Linking Land Use and Transportation Policies to Reducing Greenhouse Gases

A recent study by Berkeley epidemiologist Neil Maizlish found that “physical activity due to increased biking and walking would have a profound impact on health and economic outcomes while contributing to State GHG and VMT reduction goals.”

The California legislature in recent years has enacted policies designed to promote strategies to lower transportation-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT).

Dr. Maizlish writes: “An important component of VMT reduction is promoting active transportation – walking and bicycling. Active transportation increases physical activity, which improves population health by reducing risks of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, dementia, depression, and some types of cancers. In 2010, more than 23,000 deaths could be attributed to physical inactivity in California.”

His research asked:

  • How many deaths could be avoided and how many years of life could be gained if Californians: a) doubled their walking and transit trips and tripled their cycling, and b) further increased biking and walking to meet the U.S. Surgeon General recommendations for physical activity?
  • What would the economic impact of improved public health due to increased physical activity be under these scenarios?
  • What would the impact on GHG emissions be?

Dr. Maizlish, using data from California travel and health surveys, vital statistics, collision databases, and regional and statewide travel models, and the Integrated Transport and Health Impacts Model (ITHIM) created a model that “estimated the number of deaths and years of life lost, disability, economic, and greenhouse gas emission outcomes if the 2010 California population met ambitious mobility and health goals.”

He found that “California achieving its stated goals of doubling walking and transit trips and tripling bicycling by 2020 would annually eliminate 2,348 annual deaths from chronic diseases, but add
254 deaths from traffic collisions – overall leading to 2,095 fewer deaths and 30,124 fewer years of life lost and disability.

His findings include:

  • In an optimum health scenario that increases active transport for a typical Californian to21.4 minutes per day – a level recommended by the U.S. Surgeon General–California could experience 8,057 fewer annual deaths and 142,101 fewer years of life lost and disability.
  • The annual value of preventing premature deaths and disability ranged from $1 billion to $15.5 billion for the mobility scenario of doubling walking and transit trips and tripling bicycling, and $5.7 to $59.6 billion for the optimum health scenario, depending on the method of monetizing deaths and disability.
  • Assuming half the increases in active transport are offset by less car travel, annual car carbon emissions would decline between 3% to 14% compared to the 2010 baseline over the range of scenarios.

California legislation and policy promote land use strategies that mitigate transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions by reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT).

The research examines, for example, SB 743 that was passed in 2013.  It “intended to balance the needs of congestion management with statewide goals to promote infill development, public health through active transportation, and reduction of GHG emissions.”

SB 743 created “incentives for compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), provided that proposed projects reduce GHG emissions, develop multimodal transportation networks, and diversify land uses.  This replaced criteria that elevated traffic congestion as a significant impact.”

The strategies of the legislators also intend promote active transportation – walking and bicycling alone, and combined with transit trips – which, through increased physical activity, improves population health.

“The health benefits and harms of specific State of California goals for active transportation have not been quantified on a regional and statewide basis, nor have their potential for health cost savings and carbon mitigation,” the report argues.

From a baseline per capita mean of 40.5 minutes of active travel per week, scenarios increased active travel from 84.5 to 277 minutes per week, “which is approximately the duration of the average California commute in 2010 considering all modes,” the findings indicate.

Dr. Maizlish writes: “The annual number of deaths progressively decreased with increasing levels of active transport: -2,095 for CSMP2020 and -8,057 for USSG1.0. In each scenario, chronic disease reductions were accompanied by increases in the absolute number of serious and fatal road traffic injuries, despite reduced injury risks per mile traveled.

“The annual monetized value of health outcomes through chronic disease reduction were significant, ranging from 1.0 to 59.6 billion dollars, depending on the method of monetization. Holding population and carbon dioxide emissions factors constant at 2010 levels, active transport scenarios were associated with carbon reductions of 3% (CSMP2020) to 14% (USSG1.0).”

His study concludes: “There are large health benefits associated with achieving State active transportation targets. Significant carbon mitigation may also be achieved if increases in active travel are accompanied by concomitant decreases in car travel.

“Active travel generates reductions in chronic disease, and the overall health benefits (and avoided health harms from increased traffic injuries) depend on efforts made to control of road traffic injuries, which are substantially influenced by both active travel mode share and car mile substitution. Achieving mobility- or health-based goals would constitute a major public health achievement on par with California’s successful efforts at tobacco control.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Richard C

     “physical activity due to increased biking and walking would have a profound impact on health and economic outcomes while contributing to State GHG and VMT reduction goals.”

    Perhaps a good place to start for Davis residents would be to focus on getting school children to walk or ride their bikes to school.  It’s amazing to me how many parents drive their kids to school, creating traffic congestion around the schools twice a day.  Driving kids to school teaches them the wrong life lessons.

    1. darelldd

      There is more “chicken and egg” here than many realize. If parents aren’t comfortable with their kids out on the roads with our current car-enctric infrastructure and culture, the idea of “getting school children to walk or ride” is not going to stick. And as long as people are not willing to ride or walk, it is difficult to compel change in the infrastructure and culture. (How many times did I hear from the opponents of the 5th St. redesign that we don’t need to add accommodations for cyclists or pedestrians on that stretch, because there were so few cyclists and pedestrians using it now ??)

      My perspective is that changing the infrastructure is job #1. If it is comfortable and safe to get out of a car, that will happen naturally. And the rest should fall into place over time.

      This is where I put my effort.

      1. Howard P

        Slightly disagree… fully agree with the chicken/egg thing… both for cause and result (yeah, that’s inherently ‘repetionally redundant’).

        I believe that infrastructure can help, but that it will only be through attitudinal changes that we’ll see a difference.  I definitely hope/will work for those attitudinal changes.

        Davis is too affluent to make those changes easily… spend money, and problem solved… sometimes… but very often, NOT!

      2. Alan Miller

        Paranoid parents is one problem — the paranoia of having free range children on the loose is a sickness.  The other is helmet law.  Kids don’t like wearing helmets (doesn’t look cool), and don’t like helmet hair.  So they don’t bike.  The long-term effect is less bike usage.  Uber isn’t helping either.  So cheap, so easy — why bike?  Then there are drivers on cell phones, the idea that bikes need to share roads rather than have some bike expressways separated from roads (Davis better than most in SOME areas on this), the disappearing requirement of grade-separation to be paid by developers, and drivers who can’t comprehend that their vehicle is a death bomb in a collision with a bike, and both bikes and drivers who don’t know the laws or ignore them.

  2. Tia Will


    I completely agree with your comment. I would suggest that one way to approach this would be to model walking/bike riding by the parent. This would include to school for the first few trips, but also errands in their own lives. Quick trips to the store or post office that do not involve heavy or bulky items. Suggesting a bike ride instead of TV, video games or a car ride. Incorporating active transportation into our own daily lives is one of the best ways to model the behavior for our children.

    1. Howard P

      We actually did that… peer pressure from other students created the pressures to drive everywhere… mainly economic and/or ‘prestige’/independence drivers (pun unintended)…

  3. Howard P

    Another idea (not as far fetched as some I’ve seen here) is to ban MV’s for a 500 foot radius from any school, from one hour before start time to 1 hour after, same at dismissal, except if they have a “resident” ID, or pay a $2 toll.

    The main reason there is so little ped/bike transits to schools, [and yes, I’ve said it before, but it is no less true] is that parents feel a need to drive their kids to school because of all the traffic (generated by ‘other’ parents driving their kids to school – the Pogo theory)…

    When I was in elementary school (yeah, ~ 55 years ago), most families had one car, which was used for the “breadwinner” to go to work.  I walked or rode my bike the 1/3 mile (and no, it was as flat as Davis, so it wasn’t up-hill both ways!).  To school in morning, back and forth for lunch, and back at end of school day.

    High School was 1.6 miles away… often could take a school bus (what a concept! introduces kids to public transit!) to school, but with after school sports, walked home almost all the time.  Mostly downhill or flat.  In HS, students were not allowed to drive cars unless they had a part-time job.  Few families could afford the second car, anyhow.

    Never was a concern for me or my parents.  Too many ‘helicopter parents’ these days.  And when you get too many helicopters in a small “airspace”, things can get dicey.

    1. darelldd

      >> parents feel a need to drive their kids to school because of all the traffic <<

      Yes! This is what we hear loud and clear whenever parents are surveyed about why they drive their kids to school. And it takes me back to my chicken-and-egg comment above.

      And I agree that the area immediately adjacent to our schools should be the most comfortable and SAFEST places for our kids to gather and roam as they arrive and depart school. But today this area is horrible – due to the MV traffic and amazing disregard for the safety of our kids (illegal parking, U-turns, speeding, idling, doors thrown open, etc). Today we create on-site car parking. We worry about what to do about those long lines of cars trying to access school 2x per day. How many hundreds of free parking spaces to we supply for our high school kids? There’s only one solution that works here, though implementation can be accomplished in many different ways.

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