Interest Group calls for targeted air quality improvement

November 17 2017

A meeting of leading experts in using Intelligent Transport Systems to help improve the environment has called for a targeted approach to the worst-affected areas rather than chasing an overall reduction in average levels of harmful pollutants.

The ITS (UK) Smart Environment Interest Group heard that the industry has achieved significant advancements in understanding data and smoothing traffic flows using signal timings, but that it is actually the automotive industry itself which has had the biggest effect on transport emissions, as it works to make engines cleaner.

The meeting, hosted by Amey in Birmingham, heard from a number of presenters about a variety of subjects including Scotland’s Low Emissions Zones, Highways England’s Air Quality Strategy and what is being done in the West Midlands and Greater Manchester.

Presentations included one which shared data suggesting that regulating speeds has a much smaller effect on air quality than previously thought and that some attempts to smooth flows on main roads has simply led to a greater traffic build-up on side roads leading to harmful emissions where people live.

It was agreed that the areas which have the worse air quality should be targeted for maximum benefits, rather than simply trying to improve quality across-the-board because that does not have as much of a net improvement. Attendees heard that part of the ITS industry’s role should be to use data it collects to help change people’s attitudes and understanding about why things have to change and that the industry itself must work more collaboratively to achieve this, but that ultimately change must be government-led.

Furthermore, a whole new approach to transport was called for. Interest Group chair, Professor Margaret Bell of Newcastle University said, “Understanding the scale of the problem we are facing is very important. Given that we have the target of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 67 per cent by 2050 over 2010 levels, business as usual is not an option. That is non-negotiable. We know that we can help reduce emissions but the key thing we must do is reduce the vehicle kilometres travelled.

“The win-win for carbon and air quality is going to be really tough to deliver and I see that where ITS should be going in the future is in demand management, actually reducing the traffic on the road and the data we are collecting needs to educate people as to why we should be doing this.”

ITS (UK) Secretary General Jennie Martin added, “While the meeting confirmed that we still face many environmental challenges, it is heartening to see the number of ways intelligent transport systems are helping us deliver a more sustainable, environmentally-friendly future.”

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