Thursday 30 January 2014

How to minimise the impact of traffic pollution

Summary: Over and above the general air pollution in their city, cyclists also need to be conscious of the exhaust pollution they are inhaling, especially if they commute regularly to work. Some studies have shown that cyclists inhale more fine particles and that this can have an effect on heart rate variability. Cyclists can take practical steps to minimise the extent of exposure to exhaust pollution and this is worth baking into the way they ride.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by John Seb Barber

1. Cyclists are more exposed to fine pollution particles due to exertion
- Studies have shown that the main factor in greater cyclist pollution exposure rates (compared to pedestrians) is heavier/deeper breathing due to exertion. See: > City cycling 'could do damage to heart' due to polluting chemicals, new research claims.

- If you commute regularly to work and are often riding behind vehicles emitting significant exhaust pollution it is worth slowing down in order to exert yourself less and thus breathe less deeply. Or, at the very least, to be conscious of your distance from exhaust pollution when breathing heavily.

2. Finer pollution particles are most dangerous; so keep your distance from vehicle exhaust pipes
- The finest particles have the biggest health consequences, so as a general rule you should avoid riding closely behind heavy (or high emitting) vehicles like trucks, buses and high-emitting cars. The further the distance the fewer, fine particles will reach you.

3. Where regularly exposed to significant pollution consider changing routes or times
- If riding daily for significant periods behind high-emitting buses, trucks and other vehicles, this intake of fine particles will build up over time. If quieter routes or commute times are feasible you should consider using them even if it take a little longer or is a little inconvenient. See: > Health fears over city air pollution

4. At intersections, filter ahead of vehicles or move to the side or try to create a buffer distance from the most polluting ones
- If you can avoid waiting at intersections directly behind heavy polluting vehicles, you should do so. Consistently implementing this habit will over the long run significantly reduce the amount of fine pollution particles you inhale.

5. The health benefits of cycling outweigh the pollution risks; you certainly shouldn't drive instead as motorists are no better off
- Cycling as regular exercise (compared to sedentary alternatives) adds years to your life which overwhelms the air pollution risks - especially if you take steps to minimise exposure.

- Research shows that motorists are no better off when it comes to pollution and potentially even worse off. See: > Differences in cyclists and car drivers exposure to air pollution from traffic in the city of Copenhagen

Further Info:
Do the benefits from Cycling outweigh the harm of pollution

Urban cyclists breathe in more than twice the amount of harmful soot pedestrians do says London study

Cycling Weekly: Cyclists exposed to five times less air pollution than those in cars, experiment suggests

The Guardian
London air pollution: which mode of transport has the highest exposure? (video)

Paris Aims to End Its Pollution Misery by Cutting Out Cars