Ten ways to breathe easier

A friend of mine said the other day that he was thinking of leaving London. The air quality was now so bad, he said. He was worried about the health of his kids.

Such talk is alarmist, and probably unwarranted. After all, compared with London in the old days, before the Clean Air Act banned coal smoke and pea soup was something we breathed rather than something we ate, we are enjoying air of lavender-scented purity. Yet there's no doubt that the air in major British cities could be much sweeter. I got thinking about 10 easy ways to make breathing better:

1. If building more roads encourages more cars, why shouldn't the same rule apply for bicycles? More cycle paths should mean more bicycles - and we're talking about bikes being used by ordinary people, rather than the Lycra-clad, multi-coloured health fetishists who jump red lights and terrorise innocent motorists and who use cycling as a jogging substitute rather than as transport.

It's reckoned that about 60 per cent of all car journeys in Britain are under six miles long. The bicycle is an efficient, convenient mode of transport for such journeys - just ask the Dutch. Bespoke cycle paths, in some cases built by shaving the width of roads, would encourage confidence in the safety of cycling, the current major bugbear.

2. Encourage car pooling. In many foreign cities, cars with three or four people on board can use bus lanes during the peak hour. Small cars, filled to capacity, are very energy-efficient modes of transport.

3. Dissuade businesses from issuing company cars, the biggest single culprit in the peak-hour traffic gridlock. Company car drivers like to enjoy their perks. If they didn't have the perk, they'd probably go by train.

4. New, or newish, cars fitted with catalytic converters are much cleaner than old cars without. There should be tax incentives to encourage people to buy catalyst-equipped cars. Increasing the road tax on non-cat cars (possibly to £200), and cutting it for cat cars (to £100) would be one way.

Diesel cars should also be targeted, as diesels spew out higher levels of oxides of nitrogen and particulates (minuscule particles of soot, said by some to be carcinogenic), both of which are closely linked to increased levels of asthma. Old diesels are particularly noisome.

5. Get old "smokers" off the road. The French and Spanish governments offer incentives for people to trade in their 10-year-old bangers for much cleaner new cars. In France, owners of cars more than 10 years old who buy new cars get a 5,000-franc (£625) rebate from the government. These old cars must not be re-registered. Classic car owners need not fear. Dealers aren't stupid: they won't scrap valuable old cars.

6. Get tough on owners who fail to maintain their cars properly. There are some roadside pollution checks in Britain, but it's still small scale. If hefty fines greeted owners of filthy cars, the crackdown would soon be self-financing, possibly even profitable. At the same time, make the exhaust emission MoT test tougher. It's currently a joke.

7. Buses are not always greener than cars. A belching bus is one of the biggest environmental disasters on the road, as your eyes and nose will testify. Our urban buses almost invariably use old-technology diesel engines, and spew out more toxins (particularly those that lead to respiratory problems) than scores of new catalyst-equipped cars combined.

When its characterful old Routemasters were recently fitted with "new" Iveco engines, London Transport chose old-tech units, which failed to meet the latest EU diesel regulations. New-tech diesel engines should be phased in soon. Equally, taxis are much dirtier than they should be.

8. Crack down on poorly maintained lorries. They are health risks, and should be treated a such. Trucks that fail to meet the latest (1993) pollution regulations should be forbidden from entering major conurbations.

9. Americans already have cleaner burning petrol that has been specially formulated for smelly cities. Why can't we have it?

10. Encourage people to live in cities (again) instead of merely driving through them. The trend for people to live in the country but work in the city is one of the most environmentally damaging facets of the last 20 years - whether they commute by car or train. It leads to city degeneration and massive damage to the countryside because of new housing and transport requirements. Personal tax rates could alter depending on how close you live to your place of work. The closer, the less you pay. This might help cut down on the massive jams into, and out of, major cities every day - both on the motorways and in the trains.

Finally, let's be realistic about the potential for public transport. Everybody wants more spending on buses and trains so somebody else can use them. Cleaner, cheaper, more regular public transport may tempt some people out of their cars - particularly for commuting to work and for journeys within city centres. But most of us will stick to private transport for many of our town journeys - particularly from suburb to suburb. It is, after all, often more convenient and invariably more comfortable, as well as being frequently more energy efficient.

The car - or in the long term some other form of public transport - will always figure in the urban transport picture. Town planners who gainsay that will doom great cities such as London to economic bankruptcy (just ask any shopkeeper) and tedium. And then we'll all move out to the country and use out-of-town shopping malls, and environmental Armageddon will finally be with us.

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
people
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
News
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
people
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Employment Solicitor

    Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

    Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

    £600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

    Commercial Litigation Associate

    Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

    Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

    £65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

    Day In a Page

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little