Children living in the first London borough to introduce a “Mini Holland” cycling scheme will live longer as a result of reduced pollution levels, experts claimed today.
Researchers at King’s College London predicted five-year-olds in Waltham Forest would each live on average for an extra six weeks. They were born in 2013, when the bike scheme was introduced in Walthamstow.
The borough’s 265,000 residents would benefit, gaining a total of 41,000 years of extra life if air quality continues to improve because of a fall in traffic in residential areas, the study said.
Further rises in life expectancy are expected when a second King’s study looks at the rise in “active travel”, such as walking and cycling. The environmental research group at King’s said Mini Holland could reduce school-run emissions by seven per cent by 2020, when the programme is completed.
Despite the boost the scheme is predicted to give to children’s health, those born in 2013 would still be expected to die six to 10 months earlier than the national average, due to remaining levels of toxic air.
Separate research found that the number of households in Waltham Forest exposed to illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) fell from 58,000 a decade ago to 6,300 last year.
By 2020, the changes should result in NO2 exposure being cut by 15 to 25 per cent, and by six to 13 per cent for particulates (tiny particles).
King’s researcher David Dajnak said: “Waltham Forest’s interventions such as the Mini Holland scheme and additional infrastructure aimed at reducing the dominance of traffic are leading the way for healthier, less-polluted cities.”
The council shared a £100 million fund with Enfield and Kingston to create schemes. Dozens of streets in Walthamstow and Leyton were part- closed to stop rat-running, and 20 mph speed limits were introduced, as well as cycle lanes, 104 improved pedestrian crossings and 15 mini parks.
More than 660 trees have been planted. The study supports work by Dr Rachel Aldred, of Westminster university, who found people walked and cycled more. Clyde Loakes, the deputy leader of Waltham Forest council, said: “The pain we have been through to get real and significant behaviour change and infrastructure change to deliver healthier and more active lifestyles has not been easy.
“This scientific evidence is testament to some of the political decisions we made and some very progressive highways engineering.”
Heidi Alexander, Sadiq Khan’s deputy mayor for transport, said: “Waltham Forest is leading the way in creating healthier streets and we want more boroughs to follow their example.”