When bus drivers strike, air pollution plummets (so what's the lesson?)

the london bus that roared
CC BY 2.0 Bonnie Alter

There are many, many reasons to use public transit, and to build our cities to be friendly to bikes and pedestrians. Yet transit, as it currently stands, is not without its own challenges too.

This fact was highlighted when London's bus drivers recently went on strike. All of a sudden, a city that is notorious for dangerous air pollution, saw a huge drop in air-borne nitrogen oxide. Concentrations around Oxford Street were 58 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3), while the previous four Thursdays saw average levels of 172ug/m3.

Here's how the i100 newspaper reported on the phenomenon:

"Nitrogen dioxide levels on Oxford Street – one of the most polluted roads in the world – were noticeably lower yesterday while a bus strike across the city was going on. This has led to increased calls for Oxford Street to be pedestrianised and for the city to invest in cleaner public transport."

The last part of the quote above is particularly significant.

While I am sure there will be some contrarians and anti-greens crowing at the "dangers of buses", the sensible response – and one which has already been evident in petitions and op-eds and social media feeds across the city – is to call for more, not less, investment in cutting-edge emission-free buses, not to mention other measures to clean up the city.

The foundations are being laid for a much greener, more joined-up approach to London's transportation challenges. The city is moving ahead with impressive cross-city cycling "highways," and is treating biking as another form of mass transport by mandating bike parking. Plus, the city already has a few electric buses and some 98mpg range-extended black cabs hitting the streets.

Here's hoping that the bus strike helps to provide further impetus for this coming transition.

When bus drivers strike, air pollution plummets (so what's the lesson?)
London's recent bus strike has shown just how much air pollution buses cause, giving us one more incentive to invest in 21st century transit.

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