A number of studies have appeared over the past few years exploring levels of air pollution inside and outside the car. Surprisingly, levels appear to be higher on the inside.
“The public health message is, you can’t hide from air pollution inside a car,” says Ben Barratt, an air quality expert at King’s College London (KCL). “We advise the public to leave the car at home whenever possible. This exposes you and your family to lower levels of air pollution, you’re not contributing to the problem, and you’re also getting the benefits of exercise. That’s tackling three of our biggest public health challenges in one go: air quality, climate change and obesity.”
The problem is Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), which when inhaled has a nasty habit of inflaming the lining of the lungs and reducing your immunity to lung infections. It comes from burning fossil fuels, but from our perspective, much of it comes from diesel engines. However, we shouldn’t really be separating NO2 from the soup of other particulates and noxious gasses that are emitted from the exhaust pipes of vehicles. We should also avoid falling into the trap of assuming that being in a car protects you from exposure to the pollution you are creating.
On the contrary, it seems that being in a car exposes you and your family to far greater quantities of pollutants. In heavy traffic, fumes from the car in front and behind get trapped in your car and are not dispersed.
However, doing the same journey by bike is going to be better for you in many ways. Not only is it good exercise, but the airborne pollution is dispersed and diluted as you go.
As we discussed before, on a bike you do not have to sit in heavy traffic, inhaling those fumes. You can also take the back roads, side streets and even the off-road routes like the Taff Trail to avoid the big bottlenecks in the traffic.
We know this already, get on with it…
The School Run
Whether or not you have kids, you always know when the school holidays are. The roads become much quieter and traffic tends to move relatively freely. However, during term time, rush hour seems to go on for much longer and congestion becomes much worse; pollution levels go up and everyone seems to get that little bit more stressed out.
The average primary school journey is just 1.5 miles, and yet one in five cars on the road during the morning peak are doing the school run.
Source: The school run | Sustrans
It doesn’t have to be that way though. The school run
could can be done by bike. There are a number of ways to carry a youngster on a bike, from seats that can be mounted above the rear wheel, to trolleys and trailers that can be pulled behind you. Of course, it depends on the age and size of your child which solution you choose.
If you have more than one of them, we may have a bit more of a problem. Off-road trails and paths are often just-about passable for a standard two-wheeled bike. The Taff Trail for example, has a number of pinch points that make using things like cargo bikes difficult, such as at Forest Farm and at Blackweir Bridge –unless you have the key for the gate…or a boat. A cargo bike would be ideal for carrying multiple children. Something for the council to work on, perhaps.
The Gender Balance
According to the most recent census, between 2001 and 2011, the number of people cycling to work in Cardiff rose by 64.8%. It also says that 3.9% of male workers vs 1.6% of female workers cycled to work. However, this data is pretty old now.
However, the statistical release SB 106/2015 published in October 2015 by Welsh Government is a little more telling. Not only does it shine a light on the low level of active travel in Wales across the board, it does all but confirm that a gender imbalance is still there.
However, chart 9 on page 10 is worth closer inspection. It looks into what the purpose of each journey is. The graph for commuting to work is fairly evenly matched between men & women, but women appear to have the lions share of cycle trips for things involving childcare and in accessing leisure activities and education.
Targeting infrastructure investment at education and leisure venues, as well as the usual commuting destinations may well reap a greater reward in redressing the gender imbalance we are seeing, not to mention in reducing the school run traffic. To a certain extent, the Safe Routes to Schools programme does this, but arguably doesn’t go far enough.
Our question to you…
Parents! If you currently do the school run by car, what would it take for you to start taking your children to school by bike instead? Let us know in the comments, or on the social media channels. We’ll embed some of the more interesting tweets below.