A global shift to public transport, walking and cycling would save more than $100 trillion in cumulative public and private spending, and 1,700 megatons of annual carbon dioxide, a new study has found.
Research from the University of California also found that around 1.4 million early deaths could be avoided annually by 2050 with effective vehicle pollution controls and ultralow-sulfur fuels.
"Transportation, driven by rapid growth in car use, has been the fastest growing source of CO2 in the world, said Michael Replogle, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP)’s managing director for policy and co-author of the report.
"An affordable but largely overlooked way to cut that pollution is to give people clean options to use public transportation, walking and cycling, expanding mobility options especially for the poor and curbing air pollution from traffic."
The report, A Global High Shift Scenario, calculated CO2 emissions in 2050 with a scenario in which governments significantly increased rail and clean bus transport and infrastructure to ensure safe walking, bicycling and other active forms of transport.
It also modeled moving investment away from roads and parking garages and other factors that encouraged car ownership.
"This timely study is a significant contribution to the evidence base showing that public transport should play central role in visions for the city of tomorrow" says Alain Flausch, Secretary General of the International Association of Public Transport, and member of UN Secretary General's Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport.
One of the countries studied in depth was China, where CO2 emissions from transportation are expected to mushroom from 190 megatons annually to more than 1,100 megatons, due in large part to the explosive growth of China's urban areas, the growing wealth of Chinese consumers, and their dependence on automobiles.
Under modeling by the study however, this increase can be slashed to 650 megatons, so long as cities develop extensive bus and metro systems. China is already sharply increasing investments in public transport, but it is not clear that this will be enough.
A recent article in the Guardian examined a visit from urban planners from California to China to impart a message about mistakes made in American planning.
However what resulted was a copy of the Californian Rancho Santa Fe community being created in the suburbs of Shanghai, down to the design of the houses and lawns and driveways - along with at least one car in each garage.
The article concluded that: “China had the rare opportunity to embrace cutting-edge city-building approaches as it expanded its skyline.
“It could have avoided the mistakes that made Los Angeles into the land of gridlock, or bypassed the errors that turned the banlieues of Paris into what one American planner calls “festering urban sores”.
“10 years ago, a delegation of planners from the US convened with Chinese officials, who were then working on eliminating Beijing’s cycle lanes to make room for more cars. “The American planners were saying, ‘Don’t do that, please! We’ve done that, we have made that mistake. Don’t follow us,’”
‘“But at the time, when you have that kind of modernisation, people love cars – so unfortunately the planners there didn’t listen.’”