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WASHINGTON D.C. -- America’s current transportation system has been designed, built and centered around the automobile, and it is a public health disaster. U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group’s latest report, Transform Transportation, identifies the numerous harmful health impacts caused by America’s car-centric transportation system and provides a three-step roadmap toward a healthier, more sustainable approach to transportation infrastructure.
Pollution from cars, trucks and other vehicles cuts short an estimated 58,000 American lives each year. Meanwhile, approximately 38,000 people die in vehicle crashes in the U.S. every year while millions more are injured. Yet each year, Americans drive more than 3.2 trillion miles – nearly 10,000 miles per person and more miles per capita than people almost anywhere else in the world.
“Our current transportation system is wreaking havoc on our health and the health of our planet,” said U.S. PIRG Education Fund's Transportation Advocate and report co-author John Stout. “Decades of car-centered investment strategies have left us with inefficient and dangerous transportation infrastructure.”
Some of the worst impacts of America’s car-centric transportation documented in the Transform Transportation report are:
Pollution: Air and noise pollution have been shown to increase the risk of serious health conditions, including lung cancer, stroke, heart disease, asthma and dementia.
Traffic-related fatalities: In 2018, nearly 6,300 pedestrians and more than 800 cyclists were killed in traffic-related accidents, with more pedestrian and cyclist fatalities on the roads in 2018 than in any year since 1990.
Poor quality of life: People with long car commutes are at increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, high blood pressure and experience substantially higher levels of stress, including more negative moods and lower life satisfaction.
Climate change: America’s transportation system is the nation’s number one source of greenhouse gas emissions and the largest single contributor to the climate crisis.
Despite causing tremendous havoc and suffering, COVID-19 may have also provided an unexpected opportunity for Americans to reassess their transportation habits. As lockdowns kicked in across the country, a record decline in driving has been accompanied by an increase in people walking, cycling and choosing other active modes of transportation.
The environmental impacts of this decline in driving were evident almost immediately. By mid-April, at the height of lockdown, daily carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. were down by around one-third. Without realizing it, Americans had embarked on a transportation experiment on a previously inconceivable scale.
“Almost half of the global drop in emissions during the pandemic was attributable to the decline in road traffic alone. As we emerge from the pandemic, we have choices to make. With the right policies, we can deliver huge benefits for public health and the environment by making it easier for Americans to drive less and live more,” said report co-author James Horrox of Frontier Group.
The new report provides numerous recommendations designed to transform America’s transportation system in the long term. Among these are to:
Double the number of people who travel by foot, bike or transit by 2030 by expanding transit networks and creating “complete streets” that are safe, accessible and support all forms of travel.
Electrify all transit and school buses by 2030 by getting transit agencies, school districts and utility companies to adopt commitments for zero-emission electric buses as well as encourage the federal government to provide technical assistance and financial support to help states plan charging networks, route adjustments and vehicle procurement.
Require that all new light-duty cars and trucks sold after 2035 are electric and all new medium- and heavy-duty trucks sold by 2040 are electric by incentivizing the adoption of electric vehicles through expanded charging infrastructure and by reducing financial hurdles.
“Our country’s transportation system makes us sick and unhappy, and threatens our kids’ future,” said Stout. “As infrastructure takes center stage at the national level, let’s take the opportunity to imagine the cities and towns of the future, and build them the way we want to be -- by transforming transportation.”
Read the full report at this link.
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