Revealing the Invisible: Raising air quality awareness along a Bangkok bike lane

A healthy environment is always a must for exercise, especially when it comes to aerobic exercise for cyclists. Good air quality is a key factor in ensuring a safe exercise routine.

That’s why an innovating cycling path in Bangkok set out to share air quality information with their visitors.

“We care about people’s heath.” said Tulya Athiphanumphai, Deputy Managing Director of Cycling Track Management Social Enterprise Co. Ltd., in Samut Prakan Thailand (1). “We want to give people air quality transparency so they can decide whether and how they exercise outdoors at our facilities.”

 A social enterprise for public health

Motivated by a duty to preserve public safety and well-being, Airports of Thailand (an airport management firm) launched a two-lane 23.5 km cycling track in March 2014 (2). Once dubbed the “Green Lane,” the cycling path made use of an old access road bordering an irrigation canal on the edges of Suvarnabhumi Airport, (unofficially known as Bangkok Airport). In 2015, Airports of Thailand, Siam Commercial Bank, and several key sponsors converted the path into a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) project, made numerous facility improvements, and renamed it the Happy and Healthy Bike Lane (HHBL).

Thailand’s air quality challenges

Thailand has struggled with air pollution since 2000. According to a report from University of Chicago, air pollution in Thailand rose 22.7% between 2000 and 2022 (3). During that time, all Thais were exposed to annual particulate pollution exceeding the World Health Organization (WHO) annual PM2.5 guideline. One of the main air pollution culprits in Thailand is biomass burning, and the resulting smoke can make breathing a challenge.

“We want to show the air quality data and educate people to exercise in a healthier way.” —Tulya Athiphanumphai, Deputy Managing Director of Cycling Track Management

“Air quality has become a hot topic in recent years,” said Athiphanumphai. “However, some people still come to cycle on very polluted days, thinking it is fog. Some people are allergic without knowing it’s caused by bad air. We want to show the air quality data and educate people to exercise in a healthier way.”

Transparent air quality information online and on-site

In early 2019, the Happy and Healthy Bike Lane project set up their first air quality monitor using an IQAir AirVisual air quality monitor. Later, air quality monitors were deployed to three rest areas positioned around the circular track every 5 kilometers.

Air quality information at a rest area on the Happy and Healthy Bike Lane. Source: HHBL.

While most of the air quality monitors focus on measuring PM2.5, which is particulate matter measuring 2.5 microns in diameter or less. PM2.5 poses the greatest health threat due to its small size and its ability to penetrate vital organs once inhaled. Staff at the Happy and Healthy Bike Lane project also pay attention to another pollutant found during sandstorm weather and agricultural burning season: PM10, which is larger and coarser than PM2.5, but can still cause respiratory and other issues.

Using the IQAir device API, they’ve integrated PM10 measurements into their website (4) and display air quality information to the public to visualize air quality information more comprehensively.

Happy and Healthy Bike Lane’s air quality stations have attracted more than a million followers.

Happy and Healthy Bike Lane’s air quality stations have attracted more than a million followers, making them one of the top contributors on IQAir’s AirVisual platform.

To make air quality information more accessible onsite, HHBL staff have put up signage at each rest area and developed a color manual for visitors to reference different air quality index levels and the harmful health consequences of exposure to poor air quality. The manual provides mitigation instructions to visitors – a benefit that’s especially vital to children and seniors who are particularly susceptible to harm from breathing poor air and have limited access to air quality information.

Rest areas along the cycling path. Source: HHBL.

“We have a bike track for very young children up to five-years-old and another track just for 4 to 12-year-olds,” said Tulya. “We want to let people know every day whether it’s safe outdoors for hard exercise or not.”

A healthier way to exercise

After the AirVisual air quality monitors were deployed, Tulya noticed shifts in visitors’ behavior as they responded to the available air quality information. The air quality index level has become a determining factor for visitors deciding what time they want to come to exercise, and if they do, whether they would wear a mask or not.

These changes in behavior supported both the original intent for the installation and the cycling track’s health-driven mission. For the Happy and Healthy Bike Lane, the monitoring program doesn’t exist to boost visitor growth or for financial gain, but solely for raising air quality awareness and countering pollution’s harmful health consequences.

“We help educate people to exercise in a healthy way,” said Tulya. “People have become more aware of how to keep healthy when there’s air pollution in Thailand, and they are improving the understanding of people around them.”

The takeaway

The Happy and Healthy Bike Lane is a shining example of how local initiatives can contribute to a global movement for better air quality. Thanks to the air quality monitoring efforts of HHBL, along with schools and other non-profits, Thailand has seen a rapid expansion in its air quality monitoring network—from data being available in just 9 cities in 2017 to over 150 cities by 2022. This growth mirrors IQAir's global mission to enhance air quality awareness and education across the world.

HHBL’s example supports the value of community air quality monitoring for exercise and outdoor activity, air quality information that can be downloaded on a freely available app. While reducing source pollutants is a crucial step in tackling endemic air pollution, air quality monitoring reveals the invisible threat posed by air pollution. Making this information freely available to everyone empowers people in their decision-making and helps improve health outcomes everywhere.

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