Councils urged not to compromise road safety for air quality

Transport safety, sustainability and cycling campaign groups have called for councils not to overlook road safety measures as they draw up plans to reduce air pollution.

In particular campaigners have urged caution in considering measures such as removing speed humps in a bid to improve traffic flow.

Councils have been urged not to compromise road safety by removing measures such as road humps when seeking to improve air quality

The comments follow the publication of the government’s plan for reducing nitrogen dioxide emissions from roadsides in towns and cities across England last week (see story).

Within the plan, the government set a deadline for a number of local authorities to draw up their own local plan for dealing with emissions by December 2018.

The plan also points local authorities to the government’s Clean Air Zone Framework, published in May, which sets out principles for councils to follow when seeking to reduce emissions in areas with high levels of air pollution.


In particular, the framework suggests that local authorities should consider: “Improving road layouts and junctions to optimise traffic flow, for example by considering removal of road humps.”

Evidence that road humps could contribute to air pollution had been considered during the drafting of guidance by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), published in December 2016, which set out potential measures aimed at improving air pollution around roads.

In drawing up the guidance NICE had received evidence that: “…physical speed reduction measures like humps and bumps suggested that individual measures may increase motor vehicle emissions by encouraging decelerations and accelerations.”

However, following a review of evidence, NICE later concluded that “evidence from area-wide schemes does not back this up,” and in its final guidance suggested that reducing speed limits in residential areas could reduce road danger, injuries and air pollution.


In a statement this week, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) has urged councils to ‘think carefully’ before considering the removal of speed humps as a measure to improve air pollution.

PACTS claimed that speed humps are proven to be one of the most effective and inexpensive forms of speed control and have prevented ‘large numbers’ of deaths and injuries.

Responding to the air quality plan, PACTS executive director David Davies, said: “Some sources are suggesting that removing speed humps is the answer to improving air quality. There may be a small number of specific locations where this is justified. In fact, well designed and well-maintained humps and other devices can smooth traffic flows and keep speeds down, which should improve air quality. There is a case for spending more on these measures, not ripping them out.”


Campaign for Better Transport and Cycling UK have also voiced concerns over a potential compromise in road safety measures, in a joint letter to Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, published today. In the letter, the organisations also advocated spending on bus retrofits to reduce emissions, and expressed ‘regret at the low priority’ given to charging-based Clean Air Zones.

On the potential removal of traffic calming measures the groups said: “We are alarmed by the strategy’s proposals to encourage the removal of traffic calming measures. We recognise the relationship between speed control and air pollution, noting that Highways England has recently introduced speed restrictions on the M1 near Sheffield in order to help address air quality problems.

“Removing speed control measures such as speed bumps from local streets would be at best an expensive diversion from addressing air quality and at worst a dangerous and retrograde measure. Local councils and the communities they serve have introduced speed control measures to make streets safer, particularly in areas around schools.

“It is not acceptable to reduce safety in order to improve air quality, nor is it necessary. Air pollution hotspots arise from high volumes of traffic on major routes, not traffic calmed neighbourhoods.”

The letter also called for government to provide any evidence that the removal of speed humps would improve air quality and that this outweighs any possible public health disbenefits due to increased road injuries and fatalities.


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