Sustainable Merton has recently joined several other organisations on a London Sustainability Exchange (LSx) lead project to encourage cycling to the workplace. As part of this project, Sustainable Merton was represented at the annual Tricyle Twickenham event that took place last Sunday.
The opportunity was used to inform the general public about the air quality monitoring work being carried out by Sustainable Merton, in the borough of Merton. The event was held in the borough of Richmond. However, this was not an issue since a number of the cyclists we spoke to confirmed that they cycle through, or to, Merton to get to their destination.
The event was well attended. There were many adults and children, and almost just as many bicycles. There were stalls for bike repairs, food stalls (bicycle fuel), interactive cycle maps drawn in real-time by artists, and the opportunity to sign up for free bike safety riding lessons for adults. These all provided the type of information that one would expect to find at such an event (well, maybe not the real-time map, which was fairly unique... and cool).
We spoke to a wide range of attendees on the day. Many parents had brought children with bikes, and seemed to be interested in repairs and lessons teaching children how to ride safely without stabilisers. A number of people who did not ride a bike at all mentioned that they had been put off riding, to work or anywhere else, due to road safety concerns on roads.
Many of the reasons, and/or perceived obstacles, to riding were offered without any prompting. However, the one thing that nobody we spoke to voluntarily mentioned was air pollution. Asking about air pollution brought about a range of replies. Most people had not previously acknowledged the issue of air pollution. Parents were less likely to ride on the road with their children, and enthusiastic cyclists did much of their cycling off-road on rural tracks. Those who did ride to work on the roads did so because it was the most direct route, but went on to mentioned that they felt the effects of air pollution (coughing, sooty nasal discharge, etc) at the end of each commute.
In a conversation with Greg (one of the police officers putting security measures on bicycles throughout the day) an interesting scenario was discussed. Like many officers on the beat, Greg’s duties often mean that he is assigned to areas with high concentrations of air pollution. Having inhaled such pollution throughout the day, he often experiences negative effects now associated with air pollution. Greg even went as far as to ask his line manager if he could wear a mask when on such duties. Apparently his request was turned down for reasons surrounding public perception. This scenario may highlight questions about balancing the ‘duty of care’ his employers may have to their employees, and public perception. More to the point, it is worth reminding ourselves that it is not the police, or any other public service, who legislate for air pollution control measures.
It is unfortunate that, in engaging in healthy activities such as cycling, jogging or walking, there is the very real possibility of adverse effects on health. However, the message from Sustainable Merton is that taking less polluted routes, away from main roads is one effective way that we all can immediately mitigate against the adverse effects of air pollution.
Air Quality Champion