Hamilton cyclists to gather street level pollution data

A local environmental group is using cyclists to gather pollution data for Canada's first-of-its-kind air monitoring initiative that will measure pollution where people breathe - at street level.

Environment Hamilton looking for volunteers from across the city

Environment Hamilton has acquired 14 air quality monitoring units that will be placed on volunteers' bikes to gather data for a pollution map. (CBC)

A fleet of local cycling enthusiasts will be used to gather street level pollution data for Canada's first-of-its-kind air monitoring initiative.

Environment Hamilton officially launched its Bicycling Air Monitoring program (BAM!) Thursday at city hall, announcing plans to use volunteers from the local cycling community to rig their bikes with air quality monitors and a GPS unit.

The organization's executive director Lynda Lukasik said the result will be a publicly available interactive map of Hamilton, showing air quality levels on various streets, and — among other things — letting riders know what routes offer the cleanest air.

"This is great because it's engaging community and collecting the data," Lukasik said. "We'll then be able to use that data to spark community discussions, stakeholder discussions, about problem areas."

60 volunteers

Environment Hamilton already has about 60 volunteers from Flamborough to Stoney Creek who are set to cut loose across the city using one of the 14 units to gather information. Two of the GPS units also have a video camera to provide a visual of what may be contributing to air quality, such as a construction or bumper-to-bumper traffic.

The organization said volunteers will go through a training session and then take the monitoring systems for up to two weeks at a time — hopefully gathering data around the clock to provide a complete picture of air quality levels.

It's a quick visual way for a cyclist to assess which are the routes in the city that I want to choose if I'm worried about respiratory health and which are the ones that I should be avoiding- Lynda Lukasik, Environment Hamilton executive director

"It's not just about providing the information so that [a] cyclist can work around the pollution problem, we're all about head-on tackling those problems," Lukasik said.

Hamilton's map will be closely modelled after Pittsburgh's Group Against Smog and Pollution - which has also created a map of its own that targets problematic areas for air quality.

"It'll be a really useful tool for cyclist to make healthy choices," Lukasik said. "It's a quick, visual way for a cyclist to assess which are the routes in the city that I want to choose if I'm worried about respiratory health, and which are the ones that I should be avoiding."

$25,000 in funding

Environment Hamilton purchased the models after receiving close to $25,000 in funding.

Councillor Chad Collins helped facilitate $10,000 through a fund provided to his ward for special projects, while Clean Air Hamilton pitched in the other $15,000. 

Collins said the investment was relatively small given the potential benefit of understanding air quality along some of Hamilton's major streets.

"It's really a quality of life issue for people," Collins said.

"For me, for my constituents, air quality concerns are at the forefront of environmental issues in my ward. I have people who live adjacent to industry and I also have a number of residents along major transportation corridors."

Environment Hamilton will be at Open Streets Hamilton on July 13 to demonstrate how the air monitoring system works, as well as to give more information to those interested in volunteering.

The organization's local air quality assistant Jay Carter said the uptake in the program has been exciting to see as they prepare to get people rolling in the next few weeks.

"Any and all cyclists are welcome to take part in this — whether it's your recreation ride through the forest or whether it's your daily commute. The more data the better," he said.