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September 29, 2011

Moving the Planet Toward Green Transportation

SF Biker - Matt Wyatt Perhaps it is only in DC that you can catch a snippet like this of a conversation between two people walking down the sidewalk:

“I am not against spending on infrastructure,” one says to the other.  “But we need to get rid of all of the regulations.” 

This being DC, these two could be lobbyists or Congressional staffers to just two folks who just love to talk infrastructure and hate on regulations. 

I, however, happened to be fresh from the morning’s Moving Planet event in Fairfax, VA where the Sierra Club’s Virginia Chapter, Smart Growth America, Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling, Labors’ International Union of North America, and 350.org called on Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell to provide freedom of travel through funding transportation choices other than roads.

Attendees want funding for increased public transit, bike lanes, and sidewalks in order to help reduce congestion, reduce carbon pollution and move Northern Virginia beyond oil.

The event made clear that we can build infrastructure, but making it work and safe for all remains a challenge. In Northern Virginia, where congested roads are largely responsible for helping drive the Washington, DC, area to number one on the list of the most congested areas in the annual Texas Transportation Institute’s (TTI) mobility ranking.

Streetsblog points out that the TTI study is autocentric, focused on how fast a car can move down the road, not how much time a commuter could save by taking transit. And Streetsblog notes that solutions like bringing housing, transportation choices, jobs, and shopping closer together only gets a "shout out":

Maybe your city is dense and friendly to pedestrians and bikes, so that it’s easy to glide past the automobile gridlock on your short commute to work. Or maybe transit provides an excellent and affordable alternative to traffic jams. None of that matters to TTI….TTI doesn’t bother to figure out how much time is saved if one avoids that congestion by taking transit, but they do examine how much time transit riders save drivers by taking vehicles off the road.

If there were no transit, the country’s drivers would be facing an additional 796 million hours of traffic delay. “Operational treatments” like ramp metering, traffic light timing, and removing crashed vehicles from the road have become much more effective in the last 20 years but still don’t come close to the savings provided by transit, saving about 40 percent as much as transit in terms of hours of delays, fuel, and costs.

These solutions got more than a shout out at Moving Planet – it was the point of the event.  And importantly, achieving the goals with better public transportation is creating jobs! Here are quotes from the Sierra Club’s press release for the event:  

“As citizens we demand smarter solutions to transportation but we cannot get them unless we speak up.  And we as policy makers need you to lead us to the right solutions.”  Delegate Mark L. Keam, Virginia House of Delegates, 35th District.

“We should not be made dependent on our cars.  Most citizens express unqualified support for more transit, but it seems to be stalled at all levels of government.” Roger Diedrich, Transportation Chair, Sierra Club-Virginia Chapter.

“When we’re young or older we can’t or shouldn’t drive, we need choices in transportation.  Some folks; young, older and in between like to walk or bike to get around, they need to infrastructure to support these choices.”  Susan Stillman, bike rider and walker, Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling.

"Every community and every citizen deserves jobs, shops, schools, housing and transportation choices within easy reach. By joining together, the citizens of northern Virginia will demonstrate their commitment to creating great communities, supporting a thriving economy and protecting the environment." Elisa Ortiz, Smart Growth America.

"Phase I of Dulles Rail has created thousands of new green jobs for construction and craft workers in Northern VA and the DC metro region. Not only are these jobs providing healthcare and a family-supporting wage, but the fruits of their labor will improve our air quality and help alleviate traffic by taking cars off the road. Most importantly, the project is on time and on budget and is an economic engine for the region at a time when new jobs are scarce." Josh Collins, Labors’ International Union of North America.

The event speakers made clear – we need smart infrastructure to cut through traffic gridlock, create jobs, improve our everyday lives and move us beyond oil.

-- Ann Mesnikoff, Director of the Sierra Club Green Transportation Campaign. Photo from the San Francisco Moving Planet event, courtesy of Matt Wyatt.

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