A new report shows that the majority of voters across party lines want to see massive transformation in the transportation sector if it means increasing access and funding for public transportation. And this report outlines exactly how the U.S. can accomplish that by 2030. A Green New Deal for transportation is here, and it’s pretty damn impressive.
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A number of environmental and data-focused groups, including the TransitCenter and Data for Progress, released the report and survey results Tuesday. The Green New Deal is a policy idea that is all about transitioning our economy off fossil fuels by 2030 to prevent a complete climate catastrophe. It should look at every part of our society: agriculture, oceans, and, well, transit. Transportation makes up the largest chunk of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., but the public needs to be on board if leaders are going to accomplish anything. Turns out that voters, at least, are game.
The survey, which polled 1,029 voters in November 2019, found that 77 percent of voters believe expanding public transit would benefit the U.S. overall. What’s most surprising, perhaps, is that 61 percent of those surveyed support a full-out moratorium on new roads for 10 years to help governments focus on repairing the roads that already exist.
At the moment, government funding skews toward building new roads instead of maintaining current roads. That’s because the U.S. is a whole mess when it comes to the way we prioritize transportation. That’s the main takeaway from this report. The way the federal government funds roads versus public transit doesn’t encourage the maintenance or expansion of trains or buses. In fact, this funding system encourages us to build more roads despite the fact that these pieces of infrastructure worsen air pollution for the communities nearest to them, which are disproportionately low-income or of color. Expanding highways also worsens traffic, which makes everything worse.
“Expanding highways is a form of building new fossil fuel infrastructure—it locks in additional driving mileage and carbon pollution,” the report reads.
We know fossil fuels are bad, so why aren’t more people coming out against the construction of new highways? The public is ready for a change, especially if it means saving the planet along the way. The climate crisis is at the top Democratic agenda, but the transportation plans put forth by the two candidates vying for the White House don’t go far enough to reduce our reliance on cars and roads even with their focus on public transit systems.
“We can avert climate disaster by making our cities more just and prosperous,” said David Bragdon, the executive director of TransitCenter, in a press statement. “To make this transition, we need to overhaul our polluting, expensive, inequitable transportation systems. With a large-scale investment in transit service, we’ll bring affordable, convenient transportation within reach of millions more people while creating well-paying jobs and rapidly cutting emissions.”
This plan fits perfectly into a Green New Deal because building out all this infrastructure will require lots of labor. And the report authors are sure to note that—in the spirit of the Green New Deal—these should be well-paying union jobs that also welcome former automobile workers. A just transition away from our fossil fuel economy isn’t just about the oil and gas workforce; it’s also about those individuals currently helping to put together cars. As the public depends more and more on public transit, cars will play less of a role in the economy. Those workers will be in need of new employment, and this plan is sure to not forget them by calling for proper training programs to help them secure work.
Building an economy and society that abandons so-called “car culture” won’t be easy. It’ll require stripping down highways, building affordable housing near transit centers, prioritizing data gathering and sharing to help local communities make informed decisions, and improving the walkability of where people live. This can’t happen overnight, and the outcome won’t look the same across the states.
Rural communities, for instance, will need policies that prioritize bringing electric vehicles there because it’ll be trickier to replace cars in more remote areas. What we can do in these cases is give the people cleaner cars. In urban and suburban areas, however, the focus should be on making cars less necessary. Data for Progress found that among survey participants that rely on cars to get around, 80 percent say they have “no choice” but to rely on them.
The public needs choices. They can’t rely on one thing or another. They should be able to walk if they want, bike if they need, or hop on a bus without any trouble. Those who need cars—such as disabled people or freight drivers—can continue to do so. Except they won’t have to deal with as much traffic and congestion as a result of these policy changes.
The U.S. can transform its transit sector if leaders choose to. They can finally provide us with some choices. The urgency of the climate crisis demands it.
Yessenia Funes is a senior staff writer with Earther. She loves all things environmental justice and dreams of writing children's books.