Air Pollution and Cyclists

I always thought that getting some fresh air on a ride is refreshing, but a new UK study reported  in the Times shows cyclists can be among the most vulnerable to dirty, particulate-rich city air, inhaling five times moe toxic nanoparticulates than pedestrians or car drivers.

The study, led by Luc Int Panis of the transport research institute at Hasselt University in Belgium, had participants fit a breathing device over their mouths while riding through the cities of Brussels as well as the smaller nearby Mol.

In Brussels cyclists inhaled 5.58 million nanoparticles for every meter cycled. In Mol, just 1.1 million nonparticles were inhaled by study participants. The study found cyclists inhaled four to five times more particles than a car passenger driven along the same route. Cyclists are more at risk than car passengers not only because they are in the open air but also because exertion makes them breathe both harder and faster.
Another study soon to be released by the journal Epidemiology shows that these nanoparticles may contribute to a higher risk of heart disease and more risk of asthma attacks.

I think that it is far better to have this information than proceed as if pollution doesn't matter, but I think that if we do a few things, we can make the air pollution better for everyone

1. Continue to encourage people to bicycle because the outcome is healthier than if they sit in a car. People don't have to bicycle in polluted routes for 2 hours each day whereas they often sit in cars in polluted sections for that amount of time.

2. Choose routes to bike that are away from the heavy arterials or downtown roads that have 4 to 6 lanes of traffic and multiple buses, trucks, and stopped cars. Parallel routes for bicycling, such as designated bike boulevards, are better than heavily congested roads, especially if on the other side of tall downtown office buildings

3. Create cycle tracks that allow the bicyclists to not bicycle directly behind the buses and trucks, ideally with a buffer (trees, parallel parked cars) between the buses/cars/trucks and the bicyclists on the cycle track.

4. Encourage cities to start adopting policies to reward the purchase and driving of non-polluting cars, trucks, and buses, especially in city centers. Most other countries make it a pain in the pocket book to drive a car with higher taxes, fuel costs, and parking. The harder it is to drive, the easier it is to get on a bike.