Cities aim to reduce car use in a bid to eradicate air pollution –

European cities are putting in place measures to reduce toxic emissions from vehicles in a bid to improve air quality and save lives.

Dozens of European city dwellers have died prematurely due to poor air quality, studies show. The European Environment Agency (EEA) estimates that some 307,000 people in Europe died prematurely from exposure to fine particles in 2019 alone.

The EEA has called air pollution “Europe’s biggest environmental health risk”. The list of diseases inflamed by chronic exposure to air pollution includes respiratory problems, lung cancer, heart disease and stroke.

Most deaths from poor air quality are concentrated in cities, where residents tend to live next to heavy traffic.

The urban dimension of these health problems places local communities in the front line. While air quality standards are agreed in Brussels and in national parliaments, it is usually up to public authorities to enact them.

Ensuring that citizens breathe clean air is essential for cities to remain attractive places to live, according to Thomas Lymes, policy adviser to the EUROCITIES network of cities.

Reducing air pollution is “a matter of social justice for governments because the people most affected by air pollution are low-income households who mostly live next to major urban roads and corridors transportation,” he told EURACTIV.

Reduce the pollution

To combat harmful pollutants from cars, cities across the continent have adopted different programs, with the removal of vehicles from the streets as the common denominator.

In practice, this often means replacing car use with alternative means of transport such as bicycles and promoting zero-emission vehicles, such as electric cars and buses.

The French capital has made significant investments in expanding cycling infrastructure, with the aim of becoming one of the most cycle-friendly cities in the world. Mayor Anne Hidalgo wants Paris to be “100% cycleable” by 2026.

To achieve this, Paris will install 180 kilometers of separate cycle paths, Bloomberg reported. Already, the reallocation of space from cars to cyclists has led to a significant increase in the number of daily bicycle trips.

In Brussels, the capital well known for its congested boulevards, the city is offering residents €900 to give up their car. The money can be spent on buying a bike, buying a public transport pass or joining a car-sharing service.

London has taken the controversial step of taxing those who drive polluting vehicles to enter certain parts of the city. Vehicles that fail to meet emission standards must pay £12.50 a day to enter the UK capital’s Ultra Low Emission Zones (ULEZ). In practice, only the most recent diesel vehicles are eligible.

Under plans proposed by Mayor Sadiq Khan, ULEZ will be extended to London by the end of 2023, a move that will encourage the purchase of low-emission vehicles and greater walking and cycling.

However, even with the rise of clean vehicles, emissions will not be completely eradicated.

Non-polluting particles

Non-exhaust particles from brakes and tires are less well known than tailpipe particles, but are just as toxic, according to Matteo Barisione, policy officer at the European Public Health Alliance.

One of the most alarming developments is the trend toward larger vehicles, Barisione said.

“Vehicle weight and non-exhaust emissions are correlated,” he said. “Reducing the size and mass of vehicles reduces emissions of harmful pollutants as well as their CO2 emissions, the life cycle ecological footprint and the risk of road accidents.”

While legislation regulating these emissions is needed, the best way to solve the problem is to simply drive less, Barisione says.

Euro 7 Rules

Euro 7, an upcoming regulation setting European vehicle pollution standards, will be expanded to include brake particles for the first time.

Car industry lobby group ACEA indicated openness to new brake emissions rules, but said more needs to be done “to improve the repeatability and reproducibility” of the proposed measurement procedure.

“ACEA is not opposed to a regulation on brake wear particle emissions. However, a stable and representative test is a prerequisite for determining the actual level of brake wear emissions, and then for deciding on appropriate limit levels,” an ACEA spokesperson told EURACTIV.

Automakers have also expressed concerns that mandatory changes to brake standards could impact their efficiency.

However, Tallano, a French start-up that produces filters to remove brake dust from vehicles, argues solutions can be applied that don’t impact the brakes.

“The technology exists to reduce brake dust without reducing brake efficiency,” said Christophe Rocca-Serra, the founder of Tallano. “Products like ours, which capture particles at source by suction, pose no risk to brake efficiency,” he told EURACTIV.

Clean mobility NGO Transport & Environment (T&E) is strongly in favor of a rapid switch to electric vehicles, stressing that electric vehicles will significantly reduce air pollution.

Anna Krajinska, emissions engineer at Transport & Environment, points out that when all vehicle-related sources of particulates are considered, electric vehicles still produce less particulate pollution than vehicles with internal combustion engines.

T&E is urging the European Commission to set the highest standards possible in the upcoming Euro 7 regulations.

“In the interest of people’s health, it is essential that all sources of particulate pollution from all vehicles are addressed as soon as possible,” Krajinska told EURACTIV.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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