Two cyclists on a zebra crossing in Benwell Road, in the Highbury people-friendly streets neighbourhood

People-friendly streets neighbourhoods bring improved air quality, independent study shows

Islington’s people-friendly streets neighbourhoods have had a “statistically significant” positive impact on air quality, an independent study by Imperial College London has revealed.  

To support its efforts to create a more equal borough, the council has introduced seven people-friendly streets neighbourhoods, to help make it easier to walk, cycle, scoot, and use buggies and wheelchairs as environmentally-friendly alternatives to driving.  

Written by air quality experts, the report considered data from the St Peter’s, Canonbury East, and Clerkenwell Green neighbourhoods. Using 93 nitrogen dioxide monitors and 108 traffic counters, the authors looked at council data spanning from July 2019 – nearly a year before the first of the three neighbourhoods was introduced – to February 2021.

To ensure that the paper meets the “gold standard” for statistical evaluation, the authors looked at data from “internal roads” within the neighbourhoods, “boundary roads” surrounding the neighbourhoods, and “external roads”, which are located more than half a kilometre away from any traffic restrictions and are used for comparison purposes. 

The research found that, when compared with external roads, the three neighbourhoods led to an 8.9% and a 5.7% reduction in nitrogen dioxide levels on boundary roads and internal roads respectively. Their findings on traffic levels were similarly positive, with traffic falling 58.2% on internal roads and 13.4% on boundary roads compared with external roads. 

In their conclusions, the paper’s authors state that their findings add to a “growing and convincing body of literature making the case for cities to adopt traffic restriction strategies” like people-friendly streets neighbourhoods.  

The paper, which has been published in full online, suggests that the neighbourhoods are helping to create a cleaner, greener, healthier Islington. This is also reflected in the council’s own monitoring of the neighbourhoods, and in the positive feedback it has received from local people. 

Cllr Rowena Champion, Islington Council’s Executive Member for Environment, Air Quality, and Transport, said: “Toxic air pollution is a major health emergency, and doing nothing is not an option – air pollution stunts children’s lungs, and causes thousands of excess deaths in London each year.  

“We’ve introduced people-friendly streets neighbourhoods to help make Islington a cleaner, greener, healthier place, with improved air quality. This independent research, from air quality experts, reflects the positive impact that the schemes have had in reducing traffic and air pollution, and shows that they are achieving their goals.  

“We’re delighted with the impact of the neighbourhoods and with the positive feedback we have received from local people, and are determined to continue to take action to make the borough’s streets more environmentally-friendly.” 

Dr Audrey de Nazelle, from Imperial College London's Centre for Environmental Policy, said: “This research effectively disproves the argument that low-traffic zones will necessarily cause an increase in traffic and air pollution in neighbouring streets. 

“In the three areas we looked at, they reduced both traffic volumes and, significantly, air pollution both inside and on the edges of the zone.  

“Alongside the other benefits of LTNs that have been shown in previous research – such as improvements in safety and an increase in walking and cycling – this makes a very strong argument in their favour.” 

Last week, Islington Council announced that, following positive monitoring data and resident feedback, the St Peter’s and Canonbury East people-friendly streets neighbourhoods have been made permanent.  

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