What would a Green New Deal for transportation look like?


Current federal transportation policy is diametrically opposed to climate action. The Green New Deal framework released a year ago mostly left that unchanged. But a new report T4America contributed to fills in those gaps and gives transportation policy the same visionary makeover to show what we could achieve if our transportation and climate goals were aligned.

When the Green New Deal was first released last year, Transportation for America Director Beth Osborne had some pointed critiques.

The transportation sector is the largest source of greenhouse gasses in the United States and it’s also the one that federal officials have the most control over with the power of the purse. Yet the Green New Deal is largely devoid of the bold reimagining of federal transportation spending which encourages more roads, more driving, more sprawl, and more emissions.

The Green New Deal as originally introduced completely ignores the role development patterns play in driving the climate crisis and fails to align our transportation policy with our environmental goals and aspirations (to say nothing of what people actually want from our transportation system). Though the Green New Deal is a broad policy framework, that’s a glaring oversight for something billed as a comprehensive answer to climate change.

We also know that current federal policy is actively undermining any progress on achieving real climate progress. The way we distribute money incentivizes more road building and more driving. The amount we spend on transit is pitiful compared to the amount spent on highways. Americans want more transportation options, but are stuck with their cars. Electric buses would be welcome, but too many people can’t safely walk to the bus stop because our streets are designed to prioritize high-speed traffic over safety.

So what would our federal transportation policy look like if the Green New Deal reimagined it? How would we invest limited transportation dollars to align our environmental ambitions with our policy? In a new report that we contributed to—A Green New Deal for City and Suburban Transportation—we outline how federal transportation policy can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by:

  1. Putting the majority of Americans within walking distance of frequent, high-quality public transit by 2030, by providing agencies with operating assistance to run more buses and trains, expanding overall funding for transit projects, and encouraging transit-oriented development.
  2. Incentivizing and requiring communities to design transit-friendly streets and safe roadways for all users.
  3. Prioritizing roadway maintenance over expansion, and ensuring that any new road capacity meets environmental goals.
  4. Ensuring a “just transition” that creates secure, well-paying jobs and funds training and apprenticeship programs in the transit industry.
  5. Providing funding for research into barriers to equitable transit provision.
  6. Creating an EV incentive program weighted by income, geography, and vehicle size.

A better transportation system

Green New Deal done right provides an opportunity to break out of the status quo and do transportation better. It’s an opportunity to reevaluate our transit and roadway systems, invest in electric vehicles, and broaden our conception of frontline communities in this sector—namely, the suburban and urban communities where public transit service is sparse or non-existent and owning a personal vehicle is all but required.

We can use the transportation sector as a strategic lever toward a Green New Deal by tackling our highest sources of carbon emissions, putting millions of people to work upgrading and repairing existing infrastructure rather than building new roads. Bringing our road and transit systems into a state of good repair over the next 10 years could support or create over 6.6 million jobs across the U.S. economy.

By making our cities and suburbs easy and safe to navigate without driving, we’ll also equitably grow our economy. In an America with abundant transit and safe streets for walking, biking, and rolling, more jobs will be within reach of people with low incomes, and transportation costs will consume far less of their earnings. What’s more, with less driving we’ll have less congestion. Our expensive gambit to build our way out of congestion hasn’t worked, but a Green New Deal could.

By providing more options, we’ll enable millions of people to take advantage of jobs and opportunities throughout their cities and regions, reducing the current disparities in mobility linked to race, economic status, age, or ability. The incidence of asthma, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic ailments caused by car pollution—which disproportionately afflict communities of color—will fall.

Getting transportation and climate policy right

It’s striking that many climate plans almost completely ignore transportation and land use. But our new report makes it clear what a huge opportunity we would be squandering without more direct, visionary action with a Green New Deal.

We have an enormous opportunity to both reduce emissions and rethink our transportation system. Let’s focus on the outcomes we want to achieve, not just how much money we’re going to spend. We can’t keep doing the same old transportation policy. Download the full report to learn more.

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