. Most children in London attend a school within easy walking distance so while cycle routes may be fun, and a way of training children to be safe on two wheels, safe walking routes probably serve more families.

Better Streets

If our streets were pleasanter to walk and cycle, we’d have fewer motor vehicles making short journeys. So we need to lobby for

  1. Wider pavements where there is heavy use.
  2. Pavement build-outs to make crossing easier.
  3. More designated and segregated cycle routes.
  4. A blanket – and enforced – 20mph speed limit.

Far more of us live here than drive. Only a third of Islington residents even have access to a vehicle for example, so all these measures would benefit the majority, at the expense of those who are damaging the health of the rest of us.

Ultimately we could take inspiration from Hamburg which by 2034 is planning to be car free. – see

Total car free might be a challenge here, but if pedestrians were to take precedence instead of motor vehicles, wouldn’t London become a lovely place to be?