By Parris N. Glendening
When President Trump attempted to eliminate California’s more stringent fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for cars and trucks, local elected officials cried foul — and not just in California. Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and the District all use California’s tougher standards. But in the face of a growing and urgent climate crisis, even those standards are insufficient. We need to push the envelope further — with cleaner cars and more trains, more buses, more safe places to bike, walk and roll, and we need a way to do all of this on a massive scale.
That’s what the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) is all about. Regional leaders from 12 states and the District — from Virginia to Maine — are working collaboratively to develop a regional cap-and-invest system to reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector and provide a new source of revenue for clean, climate-friendly transportation.
To be sure, this initiative is about addressing the very real threat climate change poses to us all, but it also could be transformative in other ways. Busy parents, people with disabilities, students, the poor, service workers, businesses and people who enjoy the freedom of public transit all stand to gain from more transportation options. In our region, companies of all sizes are moving to walkable, transit-oriented places to ensure the workforce of tomorrow has the transportation choices it needs and demands. If we harness that potential and invest the proceeds wisely, the TCI offers an opportunity to create more walkable and bike-friendly communities served by transit.
These are the investments necessary to reduce emissions. These are the investments necessary to reconnect our communities and provide better access to economic opportunity for those without a car. These are the investments necessary to reduce the increasing number of pedestrians killed on our roadways. And these are the investments necessary to support our businesses and grow our economy.
In the past 70 years, the United States has abandoned the only development pattern humans had ever known — walkable places — in favor of spread-out communities where it is not safe, pleasant or convenient to walk or bike. The only reasonable transportation option is a personal vehicle. These decisions have led to more driving, causing increased emissions and congestion. This sprawl also undermines the economic mobility and health of our communities, particularly for low-income people and often people of color.
Transportation is the single largest source of greenhouse gases, contributing 29 percent of the United States’ total greenhouse gas emissions. The majority of these emissions come from driving. Research shows that while electric vehicles and greater fuel efficiency are essential, they are not sufficient. We need to provide people with safe and convenient ways to get to their destinations using shorter trips, shared trips and other forms of transportation. Simply swapping a gas-guzzler for an electric vehicle won’t solve the lack of access to jobs for those who can’t afford a car. Nor will it make the roads safer for those outside of a car nor address congestion.
Now is the time for people, businesses and local leaders to speak up for the TCI. We need to tell our leaders we want a transportation system that serves our needs, and we must be clear that we expect them to be a part of the creation of this cap-and-invest system. What we do in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region can be a model for success if we all work together. We undermine our economic, equity and climate goals by favoring new highways, roads and more lanes that induce more driving instead of transit, biking and walking.
People in our region deserve a better commute, stronger bike and pedestrian infrastructure, more reliable public transit services, more charging stations for electric vehicles and affordable housing located near transit. We can reduce the scourge of childhood asthma and cut down on other pollution-related emergency room visits that drive up health-care costs for everyone. We can reinvest in our communities with real solutions that avoid and mitigate congestion and that will move people more seamlessly. Residents from across this area can offer their comments through Feb. 28 online at transportationandclimate.org to shape the initiative.
The facts are clear: Our transportation status quo is unaffordable for our climate, our health and our pocketbooks. Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states must take action to finalize a strong and just regional Transportation Climate Initiative policy.
Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, was governor of Maryland from 1995 to 2003 and is president of Smart Growth America’s Leadership Institute.