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Community Design

Proximity to Highways

Proximity to Highways

Traffic is one of the largest contributors to unhealthy air quality. Traffic pollution is a combination of many different types of compounds that are put into the air when fossil fuels, like gas or diesel, are burned when vehicle engines are running. Motor vehicles contribute to more than 50% of air pollution in urban areas. Exposure to traffic pollution has been linked to many adverse health effects including:

About 4% of the U.S. population lives within 150 meters (about 2 city blocks) of a major highway. This suggests that people living in these areas are at increased risk for exposure to traffic-related air pollutants including:

Exposure and Risk

Higher concentrations of traffic pollution are typically found near roadways. More people are exposed to traffic-related air pollution in urban areas because of higher population density, more roads, and higher traffic volume compared to other areas.

Exposure to higher concentrations of traffic pollution can affect the health of people who live, ride in vehicles, and walk or bicycle near roadways. A person's health may be affected by both short- and long-term exposure to traffic pollution. Some groups may be at higher risk including:

  • children,
  • the elderly,
  • low-income populations, and
  • people with medical conditions, such as asthma and cardiovascular disease.
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The design of communities and transportation systems affects how often automobiles are used, how many automobile trips are taken, and how long those trips are.

Prevention strategies to reduce traffic emissions include:

  • increasing access to alternative transportation options, such as mass transit, rideshare programs, walking, and cycling;
  • providing incentives for individuals to reduce the vehicles miles they travel;
  • retrofitting diesel engines;
  • promoting the use of electric and low emission vehicles;
  • creating roadside barriers and improved ventilation systems for existing homes and buildings; and
  • implementing land-use policies that limit new development close to heavy traffic areas.

Greater health benefits will likely result from focusing prevention interventions in urban areas where there is high traffic pollution and a large number of people living near major roads. Areas with the most socially disadvantaged populations may also notice similar health benefits.

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