curved roadside barrier

Curved roadside barriers shown to reflect air pollution away from pedestrians

Image credit: imperial college london

A curved barrier designed to reflect air pollution away from pavements in order to protect pedestrians has been developed by Imperial College London researchers.

The team used airflow modelling techniques to study the effects of different shapes of roadside structures designed to deflect particulates away from pedestrians.

Low air quality is often more prevalent in less affluent communities, as they are typically situated near traffic-laden thoroughfares. Children are also more vulnerable, as their lower height means they are more exposed to heavier pollutants that settle in the air over time.

Dr Tilly Collins began researching the effects of roadside walls and found that the pedestrian side often had vortices where the air quality was actually made worse as the pollutants get trapped in them.

Initially building off simple models, the team explored ideas of urban design that would mitigate these vortex effects and improve air quality for all pedestrians, especially children.

The curved barriers deflect pollution away from pedestrians and back onto the road.

Inspired by airfield baffles and the curved sound-walls alongside motorways in Germany and the Netherlands, the researchers found that curved structures would more effectively disperse and reflect pollutants back towards the roads and would very rapidly improve air quality for pedestrians in an inexpensive manner.

Although there are challenges in implementing this sort of urban furniture, such as road visibility, the researchers are confident that the net gain in air quality and health is immediate and significant enough to warrant further exploration of these ideas.

Beyond air quality, these curved barriers would also mitigate noise pollution and would be able to act as scaffolds to increase green infrastructure throughout large cities.

“Initially, it was difficult to convince others to get on board,” Collins said. “The focus is very much on successfully reducing exhaust fumes, but there are these things we can do now to protect our children. The different sciences, urban designers and architects should collaborate more to design these solutions to achieve air quality improvements at local scales more effectively and quickly.”

Despite the hurdles, Collins is optimistic for the future of the project. With increased attention being placed on the challenges associated with air pollution, there is a need for unique and effective urban design and these curved baffling barriers are able to tackle these challenges head on, providing immense benefits to the general public.

A separate study released in February showed that exposure to air pollution in childhood is linked to a decline in thinking skills in later life.

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