Robertson Road Easton traffic

Air quality in Easton

Improving Easton’s air quality. Really?

Claim that Easton Safer Streets will tackle air quality problems doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny.

We’ve recently become aware of a new strand appearing in this debate, suggesting that the Easton Safer Streets (ESS) proposals are intended to tackle air pollution problems in Easton. It’s possible to view this as a rather clumsy attempt to hitch this up to wider current concerns about air quality in Bristol. In fact, the most likely outcome of implementing the ESS plans would be further degradation of Easton’s air quality, not an improvement.

There’s no question that Bristol as a whole faces immense challenges with air quality. But the greatest impact of air pollution from road traffic tends to be highly localised and centred on the busiest roads.

Local pressure group RADE (Residents Against Dirty Energy, who successfully fought off the proposal to install diesel generators in St Philips) have provided a very accurate map showing the levels of air pollution in Easton (this uses mobile, on-street sensor readings, as well as using the existing static air quality monitors, and was produced by Leicester University’s Earthsense). It is immediately clear that the worst of the problem is created by the M32, the Stapleton and Fishponds Roads, and other major arterials such as Easton Way. This comes as no surprise, as these routes carry a huge traffic load and are frequently subject to backed-up, idling traffic queues. Previously available Air Quality Mapping showed the same thing, but lacked the high resolution now available. When you see this more detailed view what’s striking is the rapid reduction in pollution once you move further into Easton’s quiet residential streets.

(Click on image to open a full-size version in lightbox)

Earthsense NO2 pollution map Easton Bristol

If you live alongside, or within a few hundred yards of, these main roads – as many of Easton’s residents do – then pushing yet more traffic onto these routes, and creating longer delays on the critical pinch points where routes out of Easton feed into them, is not going to be a welcome development for you.

Yet, this is precisely what the road closure dimension of the ESS proposals would do. Fewer ways of moving around Easton, road closures that will require traffic to leave the area and join these already congested arterial routes simply to move from one side of Easton to the other, and an increased traffic load on the main routes that remain open through the area, leading to further delays and tailbacks extending further into Easton’s streets. None of the roads that will bear this extra pollution load have been given any consideration in the ESS proposals. If you happen to live on one of these streets (for instance Robertson Road) then, well, tough luck, your air quality is only going to deteriorate.

Meanwhile the rest of Easton will also see more pollution and the journeys within Easton will be longer and more congested. Current thinking about reducing vehicle pollution is that it is better to keep traffic flowing smoothly, aiming to minimise braking/acceleration cycles and sustained idling periods. One of the most awkward contradictions about traffic calming measures, such as speed humps and chicanes, is that whilst they may slow down traffic it’s been proven that the penalty is a huge increase in ambient air pollution on those roads.

Easton Safer Streets’ claims being made about Easton’s air pollution issues are not actually supported by reliable evidence. The council’s air quality monitoring points are limited to a number of locations, and results are then projected across the rest of the area by computer modelling, which lacks the detail that the new mapping has.

There’s also another significant contributor to Easton’s air quality problems, one that has received no consideration whatsoever: that ubiquitous lifestyle accessory the wood-burning stove. We don’t know how many of these are installed in the area, but the latest research suggests that their impact is far from benign. The soot expelled from burning wood produces very harmful tiny particulates (known as PM 2.5 particles) that are amongst the most harmful to health, particularly that of children. Yet no attempt has been made to include these devices in a discussion about Easton’s air quality. It’s so much simpler to just demonise the cars.

Do not be seduced by the simplistic, emotive appeals being made about the ESS proposals improving Easton’s air quality; there is no convincing data that supports these claims. Worse, they risk obscuring the real, likely consequences of these plans, which you and your family will be breathing in.