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How to avoid pollution when cycling in London

It’s estimated that around two million people cycle every day in the UK, which accounts for about 4% of the population with around 15% cycling at least once a month, but amongst the factors putting people off active commuting in London is pollution. So, how can you avoid it?

CleanSpace

The CleanSpace Tag is ‘The Personal Air Pollution Smart Sensor powered by Freevolt’. It tracks air pollution both indoors and outside, recording your exposure to harmful carbon monoxide to help avoid harmful air pollution, and it works in conjunction with the (free) CleanSpace app so you can plan clean routes, avoid pollution hotspots and visualise trends. After all, there is evidence that avoiding busy roads as you walk or cycle can reduce the amount of pollution you breathe by up to 70%.

Masks

These are a contentious issue. For starters, there’s some debate about how effective masks are against pollution because there are some gases they simply don’t keep out, and in addition to that they tend to be uncomfortable and can make it harder to breathe. The most important thing if you do decide to use one however, is to make sure it’s fitted properly, otherwise it’s a waste of time. If you have facial fuzz you may find it a problem! Dr Gary Fuller from KCL told The Guardian
a mask should be of benefit as long as it uses “sub-micron filters to filter out the small particles.”

Adapt your speed

A study published in the International Journal of Sustainable Transportation, showed that cyclists traveling on city roads should ride at speeds between 12 and 20 kilometers per hour in order to reduce the impact of pollution. Alex Bigazzi, a UBC transportation expert told Nature World News explained: "the faster you move, the harder you breathe and the more pollution you could potentially inhale, but you also are exposed to traffic for a shorter period of time. This analysis shows where the sweet spot is."

Cycling

Here’s one you probably weren’t expecting, there’s actually a higher air pollution health risk INSIDE your car than if you run or cycle on short journeys. The zero-emission Air Quality Monitoring Vehicle nicknamed the ‘smogmobile’ – collected data by sampling air both inside and outside the van every minute during a two-hour journey along the M4 into central London says Air Quality News, and found that levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) were on average 21% higher inside the vehicle with the windows shut than on the road outside. Basically, levels of pollution are significantly lower at the side of a road than in traffic. So in addition to helping to reduce air pollution by cycling/walking or running instead of driving, you’re actually less exposed to it in the first place as well!

Adapt the time you cycle

This sounds like a bit of an awkward sell, as if you want to active commute then you obviously want to go during rush hour. However, that’s also the time when pollution is at its highest in the city. Apps and websites are available so that you can measure air pollution at different times of the day so it’s advisable to then adapt your movements according to those variants. Perhaps leave a little earlier and get to your destination in time to shower and check a few emails before going to work or your next meeting. The really good news is that the FlowFinder app includes showers and destinations where you can log onto the Wifi and have a really great cup of coffee as well to set you up nicely for the day.

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