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TRECH Study to analyze potential health benefits of transportation policies aimed at curbing climate change

08/29/2019 | Harvard Chan C-CHANGE

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NOTE: Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) has released a regional policy proposal in the form of a draft Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The MOU was accompanied by a health benefits analysis of one of three featured policy-and-investment scenarios, which was conducted by contractors hired by TCI. This health analysis is separate from the work we are doing as part of our our Transportation, Equity, Climate, and Health Study (TRECH Study), which will look at a range of scenarios to map changes in air quality and physical activity and assess how they could improve health and address inequities. The TRECH Study will be released in 2020—you can subscribe to updates about the TRECH Study here.


Modernizing transportation systems in the U.S. offers important opportunities to slow climate change, improve human health, and alleviate inequities. Through our Transportation, Equity, Climate, and Health Study (TRECH Study), we are analyzing how different policies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions could improve people’s lives in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

The Challenge

Transportation is the largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S., contributing 30% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the nation. Tailpipe emissions are also a large source of traditional pollution that can degrade air quality and harm human health, while transportation development influences noise pollution, land-use patterns, and access to services—all of which influence climate and health.

Adverse health effects of transportation systems disproportionately harm frontline communities, including lower-income communities and communities of color, where air pollution, noise exposure, and travel time to jobs, hospitals, and social connections can be greater than in other communities.

The Opportunity

The Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI)—a collaboration between twelve states and Washington D.C., facilitated by the Georgetown Climate Center— is exploring ways to reduce carbon emissions through regional transportation policies.

Improving transportation systems to help curb climate change could also provide health benefits and help alleviate inequities by improving air quality and access to public transportation, enhancing safe spaces for biking and walking, and encouraging alternatives to traveling in private motor vehicles.

The TRECH Study

Researchers at the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (Harvard Chan C-CHANGE), together with the Boston University School of Public Health and the University of North Carolina, are studying how potential transportation strategies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions may impact human health and help address inequalities.

The TRECH Study analyzes how TCI’s policies could influence health through better air quality and increases in physical activity. Specifically, we are looking at:

  • Health consequences. How will air quality and health change under various transportation scenarios?
  • Equity concerns. How are county-level changes in air pollution and health distributed geographically and by race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status?
  • Downwind impacts. How do changes in emissions in one state affect the air quality in counties downwind?

The TRECH Study is made possible thanks in part to support from the Barr Foundation.

Research Team

Aaron Bernstein, MD, MPH, Co-Director, Harvard Chan C-CHANGE
Jonathan Buonocore, ScD, Research Associate, Harvard Chan C-CHANGE
Kathy Fallon Lambert, MS, Senior Advisor, Harvard Chan C-CHANGE
Drew Michanowicz, MPH, PhD, Research Fellow, Harvard Chan C-CHANGE
Sarah Zelasky, Research Intern, Harvard Chan C-CHANGE
Calvin Arter, PhD student, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Sarav Arunachalam, PhD, Professor, Institute for the Environment, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Maria Daniela Castillo Castillo, BS, Research Assistant, Boston University School of Public Health
Patrick Kinney, ScD, Professor, Boston University School of Public Health
Jon Levy, ScD, Professor and Chair, Boston University School of Public Health
Matthew Raifman, PhD student, Boston University School of Public Health

Additional Collaborators

Frederica Perera, DrPH, PhD, Professor and Director of Translational Research, Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health

Alique Berberian, MIA, MPH, Program Coordinator, Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health

Contacts

Research contact: Kathy Fallon Lambert; klambert@hsph.harvard.edu

Media contact: Marcy Franck; mfranck@hsph.harvard.edu

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Jonathan Buonocore Sc.D

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Dr. Aaron Bernstein

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