The Path to Clean Transportation

Recommendations to Create Sustainable Transportation Systems

Cities and states need to adopt policies and make investments designed to cut pollution and give people more options for getting where they need to go. 

IN MUCH OF AMERICA, including many parts of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, access to a car is all but required to hold a job or lead a full and vibrant life. Generations of car-centric transportation policies – including lavish spending on roads, sprawl-inducing land use policies, and meager support for other modes of transportation – have left millions of Americans fully dependent on cars for daily living.

Owning a car is a costly endeavor. On average, accounting for car payments, gas, car insurance, and replacement parts, it costs roughly $8,000 every year to own a car in the United States. More Americans than ever before are going into debt to purchase cars, raising concerns about the financial future of millions. All this driving isn’t just bad for our pocketbooks.

Transportation is also the largest driver of climate change, releasing millions of tons of greenhouse gasses each year into the atmosphere. In 2019, 29% of all of the United States’ carbon emissions came from the transportation sector, making it the largest source of emissions in the nation. The majority of these emissions come from everyday travel to and from work, essential services and recreation. More than half of our country’s total transportation related emissions are from light duty vehicles, which are the most commonly owned vehicles used for individual transportation.

Pollution from our cars, trucks and buses is also putting the health of Americans at risk. According to a study from researchers at the University of Chicago, the average person is exposed to more than three times the air pollution that is deemed acceptable by the World Health Organization. Exposure to this level of air pollution has also reduced the average life expectancy globally by about 2 years. Americans need a modern transportation network that is more affordable, works better and pollutes less. Making it easier for people to drive less will make lives better, communities safer and healthier and will help address climate change.

Cities and states need to adopt policies and make investments designed to cut pollution and give people more options for getting where they need to go. In the Northeast and Mid Atlantic, the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), a cap-and-invest program on transportation fuels, was one of the most promising proposed policies. It would reduce climate emissions from the transportation sector and unlock hundreds of millions of dollars for investments in a better, more modern transportation network, getting us closer to an America where we can drive and pollute less and live more. Although several states made significant progress toward adopting TCI, it now appears to be on pause. Still, the problems with the transportation system in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic still exist and the states need to implement comprehensive plans to address those problems. This report examines the benefits residents in the region would reap if their states adopted TCI or a similar program to reduce emissions, and provides sample policy recommendations that look to help states prioritize where to make the most beneficial investments relating to their transportation systems.