Public Transit Reduces Carbon Emissions

Originally published in The Boston Globe

February 19, 2011
Rafael Meres (Staff Attorney, Conservation Law Foundation) Letter to the Editor, The Boston Globe

Edward L. Glaeser ("If you love nature, move to the city," Op-ed, Feb. 10) illustrates well that densely developed cities are better for the environment than leafy suburbs. The column correctly states that the average household in Boston’s urban core emits significantly fewer pounds of carbon dioxide per year in part because people in the city drive less.

Unfortunately, Glaeser’s statement that public transportation "that is more common in cities does little to balance the scales" could easily be misinterpreted. His excellent working paper that formed the basis for his conclusions explains that, although city dwellers tend to use more public transportation than suburbanites, their carbon footprint is still significantly lower because the emissions from transit are modest relative to the contributions of cars.

We should therefore support not only denser development in downtown Boston, but greater investment in our underfunded public transportation system, since, after all, travel by public transportation emits about half as much carbon dioxide per passenger mile than private vehicles, and uses about half the fuel.

Rafael Mares
Staff attorney
Conservation Law Foundation