Today, Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Tom Carper (D-DE), and Representative Jared Huffman (CA-02) re-introduced a bill that would measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and vehicle miles traveled. This would be transformative.
We originally wrote this blog when the bill was first introduced in July 2019—we hope that 2021 is the year it becomes law.
Transportation is the single largest source of greenhouse gases (GHG), contributing 28 percent of the United States’ total GHG emissions. While many other sectors have improved, transportation is headed in the wrong direction. Driving represents 83 percent of all transportation emissions and these emissions are rising—despite cleaner fuels, more efficient and electric vehicles—because people are driving more and making longer trips.
Unfortunately, our federal transportation program forces people to drive more by measuring success through vehicle speed—not the time it actually takes people to reach their destination. Building wider highways and sprawling cities to accommodate high-speed driving creates a feedback loop of more driving, virtually guaranteeing ever-increasing transportation emissions (and congestion).
To reduce emissions we must make it possible for people to take fewer and shorter car trips, as well as make it easy and convenient for people to bike, walk and use transit. But we can’t do this if we only measure and value high speed car trips. The bill introduced today would change what we measure and value in transportation to include reducing GHG and vehicle miles traveled (VMT).
The Generating Resilient, Environmentally Exceptional National (GREEN) Streets Act, introduced by Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Tom Carper (D-DE) and Representative Jared Huffman (CA-02), will create new performance measures and goals requiring that states measure, and reduce, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and GHG in their transportation systems. Read more about the bill on Senator Markey’s website.
“Business-as-usual is building bad highways and breaking our planet — we can build smarter, safer, and healthier systems if we factor climate impacts and emissions into our decision-making process,” said Senator Markey, a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee and co-author of the Green New Deal resolution. “We can advance the goals of clean energy, climate progress, and healthy communities, as well as fortify ourselves against the adverse impacts of climate change. An essential component of that effort is to re-envision how we plan for, construct, and maintain our national highway system, using climate measures that matter and ensure that we hold systems accountable.”
To reduce VMT and GHG, states would likely have to employ a variety of strategies, including better transportation options and smarter land use. These strategies come with a host of benefits besides reducing GHG: reduced congestion, lower household transportation costs, safer streets, more attractive communities and better health outcomes. By measuring how successful transportation projects are by how many destinations—like jobs, schools, and grocery stores— people can access, the federal government can incentivize states and local governments to invest in transit, biking, and walking, as well as build places closer together.
“Our transportation system gives many Americans no choice but to drive everywhere, which is no surprise because our transportation program is designed to consider only vehicle speed, not whether people (driving, taking transit, walking, rolling or biking) reach their destination. We need to measure what matters,” said Beth Osborne, director of Transportation for America. “Doing so will help give Americans more freedom to choose how to get around, save them money, and also reduce the harmful emissions wreaking havoc on our climate. We are hopeful that the re-introduced GREEN Streets Act will resume an important conversation about aligning federal funding with the outcomes we deserve from our transportation system, and we are pleased to support it.”
Transportation for America strongly supports the GREEN Streets Act and urges Congress to pass this transformative legislation.