05:01pm Saturday 06 June 2020

Auckland city centre gets air quality and noise check-up

Scientists from The University of Auckland, NIWA, and AUT University, along with 15 students, are hitting city centre streets to determine how much car and bus emissions contribute to the level of air pollutants in the Queen St valley and to assess the urban soundscape.

Queen Street and the immediately adjacent Customs, Wellesley, Elliot and Lorne Streets are included in the study. These streets have been chosen because they present a range of traffic conditions and pedestrian environments.

“Emissions from road traffic are an important source of air pollution in Auckland,” says Dr Jenny Salmond, an expert in air quality from The University of Auckland’s School of Environment. “This study will look at how traffic affects air quality in the downtown area. We will be trying to identify the impacts of congestion, and of different types of vehicles, on levels of air pollution.”

“We hope to be able to build a picture of how people living, working, shopping or travelling in the CBD are exposed to pollutants and what the differences are in that exposure,” says Dr Guy Coulson, NIWA’s Group Manager of Urban Air Quality and Health. “This will allow decision makers to better manage traffic to deliver clean air.”

A variety of pollutants associated with traffic will be measured. For instance ultrafine particles will be measured at a permanent Auckland Council monitoring site on Queen Street, and by a team of University of Auckland postgraduate students and other study participants carrying portable instruments while walking around the CBD. A network of monitors for nitrogen dioxide will also be established.

Alongside the air quality work, Dr Kim Dirks from the University’s School of Population Health is leading an analysis of the city soundscape and how noise affects people’s experience of the city.

“There are many different sources of sounds in urban environments; the sounds made by vehicles are an integral part of this urban soundscape,” she says. “In addition to noise measurements, we will be using a short questionnaire to collect information about people’s perceptions of noise in the Queen Street valley.”

Dr Daniel Shepherd, a senior lecturer in Psychology at AUT University who is contributing to the soundscape analysis, says: “The acoustic environment is a contributing factor not only to the health and wellbeing of its residents, but also an area’s uniqueness and vitality.”

Core funding for the project came from the Auckland Council-convened CBD Advisory Board. Chair Connal Townsend says that with the streets becoming more attractive, more people working and living in the city centre, and pedestrian counts climbing, it made sense to measure air quality at street level. “City success, air quality and public health are all connected, and we are interested in knowing what’s happening at street level,” he says.

Auckland Council has supported the study by co-ordinating the upgrade of an air quality monitoring station on Queen St and by providing additional research equipment.

The data collection phase began on Monday 19 August and will last approximately two weeks, with preliminary findings available in November.

 The University of Auckland

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