How healthy is your Brussels transport choice?

The moment my shoes touch the pavement, the game begins. I am on my way to work and I just decided to get off the bus. It practically stands still for some minutes already, so I made the choice to start walking. Who will reach the targeted bus stop first? Will it be the bus that I just abandoned, or will it be me? The bus has quite some horse power in its advantage and most probably profits from a very skilled driver. I am outside, fighting the rain while almost getting high from the gasses which are puked out by all the cars. These cars are blocking the streets together while wrestling their way to the office.

People in general have a choice in transport, and opinions vary about which choice would be better. For me, even though I am Dutch and I grew up riding a bike, choosing the bike as an alternative way of transport in Brussels does not seem a comfortable option. My experience in riding a bike here is quite extraordinary: during my first try I almost got hit by a car. I call this an extraordinary experience because this almost-accident happened on a car-free Sunday… Since then my enthusiasm for biking in this city dissapeared.

Setting aside the risk of accidents, it turns out that healthwise the bike is not the worst choice of transport after all. This week interesting study results were published by Leefmilieu Brussel, regarding the choice of transport and consequences for exposure to air pollution. This is a topic that should interest every Brusselaar, as living in Brussels shortens your life in average with 9 months because of the poor quality of air that you breathe.

Pollution in Brussels

For this study, 276 volunteers measured their exposure to polluted air while living their normal lives. Air pollution was measured while travelling and it was compared to exposure while being inside a building. The results show that walking or travelling by train in general guarantees the least exposure to air pollution. If you choose to travel by bus, tram, metro or bike, your exposure to black carbon is 3 to 4 times higher than while being inside a building.

The most interesting conclusion is that those people who massively travel by car, and are together blocking the Brussels roads, turn out to be the biggest victim of their own choice of travelling. Exposure to black carbon while travelling by car in Brussels, is not less than 5 times higher than while being in a building.

In my personal competition the finish line is in sight. I turn my head and look down the street: no sign of my competitor. Probably it progressed 300 meters on the 2,5 kilometer training track. The victory is mine, but it does not bring much happiness. For my own sake and the sake of all other people participating in the Brussels traffic, I hope that in the near future I will start losing this game more often.