PHILADELPHIA, PA — PennPIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group’s latest report, Transform Transportation, identifies the numerous harmful health impacts caused by Pennsylvania’s car-centric transportation system and provides a three-step roadmap toward a healthier, more sustainable approach to transportation infrastructure.
Nearly 5,000 people die prematurely in Pennsylvania each year because of air pollution, a large part of which comes from cars and trucks. Meanwhile, approximately 1,000 people die in vehicle crashes in Pennsylvania annually, while several thousand more are left severely 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 PennPIRG Education Fund Transportation Advocate Emma Horst-Martz. “Decades of car-centered investment strategies have left us with inefficient and dangerous transportation infrastructure. This demonstrates how important it is to fully fund our public transit agencies across the state, particularly as we head into a transit funding crisis next year.”
Some of the worst impacts of Pennsylvania’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.
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: The transportation sector is now the third greatest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state and is the largest single contributor made by the U.S. to the climate crisis.
Despite causing tremendous havoc and suffering, COVID-19 may have also provided an unexpected opportunity for residents of Pennsylvania 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 and safer 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 Pennsylvania’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 micro-mobility.
Electrify all transit and school buses by 2030 by adopting commitments for zero-emission electric buses from transit agencies, school districts and utility companies.
Make all new light-duty cars and trucks sold after 2035 electric and all new medium- and heavy-duty trucks sold by 2040 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 U.S. PIRG Transportation Advocate and report co-author John 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.”
“As the report illustrates, transportation in the United States is in crisis mode,” says Nick Zuwiala-Rogers of Clean Air Council. “Transportation is the nation’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and contributor to climate change. It accounts for 28 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions across the country, and 25% here in Pennsylvania. This report does an excellent job of laying out the steps we need to take for a healthier, safer, and more sustainable future. In particular: to double the number of people who travel by foot, bike, or transit by 2030; and to electrify school buses and public transportation by the same year. Both of these goals are critical to combatting the climate crisis.”
“To avert climate disaster, we must shift every commute that is possible to be made by walking, biking, or public transit from single-occupancy vehicles; and we must begin moving towards a carbon-free transit system today,” said Will Herzog of Transit Forward Philadelphia. “This report provides a simple and implementable framework for coalition members to take to PennDOT, SEPTA, and other local transit agencies to reprogram investments to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our communities in the future.”
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