Clean Environment and Healthy Communities

A smoggy Los Angeles skyline
Photo via the Metro Transportation Library and Archive

Our transportation choices impact our natural resources, including the air we breathe. Changes in our transportation planning can not only protect our environment and city’s sustainability, but also improve the physical health of Angelenos by reducing the levels or pollutants to which we are exposed. Motor vehicles are a leading source of air pollution, and despite technological improvements in vehicle emissions, the sheer number of vehicles on our roads result in high levels of particulate matter in the air. Particulate matter includes pollutants in the air like carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that negatively impact ozone levels, climate change, and overall air quality.

According to a 2011 report produced by Partnership for Prevention, greenhouse gas emission levels from transportation sources increased 17% from 1990-2009 in the United States, nearly all from carbon dioxide. Transportation accounts for one-third of all U.S. emissions, 64% of which result from passenger cars and light duty trucks. Unchanged, these levels are expected to increase 10% by 2035, a rate at which the United States alone would contribute to one quarter of all global transportation emissions.  However, we have the potential to reduce transportation sector emissions by up to 65% from current levels by 2050. Compliance with stricter vehicle emissions regulations, new emissions-reducing technology, and behavioral shifts to make fewer vehicle trips are all ways in which we can reduce our transportation emission levels.

Los Angeles consistently ranks at the top of lists for worst air quality: in 2012, the American Lung Association ranked Los Angeles first out of 277 metropolitan areas for high ozone days, third for annual particle pollution, and fourth for 24-hour particle pollution. These characteristics not only pollute Los Angeles in the short run—for example, with thick smog—but also increase long-term health risks for conditions such as asthma, respiratory illness, or lung cancer.

What we’ve heard from Angelenos

“We need to lower noise and air pollution.”

“Reduce air pollution and stop obesity!”

“Working from home can be a great way to save money, save time, reduce pollution, and reduce traffic congestion.”

“Using permeable pavers on streets would allow rainwater to seep into the earth and replenish the city’s groundwater, instead of rushing out to the ocean and being wasted. Also, the dirt filters the water, keeping pollution and runoff from the street out of the ocean or the river.”

“Encouraging and allowing more events like CicLAvia, First Fridays, farmer’s markets, etc. can bring community members together to enjoy public spaces that are usually reserved for cars. Events like these help reclaim the streets for people, encourage people to explore new neighborhoods, bring awareness to alternative modes of transportation, support local businesses and provide residents with an opportunity to socialize and experience LA! They are invaluable.”

“Los Angeles needs to encourage and foster the multi-dimensional use of streets as public spaces for Angelenos to be able to meet and know their neighbors.”

Clean Environment and Healthy Communities

Metro’s animation for cleaner, CNG-fueled buses

To support our vision for a healthier, vibrant Los Angeles, we are proposing a goal of “Clean Environment and Healthy Communities.” We have the opportunity to make our city a more enjoyable place while also advancing our environmental, social, and physical health. We can set targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by promoting clean fuel, alternative energy, and behavioral shifts to reduce overall energy use. Since 1997, the City has participated in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Cities Program. We have continually increased the number of clean vehicles and facilities in City fleets, and also established GREEN LA  to combat global warming and set high environmental standards for Los Angeles. Metro currently operates the nation’s largest clean-air vehicle fleet and continues to make improvements as part of its Clean Fuel Program. In addition, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation purchased 95 new buses in 2011, enabling LADOT to achieve a 100% clean-fuel fleet. With the Mobility Element, we can continue to support existing programs and encourage additional improvements in both the public and private sectors.

We can also support green travel options such as carpooling, telecommuting, and incentives to increase active transportation and public transit ridership. All of these choices not only have the potential to combat air pollution, but also physical health problems. Incorporating even small amounts of daily exercise such as walking can improve cardiovascular health and help stem rising obesity rates. Small changes in behavior can yield major improvements for traffic congestion, air quality, and physical health. A UCLA study showed that during last summer’s Carmageddon closure of the 405 Freeway, Angelenos’ decisions to stay out of their cars dramatically improved air quality during that one weekend: 83% better adjacent to the closed portion of the freeway, 75% across the Westside, and 25% regionwide.

In addition, we can complement these green behaviors with changes in the physical environment. Improvements to our street in terms of safety and infrastructure can also be environmentally-conscious to promote long-term sustainability. Green Streets and Green Alleys can beautify our city while also reducing energy use and/or waste. For example, tree plantings not only improve aesthetics, but also can reduce stormwater runoff, provide shade and cooling, and mitigate air pollution by taking in C02. The City administers the Million Trees LA Initiative and Stormwater Program among many other environmental programs regarding green infrastructure, air quality, energy use, environmental business, land use, waste, and water.

Repurposing the streets during CicLAvia
Photo by Gary Leonard via CicLAvia

Redefining our streets as spaces for public enjoyment is another way in which we can increase neighborhood vitality and social well-being.  By opening streets to community events, we can provide safe places for recreation and socialization for Angelenos of all ages to enjoy. Sunset Plaza Triangle, mentioned in our last post, is an example of a pleasing space that encourages public gathering and celebrates local character (learn more about the Living Streets Initiative here). Similarly, events like CicLAvia provide an opportunity for Angelenos to safely explore the City and also encourage active transportation. Promoting these types of events through the Mobility Element policies and programs can help us towards progress in achieving our goal of Clean Environment and Healthy Communities.

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