Transport Keys to Sustainability
Jeanne Acutanza

We are running out of time to make good decisions and turn this lumbering planet toward a sustainable future. Our outsized impact on the planet is linked to habits that may seem impossible to break. The path forward is not simple, and the science and metrics are “under construction”. What is clear, among so much uncertainty, is the linkage between mobile source emissions – the fossil fuels burned and released to the air from trains, planes, boats, and cars – and the warming of the planet that has led to climate disasters, escalating with each decade. These climate disasters result in loss of life and costly infrastructure repairs that beg our attention.

For the same amount of time as we have been discussing climate change, we have also been looking to reduce traffic congestion through more efficient use of vehicles such as using transit. Reducing the amount folks drive alone and resulting emissions is a part of the solution that policy makers have focused intently on for decades. Engineers, planners, and elected officials have worked to reduce vehicle miles travelled (VMT) by making public transportation an effective and attractive travel choice along with safe access for other modes like walking and biking. Another element consistently included in the mode/travel choice tool kit for reducing single occupant driving was telework, which until the pandemic, was a small part of the mode-choice pie; however, during the pandemic “working from home” rose to unprecedented proportions. This big shift was made possible through our human ingenuity to adapt. Another adaptation we are now finally poised to make is a significant shift toward lower or Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEVs). Not just cars, but buses, and ferries, boats, and planes (sustainable aviation fuels). This shift to ZEVs is not only desirable but necessary. Even if we could change behavior to reduce vehicle miles travelled in half, we would still need most vehicles to be ZEV to come close to slowing climate change. And fleets of ZEVs too, are not the full solution. Infrastructure – construction of concrete and asphalt – also emit significant greenhouse gas. For that and other reasons, limiting significant roadway expansion is also part of the solution. We discussed this sustainable infrastructure construction in a Move the Era podcast with Greenroads ED Jeralee Anderson. The answer is not easy, and it requires us to change old habits, but the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Build Back Better Act target the investments we need:

  • Reducing vehicle miles travelled by investing in transit and complete streets
  • Support for development and ownership of ZEVs including electric vehicles, electric ferries, low/no emission school buses and development of sustainable aviation fuels
  • Research into sustainable infrastructure that reduces the need for concrete/asphalt

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (Bipartisan Infrastructure Law) and the Build Back Better Act move us significantly in the direction toward a sustainable and equitable world.