The European Commission has designated 2013 as the ‘Year of Air’, with new proposals on improving air quality across Europe. So, now is the perfect time for Birmingham Friends of the Earth to be launching our local campaign, Let’s Get Moving, which will highlight the impact our fossil-fuel based transport system has on air quality, and consequently our health.

The majority of people are aware of the effect that carbon dioxide emissions from transport has on global warming. However, there is far less awareness about the levels of other noxious pollutants, for example, the European Environment Agency (EEA) found that more than 95% of city residents in the European Union regularly breathe ozone levels that exceed the World Health Organisation’s recommended levels.

The disturbing truth is that Birmingham’s citizens are exposed to a potent mix of harmful chemicals in the air on a daily basis directly from the exhausts of cars, taxis and buses, including sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, black carbon and fine particulate matter.

Worryingly, these chemicals increase mortality and illness, with children, the elderly and people with existing respiratory problems particularly at risk. They are a major cause of heart and lung disease, irritate our skin and eyes, and many are carcinogenic. Only smoking causes more early deaths than air pollution in the UK. Who knew?!

There are a number of laws in place to protect the public from dangerous levels of pollution, such as the Clean Air Act and the Air Quality Framework Directive; however, most local authorities are consistently in breach of legal limits.

Let’s Get Moving will be about pushing this issue up the agenda in Birmingham, raising public awareness, engaging with politicians, organisations and individuals to act and, most importantly, offering solutions.

Here’s my top 5 transport asks to kick off the debate:

  • Expand 20 mph zones to all residential areas
  • Encourage public transport use by introducing an ‘Oyster Card’ style smart card across the train, bus and tram network
  • Put pressure on bus companies to clean up their bus fleets by ensuring that all new buses are low emission hybrid, hydrogen or electric models
  • Invest in suburban rail services; reopening the stations on the South Birmingham line between Kings Norton and Moor Street
  • Make cycling safer and more attractive by expanding Birmingham’s network of ‘Greenways’, improving cycling infrastructure and encouraging ‘bike trains’