Posts Tagged: Marianne Hatzopoulou

The UrbanScanner Project: Mobile monitoring of air pollution in cities

Prof. Marianne Hatzopoulou (left) and her research team, comprised of MASc candidate Keni Mallinen (centre) and Arman Ganji , PhD (right), with the UrbanScanner on the Uof T campus. UrbanScanner is  a rolling laboratory capable of monitoring air quality, traffic, trees and built environment in urban settings. (Photo by Phill Snel)

 

What rolls around the city getting a lot of admiring looks for its flashy chromed finishes and high tech roof protrusions? It’s not the latest tech from a popular web search engine company; it’s something entirely different. Meet UrbanScanner, a mobile testing laboratory on wheels, in the form of an automobile, researchers are driving around Toronto to monitor air pollution.

The Transportation and Air Quality (TRAQ) research group within the Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering at U of T, led by Prof. Marianne Hatzopoulou, has partnered with Scentroid, a Toronto-based company developing sensor-based systems for urban air pollution monitoring. The result is the development of UrbanScanner.

Hatzopoulou’s team, comprised of research associate Arman Ganji, PhD and Keni Mallinen, an MASc candidate, has been getting a lot of looks while gathering their data, but little is known about this mysteriously well-equipped rolling lab.

Watch an introductory video:

With a 360-degree camera, LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), GPS, an ultrasonic anemometer, temperature and relative humidity sensors, as well as particulate matter and gas sensors, UrbanScanner can monitor air pollution in a variety of methods. A platform on the roof of the vehicle streams data to a cloud server, with air pollution measured every second and paired with the camera and LIDAR images.

An example of UrbanScanner data points collected for pollution concentration overlapped with a City of Toronto street map.

Besides air quality, the traffic, trees and built environment are constantly measured. All of the data is overlaid over city maps with the aid of GPS, allowing for real-time measurements of traffic flow, number and height of trees, as well as building forms. With the ability to measure air flow and pollution near built-up urban areas, the maps can reveal elevated pollution levels, especially at rush hour and depending upon the season.

All of the data collected thus far takes time and effort to process, but Hatzopoulou has plans going forward. “Since September 2020, UrbanScanner has been collecting air quality data across Toronto, both along major roads and within Toronto neighbourhoods,” she says. “These data were paired with images of the urban environment from the UrbanScanner camera and these images will be analyzed to extract important features that affect air quality. This massive database will continue to grow as UrbanScanner collects data across seasons and will help us predict air quality in space and time, providing crucial information about population exposures in the City.”

A graphical abstract for the UrbanScanner project shows urban routes, samples taken and mapping.

Hatzopoulou adds, “Our team is also working on a smaller, more compact version of UrbanScanner with multiple units that will be installed on commercial/delivery vehicles. Imagine a dozen UrbanScanners collecting data simultaneously every day in Toronto!”

The research team is also developing a website to share data from the UrbanScanner project with the public and working on ways to enhance public engagement around urban air quality.

So, now if you see UrbanScanner in your neighbourhood you’ll know exactly what the team is up to. Please feel free to take a snap and tag #UrbanScanner and @CivMin.

By Phill Snel

 

By the numbers:

~250,000 • Number of data points collected in a month.

2,280 • Kilometres driven in a month of study.

101  • Hours of collection data.

60 • Kilometres driven each day of monitoring.

14 • Sensors on UrbanScanner.

4 • Wheels.

3 • Researchers.

2 • Seats in UrbanScanner.

1 • Mobile laboratory platform.

~ CivMin ~

 

 

 

 


Modelling the health benefits of electric cars

Professor Marianne Hatzopoulou (CivMin) and her team have modelled the potential human health impacts of a large-scale shift to electric vehicles across the GTHA. (Photo: Roberta Baker)

Electric vehicles are often touted as a means of mitigating climate change, but a new modelling study suggests that their public health benefits may be just as significant.

“Local air pollution within urban environments is highly detrimental to human health,” says Professor Marianne Hatzopoulou (CivMin), who led the research. “When you have an electric vehicle with no tailpipe emissions, you’re removing a wide range of contaminants — from nitrogen oxides to fine particulate matter— from the near-road environment and shifting them to power plants. The net effect remains a large improvement in air quality.”

Health Canada estimates that 14,600 premature deaths per year can be attributed to air pollution, with more than 3,000 of these in the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area (GTHA). Hatzopoulou and her team set out to model how that might change under a significant shift from internal combustion vehicles to electric ones.

The researchers created computer simulations for a number of different scenarios, such as replacing 20%, 50% or 100% of all cars and SUVs in the GTHA to electric ones. They also modelled the effect of switching transit buses over to electric buses, and of replacing all transport trucks with newer, less emitting models.

The simulations accounted for the fact that even though electric vehicles don’t produce any emissions themselves, they increase demand on electricity plants. If those plants burn fossil fuels, they might show increased local emissions, which the team included in their model.

“We can simulate the air quality down to areas as small as one square kilometre, so even if the overall effect is positive, we can see if there are local winners and losers,” says Hatzopoulou. “We also accounted for air pollution drifting over from upstate New York and the American Midwest, which we often can detect here in Toronto.”

For each scenario, the team calculated the predicted reduction in emissions for various air pollutants. Using epidemiological data on pollutant exposures, they then estimated the reduction in premature deaths that would be observed in that scenario.

Finally, using an economic measure known as the Value of Statistical Life (VSL), they converted the reductionin deaths into a dollar figure, as a way of quantifying the social benefits of the change.

Among the model’s predictions were:

  • Converting all cars and SUVs in the GTHA into electric vehicles would cause 313 fewer deaths per year, an estimated social benefit of $2.4 billion
  • Converting all transport trucks to more efficient models would cause 275 fewer deaths, an estimated social benefit of $2.1 billion
  • Converting  all transit systems to electric buses would cause 143 fewer deaths, an estimated social benefit of $1.1 billion

I was surprised just how strong the effect was,” says Hatzopoulou. “If you bring it down to an individual level, each electric vehicle replacing a gas-powered one brings nearly $10,000 in social benefits. Those benefits are shared by everyone, not just the people buying the cars.”

The study was published today in a report co-authored with Environmental Defence and the Ontario Public Health Association. The analysis relating to transport trucks, which included contributions from U of T Engineering professors Matthew Roorda and Daniel Posen (both CivMin) and their teams, was published last month in the journal Environmental Research.

NextHatzopoulou and her team plan to use their model to study the effects of other changes, such as reducing the overall number of cars on the road by encouraging public transit or active transportation.

“Electric vehicles are great, but with even millions of them on the road, we would still have issues such as traffic congestion,” she says. “If we want to address the climate crisis, we’re going to need behavioural modifications as well.”

“One of the things we’ve learned during this COVID-19 pandemic is that it might not be critical for everyone to commute to work every dayWe would liketo quantify the benefits — both for the environment and for our own health — of making those kinds of changes.”

By Tyler Iriving

This story originally published by Engineering News


CivMin students Alaa Itani and Junshi Xu among DiDi Graduate Awards

Nine of the inaugural winners of the DiDi Graduate Awards pose with DiDi representatives. L-R: Hao Wang, Dengbo He, Nicole Barbosa Sultanum, Bilal Majed Taha, Tracy Li (Senior Research Program Manager, DiDi), Hongtu Zhu (Chief Scientist of Statistics in AI Labs, DiDi), Danijar Hafner, Shangyi Xiong, Nazli Eser Kaya, Alaa Itani, and Junshi Xu (photo: Daria Perevezentsev)

 

Two CivMin students are among ten University of Toronto graduate students who are receiving DiDi Graduate Awards in recognition of their contributions to the fields of artificial intelligence, vehicle autonomy, transportation analytics, human-machine interfacing and related topics.

They are the first U of T students to receive scholarships from Beijing-based Didi Chuxing, the world’s largest ride-hailing service.

“U of T is very prestigious in cultivating outstanding leaders and innovators,” said Hongtu Zhu, chief scientist of statistics at DiDi. “DiDi hopes to contribute to this endeavor in fostering top talents to solve the world’s transportation, environmental and employment challenges with smart transportation innovations.”

The recipients are:

  • PhD students Danijar Hafner and Nicole Barbosa Sultanum, from the department of computer science in the Faculty of Arts & Science
  • Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering PhD students Alaa Itani (supervisor Professor Amer Shalaby) and Junshi Xu (supervisor Professor Marianne Hatzopoulou) of Civil Engineering; Hao Wang and Bilal Majed Taha of electrical and computer engineering and Dengbo He (supervisor Professor Birsen Donmez) of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering
  • Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering master’s student Nazli Eser Kaya (supervisor Professor Birsen Donmez) of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering
  • Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering master’s students Abhishek Goudar and Shangyi Xiong of the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies

 

This article originally published by U of T News


Crunching the numbers on Toronto’s King Street transit pilot

A streetcar stops on King Street in Toronto. A section of the busy east-west street travelling through downtown Toronto has restricted car traffic, and U of T Engineering researchers are collaborating with the City of Toronto and the Toronto Transit Commission to study the pilot project’s effects. (Credit: Billy Cabic via Flickr under creative commons license)

A streetcar stops on King Street in Toronto. A section of the busy east-west street travelling through downtown Toronto has restricted car traffic, and U of T Engineering researchers are collaborating with the City of Toronto and the Toronto Transit Commission to study the pilot project’s effects. (Credit: Billy Cabic via Flickr under creative commons license)

Toronto’s King Street transit pilot project aims to improve transit reliability, speed and capacity, along with a number of other measures included in a comprehensive evaluation and monitoring program. For a team of researchers, it also presents an ideal opportunity to study the effects — both direct and indirect — of traffic changes on air and noise pollution, public health and commuter decision-making.

The pilot project, launched in November 2017 and running for one year, involves altering traffic patterns on the stretch of King Street from Bathurst in the west to Jarvis Street in the east to prioritize through-traffic from streetcars, cyclists and pedestrians. Cars must take their first available right turn off the street, with through movements prohibited at eight of the 12 signalized intersections. The 504 King streetcar route is the busiest surface transit route in the city.

“There isn’t another city that’s done exactly what we’ve done, though other cities have taken measures to prioritize transit or restrict private vehicle traffic,” says David Kuperman, manager of surface transit projects for the City of Toronto. “It’s early days, but we are hearing some interest from other cities in what we’re doing because we have such a comprehensive data monitoring and evaluation program planned.”

The multidisciplinary team led by researchers in U of T Engineering is collaborating with both the City of Toronto and the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) to gather data and share their findings and analysis. The team began taking measurements along King Street and surrounding area as early as summer 2017 to set a baseline before the launch of the pilot.

“It’s a very interesting natural experiment,” says Professor Marianne Hatzopoulou(CivE). “There are very few opportunities to conduct transportation and environmental research in a live natural laboratory like this.”

Hatzopoulou’s research investigates relationships between air quality and transportation patterns. For this project, she is using a technique called “scripted exposure studies” to measure and compare the air pollution exposure of people travelling along King Street and nearby areas, both before and after implementation of the pilot project.

“The idea is to replicate what an individual passing along or close to King Street would be exposed to, including all sorts of modes: cycling, walking, riding the streetcar, sitting in a coffee shop,” she says. “We designed four different routes involving both indoors and outdoors, along King and parallel streets, as well as cross streets.”

Her team will be carrying portable exposure monitors that measure traffic-related air pollution such as small inhalable particles and soot. They’ll also be carrying GPS units and will merge location data with exposure measurements, resulting in a detailed pollution exposure map for King Street and surrounding areas.

Dr. Cheol-Heon Jeong and Peter Murphy (both ChemE) of the Southern Ontario Centre for Atmospheric Aerosol Research (SOCAAR) at U of T Engineering have also installed several of its stationary AirSENCETM monitors throughout the pilot project area, as well as air quality monitors on two TTC streetcars dedicated exclusively to King Street routes for the duration of the project. These devices measure ozone, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, ultrafine particles, black carbon and PM 2.5, a standard for quantifying airborne particulate matter.

The group also includes Tor Oiamo, a professor in Geography & Environmental Studies at Ryerson University who is studying changes to noise levels, and Jeffrey Brook, a senior research scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada and assistant professor in U of T’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

“This project is very exciting from a public health perspective, because we have the opportunity to collect a wealth of data on how an alteration to urban design affects health and behaviour,” says Brook. “The knock-on effects due to changes in people’s behavior could be significant, affecting not only transport and the physical environment, but people’s levels of exercise, stress, wellness and happiness, all of which have potential health benefits.”

In December the researchers met with representatives from the City of Toronto’s Transportation Services and Public Health teams to discuss coordinated data collection, information sharing, survey design and next steps.

“When a city makes a change like this, the primary goal is to improve travel times,” says Hatzopoulou. “But there are so many co-benefits that can come with that, and if we’re able to highlight those improvements to air quality and noise reduction, we’re telling decision-makers that there’s more value to unlock with these projects beyond just traffic circulation, and that’s very important.”

This story was originally published on U of T Engineering News.


Two U of T Engineering researchers awarded Canada Research Chairs

This story originally appeared on U of T Engineering News.
In the latest round of Canada Research Chair announcments, Engineering professors Penney Gilbert (left) and Marianne Hatzopoulou (right) were named as Tier 2 chairholders. The CRC program aims to help Canada attract and retain research leaders in engineering and the natural sciences, health sciences, humanities and social sciences.

In the latest round of Canada Research Chair announcments, Engineering professors Penney Gilbert (left) and Marianne Hatzopoulou (right) were named as Tier 2 chairholders. The CRC program aims to help Canada attract and retain research leaders in engineering and the natural sciences, health sciences, humanities and social sciences.

Professors Penney Gilbert (IBBME) and Marianne Hatzopoulou (CivE) have been named Tier 2 Canada Research Chairs (CRCs) in an announcement made today by federal science minister Kirsty Duncan at the University of Toronto Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work.

The two U of T Engineering researchers are among the 25 U of T faculty members to receive CRC appointments. They join 216 current chairholders across the University of Toronto.

“I would like to extend my heartfelt  congratulations to the new and renewed Canada Research Chairs. The Government  of Canada is proud to support talented researchers whose hard work will improve  our scientific understanding and strengthen Canada’s reputation for research  excellence,” said Minister Duncan, who is herself a U of T alumna. “The Chairs’ efforts will also provide us with the evidence needed to inform decisions that help us build a vibrant society and a strong middle class.”

Professor Hatzopoulou holds the CRC in Transportation and Air Quality for her research into how emissions are generated by on-road vehicles, dispersed in urban environments and who is exposed. Through her collaborative work with epidemiologists and health scientists, Hatzopoulou is working to better understand how traffic patterns, road design and characteristics of the built environment can be modified to improve urban air quality and help vulnerable individuals reduce their exposure.

“Receiving this appointment is an opportunity to advance research in an area of growing concern for rapidly expanding world cities,” said Hatzopoulou. “It will also help provide scientific evidence for the often controversial decisions on urban transportation system expansions and their effects on the air we breathe.”

“I am very honoured by this appointment, and for the recognition of my research team’s efforts toward unlocking the secrets that permit the human body to heal itself,” said Gilbert, who was named the CRC in Endogenous Repair. She received the appointment for her research into the cues that “wake up” muscle stem cells and direct them to repair skeletal damage. Along with her team, Gilbert hopes to decipher these cues and inform the development of new drugs, therapies and treatments that restore strength to muscles that are wasting as a result of aging or disease.

“We’re extremely proud of the leadership and research excellence demonstrated by Professors Hatzopoulou and Gilbert, and I am pleased to congratulate them on this recognition,” said Professor David Sinton (MIE), interim vice-dean, research for the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. “We’re also grateful for this investment in our Faculty as our researchers continue to work across disciplines to address the world’s most pressing challenges.”

The CRC program was launched in 2000 to help the country attract and retain research leaders in engineering and the natural sciences, health sciences, humanities and social sciences. Tier 1 Chairs last for seven years, and recognize outstanding researchers acknowledged by their peers as world leaders in their fields. Tier 2 Chairs are for exceptional emerging researchers and last for five years.


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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