Now’s the time for sweeping climate change legislation that will reduce carbon emissions in the United States. That’s where the popular Green New Deal (GND) comes in, a proposal from newly-elected Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that, if passed, would set goals for future climate lawmaking.
The first draft of the resolution leaked this morning, so the goals outlined might change. But as of this writing, there’s one glaring omission: biking.
The surprisingly lackluster transportation goals in the GND are listed as the last item in the clean and renewable energy section, even though transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. The goals are:
- Zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing
- Clean, affordable, and accessible public transportation
- High-speed rail
Here’s the problem with this: Cars account for 60 percent of transportation emissions. Add pickup trucks (which are increasing in market share) and this percentage increases.
Meanwhile, air travel (which, according to NPR’s Morning Edition, the high-speed rail goal seeks to reduce) is only 9 percent of emissions. Electric vehicles – which presumably is what “zero-emission vehicle infrastructure” refers to – will never require less energy than public and active transportation. And the public transportation goal doesn’t say anything about actually increasing service, which is the best way to increase ridership.
Reducing vehicle miles traveled is the only way to reduce transportation emissions. So why doesn’t the GND prioritize transportation policies that are proven to do this?
Why biking must be a goal in the Green New Deal
According to the 2017 National Household Travel Survey, over 45 percent of daily vehicle trips are less than three miles long. Those are trips that easily could be made by biking if we have high-quality bicycle infrastructure and increased access to electric bikes.
Biking is a solution to climate change. Besides being zero-emission, biking makes people healthier – and improved public health is a stated goal of the GND. Biking is also infinitely more affordable than owning a car. AAA estimates that car ownership costs upwards of $8,000 per year, while biking tops no more than $500 annually.
A huge aspect of the GND is ensuring a “just transition.” This means that, as the effects of climate change grow worse, we attempt to shift from an exploitative, wasteful economy to a regenerative economy, and use jobs created by climate change as a tool for social equity.
I’m going to be frank: Electric vehicles will never meet this goal because cars are inherently inequitable. We have created a built environment that forces people to spend $8,000 a year to access jobs, education, and the things that make life worthwhile – like art, entertainment, and spending time with friends and family. Electric vehicles won’t change that. The only thing that will is investing in public and active transportation.
The transportation goals in the GND make me wonder: do policymakers and climate advocates talk to transportation professionals? Do we, the transportation world, talk to them? Why not?
Transportation is inherently linked to climate change. And with driving being the primary commute mode for over 85 percent of Americans, transportation is climate change. It’s healthcare, justice, housing, and so many other issues, too.
If passed, the GND will determine our climate future. That’s why it’s imperative that we set transportation goals that will actually improve people’s lives.
People biking near the Takoma Park Metro Station. Photo by Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab.