Particulates and noise exposure during bicycle, bus and car commuting: A study in three European cities

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In order to curb traffic-related air pollution and its impact on the physical environment, contemporary city commuters are encouraged to shift from private car use to active or public transport modes. However, personal exposures to particulate matter (PM), black carbon and noise during commuting may be substantial. Therefore, studies comparing exposures during recommended modes of transport versus car trips are needed.


We measured personal exposure to various-sized particulates, soot, and noise during commuting by bicycle, bus and car in three European cities: Helsinki in Finland, Rotterdam in the Netherlands and Thessaloniki in Greece using portable monitoring devices. We monitored commonly travelled routes in these cities.


The total number of one-way trips yielding data on any of the measured parameters were 84, 72, 94 and 69 for bicycle, bus, closed-window car and open-window car modes, respectively. The highest mean PM2.5 (85 μg/m3), PM10 (131 μg/m3), black carbon (10.9 μg/m3) and noise (75 dBA) levels were recorded on the bus, bus (again), open-window car and bicycle modes, respectively, all in Thessaloniki, PM and soot concentrations were generally higher during biking and taking a bus than during a drive in a a car with closed windows. Ratios of bike:car PM10 ranged from 1.1 in Thessaloniki to 2.6 in Helsinki, while bus:car ratios ranged from in 1.0 in Rotterdam to 5.6 in Thessaloniki. Higher noise levels were mostly recorded during bicycle rides.


Based on our study, active- and public-transport commuters are often at risk of higher air pollution and noise exposure than private car users. This should be taken into account in urban transportation planning.

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