Massive grant for traffic pollution monitoring

A new research project costing over £4 million will see universities across the UK team up to measure traffic's impact on air quality.

Jointly funded by the Department for Transport and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (ESPRC), the MESSAGE project will see dozens of mobile pollution monitoring devices deployed around the UK to build up a picture of traffic and congestion on the country’s air quality.

Some of the devices will be small enough to fit in people’s pockets and will be carried by pedestrians to get an idea of pollution on the pavements, while others will be attached to buses to monitor the situation on the roads themselves.

Both pedestrians and buses will collect vital real-time air quality data which will help show how factors such as weather, street design and driving behaviour can effect local air quality.

A DfT spokesman told edie that the particular emissions and pollutants to be monitored will be decided at the development stage of the project.

“We are looking at about 100 pedestrian sensors and half a dozen on London buses,” he said.

“No decision has been taken on who the pedestrians will be. That is one that will become clearer as time goes on as part of the initiative is to develop these sensors. Once that is done volunteers will be recruited.”

He said it was hoped that the pedestrian pollution monitors would be hitting the streets of Cambridge, Leicester, Gateshead and London within a year.

As well as building up a huge data set for the number crunchers to get their teeth into, the project will also develop new monitoring technology and put systems in place to analyse the data as it pours in.

Minister for Transport, Stephen Ladyman, said: “The Government is committed to supporting research that will help to deliver real benefits in the longer term. The MESSAGE project will provide a much better, more detailed picture of the environmental impact of transport, allowing future decisions to be made on the basis of sound scientific evidence.

“We all now live in a data rich world and it is important that we have robust methods for handling this data, in real time. This project will enable the development of technologies to manage our transport systems as efficiently and effectively as possible.”

Five universities will be involved in the research, lead by London’s Imperial College.

Project Director Professor John Polak from the university’s Centre for Transport Studies said: “Our objective is to bring about a step change improvement in the data and analysis methods available for the measurement and management of traffic pollution.

“To achieve this, we must bring together a range of disciplines that have hitherto been separate. This is exciting and important science and we relish the challenge and potential of this work.”

Air pollution is a serious health problem and causes the premature deaths of between 12,000 and 24,000 vulnerable people a year in the UK, according to a report by the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants carried out in 1998.

Sam Bond

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