Today, clean air is far too often taken for granted. People regularly jump in their cars, making short and unnecessary journeys without thinking of the wider consequences to local air quality.
Not long ago severe smogs were commonplace across the UK and Europe in urban areas. One particular event in 1952 lead to the premature death of around four thousand people, forcing the government to pay attention to this very visible environmental problem. So infamous were these smog's, they became immortalised in fiction by authors such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in Sherlock Holmes, and also in paintings, such as Monet's 1904 painting, 'Sun breaking through the fog'.
The number of vehicles owned and the number of kilometres travelled has increased dramatically over the past few decades, with the rate of increase in vehicle number far outstripping the population growth rate. People don't really connect their individual car journeys with the bigger picture. Is it going to take another 1952-like episode before people begin to change their habits and start finding alternative forms of transport?
Many local authorities across the UK have declared Air Quality Management Areas. These are areas that have not met the required standards and objectives set out in the National Air Quality Strategy. These problem areas are not just confined to large conurbations such as London and Birmingham, small historic cities such as York are also finding air quality issues.
Attention is now being focused on methods of alleviating the air quality problems in urban areas. London has taken the lead with congestion charging from which other UK cities may follow. The City of York Council has already introduced 'Park and Ride' facilities, extended and improved cycle routes and has encouraged in-house car share schemes. But will schemes such as these be enough to combat poor air quality in our local areas?