While biking is a good way to limit the rate of pollution in the city, most of the time, the cyclists who brave the traffic have their noses shoved into the exhaust gas of the cars they share the road with. In order to limit the inhalation of this toxic urban cocktail, researchers at McGill University have developed an online interactive tool that will give cyclists information about the level of pollution on the exact path they wish to take. This offers them a cleaner alternative, or at least one that is less traveled by cars.
This BicyclAir map allows you to choose departure and arrival points through three options: a blue path, indicating the shortest route, a green path, proposing a less polluted itinerary, and a red path, suggesting a "calmer" itinerary to take in order to get to your destination safe and sound by running into fewer cars.
Put together by Maria Hatzopoulou, Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering at McGill University, this pollution map, charting the different arteries of the city, was developed thanks to samples collected over four years from cyclists circulating in the city on bikes equipped with sophisticated air sensors, which were worth $60,000 each. "Even if we are not in China or Mexico, the effects of pollution on human health are well-known. Several studies show that this pollution has toxic effects, especially on vulnerable people. The idea of this app was born because we were already working on creating a pollution map for Montreal," explained Professor Hatzopoulou.
We are not dealing with a bona fide app - that is, one you can download on a smartphone. In one click, the web tool can reveal the expected pollution level as one goes from point A to point B. "The cleanest path is suggested thanks to an algorithm that uses the data on measured pollution levels in each road segment in Montreal and optimizes the journey in function of this data," added the McGill researcher.
The web tool also allows for the discovery of measured pollution levels of nitrogen dioxide on the different arteries of the metropolis by clicking on the NO2 box and superimposing the bike path map over route options.
An example. In order to connect Old Montreal to the Botanical Garden, the BicyclAir map offers us, first, an express route, going up Avenue McGill, then scooting to the east on Sherbrooke up to Pie IX. This rapid journey will expose us to 147 parts per million of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) per kilometer, rather than 143 ppb/km for the green path, which leads to the Commune to the East instead, then Saint-Hubert, before connecting to Sherbrooke in order to get to the Botanical Garden.
If you want to bike far away from cars, a red path proposes a third itinerary passing through the Notre-Dame, Saint-Denis, Saint-Andre roads, Rue du Parc-Lafontaine, then a zig zag, which avoids all the major arteries of the Plateau all the way to the destination.
According to the tool, this zen journey will expose us to 1,232 cars, rather than the more than 5,500 for the other two options. Surprise: this anti-car journey exposes us to more pollution than the fast route, which makes us nose-dive into traffic. "The calmest journey is not necessarily the cleanest because urban pollution is not only due to circulation," insists Maria Hatzopoulou. The BicyclAir map was imagined to democratize the research data and make it accessible to the greatest number of people, not just to bikers, she insists. Indeed, the data could be useful to randonneurs, joggers and even residents curious to know more about the air quality in their neighborhood.
But polluted journeys or not, the bikers who care about their health can console themselves. Several recent studies have shown that among all the citizens who make trips in the urban setting, those who jump on their bikes are less exposed to NO2 emissions than drivers since the pollutants that cars spit out have more of a tendency to accumulate in the passenger compartments of cars.
Would an app like this encourage you to bike more? Are you worried about the amount of pollution you're exposed to in your city? How do you keep yourself safe against air pollutants? Share your stories and thoughts in the comments below.
Original article, originally published in French, here.
Credits: Data and images linked to sources.