VICTORIA -- The Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition (GVCC) is working to measure air and noise pollution on downtown city streets, data that the group says is overlooked by larger organizations.

According to GVCC policy and infrastructure chair Corey Burger, information on air and noise pollution could be valuable to city staff and residents to help inform health, environmental and infrastructure decisions.

"We know in our region the air is pretty clean except for when the wildfires come," said Burger. "But, we do also know that air on a street and the noise on a street is going to be different than measuring somewhere else, so it's really important to get fine-grain data."

Burger says that the province collects Victoria's air quality data in places outside the city core, and not from the street level, which could produce different results. 

The Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition points to research conducted in other cities, like in Vancouver and Toronto, that suggest that air pollution from vehicles could impact pedestrians and cyclists in ways that have so far been under-examined.

According to Burger, air and noise pollution collected on street level has shown that separated bike lanes are a valuable resource to cyclists, not only as a safety measure, but also because it provides a barrier from the pollutions that vehicles emit, including exhaust and tire dust. The closer someone is to the source of an air pollutant, like an exhaust pipe, the worse it is for the health of that person. 

Meanwhile, the GVCC says that noise pollution on city streets could be a possible health concern also.

The group says that it recorded noise levels in downtown Victoria that would be equal to our louder than levels that WorkSafe BC would require ear protection for.

"So on a street like [Pandora Avenue] it's going to be pretty noisy and it's certainly gotten noisier as the traffic goes by," says Burger. "There's sort of thresholds that places like WorkSafe say, 'Hey, you need to have ear and hearing protection.'

"The threshold is 85 decibels," says Burger. "It's pretty easy to hit that on most urban streets, especially when we were up at Blanshard and Topaz and we peaked at 85 pretty easily with big trucks going by."

Burger adds that noise pollution could impact businesses and overall mental health for visitors and residents of downtown Victoria.

"Noise impacts whether or not someone is going to stick around and choose to sit and have a coffee or those sorts of things," says Burger. "Being able to have a quiet environment in an urban area is super important."

According to Burger, the ultimate point of collecting the air and noise pollution data is to help illustrate the differences that large infrastructure projects could have on Victoria's downtown environment.

"The really key thing for us is, ‘how does a street change after a big infrastructure project like Pandora or Wharf?’" he says. 

"Being able to go in there before, capture some data, and then go somewhere after and say, ‘Look this place has become cleaner, it’s become quieter.' We know from other places that it's true but we want to show that here it’s true in Victoria as well.

The GVCC says that it has developed a small portable prototype sensor that can record both air and noise pollution. Materials to create the sensor cost approximately $300, and the coalition is hoping to secure grants to make more of the devices to install across the city.

In the meantime, the GVCC is working to ensure that their sensor is completely accurate and matches results that provincial devices, which cost thousands of dollars, produce. 

Burger adds that the coalition's sensor is being produced as an open source project so that other groups that might be interested in creating similar sensors can use their designs and being their own projects much faster.