By Emily Alexander and Alex Rodriguez
Climate change is the greatest challenge of our generation. As citizens of this planet, we cannot sit idly by while it goes up in flames. In order to cut down emissions, preserve our environment and ensure public health for all, we need a bold solution.
The Transportation and Climate Initiative is that bold solution. The transportation sector accounts for a whopping 38% of Connecticut’s greenhouse gas emissions, more than any other source. This disproportionate rate of emissions is largely due continued sprawling land use, car-centric zoning codes and a stubborn reliance on low-occupancy motor vehicles.
The Transportation and Climate Initiative is a collaboration of 12 Northeastern states and the District of Columbia that is looking at regional approaches to improving transportation that will lower carbon emissions.
What are we waiting for? Planners, economists, and activists agree that expanding public transit and rewriting municipal zoning codes are some of the most equitable, efficient and economically stimulating methods of reducing transportation emissions. Updating the zoning regulations of cities and towns is critical because existing land use and zoning codes may not support sustainable development. Good land use results in fewer car trips, more transit riders and more walking and biking in and around our cities and town centers.
Opponents of sustainable transportation and land use will soon wake to the extra costs they will have to bear as the impacts of climate change amplify over the next decade — whether they be medical bills due to air pollution or heat stroke, remodeling costs from basement flooding, or over-the-top electric bills from poorly insulated homes and searing summer heat. These costs will add up to be much greater than the investments we must all make now to reduce pollution and tackle climate change.
The Transportation and Climate Initiative provides Connecticut a unique opportunity to move our transportation system into the 21st century. We must invest in faster trains and redesigned bus transit routes that drastically cut car commutes. We should build electrified light rail and bus rapid transit networks that provide frequent and convenient service across our metro areas. We should revisit local exclusionary zoning ordinances that prevent housing density near transit hubs and require that all state-financed housing be transit-oriented and walkable. We should build new public housing along public transit routes. We should provide funding to cities that invest in complete streets and bike infrastructure.
This program will provide additional funding to companies such as CT Transit and Dattco, Inc., who would be on the front lines of clean transportation. Electric buses are energy efficient, emit no hazardous toxins, and the purchase and maintenance costs continue to drop as the technology improves. In the past year, these companies have utilized financing options such as the Volkswagen Mitigation Settlement to initiate electric bus pilot programs to begin converting their fleets from diesel to electric. Connecticut’s clean transportation future invests in more electric transit and electric school buses.
Unfortunately, financing opportunities such as the VW settlement, as well as federal Diesel Emissions Reduction Act money, can be allocated towards a wide category of heavy-duty diesel upgrades, as opposed to strictly electric retrofitting. We know that diesel is one of the worst contributors to air pollution, so why does our government continue to allow state and federal financing of new diesel vehicles? Now more than ever, we need clean transportation innovation to help avert carbon pollution and provide safe riding for mothers, children, the elderly and disabled individuals. We need to end our reliance on dirty fossil fuels now in order to preserve our environment and livelihood for generations to come.
By advancing the Transportation Climate Initiative, Connecticut and the region are taking an important step forward to help protect the health and safety of our residents. We are confident this will put us on a path to decarbonize our transportation networks and reap the parallel benefits that follow when state’s make sustainable and smart infrastructure investments.
Emily Alexander and Alex Rodriguez of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters are leading the organization’s Clean Energy For All campaign.