MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minneapolis has a reputation as a bike-friendly city with many commuting with pedal power. Now, a University of Minnesota graduate student is doing research about the quality of air cyclists are breathing.

Pursuing a Ph.D in civil engineering, Steve Hankey is riding in rush hour, morning and evening, for about six weeks. He is gathering data on particulates in the air, which the kind of pollution that is worst for humans.

“I bike around with this trailer full of air pollution equipment and we measure air pollution on certain routes through the city and then our goal is to compare different types of bicycle facilities, for example. So, maybe a bike path versus a bike lane versus a normal street, and what the impact is on a cyclist’s exposure to air pollution,” said Hankey.

Hankey says having his gear mobile allows him to gather more data from more locations. At the end of his project, he says he will have towed this trailer for about 1,000 miles.

Pedicab operator Andy Ritchie works the streets of Minneapolis for 30 hours a week. He knows about air pollution.

“I remember just a couple of days ago I was following a smoking vehicle after the Vikings game, and had to pull over a few lanes,” said Ritchie.

It will take Hankey about six more months to analyze his data and publish the results. His first impression is that air quality for bikers is OK, but not great.

“In general, Minneapolis is good, (but) not good enough to not be concerned about it. There are definitely differences in air pollution throughout the city, and; in different areas, different neighborhoods, different road types,” Hankey said.

When Hankey is done with this project, he hopes to have a block-by-block map of Minneapolis, showing the areas with the worst air — places bikers might want to avoid.

Amelia Santaniello