A new study reveals that children walking to school on carefully designed routes can minimize air pollution exposure, contrasting with higher levels found in car commutes, highlighting the health benefits of Walking School Buses in Bradford, UK.

Kim N. Dirks, Judith Y. T. Wang, Amirul Khan, Christopher Rushton

Please read the abstract for a detailed overview:


Walking School Buses (WSBs) provide a safe alternative to being driven to school. Children benefit from the contribution the exercise provides towards their daily exercise target, it gives children practical experience with respect to road safety and it helps to relieve traffic congestion around the entrance to their school. Walking routes are designed largely based in road safety considerations, catchment need and the availability of parent support. However, little attention is given to the air pollution exposure experienced by children during their journey to school, despite the commuting microenvironment being an important contributor to a child’s daily air pollution exposure. This study aims to quantify the air pollution exposure experienced by children walking to school and those being driven by car. A school was chosen in Bradford, UK. Three adult participants carried out the journey to and from school, each carrying a P-Trak ultrafine particle (UFP) count monitor. One participant travelled the journey to school by car while the other two walked, each on opposite sides of the road for the majority of the journey. Data collection was carried out over a period of two weeks, for a total of five journeys to school in the morning and five on the way home at the end of the school day. Results of the study suggest that car commuters experience lower levels of air pollution dose due to lower exposure and reduced commute times. The largest reductions in exposure for pedestrians can be achieved by avoiding close proximity to traffic queuing up at intersections, and, where possible, walking on the side of the road opposite the traffic, especially during the morning commuting period. Major intersections should also be avoided as they were associated with peak exposures. Steps to ensure that the phasing of lights is optimised to minimise pedestrian waiting time would also help reduce exposure. If possible, busy roads should be avoided altogether. By the careful design of WSB routes, taking into account air pollution, children will be able to experience the benefits that walking to school brings while minimizing their air pollution exposure during their commute to and from school.

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