Transportation Transformation: The Writing Is On The Wall

Greenhouse gas emissions aren’t something you can easily feel or smell or see in your daily life. It’s hard for us to get a sense of what the volume is, and whether it’s going up or down. That’s why it’s so important to track the measurements to see what’s working and what isn’t working

On September 18, the City of Portland released a report on greenhouse gas emissions in Multnomah County from 1990 to 2017. This report tells us that some things are working, though not quickly enough, and some things are working much worse than others.

Here’s the good news: Emissions are down nearly 40% from 1990 levels, even though the population has gone up in that time. Most of those improvements come from increased efficiency and shifting to lower-carbon fuels.

Here’s the bad news: Even though people in the region are driving fewer miles per person (which is good!), there are lot more of us on the road than there were in 1990, and emissions are 8% higher.  This trend is happening at the state and national level, too. 

We know what we need to do when it comes to transportation – we need to reduce the miles traveled on our roads and decarbonize the remaining miles driven.

This won’t be easy, and it will require some changes that we can feel and see in our daily life.

Our communities need to shift our priorities from cars to other ways of getting around that are much more carbon-efficient. Those shifts will open up all kinds of other great benefits – better air quality, safer public space, better access to jobs, businesses and other destinations, healthier bodies, more ways to connect with our communities. We also need to decarbonize our fuels, and replace the remaining vehicles on the road with vehicles powered by increasingly clean electricity.

We know what to do to reverse this trend. And we know that we can do it, given leadership from our cities and counties.

We can invest in transit, and walking and biking infrastructure. We can work out new ways to fund our transportation system to support those investments and make our traveling more efficient. Let’s work to make sure that the next time we check in on our greenhouse gas emissions measurements, the numbers are going in the right direction, and quickly.

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