Children living in the London Borough of Waltham Forest are predicted to see their life expectancy increase by an average of six weeks due to its introduction of a award-winning Mini Holland initiative aimed at cutting motor traffic and increasing levels of cycling and walking.
The prediction was made by researchers at King’s College London and applies to five-year-olds in the north east London borough who were born in 2013, the year the £30 million Mini Holland scheme began to be implemented, reports the London Evening Standard.
The study, which you can read here (link is external), was commissioned by Waltham Forest Council from the Environmental Research Group at King’s and is entitled Air Quality: concentrations, exposure and attitudes in Waltham Forest.
A second report to be published later this month will examine additional health benefits due to the greater levels of physical activity in the borough in the past five years.
Lead researcher David Dajnak said: “Waltham Forest’s interventions such as Mini-Holland scheme and additional infrastructure aimed at reducing the dominance of motor traffic is leading the way for healthier, less polluted cities.
“It is only through innovation and changes in behaviour that we can hope to make the London of the future a less polluted and congested city than it is today.”
The Mini Holland scheme has resulted in 39 roads being closed to rat-running motorists (two on a part-time basis), the introduction of 22 kilometres of protected cycle lanes, 15 pocket parks and 104 improved pedestrian crossings as the council has sought to prioritise people on bike and on foot.
Speed limits have been reduced to 20 miles per hour on most residential roads as well as on some main routes, and some 660 trees have been planted.
According to researchers, the council’s interventions to date could result in a 7 per cent fall in harmful emissions during the school run period of 8am-9am between 2013 and 2020.
They highlighted the borough’s residents moving away from cars and towards cycling, walking and using public transport to get around as a major factor, a modal shift highlighted recently in research by Dr Rachel Aldred of the University of Westminster.
Councillor Clyde Loakes, deputy leader of Waltham Forest Council and cabinet member for the environment, commented: “It’s always been clear to us that improving our neighbourhoods to encourage more walking and cycling through the Enjoy Waltham Forest programme will have significant benefits for our residents, especially for their health.
“Now we have independent evidence that it is improving air quality, extending life expectancy and encouraging people to be more active.
“I thank the experts from King’s and Westminster universities for showing that our efforts have not been in vain.”
However, he warned that the council could not rest on its laurels.
“Getting people to leave their cars behind and walk or use a bike is naturally going to improve their health and air quality for everyone,” he said.
“All of this recent research shows that we are on the right track, but this doesn’t mean that we are complacent, because we know that there’s still more that needs to be done.
“I don’t want any of our residents to be over-exposed to air pollution and we will be looking at how we can make more of a difference to our residents’ lives going forward.”
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s deputy mayor for transport, Heidi Alexander, said: “The Mayor is doing all he can to help clean up our toxic air, including investing a record £2.2 billion in making London’s streets more attractive to people who want to walk and cycle.
“Waltham Forest is leading the way on creating healthier streets and we want more boroughs to follow their example. Investing in local infrastructure not only improves road safety, but has a direct impact on public health as well.
“This is important for all of us, but especially the next generation.“