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Children in Bike Trailers Exposed to More Air Pollution Than the Cyclists Towing Them

By Monica Buck

According to new research published by the University of Surrey in the Journal of Hazardous Materials Advances, pollution particles are greater at the height of the bicycle trailer than they are at the height of the cyclist.

The researchers carried out a total of 82 single runs covering the length of 176 km. These runs were repeated on a 2.1 km predefined route between the origin (University campus) and destination (a local school) to simulate morning drop-off (8-10 AM; local time) and afternoon pick-up (3-5 PM) times of school children.

Children's bike trailer
Details of the (a) route map for field measurements showing origin as the University of Surrey and destination as Sandfield Primary School; and (b) details of experimental setup showing bike and a bike-trailer without and (c) with the bike-trailer cover. (Credit: University of Surrey)

Compared with cyclist height, the average bike-trailer concentration of coarse (fine) particles was higher by up to 14% and 18% during morning and afternoon runs, respectively. The lockdown restrictions when schools were closed led to a reduction in bike-trailer concentrations by up to 91% compared with eased lockdown period when schools re-opened in March 2021.

The researchers also tried trailer covers, which led up to a 50% reduction in fine particles during morning runs. However, that doesn’t change the outcome as the abstract of the research states:

“Young children carried in bike trailers are exposed to higher air pollution concentrations compared with the cyclist, particularly during peak morning periods at urban pollution hotspots such as traffic lights.”