Thanks to our summer intern Geetha Jeyapragasan for this blog post!
With beautiful weather and an enthusiastic group of participants, Friendly Streets went out on an air quality audit during the evening of June 14th. A diverse group of 13 residents, including two families with young children, a public health nurse, students, residents from the Beasley and GALA neighbourhoods, as well as residents from other areas of Hamilton, we set out to audit in the Beasley and GALA neighbourhoods. It was exciting to have children part of an audit for the first time, as they are not only the future generation that will be more likely to walk, bike and transit through the city, but they are also a vulnerable population, where the impacts of air pollution are far greater for children than adults.
During a typical air quality audit, we use monitors to analyzing the respirable particulate matter (PM2.5) levels, which is the particulate matter that enters the bloodstream and contributes to several respiratory illnesses. On the evening of the 14th, the air had exceptionally low PM2.5 levels, with an average of 296 (min 185, max. 1655). This surprised us and other participants – as soon as the moment the monitor turns on, we’ve come to expect a “Very Poor” reading, given that we were collecting data in the downtown core. We had conversations hypothesizing the drastic decrease in PM2.5 and potentially attributed this to either the rainfall the day before which reduces airborne particulate matter, the direction that the wind was blowing, and the time of day because we began the audit at 6:30 pm after peak rush hour. Following the scale below, the air quality fell under the “Very Good” category, with a couple spikes as we passed by people smoking, near a construction site, or as trucks drove by.
With the project focusing around the Beasley and GALA neighbourhoods, our route navigated arterial, residential, and alleyways in these neighbourhoods, as well as focusing on the area near the Hamilton General Hospital, including Barton St. We also walked along Wellington St. N. and Victoria Ave. N., which are both truck routes that run through these neighbourhoods. This decreases air quality, creating some health concerns for residents living in these areas or patients and families going to the hospital. As a healthier and traffic-calmed alternative, the use of West Avenue as a viable cycling route to the hospital has been discussed to get from Barton to Cannon instead of the busy Victoria Ave. There has been some conversation about this route becoming a signed route–a type of bicycle route that is typically designated along more lightly traveled residential or secondary roads and is indicated by signs with directional and informational markers.
Just parallel to West Avenue is also an alley opening onto Barton, which on previous audits demonstrated to have significantly lower particulate matter levels than main arterial roads, especially when the air quality is significantly poor in the city. With our walk taking place in the evening, Victoria Ave. was quiet in some areas with little traffic, allowing us to notice historic buildings and the greenery without the noise pollution. It acted as a reminder that the streets of Hamilton aren’t always spilling over with cars, making it easier to enjoy the streets when traffic was less busy.
In addition to monitoring air quality, observing traffic along these areas also shed light on unsafe areas. For example, we witnessed a truck turning left from Wellington St. onto Cannon St. into a bike lane, which could potentially have put a cyclist at risk. Noting that this intersection experiences collisions, the Cannon Cycle Track pilot project report to the Public Works Committee recommended that the cycle track be a permanent cycling infrastructure and also recommended the addition of concrete curbs at the start of every block westbound. Council approved this recommendation this week. This will be a welcome addition to further enhance safety and protection for cyclists, which should hopefully also solve the issue of trucks turning in the bike lane.
Walking down Wilson street, we observed very narrow sidewalks, especially by the community park. We noted that the sidewalks on Wellington Street were wide. Someone suggested that Wellington be made into a local street with a centre turning lane, and a bi-directional bike lane like the Cannon cycle track. Someone proposed the idea of leaving Victoria as a truck route, and making Wellington a local two-way street!
All in all, this audit was not only informative for the community, but also allowed us to develop a further understanding of the air quality in the downtown core, as well as observe various areas in the neighbourhoods during off-peak hours, and see where improvements still need to be made. To register a complaint about dust drag out on the road, unsafe construction work that put the workers and pedestrians at risk, or see emissions coming from the industrial area, contact the Hamilton Ministry of Environment at 905-521-7650, or visit the site http://environmenthamilton.org/view/page/stackwatch_keys to find contact information to report during off hours, send pictures, or contact a specific industry.