Why it Matters

Why does it matter?

Transportation is a part of everyone’s life, the details of which are often passionately discussed and defended. Missing from the discussion and debate until recently, has been the significant economic, social and environmental impacts of our current transportation network.

The majority of attention this topic has received has focused on alternative fuel sources for our vehicles, which is a step in the right direction. However, alternative fuels are only a small part of the solution. Driving alone, even in an alternative fuel vehicle, has significant environmental, human health and quality of life impacts. Biodiesel vehicles don’t solve traffic congestion. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles don’t solve the obesity problem created by driving to every destination. Electric vehicles don’t solve air pollution–since much of the electricity that powers them is still generated from the combustion of coal or oil.

With the establishment of the Yale Office of Sustainability in 2005, Yale Transportation Options in 2007, and the publication of the Sustainability Strategic Plan for 2010-2013, Yale University has joined a growing number of institutions around the world who are acting on our collective responsibility to develop sustainable solutions that address the environmental impacts of our actions.

The Transportation Options Program was created to begin addressing the issues above. Sharing a ride, using public transportation, bicycling, or walking are choices we can make as individuals to start having a positive impact–one commute at a time. Using more sustainable modes of transportation:

  • costs less money
  • is healthier, for us and for the planet
  • means a better quality of life

Walking and cycling are the foundations for sustainable transportation. They are free, burn calories, and generate zero emissions. Of course, our feet and our bicycles aren’t always enough–sometimes we need to go further than they can propel us.

HOWEVER, forty percent of trips taken in the United States are under two miles.* A one-mile distance can be covered on foot in 15 minutes. A three-mile trip by bike can be accomplished in 15 minutes. Think Yale’s campus is too big to walk or bike? Click here for a radius map of Yale that puts distances in perspective.

A 15-minute walk or bike ride can help you avoid the gym. Commute and exercise at the same time for maximum productivity!

If it is true that you can never be too thin or too wealthy, then driving alone to every destination assures these goals will remain unachievable.

Driving and Obesity

“Active Transportation” which includes any method of travel that is human-powered (but most commonly refers to walking and bicycling) is being promoted as a logical way to help Americans lose weight, reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes, and spend less money on health care. John Pucher at Rutgers University has generated a significant body of research on the direct relationship between obesity and car dependency, as well as indicators that active transportation prolongs life and reduces health care costs. His findings include this chart.

“Each additional hour spent in a car per day was associated with a 6% increase in the likelihood of obesity.” Obesity relationships with community design, physical activity, and time spent in cars, American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

“The data on more than 10,500 people in the Atlanta area indicated that the more time a person spends in a car, the more obese he or she tends to be.” Weighing in on City Planning, Science News Online.

“The obesity epidemic is paralleled across much of the developed world, a world in which the built environment has increasingly been designed to accommodate travel by car at the expense of walking and cycling” Unfit for Purpose: How Car Use Fuels Climate Change and Obesity, Institute for European Environmental Policy

Driving and Cost

Nationally, Americans spend 18% of their income on transportation, according to the US Dept of Energy.** And because only 0.7% of those expenditures were for public transportation, it can be safely assumed that the majority of this expenditure can be attributed to car costs.

In their 2010 “Your Driving Costs” brochure, the American Automobile Association (AAA) estimated that on average, Americans spend between $5,636.00 and $12,410.00 per year to own, operate, and maintain their cars. *** This would certainly support the argument that driving is expensive.

The perception that driving takes less time and is more convenient is not always correct. Detours and delays caused by accidents and construction projects in New Haven and the region are always bearing that out. Further, the University is increasingly using its valuable land to build housing, academic buildings, and research facilities where parking lots once stood–making low-cost parking facilities a distant memory. Please conduct your own cost/benefit analysis using the tools and information on this site.

* US Census National Personal Transportation Survey 1990.

**US Department of Energy Transportation Data Book http://cta.ornl.gov/data/index.shtml

***2010 Driving Costs from AAA It should be noted that AAA’s estimates were based on the average price of gas in late 2009 of $2.60/gallon when the brochure went to print.