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Research Recap, July 11: Peak Car Use, Distracted Driving, Polluted Brains

Many of the world's cities, including Vienna, are experiencing peak car use, suggests a Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute study. Photo by Dorte.

Welcome to “Research Recap,” our series highlighting recent reports, studies and other findings in sustainable transportation policy and practice, in case you missed it.

Peak Driving Approaching?

Peak car use has been reached by many of the world’s cities, suggests a Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute study. Between 1995 and 2005, driving rates fell in a number of cities across Europe, North America and Australia, including Vienna, Zurich, Atlanta, Houston and Los Angeles. Possible explanations for the trend include rising fuel prices, growth in public transit, the resurgent cultural popularity of city living, and the possibility that many individuals are reaching their personal thresholds for the maximum driving distances they’re willing to travel. Despite these described trends, motorization trends in many countries, such as China or India, do not appear to be declining.

Devices Distract Driving

New analysis from the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA) indicates that as many as 25 percent of U.S. car crashes are associated with drivers distracted by cellphones or other gadgets. The preeminent distractions are talking and texting on cellphones. Though the study did not investigate the effectiveness of cellphone bans on reducing crashes, the GHSA recommends the widespread passing of such legislation. However, “much of the research is incomplete or contradictory,” GHSA Executive Director Barbara Harsha said. “Clearly, more studies need to be done addressing both the scope of the problem and how to effectively address it.”

Polluted Brains

Long-term exposure to air pollution leads to physical brain changes, learning and memory problems, and depression, a new study from Ohio State University researchers found. The study’s conclusions were reached by exposing lab mice to either filtered or polluted air for six hours a day, five days a week for half of their life span. This research is the first to assess the psychological impacts of long-term air pollution, as most studies examine the impact of pollution on the heart and lungs. The study was featured in last week’s Molecular Psychiatry journal.

Naming Metro Stations

Public transit users prefer short (about 13 characters), distinct metro station names based on clear geographical distinctions and landmarks, according to rider research by the Washington Area Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). Opinions were collected through a series of focus groups by WMATA in June. Also tested were the proposed names for rail stations along the under-construction rail extension to Washington Dulles International Airport.

Infrastructure Construction Jobs

The Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst uncovered that bicycle and/or pedestrian infrastructure projects create 46 percent more jobs per dollar of investment than vehicle-exclusive road projects. For each $1 million spent on the creation of bicycle or pedestrian-related infrastructure, nine jobs are created within the state of the project and three jobs are created out of state.

Subsidized Sprawl

A study examining subsidized sprawl in the metro areas of Cleveland and Cincinnati, Ohio calls for regionally minded development policies. The study uncovered that business relocation subsidies resulted in the overwhelmingly outbound relocations of 164 businesses and roughly 13,000 jobs between 1996 and 2005. The outbound relocations are credited with worsening wealth inequalities between Ohio’s racial groups, in part by decreasing job opportunities for those without cars, as many of the new business locations are not accessible by public transit. The study recommends cooperation between local officials, anti-poaching policies, and regional transparency to oversee equitable economic and urban growth.

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