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Huge improvement in air quality levels on city’s roads

Traffic on Vaughan Way

AIR quality in Leicester has improved dramatically in the last two weeks due to the huge reduction in the amount of traffic during the nationwide coronavirus lockdown.

The drastic fall in the number of cars on the city’s streets has seen levels of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) – one of the chief pollutants from traffic fumes – plummet to over half its previous levels.

Air quality monitoring stations throughout the city have recorded big reductions in pollution levels since the Government’s coronavirus lockdown came into effect on March 23.

Figures comparing the same weeks in March 2019 and March 2020 show how NO2 levels began to fall drastically from the third week of the month, when more people began working from home, and fell further during the last week of March 2020 when the full lockdown began, with schools, offices and many other businesses closing.

At Vaughan Way – one of the city’s busiest roads and an air quality hotspot – NO2 levels in the third week of March fell to 34 microgrammes per cubic metre of air – compared to 62 during the same week in 2019. By the end of March, after the first full week of the lockdown – levels had fallen to just 24 microgrammes – less than half of the 58 level recorded during the same week the year before.

Last week, NO2 levels fell further to 22 microgrammes – the lowest level ever recorded at Vaughan Way. Other testing stations have recorded a similar pattern of improvement across the city.

Nationally many large cities across the UK have seen dramatic falls in levels of both nitrogen dioxide and other small particulate matter – called PM10 particles – linked to traffic fumes.

Leicester deputy city mayor for the environment, Cllr Adam Clarke, said: “Obviously this improvement in air quality is really good news for everyone living in Leicester, and is a welcome ray of sunshine in what is otherwise a worrying global pandemic.

“I’d like to thank people for heeding the safety message to stay home and not to make unnecessary journeys.

“Having cleaner, fresher air to breathe in the city couldn’t come at a more important time, as we are faced with the risk of potentially severe respiratory illness caused by coronavirus.

“The improvement in air quality can only serve to help people with existing health problems, such as asthmatics and other ongoing respiratory issues. And those of us who can get outdoors to take exercise within the Government’s guidelines, the air quality is noticeably better.

“Obviously we don’t expect pollution levels to remain this low once the lockdown is eased and life eventually returns to normal – but the improvements to air quality do offer a tantalising glimpse of how things could be if we all thought a bit more carefully about whether or not our daily car journeys are essential, and if more people used cleaner, healthier forms of transport such as cycling and walking more often.”

The city council has just announced a scheme – called Bike Aid – involving local bike shops and other cycling organisations to make free bicycles available to key workers who rely on transport to carry out their jobs. 

Funded by the council and with donations from local bikes shops, businesses, Sustrans and British Cycling, the scheme has already provided 15 bikes for key workers – mostly from the NHS – since its launch on April 3, with 50 more bikes now being made available.