In the Los Angeles Basin, vehicle exhaust creates a large percentage of the region’s air pollution. Yet despite advances in developing higher gas mileage vehicles, cleaner burning engines, reformulated and cleaner burning gasoline, and the small percentage of electric vehicles that are already on the road, air pollution is not getting better.
As air pollution increases, traffic gridlock is worsening. At the same time transit ridership is down.
This is a plain and simple cause and effect and the correlation is obvious: the increase in traffic with more people driving everywhere all the time and the reduction in transit ridership combine to produce an increase in air pollution.
In addition to the health risks from air pollution as referenced above, there are additional health issues, such as air pollution from freeways is more wide ranging than thought.
Then there are the negative health issues from long term driving, particularly in gridlock, such as stress which then can lead to high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease. Negative mental health issues include problems such as isolation, depression and nervousness.
The obvious remedy is to reduce driving and start riding transit. Yet, there is pushback in some quarters where the recent reduction of transit ridership is touted as a reason to reduce spending on transit. Those who like to criticize transit also seem to oppose creating more density in cities where people could most easily use mass transit. These thinkers are enamored with the mythical American past of single homes for everyone, with endless sprawl making peoples’ unhealthy commutes longer and more unhealthful.
The question posed by the correlation between fewer transit riders and more driving that creates more air pollution is: will governments, private industries, companies and individuals be willing to do anything to change it?
(Matthew Hetz is a Los Angeles native. He is a transit rider and advocate, a composer, music instructor, and member and president and executive director of the Culver City Symphony Orchestra.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.