Regional Planning, Neighbourhood Design, or Individual Behaviour?

Curbing the effects of urban transportation on air quality and public health

Dr. Marianne Hatzopoulou
Assistant Professor, Department of Civil Engineering
McGill University

Traffic-related air pollution has a large impact on the health of urban populations. There are sufficient data to conclude that exposure to traffic emissions is associated with a range of respiratory and cardiovascular illness. Recent research suggests a strong relationship between the built environment and physical activity suggesting that dense urban development contributes to decreased automobile dependency and increased walking and cycling. Yet, while compact urban areas promote active transportation, they also trap air pollutants in street canyons thus magnifying near-road levels. How can we minimize air pollution exposure while maintaining the building density, concentration of activities, and traffic flows that mixed-use environments require?

This talk presents an investigation of transportation’s impacts on air pollution and health at three different levels: regional, neighbourhood (or corridor), and personal. It also demonstrates the potential of each scale of analysis for knowledge translation into public policy or information systems destined for public engagement. First, an integrated transport and emissions model developed for a metropolitan region is presented. Based on this model, the distribution of traffic-related air pollution generation and exposure is captured in order to evaluate whether communities that generate low levels of transport emissions are disproportionally exposed to high concentrations. Then, in a near-road monitoring campaign and corridor-level microsimulation exercise, a detailed investigation of the effects of traffic, road geometry, and building characteristics on air pollution is conducted. Finally, personal-level measurements of short-term exposure to traffic-related air pollution during physical activity are performed. They reveal significant associations with blood pressure and other cardiovascular parameters among healthy adults.

Moving from regional-scale modeling down to individual-level monitoring, we observe strong associations between transportation-related air pollution, social disadvantage, and public health. We also unveil the potential of applications providing cleaner routes in reducing exposure at the individual level.