What are the health and safety impacts of building another road?

Cars are responsible for a large percentage of our greenhouse gas pollution. New roads only increase pollution as more traffic moves onto the new road either from other roads or from other modes of transport. Not only do these emissions harm the environment but they also impact human health.

Public transport consistently emits fewer emissions than cars. An increase in the use of public transport in Melbourne could also improve our health. It has been shown catching public transport boosts our physical activity, as well as reducing our risk of car accidents. Impressive, eh?

Some quick facts about pollution and air quality

  • Approximately 60% of Victoria’s greenhouse gas pollution in the transport sector is from cars.
  • Drivers and passengers are exposed to very high levels of ultrafine particles in tunnels which can be harmful to human health, according to a recent study of the M5 East road tunnel in Sydney.
  • Air pollutants (particularly nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide) can be inhaled more easily by car users than walkers, cyclists or people using public transport on the same road. Concentrations of pollutants inside cars were found to be on average 5 times higher than normal background levels.
  • While rail and road both emit the same type of pollutants, a 2005 US study found that road transport was responsible for 10 times more deaths from harmful pollution than rail transport.
  • In Melbourne, public transport has consistently lower emissions per passenger, across all modes, than the car.

Public transport is better for our health too!

  • Compared with car users, public transport commuters are typically more active. For example, train commuters walk significantly more steps per day compared to car commuters.
  • In Melbourne, people who only use public transport walk or cycle on average 47 minutes per day compared to 8 minutes per day for those who solely use a car.
  • Use of public transport was associated with a reduction in body mass index (BMI) and an 81% reduced odds of becoming obese over time. How good is that?

Public transport is safer for us all

  • Public transport passengers have about one-tenth the traffic fatality rate per kilometre travelled compared with car occupants.
  • Evidence suggests that as public transport use increases, road accidents decrease. Communities based around public transport suffer one fifth of the fatalities to those based around road.
  • With every 10% increase in regional passenger railway services there is a 4.7% decrease in severe road accidents, according to a German study.


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