Population-level exposure to particulate air pollution during active travel: Planning for low-exposure, health-promoting cities

Steve Hankey, Greg Lindsey, Julian D. Marshall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Background: Providing infrastructure and land uses to encourage active travel (i.e., bicycling and walking) are promising strategies for designing health-promoting cities. Population-level exposure to air pollution during active travel is understudied. Objectives: Our goals were a) to investigate population-level patterns in exposure during active travel, based on spatial estimates of bicycle traffic, pedestrian traffic, and particulate concentrations; and b) to assess how those exposure patterns are associated with the built environment. Methods: We employed facility–demand models (active travel) and land use regression models (particulate concentrations) to estimate block-level (n = 13,604) exposure during rush-hour (1600–1800 hours) in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We used the model-derived estimates to identify land use patterns and characteristics of the street network that are health promoting. We also assessed how exposure is correlated with indicators of health disparities (e.g., household income, proportion of nonwhite residents). Our work uses population-level rates of active travel (i.e., traffic flows) rather than the probability of walking or biking (i.e., “walkability” or “bikeability”) to assess exposure. Results: Active travel often occurs on high-traffic streets or near activity centers where particulate concentrations are highest (i.e., 20–42% of active travel occurs on blocks with high population-level exposure). Only 2–3% of blocks (3–8% of total active travel) are “sweet spots” (i.e., high active travel, low particulate concentrations); sweet spots are located a) near but slightly removed from the city-center or b) on off-street trails. We identified 1,721 blocks (~ 20% of local roads) where shifting active travel from high-traffic roads to adjacent low-traffic roads would reduce exposure by ~ 15%. Active travel is correlated with population density, land use mix, open space, and retail area; particulate concentrations were mostly unchanged with land use. Conclusions: Public health officials and urban planners may use our findings to promote healthy transportation choices. When designing health-promoting cities, benefits (physical activity) as well as hazards (air pollution) should be evaluated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)527-534
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental health perspectives
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Y. Akita for use of his ArcGIS tools and S. Blenski for assembling bicycle and pedestrian counts. This article was developed in part under Assistance Agreement no. RD83587301 awarded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, Public Health Services, US Dept of Health and Human Services. All rights reserved.


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