On May 24th 2018, staff at Environment Hamilton and Cycle Hamilton, along with other community members and organization representatives ventured the streets of Beasley to conduct an audit centered around air quality and transportation. Using air quality monitors, respiratory particulate matter (PM 2.5) levels were monitored, the matter known to cause respiratory effects such as asthma attacks, bronchitis, heart attacks, and several other issues. Not only were PM2.5 levels observed, but also the general mobility of the area, from pedestrian crossing routes, sidewalk beautification, bikeability, and people’s proximity to cars on the sidewalk. The audit was conducted from 6-7:30pm, after the typical rush hour of students and employees returning home. The scale below helps provide a frame of reference for where the levels should be. The average air quality of the entire audit measured to 6571, which include measurements from main arterial roads such as Cannon, as well as through alleyways, residential and park areas.
In general, it was observed that Hamilton’s air quality is nowhere near where it should be, and currently, as it stands, Hamilton has the worst air quality within the province. During the audit, however, there were locations that stood out, either due to their comparatively high PM2.5 levels or due to the structure of the roads, making active transport (walking/biking) unsafe and difficult. One prominent aspect we noticed throughout several of the streets was the lack of greenery and trees surrounding the area. Trees drastically improve air quality, removing up to 50% of PM2.5 from the air. This was noticed on Barton, where no trees were found between James and Ferguson. Mobility issues were observed throughout the audit, where sidewalks were not wide enough for comfortable wheelchair mobility, the narrow sidewalks also put pedestrians very close to cars speeding down the road, not only making these sidewalks unsafe but deterring people from walking on the sidewalks all together and resorting to cars instead. Walking along Cannon was not a comfortable walk as there was no buffer between us and the cars speeding by, putting people and homes at risk. Bad mobility and air quality affects some communities more than others and put vulnerable communities at risk. For example, the area around King and Wellington St where First Place Hamilton Seniors Residence had elevated levels of PM2.5, further harming a population that is already more susceptible to the dangers of particulate matter than the general population.
One shocking observation was not only the volume of parking spaces but the concentration of them in the downtown core. With several entire blocks solely used for parking spaces, greenery and suitable bike parking were almost non-existent, making it an unattractive place for people who want to walk and bike commute to work. This audit allowed us to show the community where our air quality stands, collect more information and led to several insightful discussions on how mobility and air quality could be improved in the area.