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View the February 2021 update of preliminary results.

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 (TRECH) Project, we are analyzing how different policies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions could 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 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.

Cars, trucks, and buses also 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 underserved and overburdened communities, near highways and transportation depots, and among Black people and other people of color, due to a long history of racist policies that have resulted in persistent elevated pollution exposure.

The Opportunity

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 cars.

The TRECH Project

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, University of North Carolina, and Columbia University, are studying how potential transportation strategies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions may impact human health and help address inequalities.

The TRECH Project is analyzing how the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), which is exploring ways to reduce carbon emissions through regional transportation policies in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, could influence health through better air quality and increases in physical activity. Specifically, we are looking at:

    • Health consequences. How will changes in air quality and active mobility affect health 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?

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
    • Charles Chang, MA, Institute for the Environment, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    • Kathy Fallon Lambert, MS, Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
    • 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
    • Matthew Raifman, PhD student, Boston University School of Public Health

Acknowledgements

The TRECH Project is 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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