More on Air Pollution from the BBC and Closure of Beech Street

The latest piece of air pollution propaganda from the BBC was a television report that air pollution may affect your brain. This was based on a recently published Chinese study that long-term exposure to air pollution “could be linked to cognitive performance” (see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-45326598 for the written version of the BBC’s report).

As is common with air pollution studies, this is based on an epidemiological study that showed that people who have lived in heavily polluted areas for a long time show less cognitive function on simple tests of math and verbal skills. It also suggests that there are differences in the impact between sex, age and education of the study participants which seems unexpected but they explain that as being affecting mostly men who have worked outside for long periods. The study was done in China where air pollution is of course a serious problem – for example Beijing has much worse air pollution that western cities such as London. The paper was published by the US National Academy of Sciences.

There is of course no evidence linking the possible causes to the effect and it could simply be that the selected participants suffer from the work they did, or the lack of mental exercise they took (cognitive functions decline if not used).

In summary, the scientific paper is just that and it is wrong to extrapolate it to suggest people in London or other cities are likely to be affected. Or is the report explained by BBC reporters spending too much time standing on College Green near Parliament Square, where they like to do interviews, and breathing in too much hot air? It certainly seems to be the case that talking about air pollution too much damages your brain.

Beech Street Closure

The City of London Corporation is still keen to tackle the problem of air pollution in Beech Street – this is the road that runs underneath the Barbican in a tunnel and is a key east-west route within the City. The only other alternative routes are via Old Street or City Wall which are both heavily congested. But Beech Street is one of the most heavily polluted roads in London for NOX emissions.

There are several options being considered. That includes restricting the road to Ultra Low Emission Vehicles (ULEV) only, closing the road in both directions (but leaving access to the Barbican car parks) or just closing in the East-West or West-East directions. Traffic modelling of the possible closures is being considered but it would require building a large new model of traffic flows.

But the impact of a full closure is already known because in March 2018 the road was closed for 5 days. Average journey times on the roads north and south of Beech Street increased by 23%.

The report on this subject which is being considered by Corporation Committees in early September notes the likely objections from many City business and residents to any closure though.

Comment: It would be unfortunate if yet another key road in the City is closed to traffic. The road network in the City of London has been degraded substantially in recent years by road closures such as that of Bank Junction. Could the air pollution in Beech Street not be tackled by a forced ventilation system? But there is no mention of that being considered in the Corporation’s report.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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