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Atmospheric particle number size distributions of airborne particles (diameter range 10–500 nm) were collected over ten weeks at three sites in the vicinity of the A100 urban motorway in Berlin, Germany. The A100 carries about 180 000 vehicles on a weekday. The roadside particle distributions showed a number maximum between 20 and 60 nm clearly related to the motorway emissions. The average total number concentration at roadside was 28 000 cm<sup>−3</sup> with a total range of 1200–168 000 cm<sup>−3</sup>. At distances of 80 and 400 m from the motorway the concentrations decreased to mean levels of 11 000 and 9000 cm<sup>−3</sup>, respectively. An obstacle-resolving dispersion model was applied to simulate the 3-D flow field and traffic tracer transport in the urban environment around the motorway. By inverse modelling, vehicle emission factors were derived that are representative of a fleet with a relative share of 6% lorry-like vehicles, and driving at a speed of 80 km h<sup>−1</sup>. Three different calculation approaches were compared, which differ in the choice of the experimental winds driving the flow simulation. The average emission factor per vehicle was 2.1 (±0.2) · 10<sup>14</sup> km<sup>−1</sup> for particle number and 0.077 (±0.01) · 10<sup>14</sup> cm<sup>3</sup> km<sup>−1</sup> for particle volume. Regression analysis suggested that lorry-like vehicles emit 123 (±28) times more particle number than passenger car-like vehicles, and lorry-like vehicles account for about 91% of particulate number emissions on weekdays. Our work highlights the increasing applicability of 3-D flow models in urban microscale environments and their usefulness for determining traffic emission factors.