A transport dystopia?
Here at C=CC we love Cardiff. We love being able to cycle in and around our capital city. However, like many developed towns and cities, Cardiff has its challenges, and several of these are linked to current transport in and around the city.
Currently, road transport is responsible for 40% of C02e (Carbon Dioxide equivalent) emissions in Cardiff; the joint highest figure among the UK “core” cities including Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, and Sheffield 1.
More widely, transportation is responsible for more than a quarter of the United Kingdom’s total greenhouse gas emissions and has been the most polluting sector in the UK since 2016 23. It’s also a sector in which many of us can effect change.
Welsh Government have declared a climate emergency. Cardiff Council have declared a climate emergency. They are right to. Global warming is already killing people.
It’s estimated that globally there are already around 3.3 – 3.6 billion people “highly vulnerable” to climate change 10.
Flooding due to adverse weather kills people. In the Pakistan floods in the Summer of 2022 1739 people died and 2.1 million were made homeless 6, 7. Wildfires kill people. Crop failures due to extreme heat and the failure of seasonal rainfall kills people. Heat waves kill people. Even close to home in Wales and England, the excess mortality during the heat-waves of June, July and August 2022 is estimated to be 3,271 deaths 8. If global warming isn’t tackled it’s estimated that UK heat-related deaths will reach 7,040 deaths every year by 2050 9.
Many of us would agree that Cardiff is a congested city. Addressing congestion has been identified as a high priority by Cardiff residents in the Council’s annual surveys 1.
The cost of congestion to the economy in Cardiff was estimated to be £109 million in 2019 11. Yet Cardiff is growing faster than Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, and Sheffield, and is projected to grow by more than 20% over the next 20 years 15. Thus, we ignore Cardiff’s congestion at our peril.
Reducing Cardiff congestion would improve everyone’s ability to get where they need to be in a timely manner, including emergency vehicles, and would have a positive impact on air quality and greenhouse gas emissions. It would also just be more pleasant!
Mention poor city air quality and maybe some of the high profile examples in India, China and other far flung countries spring to mind. But sadly poor air quality is a reality in Cardiff too. And the way many of us travel around the city contributes significantly.
Exhaust emissions from petrol and diesel vehicles include a range of Carbon Monoxide, Carbon Dioxide, Hydrocarbon and Nitrogen Oxide gases, plus particulate matter. Even wholly electric vehicles (EVs) aren’t immune from air quality problems, with wear to tyres and brake materials causing particulate pollution just like their petrol and diesel equivalents. This cocktail of nasties all too easily finds its way into the lungs of those who live, work, visit or study in Cardiff. The resulting ill-health effects include impacts on lung development in children, heart disease, stroke, cancer, exacerbation of asthma and increased mortality.
People with chronic lung conditions are more likely to be susceptible to the effects of air pollution 1. Wales has a higher prevalence of asthma than the European average, with 7% of adults and 6% of children aged 10-14 diagnosed with asthma 1. More than 9,000 Cardiff residents are registered with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) 1.
Already 5% of all deaths in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan are estimated to be due to air pollution 5. No doubt the figure within the city itself is higher.
Around one-in-seven (14%) of adults reported being treated for a mental illness in the 2014 and 2015 Welsh Health Survey 18. The COVID-19 pandemic and cost of living crisis since these findings are unlikely to have improved the situation.
Decades of shaping our city streets for motor vehicles have left many of them stripped of greenery, choked with vehicles and the air and noise pollution they create, plus littered with parked vehicles (on and off the pavements). It’s not good for nature or human well-being.
Nation-wide surveys in Wales demonstrate significant levels of inactivity amongst adults 12. The same is true amongst our children. In a few short generations we’ve transitioned from a nation where many people walked or cycled to a manual job, to one where car use predominates and relatively few of us have a job that entails manual labour.
The result is sadly unsurprising.
In Wales around half of us don’t meet Welsh Government’s physical activity recommendations that adults should aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week 12. At least 61% of adults in Wales are now classified as overweight, including 25% who are obese 12. Wales’ children are among the most inactive in the World according to a global study involving 60 countries 13.
Our modern inactive lifestyles contribute to ill health, disability, mental health issues and premature deaths due to cancer, heart disease, liver disease and diabetes 14.
The annual UK government and NHS cost of the physical inactivity epidemic 3 is estimated to be £7.4 billion.
Many of us in Cardiff own or have access to a car. But that’s by no means the case for everyone. The lowest levels of car ownership in Cardiff are amongst young people, the elderly, people with a disability, those living in the poorest parts of the city and those from a minority ethnic background. Wales-wide, 19% of Welsh households do not own a car 21.
Women are also less likely to have access to a car than men.
Transport poverty robs people of the ability to access jobs, education, health and other services. This lack of adequate transport services, or the inability to pay for these transport services, makes it more difficult for people to lift themselves out of poverty or lead the lifestyles many of us take for granted.
In the UK there’s also a strong inverse relationship between poverty and emissions generation 20, so our poorest communities with the lowest levels of car use are frequently amongst the most polluted by vehicular traffic.
Remember the early lockdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic? Remember hearing the quiet streets, bird song and rustling of wind in the trees? Was it just us, or was the low levels of traffic noise one of the silver linings of an otherwise challenging period?
Exposure to environmental noise, including that from traffic, is now known to harm human health; health risks include sleep disturbance, poor performance and learning, mental health problems, stress, cardiovascular disease and reduced quality of life 16.
Environmental Noise Mapping 2017, Welsh Government
There’s a high price to pay for the transport habits and infrastructure we’ve adopted across Wales over decades. On average there are around 100 road deaths and 1000 serious injuries on Welsh roads every year 2; every statistic means lives blighted.
In 2020, as COVID-19 rules restricted travel, the number of people killed or seriously injured on Wales’ roads fell by 31% compared with 2019 17. Cycling increased by 68% over the same period 17.
And just to put some of the occasional tabloid hysteria regarding cycling in context: The number of people killed by motor vehicle annually on the pavement (not the road) averages 66 (across England and Wales), whilst the average number of people killed by cyclists, in total, is less than 1 3.
A modern panacea
So, despite our love of Cardiff here at C=CC, we’re frustrated by its transport challenges. How many of us get around the city blights our present and future.
We need a healthier Cardiff. We need a more equal Cardiff. We need a more globally responsible Cardiff. We need a Cardiff that’s a better custodian of natural habitats and biodiversity. We need a Cardiff that delivers a better legacy for its future residents, workers and visitors.
We must challenge the orthodoxy that still affords car transport a special place 19. We have to plan, develop and implement infrastructure and policies that make the use of active travel and public transport the default option 19.
And whilst improved public transport very much has a part to play, every single one of these weighty transport challenges benefits from more journeys undertaken by bicycle. It’s a modern panacea: It contributes little to global warming. It has a far higher throughput of people than private motor vehicles, so combats traffic congestion. Its contribution to air quality issues or noise pollution is practically zero. Cycling can also boost your mood, improving the symptoms of some mental health conditions like depression and anxiety 22. Cycling can play a key part in alleviating sedentary lifestyles, with the associated burden on health and NHS costs. Cycling can help combat transport inequality. And road casualties numbers attributable to cycling are miniscule.
Sources: 1 Cardiff Council, 2 UK Department for Transport, 3 Chris Boardman, 4 Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID), 5 Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, 6 The National Disaster Management Authority, 7 ReliefWeb, 8 Office for National Statistics, 9 The Third UK Climate Change Risk Assessment Technical Report, 10 AR6 Synthesis Report IPCC, 11 Inrix, 12 Welsh Government National Survey for Wales, 13 Swansea University ‘2021 Active Healthy Kids (AHK) Wales Report Card’, 14 Welsh Government ‘Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales’, 15 Eurocities.eu, 16 Public Health Wales, 17 Stats Wales, 18 Welsh Health Survey, Welsh Government, 19 National Infrastructure Commission Wales, 20 Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment (Elsevier),21 Office for National Statistics Census 2021, 22 NHS Inform, 23 Statista (Ian Tiseo, Transportations emissions in the UK – Statistics & Facts).