A New Way Forward: Envisioning a Transportation System without Carbon Pollution

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In recent years, transit agencies from Flagstaff to Yuma have experienced record ridership. In the last year alone, Phoenix voters approved a significant expansion of transportation options, the Tucson Streetcar celebrated its 1 millionth rider, and carsharing and bikesharing services in our state increased. Imagine if we built on this foundation by further developing our existing transit infrastructure, created dense new centers of development linked by transit, and overall built a more efficient transportation system.

A new report from Frontier Group, A New Way Forward: Envisioning a Transportation System without Carbon Pollution, highlights that in order to tackle carbon pollution, there needs to be a transformation in how we move people and goods in, through and between our cities. The good news is that the last decade has seen an explosion of new technologies and the emergence of new innovations that can contribute to a solution.

Among the wide variety of transportation tools – new and old – that can cut carbon pollution:

Public Transportation: Transit ridership hit a modern high in 2014, the result of recent transit expansion projects and growing urban population and employment. Current public transportation services reduce vehicle travel (and GHG emissions) by about 10 percent in U.S. cities, according to research conducted for the Transportation Research Board.

Walking and Biking – Americans prefer walking to any other mode of transportation, according to a recent survey and the number of people traveling by bicycle in many cities has grown dramatically in the last decade. The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy estimates that bicycling alone could curb global carbon dioxide emissions from transportation by 11 percent by 2050.

Shared Mobility:  Over the last decade, an explosion of technology-enabled services – from carsharing to bikesharing to Lyft and Uber – has revolutionized transportation in many cities including here in our state. Some of these “shared mobility” services have been shown to reduce vehicle ownership and driving, while the effects of others are just beginning to be studied.

Urbanization and Smart Growth: Cities in Arizona and nationwide – especially downtown areas – are experiencing resurgence, driven by demographic changes and a desire for walkable living. A future in which most new development takes place in urban and walkable neighborhoods could reduce transportation greenhouse gas emissions by 9 to 15 percent by mid-century, according to research by the Urban Land Institute.

Reallocating Space: The vast majority of street space in American cities is devoted to moving or storing cars, pushing people who walk, bike or take transit to the margins. Cities in the U.S. and around the world are reallocating space formerly devoted to cars to other public purposes, ranging from bike lanes to parks. U.S. cities with good bicycling infrastructure have nearly twice as many bike commuters as the national average.

These transportation strategies, combined with a switch to electric cars, can work together synergistically to achieve even greater results and move us towards a carbon-free transportation system by mid-century.

Diane E. Brown is the Executive Director of the Arizona PIRG Education Fund. Alana Miller is a Policy Analyst with Frontier Group.