Air Quality

Whether you commute or run errands by bike, our relatively small metropolitan area means that in as little as 30 minutes you can reach a majority of destinations. Smaller communities are especially bike friendly, averaging less than 15 minutes to get to nearly any part of town. The air quality benefits are phenomenal.

Using a bicycle for short distance trips avoids the production of pollutants common in car emissions. Though catalytic converters are very effective in reducing emissions, to work properly they must come to an operational temperature of about 300 degrees centigrade. This takes about two miles, a little more in the winter and a little less in the summer. Until this happens, driving a car these short produces an excess of toxic gases that can be “10-15 times more than those produced by a warm engine”.* Below are typical pollutatants from an internal combustion engine.
  • Carbon Monoxide
    Carbon Monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, it’s highly toxic and contributes to the greenhouse effect underlying global warming; our atmosphere has about 0.1 ppm, but car exhaust without a hot catalytic converter contains 7,000 parts per million. Cars produce 67 percent of CO in the atmosphere.
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Sulfur Dioxide
  • Nitrogen Dioxide
  • Particulates
  • Benzene
  • Formaldehyde
  • Polycyclic Hydrocarbons
  • Toluene
Unfortunately, one cannot protected from these pollutants while driving, as they enter the car, reaching adults and children who are especially vulnerable. A 1990 study by the International Center for Technology Assessment reports: “...23 separate scientific studies conducted during the 1980s and 1990s reveal that in-car air pollution levels frequently reach concentrations that may threaten human health”. The reports show that the air inside of cars typically contains more carbon monoxide, benzene, toluene, fine particulate matter, and nitrogen oxides than ambient air at nearby monitoring stations used to calculate government air-quality statistics. In-car pollution is often worse than pollution in the air at the side of the road. In fact, the air quality for cyclists is better than that for car occupants. The USW in Sydney reports, “Car drivers and passengers face pollution levels inside their vehicles that are two to three times higher than those experienced by pedestrians and cyclists in the open air...” Remember, when you bike, you can choose side streets and paths with less smog and fresher air. Don’t confuse your car commute with a route less traveled!

Though cycling instead of driving short distances has immediate local benefits, other sources of pollution are also mitigated. From oil exploration to delivery at the pump, the entire system produces water and air pollution. Drilling and transport, refining, additional transport and then groundwater contamination are just part of the delivery system. In addition, cars simply leak oil, which runs untreated to storm drains and then to our streams, sometimes reaching drinking water. These pollutants build up on our roadways, and then are flushed in concentrated amounts when the first rain arrives.

Though it is unrealistic to expect a significant portion of families to completely foresake cars for bikes like many have done, the greatest and most accessible benefit from biking (and walking) comes from substituting these modes for the short 2-5 mile trips normally driven. You save the most gas (a cold car get 40% less mileage), pollution is zero, and you get a bike ride or walk that reduces illness caused by a sedentary lifestyle. Exercise can also life your mood. So don’t worry, be happy, take a bike!

BikeLane has worked to develop a collaboration with LTD, LRAPA, LCOG, the City of Eugene and Springfield to increase the mode share of bicyclists as a way to decrease air pollution. There are still many challenges as funds are limited and the process for securing support is competitive.

*The 10-15 times more pollution figure is from George Rode, owner of autohause and Euro-Asian car repair.

Click here for a good summary of car pollution, it’s impact on health and how individuals and governement can do more.

Life is better with bikes TM