Roundabouts good for your health

Are roundabouts good for your health?

Roundabouts good for your health

Roundabouts could be good for your health. That’s according to a recent study of air pollution levels.

Scientists from the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research and the Lancaster University Environment Centre looked at the UK’s 146 most populous urban areas.

They wanted to discover if there’s a correlation between a town’s layout and the levels of pollution.

The 146 largest conurbations were ranked by their NOx emission levels, with the data overlaid with the size of the population. Taking this into account, Milton Keynes is the city ‘most improved by urban form’.

‘Roundabouts do two things’

Speaking to the BBC, lead author of the study, Professor Rob Mackenzie, said: “The Milton Keynes roundabouts do two things – they reduce stop-start driving which reduces production of pollution, and they make space to help the pollution dilute and mix away.

“Milton Keynes has taken up much more space for its people and its transport which means the pollution it produces is diluted in a greater space.”

Just 23 miles down the road in Luton, the story is less positive. The town’s compact and built-up nature means fumes are unable to disperse as easily.

“Luton is much more compact so it doesn’t gain from that dilution benefit. The biggest effect green spaces have on air pollution in urban areas is to provide space for that pollution to disperse.”

Roundabout in Milton Keynes

Crucially, the two towns produce roughly the same amount of pollution for their size. But the air in Luton is much dirtier, because the pollution is trapped by tight roads and building. Conversely, the roundabouts, boulevards and open roads of Milton Keynes allow the poisonous gases to escape.

Professor Mackenzie said towns like Luton cannot “rely on the dilution effect of it being spread out to avoid the problem”.

“I’d be advocating that Luton recognise that their particular situation puts them at a relative disadvantage, so they ought to work even harder at driving down emissions from traffic.”

The following tables show the best and worst urban areas when it comes to dispersing pollution. The rankings are based on the percentage change relative to the 146 largest areas in the country.

Top 10 most improved by urban form

Urban areaPercentage change
1. Milton Keynes22%
2. Stoke-on-Trent21%
3. Weybridge20%
4. Aldershot19%
5. Macclesfield18%
6. Livingston18%
7. Swansea16%
8. Manchester16%
9. High Wycombe14%
10. Birmingham14%

Top 10 least improved by urban form

Urban areaPercentage change
1. Luton-24%
2. Crawley-15%
3. Leamington Spa-13%
4. Cardiff-12%
5. Coventry-12%
6. Stevenage-12%
7. Tamworth-12%
8. Bradford-12%
9. Oxford-12%
10. Worcester-12%
Hand car washing action needed

Hand car washing industry branded a ‘national disgrace’

Hand car washing action needed

Non-compliance with labour regulations “is endemic in the hand car washing industry”. This is according to Matthew Taylor, the government’s interim director of labour market enforcement.

He was speaking at a Resolution Foundation labour market enforcement event in Westminster, where he called for “specific action and plan” to tackle the problems in the car washing sector.

A report in the FT says hand car washes have gained market share from machine car washes. They’re dominated by small operators employing eastern European migrants. The sector is rife with underpayment, the mistreatment of workers, health and safety failing and environmental issues.

A licensing scheme to protect car wash workers would be the first for the sector outside agriculture and food processing. The move would be welcomed by the car wash industry.

Research conducted for the Car Wash Association (CWA) confirmed that less than five percent of the 10,000 or more third-party hand car washes are located on operational forecourts. This means they are typically located on brownfield and greenfield sites, car parks of major retailers and disused forecourts.

The report in the FT points to a study of 45 car washes in Nottingham and Leicester. Many operated from unsuitable premises, which left dangerous chemicals flowing into nearby water courses. Staff were also provided with ineffective protective clothing and equipment when handling hazardous materials.

‘A serious social blight’

Hand car wash in the UK

Brian Madderson, chairman of the Petrol Retailers and Car Wash Associations, said: “We are excited that government, through the Office for Labour Market Enforcement, is at last proposing practical measures to combat the fast growing, mostly illegal, trade of non-compliant hand car washes.

“It is a national disgrace that the UK has become the ‘go to’ country in Europe for non-compliant hand car washes that openly flout tax, labour abuse and environmental regulations. They are a serious social blight caused by ineffective enforcement and contrast starkly with countries like Germany, Austria and Benelux, which have virtually none.

“The sooner this new government tackles this issue, the sooner will our rivers and countryside be freed from toxic chemical waste and labour abuse will be eliminated. We enthusiastically welcome Mr Taylor’s call for a licensing scheme.”

Changes to the licensing of car washes would require ministerial action. The Home Office said it will ‘continue to work closely with law enforcement partners such as the GLAA (Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority) and businesses to prevent modern slavery and bring perpetrators to justice’.

Anyone who suspects a labour provider is exploiting the welfare and rights of workers can report the issue to the GLAA.

Dirty vehicles to be banned from Geneva

Dirty vehicles to be banned from Geneva

A new environmental zone will see the dirtiest vehicles banned from the centre of Geneva, Switzerland, and the surrounding area.

From 15 January 2020, a temporary zone will be activated when air pollution in the Swiss city is at its highest. It will be operational from 6am until 10pm.

Vehicles will be measured on their environmental performance and must display one of six coloured Stick’Air vignettes. Green is for zero emission vehicles, while grey is for the least environmentally friendly cars. The emergency services and drivers with disabilities are exempt from the scheme.

Initially, vehicles displaying the grey vignette will be banned from the environmental zone during the period of peak pollution. If the smog persists, the ban will extend to vehicles showing the brown sticker, then orange, yellow and purple.

The stickers cost 5 Swiss francs (£4) and are valid for the life of the vehicle. Drivers who do not display a vignette or enter the city during the smog alert will be fined 500 francs (£400). Commercial vehicles will be granted a two-year transitional period to comply with the new law.

Under the regulations, the authorities could also introduce an 80km/h (50mph) speed limit on surrounding motorways, free public transport to encourage locals and tourists to leave their cars at home, and a ban on outdoor fires.

Geneva clean air stickers

‘Right to breathe healthy air’

Antonio Hodgers, a Geneva councillor, said: “We have adopted a compromise between economic freedom and the right to breathe healthy air.”

Nearly 500,000 people live in the canton of Geneva, with around 200,000 people living in the city. This is the first environmental zone of its kind in the country, although Geneva’s proximity to France and Italy, plus the fact that it is home to more than 130 multinational companies, makes it a particularly high profile case.

It also plays host to a major international motor show

The stickers can be purchased from council offices and petrol stations. More information can be found here.

Motorists want tougher penalties for idling drivers

Tougher fines for idling drivers

There are calls for drivers who leave their engines running when parked to be fined.

Seventy-two percent of the drivers questioned in a new survey want local councils to tackle the problem, while 44 percent believe officials should have the power to issue fines if they refuse.

Under section 42 of the Road Traffic Act 1988(4), a driver can be fined £20 for a stationary idling offence, but few councils enforce this.

In June, the government announced a public consultation on proposals to impose tougher penalties on idling drivers.

Then transport secretary Chris Grayling said: “We are determined to crack down on drivers who pollute our communities by leaving their engines running, particularly outside school gates where our children are breathing in this toxic air.

“Putting a stop to idling is an easy way to drive down dangerously high levels of pollution, reducing its impact on the environment and our health.”

Cost ahead of the environment

Traffic in Bristol

Around a quarter of the drivers surveyed by the RAC believe motorists should be told to switch off WITHOUT issuing a fine, whereas two percent think offenders should be fined without any warning.

It would appear that drivers are becoming more sensitive to the issue of vehicle emissions and the impact on air quality in our towns and cities. Indeed, more than half of the drivers surveyed said they are more concerned than they were three years ago.

However, when asked WHY they would not leave their engines idling when parked, a financial benefit was put ahead of the environment. Thirty-seven percent said they switch off to save a little on fuel, while 35 percent said they do it to improve air quality.

Just under a third claim it never occurs to them to turn off.

Like the carrier bag charge

delays and congestion up in 2018

Nicholas Lyes, RAC head of roads policy, said: “It is clear from our research that the vast majority of drivers are far more aware of the impact of vehicle emissions than they were three years ago.

“They are conscious of pollution from parked vehicles running their engines needlessly to the point they want to see local councils taking some form of action against those who do this. At the very least they would like a council official to speak to those who do it and ask them to switch off.

“Councils already have the powers to deal with this problem, but few are currently doing so. Many of the drivers we questioned would like to see some firm action taken against offenders. This is no doubt needed to bring about a change in behaviour.

“You could liken the current situation with engine idling to that of taking your own carrier bags to the supermarket: everyone knew it was the right thing to do, but few of us did it until a compulsory charge was introduced. While the law is already in place for idling, enforcement is limited, if not non-existent.

“The presence of enforcement officers and ‘no engine idling’ signs, complete with penalties, must be the next step in making our urban environments better for everyone who lives, drives and works in them.”

Extinction Rebellion uses dirty diesel for climate change protest

Extinction Rebellion fire engine

Turning up to protest about climate change in a dirty diesel is a little like going to thrash metal concert and complaining about the noise.

But as Extinction Rebellion arrived in Whitehall in a 21-year-old fire truck to paint the town red, it became abundantly clear that the protesters hadn’t considered the irony of their choice of transport. After all, an 8.3-litre diesel engine is about as welcome in central London as a fox in a henhouse.

From one drama to another

It would appear that Extinction Rebellion paid £5,000 for the former Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service Dennis Sabre back in August. Cheaper than a Dacia Sandero, then, but not as good for the planet.

It’s not the first time the fire engine has been in the public eye: the eBay ad lists an appearance on Holby City as one of its selling points. You could say it’s gone from one drama to another.

The old Dennis diesel sat outside Treasury smoking like a 70s snooker player as the Extinction Rebellion protestors struggled to contain their hose. It turned the protest into something that wouldn’t have looked out of place on Top Gear, as the fake blood coated the steps and pavement outside the Grade One listed building.

Forget London’s Burning, this was more like London’s Turning… Red.

Clearly, climate change is a serious business. Only a chump with rubbish hair and a penchant for walls would deny that we need to do something to reverse the damage that’s being done to our planet. We can all play a part.

But buying an 8.3-litre diesel fire engine in Northampton and then driving it into central London isn’t going to save the world.

With a strong wind behind it and a clear road ahead, the Dennis Sabre could probably muster 8, maybe 9 miles per gallon. Fine if you’re putting out fires or starring alongside Tina Hobley, but not so great when you’re protesting against “the vast sums [the government] pours into fossil fuel exploration”.

Maybe they should have used a Green Goddess…

Ban regular car sales by 2035 or face ‘dire consequences’, says report

The government should not wait until 2040 to ban the sale of ‘conventional’ new cars and vans.

That’s one of a number of hard-hitting recommendations laid out by the Science and Technology Committee in its report on clean growth.

“The UK is not even on course to meet its existing legally binding targets for 2023 and 2032”, it says, and petrol and diesel cars are at the centre of the problem.

In 2017, the government announced plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2040, with all conventional vehicles banned from the road by 2050. But environmental groups have called for the ban to be brought forward.

Last year, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) said that it “may be necessary for the sales of petrol and diesel vehicles to end by 2035”.

It called for ultra-low emission vehicles to account for 60 percent of the new car market by 2030 to “keep open the possibility of 100 percent of new sales by 2035”.

But the government isn’t doing enough, says the Science and Technology Committee, and “urgent action is required to reverse the current policy trend of cut backs and slow progress”.

Ban cars by 2035 at the latest

ban cars sooner

Ten areas of shortfall have been identified in a wide-ranging report. The government has been slammed for not delivering a promised White Paper on ‘The future of the energy market’, and there are concerns over the complexity of obtaining planning permission for onshore wind farms.

The cut in the plug-in car grant for the lowest-emission cars, the abolition of the grant for other low-emission cars and the freeze in fuel duty are the shortfalls relating to cars.

The Committee has made a series of recommendations to get the UK ready for net-zero by 2050. The priorities for transport include:

  • Bring forward the date of the proposed ban on the sales of petrol and diesel cars to 2035 at the latest.
  • Ensure the ban covers hybrid vehicles.
  • Reconsider the fiscal incentives for consumers to purchase new AND used low emission vehicles.
  • Accelerate the deployment of electric vehicle charge points.
  • Introduce measures to ensure that charge points are interoperable and compatible with a smart energy system.

Crucially, the report says that the government “should not aim to achieve emissions reductions simply by replacing existing vehicles with lower-emission versions”. 

“Their manufacturer generates substantial emissions,” it warns, so “widespread personal vehicle ownership does not appear to be compatible with significant decarbonisation”.

‘Dire consequences for the environment’

Norman Lamb MP, chair of the Science and Technology Committee, said: “Parliament has declared a climate emergency.

“The worrying effects of climate change, such as heatwaves, wildfires and flooding are already occurring at an alarming rate and will have a huge impact on future generations. 

“If governments across the world fail to act, it will have dire consequences for the environment and generations to come.

“The scale of the challenge cannot be underestimated.”

‘Giving up on emerging science and technology’

Motoring organisations have been quick to shift the spotlight away from personal cars, with the decarbonisation of light commercial vehicles viewed as a priority.

Edmund King, AA president, told BBC News: “Stating that widespread personal vehicle ownership isn’t compatible with significant decarbonisation seems to be giving up on emerging science and technology.

“Technology is developing at a rapid rate with great potential from more efficient electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

“More emphasis should be going into renewable energy and greener vehicle production rather than higher fuel duty or banning hybrids, as the report recommends.

“The fastest growth in traffic is by vans due to internet deliveries so more technological effort should be put into decarbonising that sector as a priority.”

Diesel pollution levels

Just 10% of diesel cars meet legal air pollution limit

Diesel pollution levels

Just one in 10 diesel-engined cars on the road meets EU air pollution limits, according to environmental lobbying   group Transport and Environment (T&E).

The new Euro 6 emissions standard was introduced on 1 September, but only 10% of cars tested complied with it. Audi and Opel (Vauxhall in the UK) were among the worst offenders.

T&E discovered that, on average, diesel cars pump out emissions five times greater than the allowed limit. The worst new car, an Audi, emitted 22 times as much. Only three out of the 23 tested cars met the new standard.

The problem, says T&E, is Europe’s outdated emissions testing system, which allows carmakers to use cheaper and less effective exhaust treatment systems for diesels sold here. As the infographic below shows, diesel cars sold by the same manufacturers in the US have better exhaust treatment systems and emit less.

Exhaust treatment systemsA new on-road test is due that will measure ‘real-world’ emissions from diesels. However, it won’t arrive until 2018 at the earliest. And, with diesel after-treatment systems costing around £220 per car, manufacturers aren’t in a rush to introduce them.

Greg Archer, T&E’s clean vehicles manager, said: “Every new diesel car should now be clean but just one in 10 actually is. This is the main cause of the air pollution crisis affecting cities. Carmakers sell clean diesels in the US, and testing should require manufacturers to sell them in Europe too.”

In the UK, the number of diesel cars on the road has risen from 1.6 million to 12 million since 1994.

Lexus NX

Hybrid’s time has come says Lexus

Lexus NXAfter years of diesel dominance, petrol-electric hybrid cars are set to thrive in Europe, believes Toyota Motor Europe vice president Alain Uyttenhoven – and it’s the environment and emissions that will drive the shift.

Diesels sales have grown dramatically over the past decade because of a legislative focus on CO2 emissions. “It’s easy to measure,” said Uyttenhoven.

But “cars have now reached a certain level of CO2 – the next big discussion will be NOx particles, and these are far more damaging to humans.”

It is here where diesels will struggle.

“The cost of purifying diesel cars will add to their costs – and some cities such as Paris are actually taking about banning diesels from the city centre within the next two to three years.

“Hybrids are the next stage solution.”

The fact diesels only dominate within Europe also doesn’t help them, said Uyttenhoven. Outside Europe, diesel is almost irrelevant. “It seems like I’m coming from Mars when I talk about diesel with colleagues from other countries.”

Even factors such as commonplace stop-start is not helping diesel. “Diesels vibrate when they start back up, and people don’t like this.” Hybrids, in contrast, generally run on electric at low speeds – “a test we ran a few years ago found city centre driving was 50% EV mode”.

However, despite Lexus’ newfound advantage in not having a diesel car in its range, the brand is not going to engage in negative marketing to highlight its environmental benefits. “We’re not going to go finger-pointing at diesels – rather, we simply want to be see as a strong alternative to those who may wish to exchange a diesel car for hybrid.”

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