Transportation and the Climate Bill

9 Jul

The Washington Independent has a pretty accurate description of the somewhat under told story about the intertwined transportation/climate issue, and how the transportation sector will fare in a cap and trade plan.

Sen. Menendez has it right: “Transportation accounts for nearly one-third of our emissions, and yet it does not appear to be on Congress’s radar screen as one third of the solution.”

Where they have the options, folks are transitioning to other means of transportation than cars and not just in places like New York and Portland. We’re seeing that almost across the board in the record public transportation ridership numbers and the increases in biking and walking to work in many places. A fascinating report earlier this year showed that in 2008 a 3.7% reduction in vehicle miles traveled in the top 100 metro areas lead to a 30% drop in congestion. Imagine the streets 30% less congested, that is better for everyone, especially drivers.

This has a powerful impact on emissions and shows real value for using smart transportation policies as an effective way to address global warming. Right now in some circles, there’s almost a single minded focus on raising auto-emissions standards, but that’s such a small slice of the problem/solution.

The goal here is not to make it harder to drive, reducing congestion actually makes life easier for drivers, but to make it easier to not-drive. Sound land use policies that make jobs available closer to home, intelligent traffic management through technology and congestion pricing, complete streets that are safe for bikes and pedestrians, incentives and structures to make carpooling easier, and even helping to increase telecommuting are all useful strategies. Of course expanding public transportation is also a major factor.

The politics of this issue is the tricky part.  The odd thing is this shouldn’t be the traditional urban vs. rural, transit vs. roads debate because making it easier for folks outside cities to drive less is just as critical as making it easier to get around within cities and if structured right, that can be a boon to rural districts/states.

There is a really powerful conservative argument for public transportation (see Paul Weyrich’s Conservatives and Mass Transit: Is it Time for a New Look?) the question is, will it break through?

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