Measuring urban air pollution on cycle paths

Air pollution is a global challenge that causes millions of premature deaths every year in both developing and industrialized countries. Air pollution is particularly high in urban agglomerations. A team at Germany-based IASS center is investigating urban pollutant concentrations and air quality.

A new method developed for measuring fine dust pollution

Air pollution is a global challenge that causes millions of premature deaths every year. This applies equally to developing and industrialized countries. Air pollution is particularly high in urban agglomerations. A team at the Institute for Transformative Sustainability Research (in German: Institut für transformative Nachhaltigkeitsforschung or IASS) is investigating pollutant concentrations in cities and which factors influence air quality.

The measurements of particle concentrations were also carried out on bicycles. The team led by Erika von Schneidemesser at the IASS has selected frequently used cycle routes in the urban areas of Berlin and Potsdam. 

With new techniques, scientists were able to measure the concentration of harmful particles in real time in mobile and stationary measuring stations for a summer quarter of a year. At the same time, a method was developed that takes into account fluctuations in the average environmental concentrations per trip at an established route and allows comparison across all routes.

Most air pollution coming from buses, trucks, and motorcycles

There are major differences in air pollution levels depending on the type of road, environmental conditions, and types of vehicles. If together with passenger cars, buses, motorcycles or trucks are also on the road, this leads to an increase in particle concentrations of 30 to 40 percent compared with the average environmental level. 

High traffic volumes such as traffic jams caused particle concentrations to rise by 47 percent compared with the average level, and cars waiting at traffic lights by 35 percent. Cycling in residential areas reduced the number of particles by 17 percent compared to the average ambient value and by 22 percent when cycling through green areas or parks. 

Valid data for future traffic planning

"At first glance, the results sound logical. But now we have valid measurement data that also provides quantitative evidence for such common assumptions," says Erika von Schneidemesser from IASS. "Future urban planning, for example, should set up cycle paths on side roads parallel to the main roads in order to make the route still attractive but to reduce exposure to particulate matter. Until then, cyclists would be better off taking the cycle paths that lead through parks and residential areas. But please do not misunderstand these results: Cycling - even on main roads - is still much healthier than driving a car!"

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