In the run up to Clean Air Day, our air quality team took to the streets for an experiment with a new portable sensor to understand their exposure to air pollution during their daily commute to work. Whilst, walking, cycling, driving, and taking the bus, they wanted to find out where we are most exposed to pollution, and how we can avoid it…their results may surprise you.


Is walking the best way to travel?

Whilst walking does not generate air pollution, over the course of the experiment the highest concentrations were recorded when walking along busy roads. The image here indicates nitrogen dioxide levels registered – blue being the lowest reading, and red being the highest. Avoiding the busiest roads and using pedestrianised areas significantly reduces your exposure and, planning a route through parks and open spaces means a more pleasant journey.


Should I take the bus?

Taking the bus reduces the emissions generated during your commute as the journey is shared with other people, compared to driving - good news! Bad news, our experiment showed that taking the bus resulted in the same amount of exposure as walking. However, if we all utilised public transport on a daily basis, thereby reducing the number of vehicles on the roads, pollution would be significantly reduced.


Driving is starting to look pretty good!

It is true that driving is quicker and had a lower maximum exposure than walking or taking the bus. However, the highest average concentration out of all commuting options came whilst driving. If you must drive, consider cleaner technology to reduce your pollutant emissions, such as electric vehicles, which not only produce zero emissions, but have lower running costs in terms of fuel and maintenance compared with petrol or diesel vehicles. 


So, I should cycle to work then?

Probably! But you should plan your route carefully and assess the length of your commute. Our experiment indicated that this was the quickest commuting option, had the lowest maximum and average exposure – it also generates no pollution.


What is the best way to commute?

As our experiment shows, there is no easy answer to improving air quality or, reducing your exposure. It is a complex issue, with many influencing factors. Try to be aware of, and avoid pollution hotspots in your area when considering your route – this will mitigate your exposure.


However you commute to and from work each day, make an informed decision when you are planning your route…remember reduce, remove and mitigate. There are plenty of resources available to help you plan a better journey! Local Authorities have declared Air Quality Management Areas  – these should be avoided if possible during your commute, Defra has released air pollution forecast maps to help you plan your outdoor activities, and if you live in London you might find the Clean Air Route Finder useful - an interactive map to help you find a low pollution walking option.


This blog was written by Senior Air Quality Consultant, Sioni Hole at WSP

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