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Blogging from TRB: Transportation and Air Quality

A model that optimizes signal timing at intersections can decrease air pollution. Photo by thisisbossi.

At the 91st Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board, there have been a number of sessions focusing on transportation, public health and emissions. The discussion in recent years of the link between the three has now moved into the area of policy and modeling. Modeling tools are now available to estimate emissions and air pollution from transportation models. There are also emerging results that support the safety of electronic vehicles and successes from large projects to reduce emissions. It is important to take these tools and encourage wide scale use and adoption.

In the Integrated Transportation and Air Quality Modeling session, Robert Chamberlin of the Resource Systems Group, Inc., a management consulting company, discussed a project where modeling showed a decrease in air pollution after optimizing signal timing at an intersection. In the future, this model can hopefully be supplemented with before and after air quality samples. The overall recommendation, however, is that shorter signal lengths will create less accumulation of particulate matter at the intersection.

Another interesting project in the session on Emerging Trends in Addressing Mobile Source Air Pollution dealt with reducing emissions at the Port of Los Angeles. Though many people were initially opposed to the project, it has been a great success in improving the port area. One future solution is to have ships plug into the grid while at the port. However, because shipping is an international activity, this will likely require an international solution to be viable.

This session also provided some further insights into questions that are often asked about alternative fuel vehicles. A representative from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said we need to get the word out that electric vehicles do not pose a higher risk to drivers than gasoline-powered vehicles, though the risks are different. Other presenters focused on the need for more medium and heavy duty vehicle CAFE standards, because they are major contributors to urban air pollution.

Overall, there are innovative solutions that exist, which also seem to be solutions that we can scale up quickly with the right effort. Yet, there can be vocal opposition or lack of incentive to trying these solutions. It was also noted that we have to think about these issues like they are as critical as they truly are. The costs to our wallets, environment and health are all going to increase unless we begin to scale up the adoption of good policies, replication of good projects, and continue to integrate our thinking even into the modeling arena.

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