University of Toronto professor designs app that helps cyclists avoid pollution

Click to play video: 'Professor designs app letting cyclists find cleanest routes throughout Toronto' Professor designs app letting cyclists find cleanest routes throughout Toronto
WATCH ABOVE: The app is called the Clean Ride Mapper and is designed by Professor Marianne Hatzopoulou from the University of Toronto. The app provides both the shortest and lowest exposure routes along with an estimate of how much air pollution you would avoid by choosing the latter. Peter Kim report – Apr 22, 2016

A plan to vastly expand Toronto’s network of bike lanes, including a pilot project along Bloor Street West, would speed the flow of travel for those on two wheels. But for those looking for a cleaner ride there’s another solution.

University of Toronto professor Marianne Hatzopoulou has designed the Clean Ride Mapper, a user-friendly app allowing cyclist to find the cleanest routes across the city. Users simply have to place a pin on a map of the city representing their starting point, and another representing their destination.

The app then traces two lines from origin to destination, with a green one representing the cleanest route and a blue one representing the fastest.

Hatzopoulou said it works by taking into account levels of ultrafine particles emitted through vehicle exhaust.

“We actually do see there are measurable impacts on your physiology, on your heart rate, on your blood pressure [with exposure]. So if you’re someone with diabetes or asthma it might actually impact you,” she said, adding that air pollution has also been linked to cancer.
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“These studies do exist. They were not done with ultrafine particles in particular, they were done with other pollutants,” Hatzopoulou added.

“We know traffic generates a soup of pollutants. If one of them is high maybe the other ones are correlated as well.”

Bay Street has been identified among the most polluted areas downtown, with more than 100,000 ultrafine particles per cubic centimetre registered along this key artery.

Hatzopoulou said design is to blame.

“Tall buildings, smaller roads, air pollution is trapped in these areas,” she said.

The app will also show users how much pollution exposure they’re avoiding by choosing the greenest route.

From around Bathurst Street and Bloor Street to Avenue Road and Bloor Street, a cyclist would be exposed to around 10 per cent less pollution using side streets compared with a direct route across Bloor according to the app.

“I certainly feel a difference when I’m on a tree-lined street no question,” said Cynthia, a Toronto cyclist who rides almost every day in the spring and summer.

Streets with faster moving traffic will also have more air pollution, according to Hatzopoulou.

“We don’t know what the threshold is but in normal urban areas we’d encounter levels of around 20,000 to 30,000 ultrafine particles per cubic center,” she said.

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In general, research reveals there is more pollution in the air during the mornings than the evenings.

Researchers have now launched two surveys — one for a commuter and another for a recreational cyclist — in relation to the app, to gauge how far cyclists would go to avoid pollution in the city.

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