How the Biden administration can make immediate strides on climate and racial equity

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The spread of COVID-19 has sent the United States plummeting into an unprecedented national crisis, but it has also illuminated the path forward. Smart Growth America, along with some of our programs, identified immediate executive actions and long-term policy changes that the incoming Biden administration can implement to eliminate structural inequities and address catastrophic global climate change. 

Earlier this month, Transportation for America teamed up with our partners at Smart Growth America to send recommendations to the Biden transition team on executive actions and legislation. Read the full memo here.

With years of federal advocacy and public service under our belts, all of us here can say this for certain: simply pumping more money into existing federal programs won’t help the United States recover from the COVID-19 crisis. In fact, taking that approach will just make our economy more unequal, lead to more pollution from transportation, and result in more expensive housing that still isn’t getting built where it’s most helpful. Money alone cannot rectify the structural inequities we are facing. 

To truly unlock our economic potential in a fiscally responsible way, tackle climate change and promote racial equity—the three goals of our recommendations—we need a new playbook. We must reform and better utilize the vast quantities of direct spending, tax credits, loan programs, formula funds, and financing that already exist. And only through a holistic approach that connects transportation, housing, and infrastructure policy can we provide Americans with freedom of transportation choice, access to affordable housing, and healthy, resilient communities.

Our recommendations to the transition team are best summed up with two simple messages. One, do not overlook how housing, land use, and transportation are interrelated in determining household costs, access to opportunity, wealth accumulation, and how much emissions we produce. And secondly, climate change and equity must be addressed together—the best strategies to improve the built environment to address one challenge also address the other.

Smart growth is the affordable, equitable, and sustainable path to recovery and prosperity. Now is the time for change enabling us to build back better, and we are glad for the opportunity to provide these recommendations to the incoming presidential administration. Read the full list of recommendations.

Here are some highlights from Transportation for America’s recommendations for immediate executive actions—most of which stem from our three principles for transportation policy.

  • Reduce emissions from transportation by re-establishing the greenhouse gas (GHG) performance measure for transportation that the Trump administration repealed, with annual state ratings.
  • Require federal agencies to issue guidance on identifying communities with infrastructure that creates barriers to mobility (such as highways that slice through a community), measuring the degree of harm to that community, and providing incentives and prioritizing resources to address those disparities by removing infrastructure barriers or creating new connectivity.
  • Require the Federal Highway Administration to update the Highway Capacity Manual to improve standards for pedestrians and cyclists which are based on accurate measures of safety and the perception of safety, including the level of traffic stress and crossing delays as opposed to volume and capacity.
  • Help transportation agencies measure access to jobs and essential services by directing research funds to create a national Geographic Information System (GIS)-based resource that allows transportation agencies to measure current levels of access to jobs and services by all modes of travel and assess the impact of planned projects.
  • The Department of Transportation should issue guidance clarifying the appropriate use of the common transportation design standard known as level of service (LOS), taking into account the impacts on induced demand, climate change, equity, and health outcomes.
  • Make a statement of support for the existing national network of state-supported and long distance passenger rail routes routes as essential connections for people in smaller and rural communities.

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