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Childhood asthma is a problem, here’s how cities are working to change that
Julia Johnston

Julia Johnston

The negative health effects of traffic pollution are nothing new. Here’s what cities around the world are doing about it.

An estimated 4 million new cases of asthma will be diagnosed in children each year, and a majority of those cases will occur in cities. This is according to a recent study published in The Lancet Planetary Health journal, but this shocking statistic can be prevented. These 4 million new asthma cases are brought on by nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a pollutant that is associated with traffic.

While CO2 can cause childhood asthma, a reduction in air pollution can help alleviate current cases and prevent new cases from developing.

Two thirds of the world's population will be living in cities in the near future. Now more than ever it’s important to focus on just how severe the effects of pollution are on the most vulnerable in our society.

So how can we improve? Fortunately, new mobility strategies are already at work in cities around the world to enhance air quality and public health and reduce the negative effects brought on by pollutants.

London is already taking steps to curb pollution. A survey found that 72% of Londoners believe those who drive vehicles (diesel or gas) that do not meet emissions standards should be charged. Launched in April of 2019, the Ultra Low Emission Zone (or ULEZ), which currently encompasses central London, charges offenders £12.50 daily (or almost $16 USD). The ULEZ charges are in addition to London’s congestion charges and are in effect 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; making a strong case for travelers to opt for public transportation and bicycles.

Madrid put into place their version of a low-emission zone, Madrid Central, in late November of 2018 to reduce NO2 levels. The area covers nearly all of the popular Centro district, roughly 1,166 acres. The Madrid City Council reports NO2 emissions are 40% lower than they were in April of last year. However, with a new mayor in office, the emissions charge for polluting vehicles is currently suspended.

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In 2000, Tokyo banned commercial diesel vehicles unless certain emissions criteria were met. In addition to better air quality, they’re quite literally seeing a change. In 1999, researchers recorded that from a distance of over 50 miles they were able to observe Mt. Fuji for only around 107 days per year. After the ban went into effect, each year the visibility of Mt. Fuji grew, and in 2017 and 2018, Mt. Fuji was visible for 135 days per year.

As for the United States, there are no low-emissions zones to date, but some cities are on the right track. Springfield and Boston, Massachusetts both rank within the top 10 for American asthma capitals, ranking 1st and 8th respectively by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Cambridge, Massachusetts, which is about 3 miles from Boston, passed a law mandating that all new roads, or those being upgraded, must include permanent bike infrastructure (protected bike lanes); the first of its kind for the nation.

Cities, governments and planners around the world are implementing strategies to make transport work effectively for all walks of life and location technology can help. Whether it’s identifying the best location for a low-emission zone or bike lane or monitoring air quality, location intelligence is a powerful tool when it comes to public health and safety.

Rethinking the way we move has the potential to make a major impact on the lives of those around us, whether it’s a CEO whose commute is powered by an electric bus or her young daughter who can now breathe easy. 

Better, healthier mobility solutions are here, let’s get moving.