Research suggests that people riding the Tube are exposed to 8 times more pollution than car drivers. While this research didn’t compare taking the London Underground with cycling, research last year found that cyclists inhale fewer pollutants than car drivers. What with the speed of cars falling like a stone, cycling is ever becoming the best and healthiest mode of transport in London.
Tube vs car
University of Surrey researchers gave a number of car drivers and Tube riders monitors for the pollutant PM10, a particularly nasty particulate matter that is so small it passes through the lungs and into the bloodstream. They found that during a ride on the Victoria and Northern lines with windows open, a rider could inhale up to 68mg of PM10. Car drivers meanwhile inhaled 8.2mg on a similar journey.
On Tube lines that had their windows closed the amount inhaled was markedly less. Given how hot it gets down there in summer, closing the windows for long term health is not an option most of your fellow riders would appreciate in terms of short term comfort.
Tube vs bus
Bus riders meanwhile were exposed to just over half the PM10 matter, at 38mg. Given that cars pump out the most particulates, this led Dr Prashant Kumar, who led the study, to say: “We found that there is definitely an element of environmental injustice among those commuting in London, with those who create the most pollution having the least exposure to it.”
2016 study – cycling vs cars
A piece of BBC research in 2016 found that those driving through congested cities had 21% higher NO2 levels inside their cars than they would breathe in outside. In short, driving with your windows closed you are concentrating pollutants inside the vehicle.
While no direct comparison was made, if a driver is in a hot tank full of noxious gas, the cyclist is breathing in far fewer nasties than the driver simply by not being in a metal box.
Another BBC report had someone argue that a lot of the reason for car drivers inhaling more rubbish than someone outside would, is that cars’ air intakes are at a similar level to the exhaust pipes in front of the car. Cyclists meanwhile are above them.
Traffic is getting ever slower
Speed monitoring of London’s traffic suggests that car driving is coming close to that of a cyclist now. In 2016 in Greater London the average speed of cars fell to 16.5mph (by comparison to just over 19mph in 2012) while in Central London this has now fallen to a pitiful 7.4mph. A cyclist on a reasonable road bike could well be cruising at around 15mph, only slightly slower than the speed of Greater London traffic, while even a plodder on a Boris Bike will easily pass through Central London car traffic at 9-10mph.
Overall, this means that you’re going to breathe in less garbage when you cycle and probably will get to your destination more quickly and cheaply than someone driving. The excuses to drive to work are disappearing by the month it seems!