A University of Toronto researcher says the city should take air pollution into account when planning cycling infrastructure.
It turns out cars are harmful to cyclists in more ways than one.
Four cyclists were killed last year in crashes with cars on Toronto streets. But, University of Toronto researcher Marianne Hatzopoulou says cars’ tailpipes are nearly as dangerous as their fenders.
Her work shows cyclists are particularly vulnerable to the risks posed by air pollution — higher levels of breast and prostate cancer being among them.
Cyclists, she said, “tend to have higher breathing rates than other pedestrians, so whatever they’re inhaling is going deeper into their lungs.”
It’s a reminder that encouraging healthy urban environments means more than adding cycle tracks and bike lanes, said Hatzopoulou, a civil engineering professor.
“We’re encouraging densification and also encouraging all modes of active transportation, but we’ve done nothing to reduce the number of cars on the road,” she said. “So all we’re doing is putting cyclists and pedestrians closer to the pollution.”
While in Montreal, Hatzopoulou outfitted cyclists with air quality monitors and sent them pedalling across 600 kilometres of bike paths. She discovered popular cycling routes were among the “most polluted” roads in the city.
Hatzopoulou has compiled similar data in Toronto and created an app that lets cyclists plan cleaner commutes. She’s also launched a survey to understand whether cyclists would change their behaviour if they knew just how polluted the air along their favourite route is.
Tracking air pollution in a city like Toronto can be tricky, but Hatzopoulou said particulate matter tends to gather in the corridors between tall buildings.
For example, the intersection of Bay and Bloor streets is, despite having more traffic, less polluted than Bay and King.