November 02, 2009
Small Walkable And Breathable Neighborhood Overlap

A study in Vancouver BC finds that very few people live in ideal neighborhoods that feature both high walkability and clean air.

A new study compares neighborhoods' walkability (degree of ease for walking) with local levels of air pollution and finds that some neighborhoods might be good for walking, but have poor air quality. Researchers involved in the study include University of Minnesota faculty member Julian Marshall and University of British Columbia faculty Michael Brauer and Lawrence Frank.

I find these results to be important reminders on the value of electric vehicles. Cities and suburbs would both become better for our health if more vehicles were battery powered.

If we had finer granularity maps of pollution I bet it would change housing prices. Just what is the health cost of living 50 yards, 100 yards, or 200 yards from a busy freeway? Also, just driving to work during the busy part of the day is bad because you are right in the lanes breathing soot.

The research team found that, on average, neighborhoods downtown are more walkable and have high levels of some pollutants, while suburban locations are less walkable and have high levels of different pollutants. Neighborhoods that fare well for pollution and walkability tend to be a few miles away from the downtown area. These "win-win" urban residential neighborhoods--which avoid the downtown and the suburban air pollution plus exhibit good walkability--are rare, containing only about two percent of the population studied. Census data indicate that these neighborhoods are relatively high-income, suggesting that they are desirable places to live. Neighborhoods that fare poorly for both pollution and walkability tend to be in the suburbs and are generally middle-income.

I just hate it when an old smelly diesel truck drives by when I'm out for a walk. I see them coming and alter my path to reduce the fume exposure. Sometimes I suck in a big breath just before they pass so I can get upwind of the exhaust before I breathe again.

"The finding that nitric oxide concentrations are highest downtown, while ozone concentrations are highest in the suburbs, is not surprising," said Marshall. "Motor vehicle exhaust is most concentrated downtown, leading to the high nitric oxide concentrations downtown. In contrast, ozone takes time to form. Air masses have moved away from downtown--often, to suburban areas--by the time ozone concentrations reach their highest levels. Thus, reductions in vehicle emissions can benefit people who live near high-traffic areas and also people living in less dense areas."

I think more people who live in polluted areas ought to get HEPA filters. Also, again, this report is an argument for electric cars and trucks.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 November 02 10:15 PM  Pollution Air

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