Fighting Climate Change Requires Serious Transportation Reform

The federal government can encourage public transit use and electrification through reforms in transportation systems and land use policies.

August 2, 2021, 5:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Portland Transit

TFoxFoto / Shutterstock

As climate change intensifies, writes Kevin DeGood, "[t]he United States must adopt policies and make investments to achieve net-zero GHG emissions by midcentury." Two important steps: "electrifying vehicles and reducing the automobile dependence of communities," which includes "[r]apid electrification of transportation powered by renewable energy."

"In addition to electrification, the federal government needs to substantially reform its transportation policies to reduce auto dependence by directing funds to projects that expand transportation choice—including transit, biking, and walking—and encourage infill development," says DeGood. "Climate change cannot be addressed without reforming land use, and land use cannot be changed without reforming transportation."

The design of transportation systems "has important implications for not only driving and mobile emissions but also the economic productivity of those facilities and the long-term cost burden associated with maintenance." DeGood compares Ohio and Washington, D.C.'s  systems: "every lane mile of roadway in Washington, D.C., supports, on average, 4 1/2 times as many residents as in Ohio. … Stated differently, every dollar spent on building and maintaining the roadway network in Washington is providing a larger economic return on investment than the equivalent dollar spent in Ohio." Yet "83 percent of Ohio adults drive to work alone, while only 4 percent take transit, bike, or walk. In Washington, only 34 percent of residents drive alone, while 53 percent take transit, bike, or walk."

"Congress is currently debating the reauthorization of federal highway, transit, and passenger rail programs. The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the INVEST Act, which contains several key policy reforms to address climate change and improve overall system performance." The act, writes DeGood, could be "a strong step in a new direction, pushing states and regions to make different, more sustainable, and more productive investments with federal dollars."

Thursday, July 22, 2021 in Center for American Progress

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