Posts Tagged: infrastructure

Civ PhD alumna self-publishes infrastructure book for all ages with environmental message

Mariko Uda PHOTO: Phill Snel, Civil & Mineral Engineering/U of T


She took time off her job to write a book.

Image of the book cover for "Where does it all come from? Where does it all go?"

Mariko Uda (Civ 0T4, PhD 2016) took time away from engineering work in order to pursue a long-held dream of turning author.

Her self-published book titled “Where does it all come from? Where does it all go? Toronto’s water, energy & waste systems” is the result.

Uda has long wanted to share her understanding of infrastructure and environment, saying, “I’ve been thinking about this kind of a book since my civil engineering undergrad. A lot of us live in the city and we turn on light switches, we flush the toilet, and we throw things in the garbage, but we don’t really think about where it all comes from or where it goes.”

Helping to bridge the average Torontonians’ understanding of their daily interactions with utilities, and with resources as a whole, was a key goal. “I’m an environmentalist and I feel part of the problem is that in cities we don’t have a connection to the land or water we are actually dependent on. With this book I wanted to bring what’s hidden up to the surface to show people how we’re connected. For instance, our water comes from Lake Ontario.”


Toronto specific

“I live here, so I picked Toronto to base it upon. If I lived somewhere else, it might have been a different book about a different place. I made it place specific because a lot of books tell you the concepts in abstract in saying something like ‘this is how a water treatment plant works’ or ‘this is how this is how hydro electric energy works’ or whatever. A lot of education is abstract because they’re trying to teach concepts.”


The 52-page book is also illustrated by Uda, making it approachable for all ages and levels of education. Simple diagrams work both to attract and assist children in understanding simple concepts, but are also supplemented by statistics and figures older readers find useful.

I have pictures in it, so it’s good for kids. But also for newcomers, because in coming here they have no idea how and where things are coming from, or are going to, since the place they came from likely had very different infrastructure.

“I did my research on low-impact development stormwater management practices, which are design features that reduce the amount of water going to the storm sewers by holding it on a property or helping it to be absorbed by the ground. That was my research my first two years at grad school, but then I switched to PhD. My doctorate research was on how to design sustainable and resilient neighborhoods for future climate.”sample illustrations in the book


sample illustrations in the book

Booked a sales table before starting

Uda ambitiously first booked a table for Word on the Street, a Toronto book festival, then began her creative process this past spring. With the looming September 22 deadline approaching, it was a strong incentive to finish her project.


Mindfulness is also one of Uda’s goals. “Once we know how we’re connected, then we can be mindful of our connections and then mindful of our actions and our impacts, and interactions,” she proclaims.

This limited-run book is available online at for $20 ($25 with fed tax and shipping).


By Phill Snel


Page in the book that illustrates how storm sewers work


Reconciliation through Engineering Initiative to improve transportation and housing in Indigenous communities

Professors Tracey Galloway and Chris Beck in one of the planes used to transport food, supplies and passengers to remote Indigenous communities in Northern Ontario. (Photo courtesy of Chris Beck)

Professors Tracey Galloway and Chris Beck in one of the planes used to transport food, supplies and passengers to remote Indigenous communities in Northern Ontario. (Photo courtesy of Chris Beck)

Mitigating indoor mould and optimizing air transportation in Northern Ontario are the first two collaborative projects between Indigenous community leaders and U of T researchers to get underway through the Reconciliation Through Engineering Initiative (RTEI).

Launched last December by the Centre for Global Engineering (CGEN), RTEI will ultimately identify six projects to improve access to clean drinking water, food security, housing, health care, transportation and communication systems in Indigenous communities across Canada.

All RTEI projects aim to find sustainable engineering solutions through community-driven, multidisciplinary and Two-Eyed Seeing collaborations, leveraging the expertise of both Indigenous community members and U of T researchers specializing in diverse fields.

“In today’s challenging environmental climate, a Two-Eyed Seeing approach to research is critical to building sustainable futures for all,” says Sonia Molodecky, RTEI program lead.

The first project focuses on developing a holistic, land-based mould-mitigation framework for Indigenous housing on Georgina Island in Lake Simcoe, north of Toronto. The work, which can be used to support other First Nations communities across Northern Ontario, is led by Professors Marianne Touchie (CivMin, MIE), Liat Margolis (Architecture), Bomani Khemet (Architecture) and natural building designer Becky Big Canoe of the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation.

Mould contamination, which is associated with respiratory illnesses, affects 44% of houses in First Nation communities in Canada. And as Becky Big Canoe has seen first-hand, previous attempts to address the spread of mould were unsuccessful. A key factor of failed mould remediation strategies was the lack of consultations with residents.

“The solutions weren’t sustainable, did not fit the environment or take into account high occupancies,” says Big Canoe, whose prototype of a land-based, high-occupancy house will be incorporated into the team’s ventilation and building-envelope design.

“I think we understand what the technical solutions are,” says Touchie, who will focus on ventilation systems. Khemet will work on the building envelope, and Margolis on the house’s soft-scape surroundings.

“The key to success in this project is actually gaining an understanding of the ways in which communities use their houses, what housing needs aren’t met, and what they’d like to see done differently. That is why Becky’s expertise and prototype will play a vital role in this.”

RTEI’s second project will develop techniques for more efficient air transportation to Indigenous communities in Northern Ontario. The work is led by Professors Chris Beck (MIE), Chi-Guhn Lee (MIE), Shoshanna Saxe (CivMin), Tracey Galloway (Anthropology) and Michael Widener (Geography).

In Northern Ontario, the reliability of air service, both cargo and passenger, is hampered by persistent challenges. These include aging infrastructure, limited weather information and navigational supports, as well as long flight paths between communities and limited emergency supports. These challenges significantly affect food security for these communities, which rely on air transport for their food.

These challenges are further compounded by extreme weather patterns. Even de-icing, a matter perceived as routine in southern Canada, is more complex to operationalize in the North.

In addition to consulting with Indigenous community leaders, the engineering researchers are working closely with Galloway — drawing on her long history of work in remote Northern Canada — and Widener — an expert in geographic systems and the interplay between accessibility and wellbeing — to understand the human impact of their proposed solutions.

In the second collaboration, Beck’s team will work closely with Northern businesses to develop models that optimize travel routes and cargo/passenger transportation.

“We have a lot of research about transportation optimization that’s been developed over the last 50 years, but almost always, this research is within the context of the South, where there’s a market environment and plenty of transportation links,” says Beck, who recently visited the airports in First Nation communities Webequie, Neskantaga and Eabametoong.

Meanwhile, Lee’s team will apply machine learning techniques to manage uncertainty, such as when adverse weather conditions or emergencies lead to a cascading effect of unknowns in air transport operations.

“If there’s an emergency situation where a plane carrying essential supplies can’t land at the optimized destination, we would have to find an alternative that causes the least disruption,” says Lee. “Our work aims to minimize the impact of uncertainty.”

Saxe’s group will analyze the current physical infrastructure of these airports to identify their impact on air service. Her lab is currently engaging with both users and providers of air travel services to learn about their experiences.

“It’s most important that we’re listening to learn about a context different from our lived experiences as Southerners,” adds Saxe.

Researchers across both projects emphasize the importance of taking the time to find the appropriate solutions, rather than developing a quick fix.

“Strange as it sounds, we will spend most of the next year listening: sitting down with experts, decision makers, Elders and community members,” says Galloway. “We need to listen to the larger, ongoing conversation happening in Canada around self-determination for Indigenous people, and ask our partners and collaborators how we can support their goals through research.”

By Liz Do

Story originally posted on U of T Engineering News

Reconciliation through engineering

Professor Jennifer Drake (CivMin) presents to Indigenous leaders from across Ontario at the Sioux Lookout Innovation Station. The event is part of the Reconciliation Through Engineering Initiative, a collaboration between Indigenous communities and U of T Engineering’s Centre for Global Engineering (CGEN). (Photo: Shakya Sur)

Professor Jennifer Drake (CivMin) presents to Indigenous leaders from across Ontario at the Sioux Lookout Innovation Station. The event is part of the Reconciliation Through Engineering Initiative, a collaboration between Indigenous communities and U of T Engineering’s Centre for Global Engineering (CGEN). (Photo: Shakya Sur)

Researchers at the Centre for Global Engineering (CGEN) are collaborating with Indigenous communities to address pressing infrastructure challenges facing geographically disparate communities across Canada.

CGEN’s Reconciliation Through Engineering Initiative (RTEI) will identify six projects that aim to improve access to clean drinking water, food security, housing, health care, transportation and communication systems from a multi-disciplinary and holistic perspective.

Since December, CGEN’s approach has been to first listen, learn and gather perspectives before defining any projects, says RTEI program lead Sonia Molodecky and research associate Shakya Sur.

“Our first step was to meet with Indigenous elders, youth, men and women to really understand — first and foremost — how we may approach a collaborative research relationship founded on respect and reciprocity,” says Molodecky. “We recognize that there are 10,000-plus years of knowledge and expertise that Indigenous Peoples have about their communities, relationships with the natural environment, and the interconnection and interdependence of all things. There is a lot we can learn. We are embarking on a co-learning journey.”

Two projects are in their early stages of development: one in northern Ontario and the high Arctic will focus on optimizing transportation routes to ensure timely delivery of food and supplies to communities. This work will have a multidisciplinary team of researchers, including professors Chris Beck (MIE), Chi-Guhn Lee (MIE), Shoshanna Saxe (CivMin), Tracey Galloway(Anthropology) and Michael Widener (Geography).

The second project will focus on developing a framework for designing building ventilation, envelope and integration of landscape-design features to mitigate mold, a significant concern for many Indigenous communities in Canada, says Sur.

“This work will lead to producing a set of housing guidelines that will inform the building of safer and healthier homes in the long term,” he says. “In addition to focusing on ventilation and building envelope design, the project will utilize landscape-design principles and an understanding of the relationship of the house to natural environment, to augment the overall performance of the house, as well as strengthen the residents’ connection to the land. Ultimately, this will contribute towards the long-term sustainability of the overall research outcomes.”  This project will involve professors Marianne Touchie (CivMin), Bomani Khemet (Architecture) and Liat Margolis(Architecture).

On June 17 and 18, CGEN co-sponsored the First Annual Innovation Station Event in Lac Seul First Nation, where they met with Indigenous leaders representing 21 communities serviced by the Sioux Lookout area, in order to understand their needs and priorities and identify future partnerships. Among those present were former Chief Clifford Bull, Special Advisor on Indigenous affairs to the Ontario government, Doug Lawrance, Mayor of Sioux Lookout as well as a number of local industry and service providers.

Researchers in attendance included, professors Arthur Chan (ChemE), Jennifer Drake (CivMin), Jeffrey Siegel (CivMin), as well as Galloway and Bonnie McElhinny (Anthropology). Faculty members presented on their research expertise and learned about the communities’ challenges to better pinpoint potential areas for collaboration.

Also joining them was Elder Whabagoon, who stepped on the soil of her home community of Lac Seul First Nation for the first time since being taken away almost 59 years ago during the ‘Sixties Scoop’. Elder Whabagoon presented an initiative she co-created in partnership with University of Toronto Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design (FALD) and First Nations House (FNH) and the Toronto Regional Conservation Authority (TRCA), called Nikibii Dawadinna Giigwag. This program works with Indigenous youth to re-connect their spirit with the land through the design of green infrastructure, architecture and land-based teachings.

“It was a very emotional experience coming home. My heart and feet felt grounded for the first time. My heart is full and I am so very grateful for the opportunity. I am very hopeful for the work going forward with my community and see real change being possible through this initiative” said Whabagoon.

Over the next twelve months, Molodecky and Sur will finalize the six research projects, secure further funding to support community participation, and host workshops at the university to give U of T Engineering students an opportunity to learn about the challenges facing Indigenous communities as well as the robust knowledge systems that they are using to address these challenges.

“We’re looking at the full picture. This is an opportunity for us to do things in a much more sustainable way, and the right way, thinking about many generations down the road,” says Sur. “The way to do that is to involve the youth — in our community and in Indigenous communities — so we can carry this effort forward, past the duration of the projects themselves.”

By Liz Do


This article originally posted on Uof T Engineering News

Smart Freight Centre aims to deliver the goods — faster and greener

The demand for goods transportation continues to rise, leading to increased traffic congestion across the GTHA. The newly launched Smart Freight Centre looks to find solutions. (Photo: Flickr)

Leading experts from U of T Engineering, McMaster University and York University are working together to improve — and future-proof — how goods are delivered across the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area (GTHA) through the newly established Smart Freight Centre (SFC).

Professor Matt Roorda (CivMin), of the U of T Transportation Research Institute, is the U of T Engineering lead for the effort, and is the centre’s inaugural chair. The SFC will advance the goals outlined in the Region of Peel’s Goods Movement Strategic Plan, said Roorda in an announcement event today in Brampton, Ont.

The new centre will study ways to improve the transportation of goods throughout the region, taking into account issues like traffic, population growth and the environment.

From delivering stock to stores or packages to individual homes, the demand for freight transportation continues to rise — at the same time that expected delivery windows are narrowing.

“It’s the Amazon effect. People are buying things online and expect them delivered within a day or even within a few hours,” says Roorda. “And that has a real impact on the number of trucks on the road.”

Increased truck traffic contributes to congestion on the roads and competition for parking, both of which pose distribution challenges — especially as populations grow across the GTHA. Meanwhile, stop-and-go traffic leads to higher carbon emissions.

“We want to establish sustainable freight transportation systems that are more efficient and less impactful on communities,” says Roorda.

Roorda’s project, which launched in February, will see industry partners Walmart, Loblaws and LCBO stores piloting nighttime freight deliveries — shifting key daytime deliveries from distribution centres to retail locations to the late evening, from 7 to 11 p.m.

“There definitely seems to be a lot of spare capacity on our roadways at different times of day, so why not make better use of our current infrastructure?” says Roorda. “With there being less traffic congestion on the road during that time period, what we hope to see by studying the before and after, is that operations are running faster and more smoothly.”

His research group will also look at how the time shift will affect emission levels, examine cost mitigation for companies, and consider whether late-evening noise levels is an issue for residents along freight delivery routes.

The pilot is one of three initial projects underway in the SFC, with each of the three partner universities leading one. York University will study the feasibility of establishing truck-only lanes in the GTHA, while McMaster will research e-commerce purchasing behaviours to predict driving trends of future home-delivery demands.

Roorda and his colleagues at York and McMaster are currently developing SFC’s five-year plan, which will include research projects on automated trucks, and innovative alternatives to last-mile deliveries.

“I think we can make an impact with not just research papers in journals, but with demonstrated projects — there’s one foot in real life happening with this centre,” says Roorda. “These are on-the-ground problems that we’re trying to solve.”

By Liz Do

Story originally appeared on U of T Engineering News

Landscaping project revitalizes Galbraith entrance as gathering place

A view of the redesigned front of U of T Engineering’s Galbraith Building, looking north on St. George Street. (Courtesy: gh3*)

As U of T’s St. George Campus turns green again after a harsh winter, the space in front of the Galbraith Building’s western entrance will experience a renewal.

A new landscaping project, slated to break ground in early April, will see the St. George Street frontage of the U of T Engineering building redesigned with new seating, improved accessibility, and a prominent site for Becca’s H, the sculpture by artist Robert Murray to mark the Faculty’s 100th anniversary in 1973.

“We observed that this site at the heart of our campus wasn’t being used as much as it could be — with this redevelopment, we’re creating a welcoming public space that encourages our students, staff and faculty to gather, take a breath and share ideas,” says Tom Saint-Ivany, Director, Facilities & Infrastructure Planning for U of T Engineering.

“We also want to redesign this high-traffic corridor of the U of T Engineering precinct into a place that connects more fluidly with its surroundings: the new Myhal Centre to the north, and the Bahen Centre immediately across the street.”

The design is being led by gh3*, a Toronto-based practice, with the final design benefiting from the input received from students, staff, faculty, and the University’s Design Review Committee. Somerville Construction will act as the landscape contractor. Work will take place on one half of the site at a time, leaving the other half accessible and open to traffic. Those requiring an accessible entrance to the building can enter via the north side of the building, off of Galbraith Road.

The new design centres around ‘character-defined architecture,’ which describes coordination with the structural grid of the Galbraith Building and seamless visual continuity from the vertical to the horizontal planes.

The site will feature native plants including flowering shrubs, evergreens and perennial grasses, new granite seating and a heating system underneath the walkway to keep the area free of snow and ice year-round. Becca’s H will be integrated into the design on its own dedicated slab to the right of the entrance, creating another focal point for conversation.

The project is expected to be completed prior to the start of the fall term.

By Marit Mitchell

Story originally appeared on U of T Engineering News

Green infrastructure: New tool to help construction industry reduce carbon footprint

Professors Brenda McCabe, Daman Panesar, Shoshanna Saxe, Heather MacLean and Daniel Posen (all CivE) are collaborating with companies in construction, building services and engineering consulting to reduce the greenhouse gas impacts of future infrastructure projects. (Photo: Tyler Irving)

A team of researchers from U of T Engineering is partnering with the construction industry to help reduce the carbon footprint of buildings, bridges, public transit and other major infrastructure projects.

“What we’re building is a decision-support tool that can be used in the early stages of design and planning,” says Professor Heather MacLean (CivE), one of five U of T Engineering professors involved in the project. “Ultimately, the goal is to produce infrastructure with much lower greenhouse gas impact.”

While green building certification programs have existed for decades, MacLean and her collaborators — including Professors Brenda McCabeDaman PanesarDaniel Posen and Shoshanna Saxe (all CivE) — point out that these are typically considered only toward the end of the design process, when most major decisions have already been made.

“The decisions that have the most impact are the ones that are made early in the process,” says Saxe, who specializes in analysis of transit infrastructure. “These include how big it’s going to be, or what materials it will be made of. Once those are set, it really puts limits on how low the overall emissions can get.”

Nearly a year ago, the team was approached by EllisDon, a major construction and building services company headquartered in Mississauga, Ont. As part of its Carbon Impact Initiative, the company and its partners, including BASF and WSP, are collaborating on projects that aim to elevate efficiency and sustainability in the built environment.

In their early talks, the researchers and industry partners quickly identified science-based decision support in the early stages of project planning as a key strategy for emissions reduction. They plan to analyze data from previously constructed projects and publicly available databases to generate predictive tools.

“Large-scale infrastructure projects are complex, consisting of many different construction activities, along with associated inputs of material and energy,” says MacLean. “We don’t yet have good data about the on-site and supply-chain emissions associated with these inputs, especially those specific to the Ontario context. If we can cut down on that uncertainty, it will greatly help inform these types of decisions.”

Today, the Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science announced that the project was among those that received funding through the TargetGHG program, administered by Ontario Centres of Excellence, which supports industry-academic collaborations that will help the province meet more aggressive future GHG targets.

“Supporting the efforts of large industries in their quest to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions is an important part of our government’s Climate Change Action Plan,” says Reza Moridi, Minister of Research, Innovation and Science. “With the help of our province’s innovative cleantech companies, the TargetGHG program will help build a prosperous, low carbon economy and create a cleaner, more sustainable future for Ontario.”

In total, the project has attracted more than $2 million in funding from a variety of sources, including the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) as well as financial and in-kind contributions from the industrial partners.

“Taking steps to reduce the impacts of greenhouse gases and air pollution on our climate and environment is a key priority in Canada,” says Dr. Marc Fortin, Vice-President, Research Partnerships, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. “NSERC is proud to partner with Ontario Centres of Excellence to connect Canada’s top researchers and companies to develop innovative clean technologies that will advance environmental sustainability in Canada and improve the health and quality of life of Canadians.”

“This project is a wonderful example of how our researchers leverage strong collaborations with industry to develop next-generation solutions to society’s most pressing challenges, including climate change,” said Ramin Farnood, Vice-Dean, Research at U of T Engineering. “This tool has great potential to enhance the sustainability of major infrastructure not just here in Ontario, but around the world.”

A second U of T Engineering project, focused on installation and testing of fast-charging stations for electric vehicles, also received funding through the TargetGHG program. Led by Professor Reza Iravani (ECE), it will be carried out in collaboration with energy storage company eCAMION.

MacLean and her team are already looking to recruit the graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who will collect and analyze the data, and continue to work closely with their industrial partners as they move forward.

“It’s exciting to be working with partners that are eager to roll out solutions,” says Posen. “We have had great meetings, and we have a strong sense they are looking to turn this research into practical results.”

Originally posted on U of T Engineering News by Tyler Irving.

Concrete check-up: Fae Azhari develops diagnostics for critical infrastructure

Professor Fae Azhari (MIE, CivE) holds a sample of the self-sensing concrete she designed. Her work helps monitor the structural health of crucial infrastructure such as bridges, roads and hydroelectric dams. (Credit: Roberta Baker)

This story originally appeared on U of T Engineering News.

Canada will spend $125 billion on infrastructure maintenance and expansion in the next 10 years. Professor Fae Azhari (MIE, CivE) is helping stretch those dollars farther by keeping our buildings, bridges, roads and reservoirs safe and structurally sound for longer.

Azhari’s research focuses on structural health monitoring. Just as you visit the doctor for periodic check-ups, structures need their health checked too — but instead of blood tests and heart rate measurements, engineers usually perform visual inspections and spot-checks with sensors and instruments.

“The problem with visual inspections is that they’re pretty subjective, and with periodic monitoring, you can miss certain events or failures,” says Azhari. “Now we’re moving toward continuous monitoring by incorporating permanent sensors on important structures to get real-time data.”

Degradation or damage suffered between inspections can have catastrophic consequences. In June 2013, a rail bridge just outside of downtown Calgary partially collapsed as a train was passing over it. The train, carrying flammable and toxic liquids, derailed. Emergency measures were taken to prevent the railcars from falling into the Bow River, which was running high with summer floodwater. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada determined that floodwaters had eroded the soil around the bridge’s foundations, causing the collapse. This loss of sediment from around foundational supports is called scour.

“Believe it or not, this happens very often, especially in North America and some Asian countries,” says Azhari. “Scour is a huge problem.”

For her PhD research at the University of California, Davis, Azhari tackled scour from a new angle: she took commercially available sensors that measure dissolved oxygen, typically used for agriculture or biological applications, and used them for sensing scour. Azhari’s design was to attach a number of oxygen sensors at increasing depths along the buried length of the bridge pier. If the pier is properly buried, the dissolved oxygen levels detected by the sensors should be very low — but as scour erodes the sediments and exposes the sensors to flowing water, the dissolved oxygen levels rise. As scour progresses, more and more sensors become exposed, indicating how badly scour is threatening the bridge’s structural integrity.

She has also worked on concrete sensors, including a design that integrates conductive carbon fibers and nanotubes into concrete, making it a self-sensing material. Measuring the resistance across the material reveals the stresses and strains on it. “This technology is well-proven in the laboratory, but moving it to the field is a big challenge,” says Azhari.

As she builds her research enterprise, Azhari plans to collaborate across disciplines and with key partners who could benefit from her sensors, as well her analysis and insight into the data that comes from them. “Transportation infrastructure, utilities, dams, power plants, wind turbines — basically any engineering system — needs maintenance and monitoring,” she says.

“It’s very important to get these sensors from prototype to implementation, and I want to work on that.”

Clean air map from U of T Engineering researchers helps cyclists avoid air pollution

Civil engineering post-doctoral researcher Sabreena Anowar and Professor Marianne Hatzopoulou (CivE) are studying the risks of air pollution on cyclists and their impact on route choice. (Photo: Tyler Irving)

Civil engineering post-doctoral researcher Sabreena Anowar and Professor Marianne Hatzopoulou (CivE) are studying the risks of air pollution on cyclists and their impact on route choice. (Photo: Tyler Irving)

This story originally appeared on U of T News.

Cyclists face a difficult dilemma: on one hand, cycling is good for your health and the environment; on the other, cyclists are more exposed to risks such as accidents and air pollution. New research from U of T Engineering is helping cyclists map cleaner routes to minimize this exposure.

“In general, the benefits of cycling certainly outweigh the risks,” says Professor Marianne Hatzopoulou (CivE). “If you are a healthy person, you are better off to continue cycling than stop.” Nevertheless, when it comes to air pollution, cyclists are at a disadvantage.

“Studies have shown that the concentration of air pollutants tends to be higher inside vehicles than outside them,” says Hatzopoulou. “However, cyclists have a higher breathing rate, which means that they inhale more of these pollutants, and they go deeper into the lungs.”

Such pollutants include ultra-fine particles, as well as nitrogen oxides. Hatzopoulou cites studies associating increased exposure to these pollutants with respiratory problems and certain types of cancer. Her own research has shown that they can even have immediate, measurable effects on the cardiovascular system.

To help address this challenge, Hatzopoulou has created a tool called the Clean Ride Mapper for both Toronto and Montreal. It is essentially a Google Map with an extra layer representing the average concentration of pollutants in a given area, as measured by her team and collaborators. Using this data, algorithms can be constructed to work out not only the shortest route between two points, but also the one that exposes the cyclist to the lowest levels of air pollution.

Hatzopoulou and Anowar outfit a bicycle with equipment to detect the concentration of pollutant particles in the nearby air. (Photo: Tyler Irving)

Hatzopoulou and Anowar outfit a bicycle with equipment to detect the concentration of pollutant particles in the nearby air. (Photo: Tyler Irving)

Hatzopoulou intends to further refine the maps — for example, by incorporating real-time pollution concentrations instead of static data — but lately she has been pondering another question: are such tools actually useful to cyclists?

“There are a lot of factors that influence the choice of a cycling route besides pollution,” she says. “For example, there is safety, separation from traffic, elevation, distance, etc. Which ones would cyclists be willing to trade off in order to decrease their pollution exposure?”

Sabreena Anowar (CivE), a post-doctoral researcher on Hatzopoulou’s team, is working on an answer. She’s designed a survey that proposes several different cycling routes and asks cyclists to choose which one they would prefer.

“No route is perfect,” says Anowar. “They all vary in terms of traffic volume, pollution, elevation, travel time and other attributes.” By measuring which routes people would choose for either a recreational ride or a commuting ride, Anowar and Hatzopoulou hope to better understand how cyclists factor the risks of pollution into their activities. This in turn can help improve the design of tools like the interactive maps.

The survey was launched in Toronto, Montreal, Orlando, Austin, New York in collaboration with researchers in those cities. It will be open at least until June, and Anowar and Hatzopoulou are hoping to get at least 3,000 participants. In addition to their own research, Anowar says that the data could also be useful for city planners. “It will help identify how people value road infrastructure like separated lanes or signage,” says Anowar. “If we build more infrastructure like this, perhaps we can encourage people to cycle more.”

To help Hatzopoulou and Anowar in their research, complete the online survey for either a recreational ride or a commuting ride.

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