Infrastructure and automobile shifts: positioning transit to reduce life-cycle environmental impacts for urban sustainability goals

Mikhail Chester, Stephanie Pincetl, Zoe Elizabeth, William Eisenstein and Juan Matute

Published in Environmental Research Letters doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/1/015041

Abstract: Public transportation systems are often part of strategies to reduce urban environmental impacts from passenger transportation, yet comprehensive energy and environmental life-cycle measures, including upfront infrastructure effects and indirect and supply chain processes, are rarely considered. Using the new bus rapid transit and light rail lines in Los Angeles, near-term and long-term life-cycle impact assessments are developed, including consideration of reduced automobile travel. Energy consumption and emissions of greenhouse gases and criteria pollutants are assessed, as well the potential for smog and respiratory impacts. Results show that life-cycle infrastructure, vehicle, and energy production components significantly increase the footprint of each mode (by 48–100% for energy and greenhouse gases, and up to 6200% for environmental impacts), and emerging technologies and renewable electricity standards will significantly reduce impacts. Life-cycle results are identified as either local (in Los Angeles) or remote, and show how the decision to build and operate a transit system in a city produces environmental impacts far outside of geopolitical boundaries. Ensuring shifts of between 20–30% of transit riders from automobiles will result in passenger transportation greenhouse gas reductions for the city, and the larger the shift, the quicker the payback, which should be considered for time-specific environmental goals.

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