What City Observatory did this week

Oregon Department of Transportation’s Climate Fig-Leaf.  Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gases in Oregon, and the state’s Department of Transportation is—yet again—advancing PR heavy strategy documents that contain no measurable objectives or accountability.  The latest plan, a so-called “Climate Action Plan,” repeats disproven climate myths (that idling in traffic is a key source of greenhouse gas emissions, or that electronic freeway signs will reduce carbon emissions).

A cynical fig-leaf from Oregon DOT

Instead of real action items, the document offers a string of mostly meaningless busy-work tasks, none of which have any demonstrable effect in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Strikingly, the document doesn’t acknowledge that transportation accounts for 20 million tons of greenhouse gases in Oregon a year, and that amount has gone up since ODOT first advanced its “Sustainable Transportation Strategy” eight years ago.  When you read the details of the plan, the agency’s real priorities are apparent:  getting more money to build roads.  The Oregon Department of Transportation is complicit in concealing and worsening climate change, just as the state is being plunged into record heatwaves and wildfires.

Must read

1. Why solving climate change requires tackling land use.  The transportation sector is responsible for largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, emitting 1.6 billion metric tons of CO2 equivalents annually. Writing for Center for American Progress, Kevin DeGood argues:
“Climate change cannot be addressed without reforming land use, and land use cannot be changed without reforming transportation.”
So, how can we reform transportation and land use? DeGood highlights the solutions necessary to fixing unsustainable transportation systems by comparing the transportation systems of Washington DC and Ohio and advocating for the INVEST act. Urban density promotes more economical transportation; each mile of roadway in the District of Columbia  supports 4 1/2 times as many residents compared as Ohio, and over 50 percent of its residents commute by transit, bike, or walk. The capital’s system is more efficient, productive, and environmentally friendly compared to Ohio, showcasing a potential for sustainable transportation and land use system at a human scale. The INVEST act, already passed by the House, provides changes to the national transportation goals and creates new environmental benchmarks for states to receive federal funding. DeGood argues that steps need to be taken to combat climate change and create a healthier, sustainable nation.
2. How we saved 3 hours a week by not commuting. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released the American Time Use Survey results from May to December of 2019 and 2020. They explored time we spent in work, leisure, travel, childcare, and more. Their comparisons of time usage in 2019 and 2020 present some compelling takeaways. As many of us experienced, the prevalence of remote work increased in 2020. The rate nearly doubled, rising 20 percent points from 2019. For many, the commute to work transformed into a short walk to your desk. Time spent traveling decreased by 26 minutes per day, from 1.2 hours in 2019 to 47 minutes in 2020. We saved an average of 3 hours a week by not commuting to work this past year. How’d you take advantage of that time?

3. The electric car obsession is getting in the way of reducing transportation greenhouse gases.  More and more electric cars are on the road today.  But electrification can’t be the only means of reducing transportation greenhouse gases. However, solely focusing on an electric fleet of automobiles is hindering progress towards our goal of net zero emissions. In fact, it would take decades to see significant progress and eliminate the global supply of fossil fuel cars. Christian Brand wants you to put down your Tesla catalogue and consider a better solution – active travel. Brand and his associates at Oxford present their research on active transportation (walking, cycling, and e-biking) and its ability to reduce global emissions in this article. Emissions from one bike ride can be more than 30 times lower than a drive in a fossil fuel car and about 10 times lower than an electric car. Brand advocates for active travel and urges cities to make safer, more accessible roads for bikes and pedestrians. He asserts,

“Active travel can contribute to tackling the climate emergency earlier than electric vehicles, while also providing affordable, reliable, clean, healthy and congestion-busting transportation.”

If we want to get to net zero emissions quickly, we must consider the importance of active travel.

4.  Cities aren’t cesspools. The narrative that cities are hellacious centers of violence, crime, and deadly vices is so 1975. As the Covid pandemic and the culture wars remind us, athe anti-urban impulse is a recurring theme in American politics, one that widens the  disconnect between rural and urban America. Writing for the New York Times, Paul Krugman criticizes the myth and those who benefit from it. Krugman disputes the narrative of urban doom by exploring the social problems of the ‘eastern heartland’ as well as the impacts of COVID-19 on the nation. The mythology of urban vice and rural virtue overlooks both the common strengths and problems of both regions, and also neatly elides the fact that powerhouse urban economies generate the bulk of national revenue that subsidizes red states and rural areas.