15.2 Urban Design: Transportation

Author: Reem Wehbe

ABSTRACT: Transportation is one of the largest sources of carbon emissions all over the world. Increasing the efficiency of vehicle technology, changing what methods we use to travel and transport goods, and using lower-carbon fuels are all different methods we could be implementing to reduce our carbon footprint.

Graph 1 – Image credit: Sightline Institute


As the saying goes, “be the change you want to see in the world,” this message is very literal when it comes to the topic of climate change and reducing our carbon footprint. Transportation is a major use of energy and burns most of the world’s petroleum. This leads to a significant amount of air pollution and is a major contributor to global warming through the emission of CO2. The buildup of greenhouse gases such as Carbon Dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) causes the Earth’s atmosphere to warm up which results in the changes of climate that are already affecting us and are visible to us today. Graph 1 above illustrates the amount of emissions produced by an individual passenger on a 200 mile trip based on their method of transportation.

The transportation sector is currently responsible for 23% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. These greenhouse gas emissions primarily come from the burning of fossil fuels for our cars, trucks, trains, buses, planes, and ships. Over 90% of the fuel used for transportation is petroleum based, which includes primarily gasoline and diesel. In Canada, approximately 15.4 million people regularly commute every day, with an estimate of 12% using public transit to be their primary mode of travel. Over 12 million people choose to drive their cars to work which accounts for 74% of people, while another 5.4% ride as passengers.

GHG Emissions – Transportation

Reducing our transportation emissions is one of the most vital steps to adhere to our climate change emergency, and solutions to this are already made available. For example, those who choose to drive rather than take public transit, can save about 1.7 tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually just by switching from a 20-mpg vehicle to a 25-mpg vehicle. An even better alternative would be to switch to an electric vehicle as they offer a low-carbon alternative to gasoline-powered vehicles. Carpooling is also another option. Moreover, public transportation is a great way to lower your carbon footprint daily. If your commute is a 20-mile round trip for example, you could lower your carbon footprint by 4,800 pounds annually. Public transportation can help communities reduce the country’s carbon emissions by 37 million metric tons yearly. Furthermore, reducing the impact of your air travel is possible by choosing direct flights. Also, the baggage and the load a plane carries plays a major role in the weight of an aircraft which affects how much fuel it is releasing during take-off. If all passengers pack one less pair of shoes which makes about 2Ibs each, the aircraft’s fuel savings would be the same as taking 10,500 cars off the road for an entire year.

Countries need to shift away from fossil fuel-powered vehicle dependence and toward zero emissions in all transport sectors.

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