cyclist reveals filthy air filter after sitting on his couch drinking coffee in Stockholm

I was not sure how to begin a post on air quality in Stockholm and since Black (Smoke) Friday was a week ago I could not use that for an introduction either. But then I read this.

Cyclist reveals filthy face masks after commuting in London

A cyclist is calling on the government to improve air quality after his face mask filters were left covered in filth after a week of commuting.
John Lenehan, an engineer, purchased the mask after suffering from a cough and irritable throat as he cycled to his office in Old Street, east London.
He wore the mask for three days as he made his way from Enfield to his workplace, cycling for about 60 miles in total, in April.
But when Mr Lenehan looked at filters inside the masks, designed to trap harmful particulates, he was shocked to find them completely blackened by pollution.1

Anti-pollution mask, air filters, London
Air pollution: a mask before travelling (left), mask from cycling (one week, centre) and mask from travelling on the train (one week, right)

Cycling advocacy groups campaign for wearing helmets and high visibility clothing while riding but never or rarely talk about the crap we breathe along the way. Every day I read about yellow vests and how they’re supposed to make cyclists more visible during Stockholm dark winters (given that the other person is looking in the right direction obviously) but I haven’t read a single article on air quality in central Stockholm lately that did not end with that one old plan: “we really should start looking into starting to think about banning studded tyres in the city center… next year… or the year after.”

Air quality in Stockholm is not as bad as in London one might say (it was in the news sometime ago on some website somewhere) but air quality in Stockholm is far from perfect either.

Cyclist reveals filthy air filter after sitting on his couch drinking coffee in Stockholm

Now, ladies and gentlemen, please let me show you the anti-pollution filter that sits between the couch I drink coffee on and the wild world outside.

Anti-pollution filter, Stockholm
According to the manufacturer’s recommendation that filter should be replaced once a year but not only did I not think it would turn black that quick, I did not even know there was a filter I needed to check once in a while.

Long story short, this one was last replaced sometime between 2008 and 2012 and is already black as coal. I’m getting a new one as soon as possible and the air quality around the couch will definitely improve but what about when I’m out walking, riding or just having a drink on the balcony?

Last time I checked lungs, bronchioles and windpipes could not be ordered from the Internet like spare parts for ventilation systems can and there’s a good chance they were not made to filter as much crap as they nowadays should. There are 17 different classes of air filters available on the market but only one for lungs. One that, unlike helmets and high visibility vests, doesn’t get much media exposure and is seldom brought to the public’s attention by all the new cycling experts in town.

At the end of the day it’s up to everyone to decide which piece of “safety” equipment should be acquired first but I know I’d buy and wear an anti-pollution mask before any sort of neon yellow jacket. So what about you? Do or would you wear an anti-pollution mask when cycling? Do you think the City of Stockholm and Naturskyddsföreningen should give some away in their “Thank you for cycling” goody bags next Spring?


why are automobilists so hard on themselves?

Today was a very special day for me: I drove to work. I work in the city center of Stockholm and driving to the office had obviously never been an option I considered (I enjoy biking too much to commute differently) but since I had to be at the office early (07:00 is early in my world) and cannot currently ride my bike I decided to give it a shot. I could not have been more wrong.

Traffic jam in Stockholm

It’s a 9.5 kilometer drive from home to the office (mainly on expressway) and I thought it would not take me more than 15 minutes to cover the distance if I’d leave home at 06:45. Well… it took me 25 minutes which is as much as when I commute with public transportation and slightly longer than when I’m riding the bike. I was wrong to think traffic would be running smoothly at 06:45: Stockholm’s roads are congested this early and remains so for a couple of hours (it gets better after 09:00 I’d say).

As I was slowly moving I realized how frustrating and stressful it must be to drive to and from work in such conditions every single day. I know some people don’t have the option and need a vehicle as a work tool (nurses and doctors, police officers, …) but having said that, no one will ever persuade me that, in a city as small as Stockholm (population of 2.2 million for the metropolitan area), those people can be so numerous that they cause traffic jams. I would not believe it was bad luck either and all bike and public transit commuters decided to drive – as I did – today.

The picture above is from an article (in Swedish) published on in October last year titled “Over two weeks in traffic jams – each year” and as one could guess the article is all about drivers in Stockholm spending more than two (working) weeks (96 hours) a year in traffic congestion. It took me one car drive to be frustrated enough to write about it and to know it was the first and last time I sat behind the wheel to go to work.

After reading that article I’ve got to ask all drivers out there: Seriously, why are you so hard on yourself? Why do you keep on like that? Don’t you think it would be nicer to sit on a train reading a good book or to ride a bike and get some fresh air?

Volvo’s anti-collision system extended to cyclists

Volvo announced today – at the Geneva motor show – that the collision warning with full auto brake and pedestrian detection safety system can now not only detect pedestrians but also cyclists. The package will be called Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection with full auto brake.

The system monitors traffic thanks to a radar unit integrated into the car’s grille, a camera fitted in front of the interior rear-view mirror and a central control unit. The radar spots objects that are then analysed using the camera. When the safety system identifies a potential danger it warns the driver before engaging the automatic braking function. The feature will be available in the Volvo V40, S60, V60, XC60, V70, XC70 and S80 models from May this year. – Read the announcement on Dagens industri (in Swedish).

While this looks like a pretty good feature on paper (and a useful one if it can prevent accidents) it also is – in my opinion – yet another support system that once again is designed to compensate for automobilists lack of attention to the road and lack of focus on actually driving a 2-ton vehicle: rely on the ABS in slippery road conditions, rely on the pedestrians detection system while typing an SMS, …

There are of course times when those systems are going to act upon a sudden and unpredictable situation and save lives but wouldn’t it be easier to solve safety issues directly at the source (behind the wheel that is) instead of making cars smarter? Is it worth investing so much money in R&D to solve an issue that occur most of the time on 3 (and less) kilometer drives (around 50% of all car trips are three kilometers or less)? Can’t people concentrate more than 2 minutes behind the wheel?