Author Topic: Biking in heavy traffic and pollution  (Read 4145 times)

Skinnyneo

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Biking in heavy traffic and pollution
« on: September 06, 2012, 04:48:01 AM »
I recently joined the world of cycling and am loving it.  I bike about 24k a day now look forward to the many benefits it will bring me.

However I live in Yokohama which is a metropolitan city with many drivers.  I'm of course riding on the road and very much aware of the smell of gas, exhaust, and generally yuck that I am breathing. 

What are the health concerns for cyclists that bike almost every day in heavy traffic?  Any tips on how to avoid or reduce the amount of pollution you inhale while riding?

velocistar237

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Re: Biking in heavy traffic and pollution
« Reply #1 on: September 06, 2012, 05:11:58 AM »
I think the only thing you can do, besides wearing a respirator, is to change your route.

Car drivers also breathe in the pollution, but cars can usually go faster, meaning they spend less time in the pollution for the same distance. Thankfully, air pollution is pretty much universally down in the US and I assume in Japan. China would be a different story.

Skinnyneo

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Re: Biking in heavy traffic and pollution
« Reply #2 on: September 06, 2012, 05:45:27 AM »
I've been thinking of changing my route but it's pretty much the quickest way without adding a few k to my commute.  I suppose the savings grace is that it's not the whole route but of my 45 minute ride it's about 15 of it. 

Japanese people tend to wear masks (like surgical masks) when they have colds or the flu (close quarters on trains, etc.) and I am thinking of wearing one of these.  It might be interesting just to see what color it changes to.

Posthumane

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Re: Biking in heavy traffic and pollution
« Reply #3 on: September 06, 2012, 08:32:24 AM »
I doubt you would notice much difference with the surgical style mask. Most pollution from gasoline cars is in the form of various gases, which won't be filtered out. The only thing that a mask like that would stop would be fairly large particulate pollution (mostly produced by diesel engines, although that's dropped a lot with modern diesels), dust, and of course many bacteria carried on saliva and such. There really isn't much you can do to filter gaseous tailpipe emissions, and as the previous reply stated, changing your route would be the only way to help. Even changing it a little such as riding the next street over if it has less traffic will make a big difference though, as the concentration of pollutants drops rapidly as you get away from the cars.

This has been used as an argument against biking but, as has been mentioned, car drivers breathe in the same pollution, especially when stuck in gridlock. Even though many modern cars come with HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters, those still only filter out particles and not gases.

Skinnyneo

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Re: Biking in heavy traffic and pollution
« Reply #4 on: September 06, 2012, 05:10:17 PM »
Thanks for the info Posthumane.

I'll have to look around and see if there isn't anyway to alter my route.  I was just worried about prolonged exposure to these kinds of pollutants as I'll be riding about 25k a day for most of the year.  Sounds like a lot has been done to protect people so that makes me feel more at ease.

Uncephalized

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Re: Biking in heavy traffic and pollution
« Reply #5 on: September 07, 2012, 03:15:05 PM »
One other thing to remember is that your pollution exposure is proportional to the total volume of air that has passed through your lungs, as well as the concentration in the air you're breathing. A cyclist takes many more, deeper breaths than a driver (because the driver is not exercising and oxygen demand is much lower) in the same time, AND takes longer to get there, so you are multiplying the total exposure by many times.

As was mentioned above, getting as far away from the cars as possible is the best thing you can do. Pollution concentration will drop by roughly the square of the distance from the tailpipe, so every foot away you can get makes a big difference.

menorman

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Re: Biking in heavy traffic and pollution
« Reply #6 on: September 08, 2012, 07:31:20 PM »
You're probably fine, and may even be in a better position than those driving the cars. As others have pointed out, most of the problems are associated with the gases themselves, not just particulate matter. Unless you want to pedal along with an N95 respirator or SCUBA gear on, just speeding up if possible is probably the best you can do short of actually changing your route.

Skinnyneo

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Re: Biking in heavy traffic and pollution
« Reply #7 on: September 09, 2012, 05:54:21 AM »
Unfortunately I have to ride pretty much right next to many cars and in the mornings several transport trucks.  I get onto the sidewalk sometimes but its usually too crowded to stay up there long.  I did find a back road that parallels part of my ride but I'm worried about getting hit by cars pulling out of garages (Japan doesn't really have laws about being able to see around corners or distance from a garage to the road etc).  I'll have to see what else is available.

@menorman I'll check out that study.  I'd rather not go with the respirator or SCUBA gear.  I love diving but would rather keep biking and diving separate.