Drivers lead cyclists in exposure to traffic pollution

BY DAVID WILLIAMS
Last updated 05:00 18/03/2010

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Car drivers breathe in more traffic pollution than cyclists or people using public transport, new research shows.

The study found that cyclists on roads are exposed to 25 per cent more carbon monoxide than cyclists just two metres from the road.

Researchers at Canterbury University, the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research and Auckland University conducted 30 runs in Christchurch and 20 in Auckland, using monitoring equipment.

The research found carbon monoxide levels in cars were more than 50 per cent higher than those experienced by cyclists, more than 80 per cent higher than bus passengers and nearly 400 per cent higher than train passengers.

Co-author Simon Kingham, associate professor of geography at Canterbury University, said the results agreed with most international literature.

"It surprises most New Zealanders ... because they expect those in cars to have the lowest exposure," he said.

The research found that car drivers and bus passengers were exposed to higher average levels of "potentially toxic" ultra-fine particles from diesel fumes than cyclists.

Kingham said segregating cyclists just a few metres from the road led to a substantial drop in air-pollution exposure, which could have implications for cycle-lane planning.

"The levels of carbon monoxide you're exposed to [on the road] are 25 per cent higher than if you're on the footpath," he said.

Kingham contributed to a 2007 study that attributed 1100 premature deaths across the country and $1.1 billion in costs each year to air pollution from home heating, transport and industry.

Kendal School principal Keith Turner, who heads Christchurch cyclists' association Spokes, said many parents drove their children to school because it was thought to be safer.

"It's an irony, I guess, that in doing so they're potentially exposing their children to higher levels of carbon monoxide."

Christchurch City Council livable city programme manager Carolyn Ingles said Kingham's research would be considered by staff working on a new transport plan for Christchurch.

"We understand a number of people who might want to cycle perceive that it's unsafe to cycle on roads used by cars, trucks and buses, so having fully separated cycleways would, we hope, encourage people ... to use cycles for some of their transport needs," she said.

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