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Research Recap, July 6: Pollution-Reducing Rail, Public Transit Efficiency, Green San Francisco

A study by Montreal University found that children living in economically disadvantaged urban areas are the most likely to choose walking and cycling. Photo by Nicola Jones.

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

Urban Rail Reduces Air Pollution

Professors Alexander Whalley and Yihsu Chen at the University of California, Merced investigated Taiwan’s Taipei Metro and considered the two contradicting schools of thought on air quality and rail transportation: a large and well-run system decreases air pollution by encouraging commuters to take the train rather than the car, and investments in rail infrastructure increase people’s likelihood of traveling and thereby reduce any  benefits to the atmosphere. Using hourly air quality data, researchers found that Taiwan’s urban rail transit had a meaningful reduction in carbon monoxide air pollution—5 percent to 15 percent.

Measuring the Efficiency of Public Transit

A paper by Darold T. Barnum, Matthew G. Karlaftis, and Sonali Tandon developed a procedure that estimates the overall efficiency of an area’s public transportation system. Using Data Envelopment Analysis (DEA), a non-parametric method, the researchers also estimated technical efficiencies of individual transit types. The paper concludes that the overall efficiency of a given urban area’s public transit system can only be estimated by considering the technical efficiency of each major transport type and the efficiency in allocating resources among them.

Low-Income Urban Children Most Likely to Choose Walking, Cycling

A survey by Dr. Roman Pabayo at the University of Montreal hospital Research Centre and the University’s Department of Social and Preventitive Medicine found that children living in urban areas in economically disadvantaged situations are the most likely to use “active transportation,” walking and cycling. “Active transportation,” within the study’s definition, does not include public transportation, school buses or driving. The study followed the same group of children as they aged and found that although children might walk or cycle to school at a young age, they do not prefer to do so after they reach 10 or 11 years of age. Looking at the habits of 7,690 Canadian children, the researchers also found that children with many friends in their area are more than twice as likely to increase their active commuting over two years in comparison to other children.

Greenest City in North America: San Francisco

A research study commissioned by Siemens and conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit named San Francisco as the Greenest City in North America upon comparing 27 major U.S. and Canadian cities on environmental performance and policies. The comparison looked at nine categories, including: carbon dioxide emissions, energy, land use, buildings, transport, water, waste, air quality and environmental governance. San Francisco earned the title after ranking in the top five in six out of the nine categories, with a forte in waste reduction. In 2009, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to mandate composting and recycling for residents, food establishments and events.

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