The Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco last September sparked a flurry of states, cities, and companies to announce commitments for climate action. California Governor Jerry Brown, signed SB 100, legislation that puts California on a path to 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045. While SB 100 is a huge victory, it’s not enough to get us to a just, fair, and sustainable future. Our car-dependent transportation system not only impedes climate progress, it makes many of our other problems worse.
Transportation is responsible for nearly 50 percent of California’s total greenhouse gas emissions and they are on the rise. A report by the California Air Resources Board found that this increase in driving is obstructing our ability to meet our climate change goals. Californians are driving more than ever due to land-use decisions encouraging solo-driving and sprawl, skyrocketing housing costs forcing people to live farther from their jobs, and a growing goods movement spurred by e-commerce. While some may argue that a fully renewable energy future to plug our electric vehicles into will curb these emissions, a siloed, technology-focused approach will not completely solve the crisis in our climate nor solve the inequality in our society.
In fact, a continued focus and promotion of personal cars of any kind – electric or gas – is likely to contribute to a more inequitable, unsafe, and unsustainable transportation system. For low-income people, owning a vehicle is an expensive cost burden. Pedestrians of color suffer from higher rates of fatalities as a result of vehicle-collisions. Personal cars are the most inefficient form of travel, in terms of energy use, traffic, and parking spaces required. America is the most car-congested country in the world, and overemphasizing personal electric vehicles will only exacerbate gridlock and our car dependency. Simply electrifying a sick transportation system will not remedy these persistent problems and fails to address the root cause. We can choose better routes to climate progress.
To achieve a transportation system that supports the health and happiness of all, we must set our sights well beyond the personal automobile. The end goal must be increasing access to clean, high-quality mobility options that get people to where they need to go, especially populations with barriers to mobility such as low-income people of color, the elderly, and people with disabilities. At the same time, we need mobility options that not only reduce pollution and promote climate progress, but also provide pathways to economic opportunities. Clean mobility options may come in the form of bike share, scooter share, electric public transit, electric self-driving shuttles, or just your own two feet. The possibilities are endless, but we must draw the line at single-occupancy vehicles where they don’t make equitable or sustainable sense.
Sure, 100 percent renewable energy is ambitious. You know what would be really bold?
Admitting that California has an automobile addiction and committing to put people and clean mobility options first on the road to recovery.
SB 100 is groundbreaking and represents the kind of visionary thinking that we need to address climate change. Now let’s shift the momentum towards helping people get out of their cars and into sustainable mobility options, pairing climate progress with a transportation system that’s more efficient, effective and accessible. California’s auto-dependent transportation system is our greatest obstacle to guaranteeing a healthy future for all.
As the next governor of the golden state, Gavin Newsom will need a comprehensive transportation platform to meet this challenge head-on.
Check out our Mobility Equity Framework and this recent blog for ideas about how to make this mobility equity vision a reality. And watch for our upcoming report on how the transportation revolutions promised by self-driving, shared and electric vehicles can be part of that solution.