- Sustainable transport has a direct impact on air quality, improving it.
- Vehicle traffic represents one of the main sources of air pollution in cities.
- The health crisis caused by the coronavirus has changed the mobility patterns of many people.
- Air quality monitoring systems is a rising value to certify the success of measures aimed at promoting less polluting transport.
Air quality monitoring systems and mobility are closely related. After all, when citizens opt for sustainable transport, air quality indicators tend to improve. In the same way, when the use of private vehicles spreads over other options, environmental conditions suffer. Environmental monitoring systems clearly show this evolution. Hence their potential.
However, the sudden appearance of the coronavirus and the fear of infections has brought about multiple changes. These include a rethinking of people’s daily mobility.
How are these changes perceived in urban air quality? How are air quality monitoring systems reflecting this, and what role are they called upon to play in the new reality?
Traffic and deterrents, a compelling reason to monitor air quality
Without doubt, various factors come into play in decisions on personal mobility. Some are related to comfort, economy or time, others to the availability of different means of transport. And yes, some people also take environmental protection into consideration. Not surprisingly, emissions from traffic are one of the main sources of pollution in urban areas. Analyses such as The European environment — state and outlook 2020, published by the European Environment Agency at the end of 2019, are proof of this.
Cities have been trying to curb this situation for a long time. For this reason, measures such as the establishment of low emission zones (LEZ), the progressive electrification of public transportation, and the promotion of the use of transport means, such as the bicycle, are becoming increasingly common. And there is no doubt that one of the best ways to verify the level of success of these measures is to establish an environmental monitoring system.
Therefore, air quality sensors like our Kunak Air (and the revolutionary Kunak Air Pro) are extremely useful. Their value for money, ease of installation and operation, and their capacity to transmit data in real-time give an accurate picture of the pollution levels in cities and the success of the implemented measures. As we have already discussed on several occasions, they do not supersede official air quality monitoring networks, but they extend and complement them. In this way, more area can be covered at a lower cost and with an accuracy level very close to that provided by the reference equipment. They also provide a situation analysis with greater resolution, which can facilitate decisions about where to locate a reference station.
And, while we were trying to improve the quality of life in the cities, the coronavirus broke out and turned all behaviours upside down.
Less traffic, better air quality
One of the first things that the pandemic made clear was the close relationship between traffic and air quality. As countries became more confined and restricted, the thousands of air quality sensors scattered around the world, both official and supplementary, began to show how the concentration of various polluting agents was declining, as we discussed in our blog. The air monitoring systems that Kunak installed in the seaports of the Balearic Islands also showed this change.
The planet turned into, so to speak, a real-time laboratory.
However, as the situation returned to a certain degree of normal, countries reopened their borders. Vehicles came back to the city streets and pollution levels rose again. Even so, this return to the past has brought a powerful constraint into the game that can alter its course: the fear of coronavirus infection.
When fear dictates personal mobility
Overcrowded platforms, overcrowded cars, overcrowded buses… The feeling of insecurity that public transportation conveys is causing many of its regular users to give up on it, as made evident in this scheme published by McKinsey & Company.
In many cases, this fear is unfounded, as evidence suggests that strict observation of hygiene and health measures reduces the risk. However, this negative perception has taken roots in much of society and it will be difficult to reverse this vision.
In cities that are mindfully responding to the problem with imagination and determination, facilitating the use of bicycles as much as possible, and encouraging the pedestrianisation of city centres, has become the new mantra. A clear example of this is Paris.
However, where alternative measures are not being adopted quickly, the use of private vehicles with a single occupant is gaining supporters. As a result, cities like Madrid could have their pollution levels increase by up to 27%, as recently warned by Ecologistas en Acción.
And the consequences of this change on mobility behaviour couldn’t be direr:
- More air pollution that has a direct impact on human health and, according to evidence from increased testing, could aggravate the symptoms of COVID-19. As regards transmissibility, there is no general consensus so far, but it is not discarded and it is still under analysis.
- Higher noise levels, a pollutant that we know alters fundamental mechanisms such as sleep.
- Increase in CO2 emissions, together with all its implications on global warming.
- Reduction of physical activity, which results in greater sedentarism and a higher incidence of diseases associated with lack of exercise.
Urgent measures not to throw away years of improvements
Cities face the enormous challenge of making citizens feel safe in the face of the pandemic while fighting the climate crisis. Both issues should be high on the agendas of urban areas. How can it be achieved? The following are some measures that contribute to both purposes:
- Encouraging walking and the use of bicycles, two of the measures that are offering the best results, as they ensure physical distancing, minimise the level of emissions, reduce the risk of accidents, and increase physical activity. In the cities where they are being implemented, the level of acceptance is very good.
- Reinforcement of public transportation, which is essential to reduce the frequency of passage to avoid crowds and make people feel safer.
- Real-time monitoring of immission and publicly disclosing. It is essential to make people aware of the relationship between pollution, traffic and emissions, and health. Air quality must become a decision-making factor on personal mobility.
Enabling cities to know how air quality is evolving at all times is one of the best ways to strengthen public health, environmental and social awareness. That is why we, at Kunak, believe that air quality monitoring must become another tool to fight the pandemic and the new fear-driven habits it tends to implant.
After all, air pollution has never been a game. And, at the moment, even less so.