Climate Change: A Solution to Global Warming & Health Equity

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More Latinos walk and bike instead of drive cars than non-Latinos, which could be the key to address climate change and health equity, according to a recent English and Spanish survey by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

Transportation design, however, doesn’t always make it easy to walk and bike safely.

Salud America! continues its three-part series exploring the issue of climate change for Latinos, today tackling whether leaders get more people out of cars and into active transportation, boosting health and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Part 1 of the series tackled what climate change is, why Latinos are worried, and whether they should be. Part 2 addressed what kinds of policies Latinos would support to address climate change.

The Rise of Latinos Walking and Biking

More Latinos walk or bike instead of drive (40%) than non-Latinos, according to the Yale survey.

More Latinos use public transportation or car pool (28%) than non-Latinos (22%), too.

Additionally, more Latinos are riding bikes than 15 years ago, according to a People for Bikes report about race, ethnicity, class and protected bike lanes.

“This is a clear sign of bicycling’s shift from an insider club of Lycra-clad hobbyists to a diverse cross-section of Americans who ride for all sorts of reasons — from getting groceries to losing weight to just having fun,” wrote Jay Walljasper in a Strong Towns blog.

This is big news for cities in states like Texas that lead the way in transportation emissions, have large Latino populations, and are at risk of bearing the worst of climate change costs, particularly in the absence of state and federal climate-action leadership.

This is also big news for transportation and planning departments that fall behind when it comes to diversity. Nearly nine in 10 professional planners (88%) are white, according to the People for Bikes report.

The Drawbacks of Driving

Driving is costly in time, money, and mental health.

Commuters have higher stress levels and worse mental and physical health outcomes than non-commuters.

This is a triple burden for low-income populations. Additionally, driving excludes youths and seniors, leaving them disconnected from places and services they need.

Bicycle trips could replace many cars trips.

In fact, 72% of all trips three miles or less are made by motor vehicles. Most people could bike three miles in less than 20 minutes.

Enabling More Walking/Biking (and Helping with Climate Change)

Latino communities, despite the findings of the Yale survey, often lack safe places to walk and bike, according to a Salud America! research review.

Climate actions and policies to reduce vehicle miles traveled, like investing in and promoting public transit, sidewalks, bike lanes and ride-sharing, can solve multiple health and equity issues simultaneously.

Improving safe routes for Latinos to walk and bike can boost physical and mental health, and, when coordinated with land use decisions, can increase access to affordable housing, education and employment opportunities, healthy food, healthcare, and other relevant services and destinations.

Transportation options can reduce commute times. Transportation options can reduce fatalities and serious injuries from crashes. Transportation options can increase physical activity, thus reducing risk for numerous chronic diseases.

Circling back around, investing in and promoting alternative transportation—public transit and safe routes and places to walk and bike—can reduce vehicle miles traveled, thus reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Providing alternative transportation has additional environmental benefits. Reducing vehicle miles traveled reduces the need to widen and build more roadways and parking lots, thus reducing the amount of rain-absorbing green space that is covered by impervious asphalt and concrete. Impervious surfaces do not absorb rainwater and are often covered in harmful pollutants and debris, producing stormwater. Stormwater runs into streams and rivers, exacerbates flooding, and can cause sewer overflows—a major water pollution concern for the approximately 772 cities in the U.S. Additionally, replacing trees and green space with asphalt and concrete contributes to the urban heat island effect, further exacerbating global warming.

As one of the largest—sometimes the largest—sources of greenhouse gas emissions in U.S. cities, transportation actions and policies have the potential to impact far more than climate change.

How worried are you about climate change now?

What can your city do to improve transportation options to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and improve health equity?

Email us your thoughts!

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