Low Emission Zones: a tool to increase cycling?

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By Kate Samuels, Policy Officer at Cycling Scotland

Why we need them

Low Emission Zones (LEZs) are an opportunity for us to transform our cities towards a sustainable future.

Cycling Scotland strongly supports the principles of LEZs and acknowledges the contribution they can make to encouraging people out of cars and towards more sustainable ways of travelling, including using a bike. This will have the greatest impact on reducing congestion and air pollution.

Originating in the 1990s in Sweden and spreading to many European cities – LEZs have shown great results. Within them, emissions from transport have reduced, and cycling has increased. We’re hugely encouraged to see the cities of Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow all implementing the schemes.

In Scottish cities, this has never been needed more – transport is the biggest polluter: a survey in Glasgow showed that most of the local community felt that the air in Glasgow was not clean enough. This is not surprising, with Hope Street consistently shown as the most polluted street in Scotland year after year. Pollution also needs to be addressed because it’s a social justice issue – it’s much more likely to affect the most vulnerable in our society and those who live in areas of multiple deprivation.

Asthma and Allergy Foundation has lamented the fact that pollution levels are back to pre-pandemic levels, stating that for many people with asthma, city centres are no-go areas.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We know from the pandemic that fewer cars meant more people cycling and we can continue the transformation towards cleaner air and sustainable transport by implementing Low Emission Zones.

Cleaner air for everyone

The biggest benefit of LEZs is cleaner air, which has many benefits beyond health. Reducing pollution helps us reduce inequality and preserve both our environment and heritage. Scotland’s air quality strategy shows the potential of active travel in this, showing a cyclical benefit between active travel, health and cleaner air– the more people are encouraged to walk, wheel and cycle means fewer people use vehicles that cause more greenhouse emissions.

Cycling is better for your health and cleaner air ensures that people are able to participate in everyday society in a healthier way, not exposed to the significant health risks including heart disease, cancer and asthma from polluted air. When our air is cleaner, we know that there is less chance of respiratory conditions being aggravated, we aren’t passing down the legacy of polluted cities to our children and we are encouraging more people to walk, wheel and cycle.

Safer roads

A LEZ linked to improved cycling infrastructure can help people feel more comfortable commuting to work and inspire more children to learn to cycle – we know this because, with a lower number of cars on the road, people can feel safer cycling. Safer roads can support people learning to cycle, whether that's children learning a life skill through Bikeability Scotland, or first-time or returning adults who are rediscovering all the benefits that cycling can bring through adult cycle training. This will benefit all of us because car miles will be reduced, but also because our environment will be cleaner, and our roads will be quieter.

Greener Future

Low Emission Zones are also a bold step toward a greener future – in London, the air quality increased and introducing the zones increased bike hires for shorter journeys.

In Scotland, this could help us reduce car miles – around 50 per cent of journeys are under five kilometres, 30% are under two kilometres and 15% are under one kilometre.

The impact of this modal shift can be the transformation we need. A Low Emission Zone is only one measure towards reducing pollution, but it signals to people that environmental targets are taken seriously and encourages people to use active and sustainable transport for commuting and leisure. LEZs can be a powerful driver for change, and we are looking forward to seeing their impact across Scotland.

Join us on the 4 August to celebrate Cycle to Work Day by sharing your photos on our Twitter, and if you would like to learn more about commuting to work by bike, and how we can support you, please see our website.