Bike Study

The Air Out There- NYC Air Pollution and Urban Cycling

One of the things mentioned by countless cyclists is that their love for riding bloomed with the increased opportunity to get out and enjoy the fresh air.  Riding in any season is great for blood circulation and respiratory expansion, but do we ever really think about how "fresh" the fresh air is- particularly in high population areas like New York City. 

Photo by Christian Mueller/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by Christian Mueller/iStock / Getty Images

Last year, researchers at Columbia University began a study to understand how much air pollution New York cyclists are exposed to as they ride their bikes in the city, and the affect of it on their hearts.  Cyclists were fitted with an exercise vest that contained a wearable pollution monitor, bio-metric sensors, and a blood pressure cuff for five 24-hour periods centered around five bike commutes. Information obtained from the study will be used by researchers to inform New York and other big cities on how to improve their biking infrastructure to reduce the exposure of cyclists to air pollution. Results have not yet been publicized.

The University of British Columbia ran a similar study in 2012 to determine if alternate routes and times of travel were more beneficial to cyclists respiratory and cardiovascular health.  

The most recent New York City Community Air Survey, released earlier this week, examines neighborhood air quality from 2008-2014.  It shows a significant decrease in harmful chemicals like nitrogen dioxide, nitric oxide, and sulfur dioxide across the past six years. Chemical levels were measured seasonally and vary by neighborhood, with the South Bronx and Manhattan continuing to emit high levels of pollutants.  Researcher's credit the recent upgrade of properties to greener options and phasing out older oil heating systems with leading the cleaner air charge.  

Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

Cycling in the city has seen double-digit growth in the past four years, doubling the number of regular cyclists, according to the Department of Transportation. More cyclists means less emissions, and as New York makes strides to improve the air quality and lower it's ranking on the "Most Polluted City" scale, cyclists can begin to breathe easier.

The increase in biking infrastructure in New York and other major cities can help cyclists to avoid highly populated and polluted routes. Using bike lanes which separate riders from traffic and riding on side streets instead of main roads will lessen pollutant exposure.

Overall cycling, even in large cities, provides a great health benefit despite the air quality, saving up to 12 lives a year compared to car use.  As New York improves, the next time you're on a main road, consider taking a side street- your commute may take longer, but your lungs will thank you.


Did you or anyone you know participate in the Columbia University study? Share your experience below!