Understanding the Interactions Between Transportation-Related Air Pollutants, Urbanization, and Health

The University of Texas Office of the Vice President for Research Planet Texas 2050 Grand Challenge

Exposure to traffic-related air pollution (TRAP), whether on the road during travel or while pursuing near-road activities, has been shown to negatively impact public health (Dockery et al. 1993; Correia et al. 2013; Lelieveld et al. 2015). Factors such as urbanization patterns, mobility alternatives, geography, and weather conditions play a critical role in determining locations with high TRAP exposures (Hoek et al. 2008). Individual- and household-level factors like age, income, and race/ethnicity also affect vulnerability to morbidity and mortality from air pollution exposure (Finkelstein et al. 2003; Makri and Stilianakis 2008). Understanding current TRAP exposure patterns and corresponding health impacts is an important step toward developing sustainable and just urbanization plans, building codes, and transportation systems.

This project has two goals. The first is to identify, collect and make available datasets that can be used to a) quantify current TRAP exposure and its impacts on one or more Texas cities and b) develop and extend models that capture the impact of urbanization and mobility decisions on TRAP exposure and corresponding health impacts. Researchers at the Center for Transportation Research (CTR) will collaborate with faculty and students working in community and regional planning, health, and air measurement, among others, to develop a list of desired datasets and corresponding processing and visualization needs. In collaboration with the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC), the datasets will be processed to facilitate their efficient use, analysis, and visualization.

The second goal involves supporting and promoting the use of collected data within the UT community and beyond through three activities:

  1. Outreach. We will host a hackathon to introduce datasets and related tools to the UT community and other Austin stakeholders, with the goal of generating awareness and interest in the research topic and promoting the use of the collected data. Nearing the end of the project, we will plan an open-house to showcase research products to local, state, and potentially private partners that may support further research activities.
  2. Data analysis. Developing and computing meaningful estimates of TRAP exposure considering both, residential location, and movement throughout the day. Researchers will propose metrics that consider disparities in exposure that might indicate environmental injustice, and other system performance indicators that capture the health impacts of transportation and urbanization decisions.
  3. Research. Using the collected data to enhance existing planning models, in such way that they better capture the relationships between urbanization, mobility, and health. Extended models may be used to comprehensively evaluate policy, transportation, and urbanization decisions, which is of particular interest given the major changes currently anticipated in the transportation industry due to the advent of autonomous vehicles.

Outcomes of this project are expected to include white papers, peer-reviewed journal articles, and conference presentations based on the work conducted toward activities 2 and 3. Data products will be available to the UT community, and may lead to further original research. Research findings will also support the writing of grant proposals in response to calls from agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the Federal Highway Administration.

Outreach events will leverage existing relationships with local and state agencies, and may support the identification of additional funding sources for this research effort.

 View the PT2050 TRAP final report, project poster, associated publications, and lightning talk slides