A study by the University of Surrey found pollution levels were 29 times higher when vehicles were stuck at red lights compared to free flowing conditions
Drivers in Guildford are exposed to dangerously high levels of air pollution when stopped at red lights on heavily congested roads in the town, according to new research.
A study published by the University of Surrey monitored motorists’ exposure to air pollutants at various points of a journey around Guildford’s roads.
The most highly-polluted areas were around the Guildford gyratory at the traffic lights by the back entrance to the Friary Shopping Centre, and along Ladymead near the intersection with Parkway.
The researchers said that traffic intersections with signals were found to be high pollution hot spots due to the frequent changes in driving conditions.
With drivers decelerating and stopping at lights, then revving up to move quickly when the lights turn green, peak particle concentration was found to be 29 times higher than that during free flowing traffic conditions.
As well as concentration, researchers found that as cars tend to be closer together at lights, the likelihood of exposure to vehicle emissions is also significantly increased.
“Air pollution was recently placed in the top ten health risks faced by human beings globally, with the World Health Organization linking air pollution to seven million premature deaths every year,” said lead author of the research, Dr Prashant Kumar, from the University of Surrey.
“Our time spent travelling in cars has increased by more than 10% in the last 10 years and with more cars than ever on the roads, we are being exposed to increasing levels of air pollution as we undertake our daily commutes.
“It’s not always possible to change your route to avoid these intersections, but drivers should be aware of the increased risks at busy lights.”
Road vehicles emit polluting nanoparticles which are said to contribute to respiratory and heart diseases.
Dr Kumar said the best ways to limit exposure to the dangerous fumes was to keep vehicle windows shut, turn off fans, and try to increase the distance between the car in front wherever possible.
“Pedestrians regularly crossing such routes should consider whether there might be other paths less dependent on traffic light crossings,” Dr Kumar said.
“Local transport agencies could also help by synchronising traffic signals to reduce waiting times and consider alternative traffic management systems such as flyovers.”
The report estimates that commuters in the UK spend an average of around 1.5 hours a day behind the wheel, and Surrey is known to be a commuter county.
Traffic is often brought to a standstill on Ladymead and in the town centre during rush hour, and this also impacts onto the A3 causing further delays and jams.
Researchers at the Guildford university said that where drivers spend just 2% of their journey time passing through traffic intersections managed by lights, this short duration contributes to about 25% of total exposure to these harmful particles.
Other pollution hotspots in Guildford included Worplesdon Road leading up to the roundabout with York Road and at the traffic lights at the intersection with Stoke Road and Nightingale Road.
Last year, investment of £2.7million was confirmed for the Guildford Gyratory Project, with Surrey County Council and Guildford Borough Council drafting a plan with the view to make improvements.
Several proposals have also been made to alleviate traffic pressures in the centre, including new roads and a tunnel underneath the town.
In a proposal by Guildford Vision Group (GVG), they argued that by removing traffic from the town centre, not only would the centre become more attractive as a destination, but it could lead to a new residential focus for the area either side of the River Wey, from Ladymead to Dapdune Wharf. This, the group said, could enable the building of up to 4,000 homes, easing pressure on the green belt.
Under the GVG proposal, traffic which previously travelled along Onslow Street, and around the gyratory, would be diverted west off Woodbridge Road. It would cross the river and railway via a new bridge, before joining Guildford Park and proceeding to Portsmouth Road or Farnham Road.
In the past, leader of Guildford Borough Council , Stephen Mansbridge, suggested building a tunnel underneath the town to allow the A3 to bypass it.