Across the world many cities are struggling to provide a healthy environment for their booming populations. According to the World Health Organization, air pollution has become the world’s greatest environmental health risk, linked to one in eight of total global deaths.
In the developed world, smog levels are typically relatively low so that the benefits of active travel in cities exceed the disadvantages. But how can those benefits be qualified?
A Ramboll team has modelled the positive effects of constructing new pathways to increase walking and cycling in cities in western Sweden. The team developed a mathematical model that shows how various routes would influence air pollution as well as impact the incidence of illnesses such as heart disease, dementia and diabetes, and associated economic effects.
The outcomes projected by this analysis are helping municipalities in West Sweden guide public policy, and a research grant from the Nordic Knowledge and Innovation Fund will be used to assess the potential to expand this work globally.
Lower pollution and better information
In Denmark, Ramboll’s survey showed that the ‘liveable cities’ factor people prioritized the most was air quality: 74 percent said it was of major importance, with only 42 percent considering air quality in their city to be good enough.
And it’s not hard to see why. According to a 2017 report by the Danish National Center for Environment and Energy (DCE), around 550 people die an early death due to air pollution each year in Copenhagen. However, air pollution can be reduced.
For example, requiring cruise ships to use only clean power delivered from land when in port rather than pollute city centres with their own diesel-powered engines. Ramboll’s American Department has experience in reducing emissions from Californian ports based on local requirements and this has meant that land power is used in cities such as Los Angeles.
Better information also helps. It is well known that air pollution can be two to five times lower in backyards and parks than on a city’s busiest road. Municipalities can obtain more accurate measures of air quality and provide people with better information about which stretches of road to avoid or when it is important to keep windows facing the street closed.
However, to significantly improve air quality problem, solutions need to be holistic and integrated because you need to get people out of their cars and onto a bike, bus or train. Thus, the challenge is closely related to mobility.
Traffic noise is damaging but there are solutions
Noise from traffic is considered to be the EU’s second largest environmental problem after air pollution.
Around 1.4 million Danes are affected by traffic noise above the acceptable limits. Research shows that traffic noise lowers the quality of life and increases the likelihood of a number of serious diseases, including blood clots.
And according to Ramboll’s Liveable Cities survey, many Danes are dissatisfied with the authorities’ lack of action in combating traffic noise.
But there are solutions:
For example, urban planners should provide people with access to quiet areas such as backyards or peaceful spaces and parks within easy reach of where they live.
Soundproofing windows and facade are options and traffic noise can also be dampened at the source itself with noise-damping tyres and asphalt, noise shields and speed reductions. Such recommendations have even greater effect when combined.
Improving air in Africa
As part of the African Development Bank’s 10-year strategy to facilitate the continent’s gradual transition to green growth, the bank has awarded Ramboll a contract to map transport emissions and monitor air pollution in five cities in Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Tanzania and Zambia. The ambition is to implement the project results throughout Africa.