Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

CBD air given a health check

Impact of downtown traffic under scrutiny.

Auckland University environmental sciences student Shanon Lim tests the air quality, measuring fine air particles and carbon-monoxide levels. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Auckland University environmental sciences student Shanon Lim tests the air quality, measuring fine air particles and carbon-monoxide levels. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Scientists are keen to discover what effect the hustle and bustle of downtown Auckland has on those who walk its streets every day.

A two-week survey, now under way, will eventually reveal how traffic affects sound and air quality in the Queen St area and allow planners to zero in on potential issues - right down to problem spots, times and even vehicle types.

But one of the joint project's leaders, Auckland University air quality expert Dr Jenny Salmond, believes present emission levels are nothing for regular city-goers to be concerned about.

Rather, data from the study would help city planners prevent such a problem, she said.

"If you take Auckland Council's ambition to make Auckland the world's most liveable city, it's really important to understand how traffic affects air quality.

"So if we think about managing air quality now, before traffic gets to the point where it does pose a serious problem, then we're likely to be able to produce the liveable city of the future."

A team of students equipped with monitoring equipment will be walking around Queen St and several other streets, recording a range of pollutants linked to traffic.

The data collected by the street surveys will tell scientists what levels people experience as they walk up and down Queen St.

Further data will be collected by a network of monitors, among them a new site in Queen St measuring ultrafine particles.

Dr Salmond said there had been only a handful of occasions in the city where air quality exceeded the national emissions standard - and rates were far lower than larger cities across the world.

But blogger Martyn Bradbury, who has lived in Queen St for two decades, said he was concerned about the air quality issue, "and I do wonder if that's a problem with living in the inner city".

The chairman of the council-convened CBD advisory board, Connal Townsend, said with streets becoming more attractive, and more people living and working in the city centre, it made sense to measure air quality at the street level.

The board is core-funding the project, which is being undertaken by Auckland University, Niwa and AUT.

Preliminary findings are due in November.

- NZ Herald

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