Opinion: Post-Pandemic Recovery Cannot Privilege Car Owners

Robust investment in the region's public transportation network can ensure a more equitable and sustainable path forward.

March 25, 2021, 10:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

7th Street, NW, Washington D.C.

Changes made to accommodate COVID-19 restrictions could inform future permanent infrastructure. | Elvert Barnes / 7th Street, NW, Washington, D.C.

Writing in Greater Greater Washington, Caitlin Rogger questions the post-pandemic future of transit in the Washington, D.C. region. "Whether folks take transit, walk, roll, drive, take ride hailing services, or just don’t return physically to the same places they used to is closely tied with equity, livability, environmental quality and economic growth." With a growth in preference for single-occupancy vehicles and private transportation during the pandemic, is the region facing a "Carmageddon?"

If "those who can overwhelmingly choose to drive instead of taking sustainable modes" do so, Rogger argues, the resulting congestion "could choke the region’s economic recovery, and exacerbate health inequalities and environmental issues." To ensure equity and sustainability, she writes, the recovery cannot "be driven by those of us who can afford to drive." Rogger's suggestions for improving regional transit include using traffic downtime to build more bus and bike lanes, restoring transit services to pre-pandemic levels, repurposing parking, incentivizing bike usage through safer infrastructure and storage, implementing congestion pricing, and exploring avenues for lowering the cost of transit and reducing emissions.

The economic benefits of public transit are well documented. "A panoply of studies show that people using bikes, transit or walking to reach business destinations generate more business when they get there." Additionally, workers in low-wage jobs often depend on public transit. "To restore opportunities for lower-income workers that were taken away by the pandemic, it’s essential to ensure that bus services are able to meet riders’ needs with reliable, fast, convenient and affordable service," writees Rogger. If city leaders want to achieve their goal of a more equitable future, "that future requires vision and sustained investment in actions that will bring it about."

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