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The TRECH Project has moved to Boston University. Stay up to date with the latest research here.

Modernizing transportation systems in the U.S. offers important opportunities to slow climate change, improve health, and alleviate inequities. Through our Transportation, Equity, Climate, and Health (TRECH) Project, we analyzed how different policies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions can improve people’s lives.

The Challenge

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

Cars, trucks, and buses emit tons of conventional air pollutants each year contributing to asthma, heart disease, pre-term births, and premature death among other health impacts.

The largest air quality impacts occur in communities that are underserved and overburdened with pollution, living near highways and transportation depots, often due to a long history of racist policies that have resulted in persistent elevated pollution exposure for people of color.

The Opportunity

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

The TRECH Project

Our researchers, together with Boston University, University of North Carolina, and Columbia University, studied how infrastructure investments and transportation policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic can improve health and equity through better air quality and increases in physical activity. Specifically, the TRECH Project analyzed:

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

In 2022, the TRECH Project is worked with community partners to conduct modeling of equitable transportation investments. This research aimed to accelerate the transformation to cleaner, healthier, and more just transportation systems in communities that are overburdened by pollution in Boston and throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region. 

Initial research:
Total and interstate deaths from transportation-related air pollution from five vehicle types in 12 states and Washington, D.C.
Health benefits of improved access to biking, walking, and public transit compared to the infrastructure costs of the Transportation Climate Initiative
Health benefits of Transportation Climate Initiative policy scenarios

TRECH Project Team

  • Sarav Arunachalam, PhD, Institute for the Environment, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
  • Calvin Arter, PhD candidate, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Alique Berberian, MPH, Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health
  • Laura Buckley, PhD student, Boston University School of Public Health
  • Jonathan Buonocore, ScD, Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
  • Christos Efstathiou, PhD, Institute for the Environment, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Patrick Kinney, ScD, Boston University School of Public Health
  • Jon Levy, ScD, Boston University School of Public Health
  • Frederica Perera, DrPH, PhD, Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health
  • Katy Coomes, MS, Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health
  • Matthew Raifman, PhD student, Boston University School of Public Health

Acknowledgments

The TRECH Project was made possible in part by a grant from the Barr Foundation to the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

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Dr. Aaron Bernstein

Aaron Bernstein MD, MPH

Aaron examines the human health effects of global environmental changes with the aim of promoting a deeper understanding of these subjects among students, educators, policy makers, and the public.

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