Creating NICE pollution free towns

The NICE guidance could have been written at any point during the last sixteen years, from any number of organisations putting the case for incremental change. It is sensible stuff and yet completely inadequate as a road map for local authorities acting belatedly to deal with a huge public health scandal. It is a set of good ideas without any sense of priority for cash-strapped councils. For example, driver training to reduce fuel use and emissions is equivalent to congestion charging for congested areas, while planting vegetation in open areas is alongside parking controls, or creating the infrastructure for zero emission vehicles. All very sensible.

And the advice on planting trees to allow for air dispersal and circulation is sensible too. They are in favour of planting more trees and green barriers, especially between cars and cyclists/pedestrians, but to do it with care and where appropriate, not as some green gesture.

The same goes for cycle lanes, which NICE want more of. They want them to avoid main roads if possible, which is again sensible on highly polluted roads where you can create equally fast, alternative paths along quieter, less polluted roads. If you create a cycle path on a busy road you get more pollution breathed in but a faster journey and less time spent in that pollution. If you create a cycle lane on a quieter route that meanders, then there’s less pollution but more time spent breathing it in. It’s a trade off and a professional judgement call. Finally, there is no point in having a quieter route that is so slow lots of cyclists still use the main road instead.

Would we have nice streets from the NICE proposals? That depends on the local authorities having the money and political will to push it all through. Congestion charging and higher parking fees would give them access to the funds to make the rest happen. We could have fewer cars and greener cars, all going slower through streets that people felt were more pleasant and safe to use. We could have healthier towns and cities, but that relies on us taking ALL the actions that NICE recommend. And quickly.