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BOSTON -- The current transportation system in Massachusetts has been designed, built and centered around the automobile, and it has become a public health disaster. MASSPIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group’s latest report, Transform Transportation, identifies the numerous harmful health impacts caused by the Commonwealth’s car-centric transportation system and provides a three-step roadmap toward a healthier, more sustainable approach to transportation infrastructure.
Air pollution cuts short an estimated 1,500 lives in Massachusetts each year. Meanwhile, approximately 325 people die in vehicle crashes in the Commonwealth 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 MASSPIRG 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 the Commonwealth’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.
Pedestrian and cyclist fatalities: In 2020, more than 50 pedestrians and nearly 70 cyclists were killed in traffic-related accidents in Massachusetts, part of a rising nationwide trend 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: The transportation sector is now the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts and is the largest single contributor made by the U.S. to the world’s climate crisis.
Despite causing tremendous havoc and suffering, COVID-19 may have also provided an unexpected opportunity for Bay Staters 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 upsides 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 report provides numerous recommendations designed to transform the Commonwealth’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.
Well before the emergence of COVID-19, Bay Staters from across the state have been calling for the need to transform transportation in Massachusetts to reduce pollution, ensure greater equity and access to jobs, education, recreation, family and friends.
"Pre-pandemic, Massachusetts had the country's worst traffic congestion,” said Chris Dempsey, Director of the Transportation for Massachusetts advocacy coalition. “Our soul-crushing gridlock holds back our quality of life, raises the cost of doing business, and worsens the quality of the air we breathe. We don't want to go back to that status quo -- and we don't have to if we invest in transit, walking, biking and electric vehicles. This report calls for our transportation system to be the most efficient in the country. Massachusetts residents deserve no less.”
Read the full report at this link.
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