Women next to fence

Health effects of air pollution

Building the evidence base for healthier streets

11 February 2021
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3 min read

Programme Director Kate Langford shares more on our pilot to test ways to make our streets easier and safer for local residents to walk, cycle and spend time.

Back in June 2020,  as the first national lockdown eased, we were concerned that guidance to avoid public transport would increase car traffic across London – potentially worsening a situation in which residential streets in London have seen more than a 70% increase in traffic over the past 10 years. 

Increased traffic is a major issue for the health issues we focus on – acting as a barrier to children walking, cycling and playing outdoors, and contributing to the unhealthy levels of air pollution we see in Lambeth and Southwark. And it is the poorest communities in our city – those who are least likely to own a car – that are most likely to be impacted by these negative consequences. 

We decided to support Southwark Council with £250,000 in funding to implement and, critically, to evaluate pilot projects to make streets healthier. Working in partnership with Southwark Council’s Public Health, Highways and Transport Policy teams, the aim of these pilots is to test ways to make our streets easier and safer for local residents to walk, cycle and spend time. The project also has support from Lucy Saunders, Director at Healthy Streets and world leading expert in reducing health inequalities through street redesign.

We knew there was similar work going on across London both at borough and Greater London Authority (GLA)/City Hall level, but none focused on addressing the health gap between affluent and poor neighbourhoods. Our priority was to design these pilots in a way that would give us the greatest chance of tackling  health inequalities. For us this meant three things were important:

  • Focusing on areas of greatest need 
  • Contributing to an evidence base 
  • Designing inclusive community feedback 

 

Focusing on areas of greatest need

The pilot locations were specifically selected to address existing inequities. All three areas chosen have high levels of childhood obesity; schools with poor air quality; high levels of social housing and a high proportion of families living on lower incomes. The locations were assessed using the Healthy Streets Indicators that form the foundation of transport policy in London to identify the changes that would deliver the biggest impact for local families.

Increased traffic is a major issue for the health issues we focus on. And it is the poorest communities in our city that are most likely to be impacted by its negative consequences. 

Kate Langford Programme Director

Contributing to the evidence base

The interventions included in this programme have been applied across the UK and in many other countries for decades. However, challenges such as funding shortages have led to little evaluation or a failure to share learnings. We have invested a large proportion of the project budget into developing a robust evaluation methodology, so we can be sure if interventions are having a positive impact or not, share these learnings with others, and provide an evaluation model that can be adopted by others.

By the end of the pilots we want to better understand how much the streets physically changed in relation to the Healthy Streets Indicators; how people are using the streets differently; and how the flow of motorised vehicles and cycles has changed inside and on the boundary of the intervention areas. To evaluate changes like this during a time when traffic levels will be fluctuating dramatically due to COVID-19 we needed to be able to disentangle what was happening due to the interventions vs wider changes so we will be comparing the changes in our three pilots to two control areas where no changes have been implemented.

Healthy Streets before
Southwark streets before trialled measures

Designing inclusive community feedback

It was important to us that we captured, understood and responded to in-depth feedback about how residents feel about these changes. So we are investing in additional community engagement to ensure we hear from local people who do not usually engage through traditional consultation platforms or through online consultations. We have commissioned the research organisation Clearview, who have recruited and trained local people to become paid Community Researchers and gather feedback from residents whose voices are not normally heard. The aim of this work is to accurately capture community feedback so that it can both improve the schemes and inform the longer-term consultation.

We expect to have initial results from our evaluation and community feedback in summer 2021. Residents can find out more and leave comments on Southwark Council’s engagement websites for the three pilot project areas: Brunswick Park, East Faraday and North Peckham.

 

One of several steps

We know that schemes like this are only part of the solution to creating healthier streets and cleaner air. With our local partners we can trial and evaluate ways to reduce traffic and create safer streets on local authority managed roads, but many communities live on London’s major roads, which are managed by TfL. If we want clean air for everybody, there needs to be a fresh look at how we use London’s road network, and a long-term strategic plan of how we can reduce air pollution on these main roads to improve public health.

In our wider air pollution programme we are trying to tackle this issue from different angles by funding work looking at reducing freight related air pollution, working with businesses to address air pollution from construction, and scaling up cargo bikes. But we can’t fix this alone. We need to see more commitments from mayoral candidates in the run up to local elections in May 2021 to ensure all communities have clean air. What better place to start than ensuring our main roads and streetscapes are fit for the future and the changing way that Londoners travel, and at the same time improve health and increase enjoyment of our city?

 

This project is part of our wider programmes to tackle air pollution and childhood obesity. Our work with Southwark Council is one of several important steps towards reducing the health gap that affects so many families in our communities.

Man on bike

Making streets healthier in Southwark

Piloting measures to make our streets easier and safer for local residents to walk, cycle and spend time on.

Find out more about the project