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Environment & Energy

Cyclists Map Pittsburgh’s Air Quality

The Bicycle Air Monitoring website is a new effort that will show air quality in areas throughout the city. Volunteers on bicycles were equipped with a laser particle counter and GPS system to collect the data.

“They strap really nicely on their handlebars and they take a particulate count every six seconds,” said Sam Thomas, coordinator of GASP’s Athletes United for Healthy Air campaign. “Cyclists will keep a monitor on for an average of two weeks and they’ll ride as they normally would. In other words, we’re asking them to ride with these monitors on their handlebars.”

The monitors have been gathering information to get a sampling of Pittsburgh’s air, the data will be used to understand where the problem areas are and help cyclists be aware of the air they are riding through. Thomas said currently, when a cyclist is about to go on a ride, they mainly take into consideration what they can see.

“In other words, ‘What’s the traffic going to be like? What’s the road condition like? Are there going to be trails or bike lanes on my route?’ And we really want cyclists to start thinking in terms of air,” said Thomas. “Even though that’s not visible, we want them to really add the air considerations, the air quality considerations to those already layered safety considerations.”

The devices will monitor and map small particulates known as PM2.5, which can remain in the air for hours to weeks, and travel very long distances. 

“These are things that come from burning,” said Thomas. “They can come from a car, a truck, or bus or off-road vehicle. They could also come from construction nearby, or industry.”

Funding for the project came from Google and the University of Pittsburgh’s Computer Science Program helped work on it. The website goes live Thursday evening.