Living near busy streets in Berkeley - effect on child's long-term health?
October 4, 2010 4:49 PM   Subscribe

I'm considering moving in the next few months to a fairly busy avenue in Berkeley - Ashby Avenue, between Adeline Street and Telegraph Avenue. It has two lanes of traffic - one each way - and averages about 19,000 cars a day. I'm worried after reading a few articles - including Black Lung Lofts in the LA Weekly, the Children's Health Study (skimmed it, but couldn't decipher it all) they refer to and others - that living there might have bad long-term effects on my young son's health. Should I be worried?

I have a several-month-old son, who's not living with me now, but will be staying with me at least 2-3 days per week starting sometime in the next year or two. According to the city of Berkeley, that stretch of road was getting an average of 19,263 cars per day (PDF) in 2004; I'd guess it's about the same now. Reading up on the effects of living near highways on a child's lung development, I'm wary of living right on a busy street like that. Ashby Avenue doesn't have anywhere near the traffic of the highways they talk about in the LA Weekly article - 19,263 vs. 285,000 cars/day on I-5 in Los Angeles - but I've seen a number of articles say that living near a "busy road" can have detrimental effects, often without defining how much traffic defines "busy road."

A few things to toss into the mix: according to the city of Berkeley, weather patterns in the Bay Area mean pollution gets flushed out pretty quickly: "The net effect of the prevailing wind distribution is that the Berkeley area is rapidly ventilated in the daytime with clean marine air and corresponding good air quality results... Nocturnal air quality is also usually healthful in the Berkeley area even if wind flow is somewhat stagnant... Ventilation of any localized emissions and a more rapid cleansing of the air is to be expected in west, central, and south Berkeley than in the hills to the east." I've also seen the claim that Berkeley just has generally better air quality than, say, Oakland or San Jose; which makes me wonder if I might shoot myself in the foot by passing on a busy road in Berkeley and moving to a quiet residential street in Oakland that has worse air quality.

I'm not worried about the noise on the street; the place I'm looking at is very well soundproofed, and visiting the place, even the outside didn't seem noisy to me. I'm not worried about me or my son getting run over; I'll have him play in the backyard, which doesn't have access to the front yard except through the house. When I've visited the place, it seems like cars zip by pretty easily and traffic doesn't get backed up; so none of the extra pollution from stop-and-go traffic.

I've seen two similar threads about homes in Sydney and Toronto and their general advice.

So - should I be worried about the health effects of living directly on Ashby Avenue, between Adeline and Telegraph, on my young son?
posted by mistersix to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm sorry, where are you from? Ashby Avenue in Berkeley is not even in the same ballpark as I-5 in downtown LA, pollution-wise. So that "black lung apartment" article is... just not even really relevant. I mean, I'm not really sure how to look up traffic flows as a general matter, but I would estimate that I-5 is at least 25 times worse, and I'm not exaggerating. It would not surprise me if it was more like 100x worse.

So no, your situation will not be anything like THAT, at least. I don't mean to trivialize breathing problems due to pollution by any means, but the I-5 apartment situation is not something you should worry about in that part of Berkeley.
posted by rkent at 5:04 PM on October 4, 2010

Berkeley, and most of the cities right on the bay get a pretty fantastic breeze all day long...
posted by iamabot at 5:06 PM on October 4, 2010

I don't know about breathability, but Ashby is about as packed as a four-lane surface road can be at rush hour. It's pretty slow going, so the number of cars per day may be small, but they're also idling a lot, so the emissions level at rush hour may be comparable to a highway with higher per-day counts.

The SF Bay Area does not IIRC have a lot of "spare the air" emergency air quality days, but we do get a few each year when the conditions are right.
posted by zippy at 5:23 PM on October 4, 2010

I lived across from Alta Bates hospital, which is a bit east of that area, for several years, and found it no consequence to my then-wife, who had raging allergies over asthma. Judging from her lack of attacks, I'd agree that this particular portion of Berkeley, while widely travelled and very noisy during rush hours had less impact than, say, at Bancroft or Dwight Way a block away from Telegraph. It's all relative, but you're not putting your child in a really risky situation IMO.
posted by nj_subgenius at 5:37 PM on October 4, 2010

Maybe the LA Weekly article was the wrong one to put in there - yeah, Ashby is nothing like the I-5. But it was the article that started me looking around for more info, and led me to articles like this one: "Children admitted with an asthma diagnosis were significantly more likely to live in an area with high traffic flow (> 24,000 vehicles/24 h) located along the nearest segment of main road than were children admitted for nonrespiratory reasons." 19,000 vehicles/day is close enough to 24,000 vehicles/day that I'd like to know more.

Zippy: Ashby packed at rush hour - all of Ashby, you'd say? I was there, Ashby between Adeline and Telegraph, around 4pm on a weekday - not quite rush hour, but it didn't seem bad for the time. I'll go back and sit for a few hours though.
posted by mistersix at 5:44 PM on October 4, 2010

I would be more worried about living near a busy street with a young child because of the cars and the chance for tragedy. The exhaust from the cars shouldn't be in the equation. If it is, you don't need to be anywhere in California where the particulates are high. Spend your time worrying about the 90% of problems for your son, don't waste the time on the 10%. Enjoy his youth, it's great!
posted by swmobill at 5:51 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, at rush hour, the cars there back up some, though it's not as bad as some other stretches where it's just solid cars, like Ashby east of College (in my limited anecdotal observation). I'll try to keep an eye out and see if my memory is right.
posted by salvia at 6:19 PM on October 4, 2010

The very-much-prevailing wind in Berkeley is from the northwest, so the north side of Ashby doesn't often smell the traffic on Ashby. So if you're anxious about this risk despite the generally excellent air quality in the Bay Area, choose the north side of the street.
posted by FLAG (BASTARD WATER.) (Acorus Adulterinus.) at 7:44 PM on October 4, 2010

« Older netapp performance smell test   |   Chocolate Milk without added sugar Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.