Impact of Road Proximity and other Determinants of Air Quality along Multi-Use Trails in the National Capital Region

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Virginia Tech


Active travel can provide short-term and long-term health benefits and has the ability to reduce the negative externalities of vehicular traffic, for example, congestion, land consumption, and air pollution. However, exposure to air pollution is higher for pedestrians and cyclists than other road users when considering inhalation rate and travel distance. Route choice for active travel is a potential strategy to reduce the adverse impact of exposure to air pollution. Multi-use trails could be an effective way to reduce health impacts as the pollutant concentration is typically lower on trails, however, proximity to nearby roadways can deteriorate the air quality in multi-use trails. The goal of this study is to investigate the air pollutant concentrations on multi-use trails adjacent to different roadway classification and identify the factors that influence air quality in multi-use trails. I collected pollutant concentrations of PM2.5, particle number, and black carbon using mobile monitoring on an e-bike. I identified five trail routes that run parallel to an interstate highway, principal arterial, and local roads for this study and collected pollutant concentrations during morning, afternoon, and weekend afternoon peak hours. The average concentration of PM2.5, particle number, and black carbon was 15.62 µg/m3, 9,857 pt/cc, and 595.36 ng/m3 respectively among all the trail routes used for this study. I observed higher pollutant concentrations during morning peak hours than afternoon peak hours. Also, concentrations were lower on weekends than weekdays. The pollutant concentrations were different among multi-use trails based on their proximity and characteristics of nearby roadways. The pollutant concentrations significantly declined when the trail segment was 50-100 meters away as compared to segments within 50 meters of nearby interstates, freeways, or collectors. Concentrations increased significantly for trail segments having a nearby road Annual Average Daily Travel (AADT) of more than 32,000. The regression models explain 65%, 59%, and 52% of variability in the PM2.5, particle number, and black carbon concentrations respectively. Nearby road AADT and road density were found to be significant for PM2.5, particle number, and black carbon concentrations. Cooking place (rest areas with barbeque grills) and construction sites were significant and positively associated with PM2.5 concentrations. Airport and construction sites near trails showed a positive relation to the particle number concentration. Parking spaces near trails increase the concentration of black carbon along trails. This study shows the impact of roadway proximity on the air quality of trails which should be considered by municipalities while planning for multi-use trail network to mitigate health risks of pedestrians and bicyclists on trails.



Air quality monitoring, Active travel, Urban Planning