The transportation sector accounts for 28 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions. To reduce this contribution, local governments are increasingly promoting alternative forms of transportation by increasing public transit, bicycle infrastructure, and walkability between community assets. While having a walkable community can reduce emissions and mitigate climate change, climate change can also impact the walkability of communities.
Rising average temperatures will affect walkability in numerous ways. The increasing frequency and intensity of extreme heat events will impede the ability of residents to walk due to the risk of heat-related illness. The materials often used to build sidewalks, concrete, and asphalt, retain heat, making ambient air temperature in walkable areas hotter than they would be otherwise. Extreme heat also provides ideal conditions for air pollutants like ground-level ozone to form, which negatively impacts air quality. This reduction in air quality will make it difficult for people with asthma and other pre-existing conditions to spend time outdoors.
While warmer winters may extend the length of walkable weather, many areas in the US, including in the Midwest, will experience more freeze-thaw events. The increased frequency of water permeating cracks in pavement then expanding once frozen can damage sidewalks and reduce walkability if regular repairs are not made.
Increased precipitation and flood events are becoming more frequent and intense across the Midwest. Without proper drainage infrastructure built to handle increasing volumes of precipitation, sidewalks and other pathways could be frequently flooded or damaged.
While improving walkability has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the public health and infrastructure impacts of climate change can reduce walkability unless preventive measures are incorporated in the design of walkable infrastructure.