Tag Archives: environment

Air Pollution and Bicycling

Breathing behind the exhaust pipes of cars, trucks and SUVs is one of the worst parts of bike commuting. Although passengers in motor vehicles breathe in extra pollution from the toxic chemicals leaching off the car interior itself, a recent study found that bicyclists in Brussels breathe in 5 times more air pollution than drivers or pedestrians. On the other hand, I remember a study that declared bicyclists breathe in less air pollution, but I cannot find a link to it now. What I know for sure is my own experience and I feel like I breathe in a lot of pollution while cycling.

Air Pollution - Image (c) Tom Krymkowski

This subject is on my mind due to a recent experience. Yesterday morning a truck, similar to the one pictured above, passed me and belched out a horrific plume of thick, black smoke from the top. The plume was at least 5 times as big and thick as the picture above. I almost pulled off the road, but there was no escaping, so I ducked my body over my handlebars and held my breath until I made it through the other side. The truck continued hurtling from block to block, releasing a disgusting plume of smoke as it accelerated from each stop sign, before mercifully turning onto another street. Surely, this truck would never pass a city inspection, but nevertheless it was out there on the road, spewing its disgustingness around.

This incident, although rare, was troubling. I hate to think how much pollution I breathe in while cycling through the city. I often say that I love cycling because it’s a chance to get out in the “fresh air,” but I shouldn’t kid myself: the air is not so fresh in Chicago. That is a depressing fact.

I am not sure what to do or say about this problem. Complaining about trucks in general would be hypocritical, since they carry food to my grocery store, deliver my packages, sweep my streets and remove my garbage. Living in the Bike Lane wrote about this problem last year and offered some solutions for both individuals and cities.

What have your experiences with air pollution been? I’m especially interested to read the responses of the country mice versus the city mice.

Hopefully, air pollution will not progress to the point where bicyclists feel the need to don surgical masks, as they do in other countries.

{Image courtesy of Tom Krymkowski via Flickr}

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