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  • Tom Cole-Hunter's PhD study has found cycling in congested traffic is not bad for your health.

Research clears the air on peak hour cycling

16 March 2012

Riding your bicycle through streets congested with traffic each day won't have a negative effect on your health, a Queensland University of Technology (QUT) study has found.

The study, by PhD candidate Tom Cole-Hunter, looked at the air pollution perceptions of cyclists, the volume of air pollution present, and whether changing commute routes had an impact on a cyclist's exposure to air pollution and subsequently on their health.

Mr Cole-Hunter said the findings were somewhat surprising.

"We found that breathing in air, that contained pollution emitted by vehicles, during a regular morning and afternoon cycle along busy streets had limited impact on a healthy cyclist," he said.

"Even so, varying their route to travel along less congested roads certainly reduces the amount of ultrafine particles a cyclist inhales."

Mr Cole-Hunter said while vehicle emissions had little impact on healthy cyclists, those with underlying respiratory complaints were best to avoid congested routes.

"Cyclists who suffer from complaints such as asthma are best to stick to less congested streets as ultrafine particle emissions could have an impact on their respiratory system," he said.

He said the study found that cyclists with a respiratory condition were more likely to feel tight-chested and experience wheezing after cycling along congested streets and generally changed their travel route or used a respirator to overcome the problem.

He said women cyclists were more likely to detect an increase in the odour of exhaust emissions, which is suggestive of higher sensitivity to exhaust exposure.

Mr Cole-Hunter said bicycle commuting had the potential to be an effective solution for those looking to incorporate exercise into an otherwise inactive life and to increased traffic congestion brought about by population growth.

The study was undertaken over a period of three years in Brisbane and the findings will be presented at his PhD final seminar on Monday, March 26 and soon published in several international open-access and peer-reviewed environmental health journals.

Mr Cole-Hunter, an Australian Postgraduate Award holder, is undertaking his PhD at the International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health (ILAQH) at QUT.

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Media contact: Rose Trapnell, QUT media officer, 07 3138 2361 or 0407 585 901 rose.trapnell@qut.edu.au