The ‘eightball’ of continued transportation-emissions rise: How to get out from behind it

“Since the 1970s, U.S. scientists and environmental regulators made significant strides in reducing air pollution by cleaning up tailpipe and smokestack emissions. Yet levels of two of the most harmful types of pollution, ground-level ozone and fine particulates, have decreased only modestly in recent years. Both still contribute to the premature deaths of more than 100,000 Americans every year,” this observation but one of several presented in the “NOAA, NASA spearheading massive air quality research campaign this summer,” Aug. 3, 2023 press release from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

So, if you’re thinking what I am, the first thing coming to mind is transportation. That’s right. Right behind that, more than likely is indoor air pollution, the cause of such being the cooking and heating techniques practiced inside dwellings in developing countries mostly. But, that’s a topic that’s best left to covering at another time.

Back to transportation, worldwide transport contributes as much as 29 percent of greenhouse gas emissions to the total – the largest single source – and, of that, motor vehicles are responsible for emitting into the air some 70 to 75 percent. There are roughly 1 billion cars worldwide.

In its Jun. 29, 2023 “New survey: 82 percent of voters don’t believe highway expansions are the best solutions for reducing congestion,” press release, as Transportation for America explained, “In 2021 The Washington Post estimated that highway widening and expansion consumed more than a third of states’ capital spending on roads (over $19 billion). These projects were backed by promises to reduce congestion. The public isn’t buying it. The results of a national survey of 2,001 registered U.S. voters—90 percent of whom own a car they drive regularly—underscores a widely shared belief that highway expansion doesn’t work as a short- or long-term strategy for reducing traffic and that we should invest more in other options.”

Furthermore and from the same release, Transportation for America reported, “69 percent of respondents agree that ‘it’s more important to protect our quality of life than to spend billions of tax dollars on expanding highways. By removing a few miles of highway and adding more transportation options, like trains, buses, bike lanes, and sidewalks, we can have healthier communities.’”

Others, like the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), for one, apparently agree.

In it’s “California Transportation Carbon Reduction Strategy,” draft Jul. 2023 report, the transportation agency wrote: “Even with California’s mandate that all new car sales be ZEVs [zero-emissions vehicles] beginning in 2035, many vehicles will still
have traditional internal combustion engines….”

“This Strategy establishes three types of projects and strategies that support
the reduction of transportation carbon emissions: Zero-Emission Vehicles and Infrastructure, Active Transportation, and Rail and Transit,” Caltrans added.

When you think about it, it should be no big deal to create and implement strategies that are indeed effective at reining in pollution from the transport sector. Progress on this front seems, at best, “stuck in neutral,” or, at worst, “going in reverse.” Is money the issue? Is the partisan gridlock that we hear so much about coming from inside the beltway what’s preventing our branching out and exploiting and embracing more, alternatives to driving, that’s holding things up? What?!

Meanwhile, what Transportation for America also offered in the earlier alluded-to press release was, “71 percent of respondents agree that ‘no matter where you live, you should have the freedom to easily get where you need to go. Almost all government spending on transportation goes to highways. Instead, states should fund more options, like trains, buses, bike lanes, and sidewalks.’”

These are not unproven transportation paradigms that we’re talking about here. We know they work. In the correct context like with smart growth and other effective land-use practices, not only can transportation all around be made more efficient, but emissions coupled with such can be significantly lowered and brought under control. It’s a matter of finding the proper balance.

The playing field has been unleveled for too long – it’s time to get on the ball and out from behind it; the eightball, that is.

– Alan Kandel

Copyrighted material.

Above and corresponding, connected home-page-featured images: Sherwin Ilagan Solina

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