Can rethinking our public transportation and cycling infrastructure help the U.S., and the world, meet our climate action goals?
It’s been a long three years since the Paris Climate Agreement was signed in April 2016. President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the agreement (which will be finalized next year), nixed the Clean Power Plan and has allowed the EPA to be staffed with policymakers friendly to the fossil fuel industry. While states and municipalities are trying to pick up the slack, meeting the goals to which the U.S. agreed during the COP 21 climate talks in December 2015 will be a tall order.
In fact, U.S. efforts thus far are “critically insufficient,” according to Climate Action Tracker.
The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) says it’s doing its part to turn this story around by partnering with five cities to develop cycling and public transit projects that will help them meet or exceed their imminent climate goals. The cities involved in this program are Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Minneapolis and Philadelphia—and they'll see these projects come to fruition by the end of next year.
As transportation is the largest contributor to U.S. carbon emissions, NACTO makes the case that increasing sustainable transportation infrastructure can significantly reduce emissions. The program will be based on NACTO’s Accelerator, which provides cities assistance on strategies that can help increase public transport ridership, reduce solo driving, and add to the number of citizens who cycle between home and work. The purpose of the program is not only to create infrastructure that can alter city residents’ habits, but also to establish in these cities the knowledge, process and support to transform transportation infrastructure.
The cities will work with NACTO, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Delivery Associates to build successful bike or public transit corridors as part of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ American Cities Climate Challenge. At least 25 cities across the U.S. are participating in this initiative to accelerate efforts to curb climate change.
Improved bike and public transportation infrastructure together can not only decrease greenhouse gas emissions, but also boost local business. For example, over two-thirds of local businesses in San Francisco’s Valencia Street district said increased bike infrastructure in the area “had an overall positive effect on their business.”
Studies have shown that cyclists, public transportation users and pedestrians often spend more money in local neighborhoods. A survey focused on two northern California cities, for example, found that shoppers who used transit, walked or cycled spent more per month at local businesses because they visited these retail centers more often. Another study in Melbourne, Australia, concluded that drivers spent more money per hour than bikers while shopping, but because six bikes can fit into one parking space, businesses would benefit over three times more from safe and adequate cycling infrastructure than from street parking.
Additional surveys have suggested the economic impact of solo automobile commuters in local communities is minimal at best. A study in Manhattan’s East Village, which recently installed protected bike and bus lanes, for example, found that the vast majority (95 percent) of retail dollars in the area were spent by public transit and non-motorized transportation users. Additionally, 73 percent of survey respondents reported that new protected bike lanes had a “positive or very positive” impact on the neighborhood.
Residents of Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Minneapolis and Philadelphia may need some time to adapt and use these new cycling routes, but both residents and local businesses could benefit in the long term. Meanwhile, these projects, if they scale up, can help the U.S. take on climate change by cutting emissions from automobiles, while reducing traffic congestion and offering a better quality of life.
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