3 Ways Philadelphia Can Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions While Fixing Its Traffic Problem

As Philadelphia tries to sort out its problem with traffic, now is the perfect time to consider how transportation policy can support the City’s goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions —according to environmental engineering researchers from Drexel University and University of Toronto in Canada.

In the fall the City released an ambitious plan to improve street safety and transportation over the next seven years. It outlines a strategy intended to reduce the traffic that is choking Center City, and creating unsafe situations for cyclists and pedestrians, by the year 2025. Concurrently, Philadelphia is also striving to become a greener city. That effort, which was introduced several years ago, is striving to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent over the next three decades.

A team of researchers from Drexel University and the University of Toronto, recently published a case study on Philadelphia’s transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions. Through their research they offer a few key adjustments that could help Philadelphia reach its clean-air goals, while also cutting down on traffic.

bus in Philadelphia

Promoting the use of public transit is a win for everyone.

According to the study, 80 percent of trips in Philadelphia are taken in private vehicles. This is by far the largest transportation-related contributor to the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, so consolidating trips, via public transit, would clearly help. Philadelphia’s new transportation plan calls for the first bus route redesign since the 1960s and makes it a priority to improve access to public transit.

car charging

Electric vehicles could eventually help.

For electric busses and plug-in electric cars to truly do their part in reducing emissions, changes need to happen in how Philadelphia gets its electricity. If the City can “decarbonize” its electric supply — that is, get its electricity from renewable sources rather than fossil fuels — then electric vehicles could help cut emissions by as much as 60 percent, according to the study. While Philadelphia has recently paused some efforts to promote the use of private electric vehicles, SEPTA is steadily adding electric busses to its fleet. And the City has committed to purchasing 100 percent of its power from renewable energy providers by the year 2035.

bike commuter

Walking and biking are great, but the City needs to keep thinking big.

Switching to walking and biking for short trips is not, by itself, a sufficient strategy for achieving emissions reductions on the scale we need. About 11 percent of trips taken in Philadelphia are by “active transit” — walking or biking — and while efforts to provide alternatives to private trips can help cut back on emissions, in order to achieve deep cuts by 2050 the City would need to implement changes that have a greater effect.


The case study was led by Marianne Hatzopoulou, PhD, of the University of Toronto, and supported by a cadre of researchers from Drexel’s College of Engineering, including Patrick Gurian, PhD, and Sabrina Spatari, PhD.

Read the full study here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03081060.2018.1526879?journalCode=gtpt20


For media inquiries, contact Britt Faulstick, bef29@drexel.edu or 215.895.2617

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