Masses of Londoners breathed deeply as they took over their city’s iconic Tower Bridge last Sunday, enjoying a mass yoga session as the sun rose on a cloudy, unusually quiet autumn day.
Suspended over the Thames river, the yoga-goers covered the road in colourful mats, participating in London’s biggest Car Free Day in the city’s history and joining citizens of other cities, including Paris and Brussels, in enjoying their streets sans air pollution from traffic.
In activities radiating out from the centre of London, kids sped go-karts down borough streets, people lounged on lawn chairs and turf grass, cyclists enjoyed the abundance of space, and all were asked to “Reimagine” their city without cars.
It is estimated that around 150,000 people participated. Hundreds of roads (a total of 27 kilometres, or 17 miles) were closed, and a temporary air quality monitoring site in Regent Street in the city centre measured a drop of 60 per cent of air pollution compared to the day before.
London clocks the worst levels of air pollution in the UK; inhaling this air kills 9,000 of its citizens prematurely each year, a King’s College London study found.
“By enabling Londoners to explore our city without cars and traffic, we will inspire them to walk and cycle as part of their daily routine – something which is crucial to clean up our toxic air,” said Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.
“I’m delighted that 15 boroughs are hosting their own local Car Free Day events and 24 boroughs are supporting Play Streets, enabling people across the capital to experience what their streets would be like without cars,” he said.
It was the first city in the UK to introduce a clean air zone, inspiring many other municipal governments in the country to introduce their own and request funding to step up their efforts.
The UK struggles to meet European Union standards for levels of nitrogen dioxide emissions, and a study commissioned by the Mayor of London’s office found high levels of air pollution in schools; other studies conducted in the city found children were also exposed to unhealthy air on their school runs.
This year’s Car Free Day took place as governments met at the UN in New York to discuss deepening ambition on climate change, where 40 national and over 70 subnational governments committed to achieving healthy air by 2030.
Read more on Air Quality News: London hosts largest Car Free Day in history
More from the BBC: London Car Free Day: Tower Bridge shuts for mass yoga session
See the Guardian’s photo story on Car Free Days around the world
Banner photo from Twitter/Mayor of London