Transportation sector greenhouse gas reductions do more than save energy: greener public transportation alternatives can reduce traffic congestion, lessen US dependence on foreign oil and make the US more economically competitive.
In addition to these benefits, policies that reduce GHG emissions by encouraging more active modes of transportation can have additional positive impact on the health and well being of the target group as well. A recent Perspective in Nature Climate Change systematically reviews these benefits and the policies needed to achieve them. For example, the promotion of cycling as an alternate means of transportation can increase physical activity and decrease air pollution. This is important because air pollution is linked to a myriad of health concerns including heart disease, asthma and many forms of cancer. In addition, cycling and walking can reduce rates of obesity and help people live healthier lifestyles. Such co-benefits can also help the public see the short-term benefits of greenhouse gas reduction scenarios.
The article goes on to discuss how cities can promote such healthy lifestyles. These include policies that provide economic incentives to encourage reductions in energy use. Cities can also include physical improvements such as the construction of bike lanes and soft policies that aim to change behaviors. Finally, knowledge-based policies support research and development.
Unfortunately, all policies are difficult to implement in car-centric environments and most interventions are only moderately successful. Walking and cycling rates typically increase by ~1-10%, while car usage decreases by similar amounts.
Despite the difficulty that communities might have with uptake, the use of environmentally friendly transportation alternatives that encourage more active lifestyles is an important tool in the fight against climate change and to improve public health. Further research will be needed to understand how cities can best promote such change.
Shaw, C., Hales, S., Howden-Chapman, P., & Edwards, R. (2014). Health co-benefits of climate change mitigation policies in the transport sector. Nature Climate Change, 4(6), 427-433.