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Fewer Cars = Better Air

When in Kensington on a Pedestrian Sunday there is a lot to take in. There is, however, less to take in at the same time and that's a good thing. Air quality in Kensington has been monitored since June 2004, and of course everyday is different. A professor from York University has been looking into Kensington traffic and is trying to make people aware of the true cost of cars.

Kensington is very different on car free days according to Dr. Jean-Francois Gouin, from the York Institute for Research and Innovation in Sustainability. Readings from his air quality machine displays a graph based on the carbon monoxide levels; spikes on the graph appear each time a car passes by. On car-free days in the market there are no spikes which is why Gouin really enjoys Pedestrian Sundays in the market. It also gives him a chance to research air quality when no cars are around (before you ask, the air quality is not perfect but a normal day is almost twice as bad as a car-free day).

The air quality machine looks for only carbon monoxide. A modern automobile spews out much more than CO2 and Gouin is quick to point this out. By looking for spikes in CO2 levels one can know when a auto went by and can then extrapolate from there what other nasty things are in the air. Gouin is looking for the source of the bad air and so far cars/trucks/busses/etc. are that source.

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Now that the source has been identified Gouin is looking to get quantifiable information on whether or not local businesses are positively or negatively affected by car-free days. Judging by the amount of people in the market when I was talking to him it seemed that a lack of cars actually encouraged people to go shopping. Then I spoke to a local merchant, who asked to remain unidentified, and she told me that pedestrian Sundays are slow because no one buys anything. They just look around.

I couldn't help but notice that the meat shops and a few random places were closed specifically because of Pedestrian Sunday. Restaurants on the other hand were benefitting greatly from the increased foot traffic. Gouin has quite the challenge in front of him if he wants to prove less cars equal more money spent. Less cars obviously equal better air, but cleaner lungs doesn't translate directly to better shoppers.

Whether or not you notice the lack of quality air we all feel the damage from it, which is why Gouin is concentrating on informing people about the ills that cars produce. At his display table he had a lot of information from the municipal and federal government on air quality.

Next time you're in Kensington absorbing the sights think how much better it would be if you didn't have to absorb exhaust too.


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