Clearing the air: How traffic technology is driving cleaner cities

Climate change has led to recent unprecedented, extreme weather events, which in turn has caused a decline in air quality. The destructive Canada wildfires have led to much of the nation and as far as the Eastern coast of the US being covered by smoke, with the US issuing air quality warnings affecting over 100 million people. The wildfires and spread of smoke across the region have sparked global alarm and concern for air quality worldwide.

An increase in pollutants and emissions from vehicles has also been a major factor in poor air quality, leading to respiratory illnesses and disease. Causing over 36,000 deaths in the UK every year, air pollution is the largest environmental health risk we face today.

With people calling for change, the government has implemented strategies and regulations to reduce pollutants, in an effort to improve both health and the ozone layer. Technology is also playing a part in helping with this issue, with innovative AI sensors monitoring road traffic and air quality.

Declining air quality: How both weather and transport can impact the air we breathe

Transport is the largest emitting sector of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 28% of all emissions. Vehicle emissions include dangerous pollutants and chemicals, which heavily contributes to global warming. Not only are these emissions negatively impacting the environment, but our health as well. Air pollution contributes to one in eight deaths globally.

Dramatic weather events are also detrimental to levels of non-polluting active travel. Even common weather events, such as wind, allows air pollution to be easily transported from one area to another. This can be seen from the Canadian wildfires previously mentioned, as wind has carried smoke across the continent.

Erratic weather is also a blocker for non-polluting active travel, as it prevents people from choosing to walk or cycle. Data reveals that footfall is strongly impacted by weather conditions, and that the numbers are notably lower on days of weather alerts. If there is a great storm or clouds of smoke, the chances of someone willingly cycling to work or walking around town is highly unlikely, and they will more often than not choose to drive instead.

Negative consequences may also arise from the amalgamation of weather and transportation. For instance, in colder climates cars left idling to defrost and/or maintain heat leads to an increase in emissions.

The government’s air quality strategy: What does this look like?

Earlier this year, the UK government released a new air quality strategy, outlining a framework for local authorities and encouraging them to take preventative action. One popular response from local authorities is the implementation of a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) or an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ).

A Clean Air Zone is an area within a city where a local authority has brought measures into place to improve the air quality. Sheffield City Council recently introduced a class C chargeable CAZ, targeting the most polluting heavy goods vehicles (HGVs), light goods vehicles (LGVs), vans, buses, coaches and taxis that drive in the zone. In order to effectively monitor the impact of the zone, Sheffield has implemented a network of traffic and air quality sensors across the area.

Adopting Clean Air Zones, such as this one, represents a progressive stride towards achieving cleaner air and healthier lives. While the Clean Air Zone alone cannot be a cure-all solution for attaining safe air quality, it will undeniably contribute positively to overall health.

Traffic technology’s role

Traffic technology can play a role in reducing the negative effects of pollution and improving overall air quality. Innovative sensors can be installed at busy road junctions to detect congestion, road-user type, near miss hotspots, and air quality levels. This data can be used by local authorities in order to improve and optimise the selected junctions.

For instance, let’s say a sensor has determined that a specific junction is a near miss hotspot. As a result, the number of pedestrians and cyclists as road-users has decreased. The local authority can then use the data collected to optimise that junction and encourage active travel. This in turn will help with the reduction of polluting emissions and improve air quality.

The data collected from these sensors is invaluable for local authorities looking to deliver an improved standard of living to their community and contribute to the government’s long-term air quality goals. Transport technology has the capability to reduce emissions, decarbonise transport, and help achieve Net Zero targets.

Net Zero: How it can be achieved

An additional strategy the UK government has introduced is Net Zero, with the aim to achieve carbon neutrality by the year 2050. Optimising infrastructure to reduce motorised vehicle emissions by encouraging modal shift to active travel and reducing congestion with the support of high quality data, offers great opportunities and best hope to meet goals.

The climate crisis affects all of us. Amidst recent catastrophic events, the importance of clean air is unwavering. But what can be done?

Some ways we can take charge to reduce pollutants from a transport perspective are continuing to work on reducing pollutants in vehicles, implementing traffic and air quality sensors, introducing Clean Air Zones, and promoting and encouraging active travel.

Mark Nicholson is CEO & Co-Founder of VivaCity


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Help us break the news – share your information, opinion or analysis
Back to top