Pooja Shah is a 2021 National Fellow of the Clean Energy Leadership Institute.
The remnants of Hurricane Ida that triggered flash floods in New York and New Jersey earlier this month outmoded The largest mass transit system in the United States, the New York City subway. Scenes from flooded metro stations and trains crossing water bodies flooded social media overnight. The extreme weather conditions brought on by climate change continue to increase the need for massive investments in our infrastructure, especially transport infrastructure which can not only significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but also enhance racial equity.
The transportation sector is the main source of pollution in the United States, representing nearly 30% of GHG emissions – and is one of the main contributors to climate change. Communities across the country are already suffering the severe impacts of extreme weather conditions brought on by climate change, but communities of color feel disproportionate impacts. Investments in transportation solutions must be focused on equity to ensure a better future.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is presented as the biggest ever federal investment in public transit that will reduce GHG emissions and create jobs. While the legislation is certainly a step in the right direction, the investments proposed in the bill – especially those aimed at decarbonizing the transport sector – do not put enough emphasis on equitable solutions like public transport and forms of active transportation such as walking and cycling when we are on the move. to face the climate crisis.
The bill proposes investments in electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure that will support the transition from internal combustion engine vehicles to electric vehicles. But some of its major investments take the form of highway financing, bridges and roads that will continue to increase reliance on private vehicles.
The transition to electric vehicles may – and should be – the future of driving for all US residents who own private vehicles. However, electric vehicles alone will not solve the climate crisis and, most importantly, they will not help tackle the historical legacy of systemic racism in transportation policies. Any discussion that does not involve significant investments in public transit and active transportation will not lead us to a fair future. Yet public transport has remained one of the biggest sticking points in bipartisan negotiations, the end result being that these investments are only a fraction of what lawmakers have agreed to spend on infrastructure – ultimately favoring the use of private vehicles.
According to EPA given, light vehicles are responsible for 58% of GHG emissions in the transport sector. The impact of these emissions has communities of color disproportionately affected due to decades of inequitable transport and housing policies. These policies have made black and brown communities much more likely to live in areas with higher concentrations of air pollution from vehicle emissions. This disparity makes these communities more vulnerable to respiratory diseases, including asthma, pneumonia and lung cancer. and even COVID-19.
Communities of color are also more impacted through “Heat islands” where darker colored materials are used to build highways and roads for cars. These materials do not allow heat to escape to the same levels as permeable materials like soil and grass, making global temperatures higher and these communities more vulnerable to extreme heat. Thus, these frontline communities face a double whammy of transport-related health effects and the physical repercussions of infrastructure design.
A large number of American commuters are also still heavily dependent on private transportation. An affordable way to reduce pollution, avoid investing in highways for cars, and mainstreaming equity in transport is to move away from private vehicles and shift those infrastructure investments into public transport, walking, cycling and other sustainable mobility options.
U.S. residents who are low-income, black or Hispanic, or immigrant are already more likely to use public transit on a regular basis, largely due to lack of vehicle ownership, and yet they are also the most likely to bear the brunt of the country’s over-reliance on cars. A lack of investment in public transport infrastructure over the years has resulted in unreliable systems plagued by delays and interruptions of service. This lack of investment has also contributed to long-standing structural racism and socio-economic barriers for frontline communities, separating marginalized communities from access to education, economic opportunities and health facilities.
Investment in public transit and high-speed rail in the context of budget reconciliation could make these resources more reliable, while reducing travel times and increasing access to various opportunities. It is imperative to reinvent and rebuild our current transit system through budget reconciliation to have a fair and sustainable transportation system.
Discussions on fiscal reconciliation should also focus on the creation and rationalization of public infrastructure to facilitate active transportation. Inadequate and substandard infrastructure is a common barrier to the use of active transportation. Average nearly 20 pedestrians or cyclists have become fatal accidents every day in recent years in the United States Walking and cycling are becoming increasingly dangerous along too many of our roads and highways, especially in low income and minority communities.
There are no quick fixes to tackling climate change and racial inequalities. Policy changes and investments in the transport sector provide one of the most important opportunities to reduce GHG emissions, tackle climate change, prioritize environmental justice and create jobs, while mitigating negative impacts. systemic inequalities.
We cannot rely solely on the decarbonization of private transport and the transition to electric vehicles to meet the twin challenges of climate change and societal inequalities. As Congress and policymakers work towards fiscal reconciliation, they must ensure that significant and bold investments are also made in public transit and active transportation infrastructure to build a sustainable and equitable future for all. communities.
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