A Green New Deal? Here Are Some Suggestions

Photo:  Kerri Evelyn Harris/Flickr/CC
Photo: Kerri Evelyn Harris/Flickr/CC

More than a dozen members of Congress — most notably freshman New York lawmaker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — have called for a “Green New Deal” to address the worsening climate crisis.

But the document is vague on policy, beyond its call for “decarbonizing, repairing and improving transportation and other infrastructure.” That is welcome news because transportation needs to be almost fully decarbonized — and soon — to head off climate disaster.

But the “Green New Deal” needs to go farther than just changing what kinds of vehicles are sprawling all over the country while transit riders and pedestrians remain second-class citizens. So Streetsblog took the liberty of writing up some policy recommendations for Ocasio-Cortez and her 15 current co-signers:

#1. Raise the gas tax

We haven’t raised the gas tax in 25 years, so it continues to lose ground to inflation. Essentially, that means  we’re lowering the cost of driving — and, as such, encouraging huge SUVs — every year. Not acceptable.

Price incentives have to be part of the shift away from fossil fuels in transportation. The gas tax is a low-hanging fruit.

The regressive impact on the poor could be offset with a commensurate decrease in income tax rates at the lower levels or an expansion of the earned income tax credit.

But raising the gas tax is a crucial step. Studies show it would be six times more cost-effective at reducing emissions than fuel efficiency standards.

The main reason we haven’t done it is because the Senate is so rural. But there’s no excuse for radical progressives to be gun-shy about this powerful tool for decarbonizing transportation. Plus, it will help fund some of the transportation improvements — which will create jobs — that are the basis of the “Green New Deal.”

#2. Stop shoveling money at sprawl-inducing highways

No. New. (Free.) Highways. We can’t reduce transportation emissions while building billion-dollar interchanges.

Mega-investments in new highway capacity are not only extremely carbon intensive (hello asphalt?), but they assure more driving by encouraging low-density land use (sprawl).

Fix the highways we’ve got. And in fast growing areas, use variable tolling to manage congestion. And tear down some roads, like I-81 in Syracuse.

The Interstate Highway System is complete at this point. We need a truly new and “green” paradigm in infrastructure, not more of the same.

#3. Focus on low-dollar amenities like sidewalks and bus shelters

We’ve spent the last two generations building highways connecting every hamlet in America, but there are huge gaps in the infrastructure for everyone else.

We still don’t have the basics in place to make low- or no-carbon alternatives to sport utility vehicles — walking, biking and transit — safe and comfortable. Bus stops across the nation are a disgrace, lacking basic infrastructure like even a bench even in some of our biggest cities — but for the price of one mega-highway project, we could build bus shelters at every single stop.

In addition, in the U.S., we have enormous gaps in our sidewalk infrastructure. Even progressive cities like Denver lack complete walking infrastructure. About 40 percent of city streets in the Mile High City lack adequate sidewalks. In Nashville, it’s closer to 50 percent.

Building sidewalks is expensive. That makes them a perfect candidate for a large infrastructure stimulus.

Sidewalk investment would pay for itself in terms of improved public health. According to research by the University of Utah, men who live in walkable neighborhoods weigh 10 pounds less on average (for women it’s 6).

And don’t get us started on bike lanes. Too many cities listen to drivers and the parking-obsessed rather than street safety and cycling advocates.

#4. Incentivize cities to upzone

It’s not just lack of sidewalks that keep people from walking. Zoning rules across America separate people’s homes from destinations like stores, forcing them to rely on carbon-intensive driving instead of healthier active modes of transportation like biking, walking and transit.

Mostly it’s localities that control zoning. But the federal government can and should offer incentives for cities and suburbs to make the most out of investments in transit and walkability. The Green New Deal could double down on federal efforts to tie transit funding to increases in housing density around federal investments in walkable, sustainable transportation.

If we’re going to spend billions — and put people to work — “decarbonizing, repairing and improving transportation and other infrastructure,” let’s make sure we make it accessible to the people who need it most, rather than listen to NIMBYs who don’t like density or want to preserve their free parking.

211 thoughts on A Green New Deal? Here Are Some Suggestions

  1. They are called votes for legislators, motivated by the pleasurable use of private cars for travel.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  2. False when it involves public infrastructure. With extremely rare exceptions, public infrastructure requires government involvement.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  3. All of the above is true. What I don’t understand is why you don’t know those facts – even if you disagree with many of them.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  4. More people died on our roads as the result of the increase in VMT induced by the construction of the freeways. I know the position of your lobbyist group is that traffic deaths are a reasonable price to pay for convenience, but that’s not how freeways were sold to the public.

    The NMA’s conspiracy theories about how law enforcement is motivated by profit and insistance that somehow behavior that results in increased risk of death is “mostly safe” are not facts.

    Your for-profit group’s tired script about how automobiles are intrinsically more convenient than safer, cleaner and more efficient modes is also remarkably ignorant. Anyone with a basic understanding of planning knows such things are largely a function of infrastructure. In cities with even slightly more proportional investment in transit and active transportation, cars are far less efficient when it matters most.

    I’m going to go back to our usual deal: every time you reply to one of my comments, I’ll reply with a peer-reviewed article or report that contradicts your little industry shill group’s misinformation. You can keep running your script, but know that anyone following will see through you.

  5. Vox has a good primer on the history of the interstate system. It would be a good place for you to start your education. It’s titled “Highways gutted American cities. So why did they build them?”

  6. When cars first appeared on the scene, toll roads were built as a result of market forces. Cities enacted strict speed limits (typically well below 15 mph) due to popular demand, and many cities considered complete bans on automobiles, recognizing the danger they posed to citizens and their inappropriateness for an urban environment.

    Automobile industry folks, noting that relying on market forces would mean less money for them, lobbied to convince the government that roads should be considered public infrastructure and that all taxpayers should fork over money for them, whether they wanted paved roads or not. The interstate system that was a direct result of those lobbying efforts is a prime example of special interests using government to warp the market in their favor.

    When the interstates were built, their construction was almost entirely dictated by distant governments, almost entirely over local opposition. The road system in the US is the result of active efforts to thwart market forces, not a result of them.

    Again, basic transportation history here. The law & planning professor Joseph DiMento and the historian Peter Norton have written extensively on the subject. You should look them up. You might also enjoy the 1906 book “The Law of Automobiles” for a perspective from before the auto industry’s myth-making campaigns.

  7. Rural freeways have fatality rates in the range of 0.5 to 0.6/100M VMT versus 1.16 overall and well over 2.0 on many types of roads. Anyone who can read numbers understands freeways are by far our safest roads.

    If you are in a vehicle for 41 miles in a day (15,000/year) the chances you will be involved in an accident with a fatality of a pedestrian, cyclist or vehicle occupant is more than 2 million to 1. That risk is so tiny that it does not and will not affect driver behavior.

    Except in some areas of a few metroplexes where the stations are quite close to both the residence and destination of the user, transit is significantly less convenient than travel by private car.

    Would I perhaps use transit in NY, Chicago, some parts of LA, etc.? Maybe yes for JUST the work commute. Would I ever use transit for a 45 minute trip I could take by car in 20? That would be a very strong NO. We are in Alexandria, VA and went to a DC restaurant yesterday that is easily reachable by transit – but we used Uber for a faster, more private, and more convenient trip door to door. Convenience and privacy may have no value to you – but they have HIGH value to many.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  8. Some cities built the urban segments poorly, some well.

    The rural segments transformed long distance travel by making it 2 to 4 times safer per mile traveled and cut the time span for longer trips at least in half. Tomorrow I will drive 530 miles home to Michigan in about 8.5 hours. The trip time is a very reliable prediction for a very safe trip, thanks to the Interstates.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  9. When autos were rare, had lousy brakes & steering systems plus streets still had a lot of horse and cart traffic, special speed limits made sense. I have driven several pre-1920 cars and clearly understand their limitations.

    Most roads by 1900 were public, not toll. The Interstate system had a dual purpose. First Eisenhower wanted to make moving military personnel & vehicles efficient, and second to make long distance travel more practical & much safer for citizens. Germany pioneered the modern freeway system, we copied it.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  10. And consequently, the development of public infrastructure by definition does not result from market forces; it is, therefore, not a market outcome.

  11. And government involvement in issues like this comes about because that is what the voters and taxpayers want the legislators to do. There is HEAVY pressure in my city to fix the roads, because that is what the taxpayers who pay the bills want the money to be spent on.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  12. When people in the mid-1900s were angry about the number of deaths caused by people using cars, they weren’t angry because of the number relative to VMT. They were angry because the number was high. The number went up as a result of the freeway system.

  13. I wish I could say I was surprised that you are ignorant of how the interstate system was sold to the American people.

    The FHWA website has a page called “Original Intent: Purpose of the Interstate System” that breaks it down. You’re right that military mobility was one of them. He also expected the interstate system to lower the 40,000/year death toll, reduce the strain on the courts, and eliminate congestion — problems that the interstate system exacerbated while taking decades longer than anticipated, costing hundreds of billions more than promised, and destroying millions of homes and businesses.

    In the future, do a little googling before responding please.

  14. It’s interesting to me that you think “special speed limits make sense” on roads with a lot of horse and cart traffic, but you leave out the main issue that motivated those limits: pedestrian traffic. I guess including that would too clearly highlight your hypocrisy in opposing appropriate speed limits for areas with pedestrian use today.

  15. Utter nonsense with the fatality rate on freeways two to four times lower per mile traveled than on regular roads.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  16. The Interstate system DID likely increase the numbers of miles traveled because it made long distance travel efficient and MUCH safer per mile traveled. Congestion on two lane highways passing through cities was DRASTICALLY reduced, as through distance travelers no longer had to go through the cities. The Interstate system was equivalent to the system of Roman roads that made connections between far distant destinations possible. It was perhaps the greatest single advance for American commerce and personal travel ever done. If you do not understand the value of making 300 to 600 mile travel in a day possible and two to four times safer per mile traveled, then you have no understanding of the value of Interstates to most people.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  17. Cars changed the character of traffic on roads, and you stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the #1 rule of speed limits – they have almost no effect on the actual travel speeds when the posted limits are improperly set far below the speeds that the super majority (85%) of drivers find to be safe and comfortable and which ARE safe and comfortable almost all the time.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  18. You’ve admitted that speed limit reductions have reduced mean speeds. You just discount the value of reductions of even a mph or two, though researchers tell us that even a single mph lower can mean nearly a five percent reduction in the risk of death to a motor vehicle user. You work very, very hard to promulgate a culture which turns a blind eye to (or even accommodates) selfish driving behavior.

    This is probably the funniest NMA talking point. You extremists call speeders “mostly safe” drivers, ignoring decades of research, standard engineering practice, and a basic understanding of physics that clearly demonstrates that speeding kills.

    Here’s the FHWA on the 85th percentile speed: “The original research between speed and safety which purported that the safest travel speed is the 85th percentile speed is dated research and may not be valid under scrutiny.”

  19. Citation for a reduction in urban congestion due to interstates, please. Pretty much every source I’ve come across has found more hours spent wasted in traffic, longer commute distances, and less satisfaction with one’s commute. The phenomenon by which the highway system increased urban congestion is well documented.

    I understand the value of safe, fast, and efficient long-distance travel. That’s part of why I like trains so much.

  20. Is that your fringe group’s standard approach? When you have no factual response, you just say “utter nonsense”?

    Tell me how you came to the conclusion that those angry about tens of thousands of traffic deaths 1900-1960 were happier when those numbers skyrocketed after the interstate system began to take shape.

  21. But that says nothing about what happened historically. The fact that people who only have one transportation option want it to be maintained doesn’t mean that their ancestors chose this one-sided, unhealthy transportation system.

  22. Interstates comprise about 1.1% of our total road miles and carry about 24% of the traffic.

    Trains have their place, but do not suit my needs to have the freedom of private travel at the destination areas.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  23. I’m guessing that means I shouldn’t hold my breath waiting for a citation for your lobbyist group’s claims about freeways reducing congestion.

  24. Raise or lower a posted limit by up to 15 mph and the actual 85th percentile speed will change by a maximum of 3 mph but on average by about 1.5 mph – and often by 0.0 mph as the IIHS study in Boston documented. Sometimes the changes in actual speeds are in the opposite direction when a lower limit produces a higher 85th and a raised one produces a lower 85th. This IS based on decades of research and standard engineering practice. It is unclear why the FHWA is trying to deny the engineering truths that the research they did and funded documented. Notice their statement is NOT based on studies and is the same sort of gobbledegook language they forced the Parker study to use in the 1997 release of the study to try to fool the reader into thinking A = B. The 1992 release using the same data panels told the truth that A = A.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  25. Dennis Morris, with the Grand Rapids Historical Society, estimated that 1,000 homes were destroyed and upwards of 4,000 people displaced due to early freeway construction.

    Here’s Michael Tuffelmire, writing in The Rapidian: “This decade [the 1960s] also saw the development of our current freeway system which destroyed whole neighborhoods in the city essentially cutting it into pieces. Emphasis on urban development in Grand Rapids decreased greatly which led to a period of urban decay….”

    This is the lawyer for Michael Skaff, one of the downtown business owners in Grand Rapids whose property was seized and destroyed to make room for highways: “It was first assumed the city knew what it was doing, but now we have learned that this is the worst half-baked program ever conceived.” Funny how the NMA likes to pay lip service to “freedom” but supports such government property seizures.

    CityLab had a “parking blight” contest between SLC and GR a while back. GR won, due to the freeway and asphalt wasteland along the Grand River. What a waste. The city would likely benefit greatly from repurposing that valuable waterfront land for people.

    And that’s your example of someplace that did freeways right.

  26. As significant numbers of miles of Interstates were completed by the end of the 1960s, the fatality rate per 100 M VMT dropped from 5.xx in the 1960s to 4.xx in the early 1970s and 3.xx by the late 1970s and 2.xx by the mid 1980s to under 2.xx by the 1990s and is 1.16 in 2016. YES, better cars and better engineering changes to highways were an important factor. But so is the very high percentage ~24% of miles carried by our safest roads, the Interstates, with the lowest fatality rate ~0.5 to 0.6 per 100 M VMT. Wherever traffic can be drawn to the Interstates as our safest roads, the overall safety of an area improves.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  27. People have purchased and used affordable cars in large numbers since about the 1920s for their totally superior ability to go when and where people want to go. If someone’s viewpoint is just the transport options in a major metroplex with good transit, it does NOT reflect the situations for most Americans.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  28. You just got it. Put all the Interstate traffic on the highways, arterials & collectors if you prefer sharply worse congestion.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  29. So the fact that more people died is okay, because people were traveling more. Interesting ethics the NMA folks follow.

  30. This is so terribly simple. If you double the exposure, you tend to double the incidents. More driving = more accidents with vehicles. More walking = more accidents with pedestrians. More cycling = more accidents with cyclists.

    If your solution is less driving, less walking, and less cycling to reduce accidents – I think you will get enormous pushback from all the groups.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  31. Your analyses are always very simple.

    It’s actually not true that more people using bikes necessarily means more accidents involving bicyclists. There’s a well-documented safety-in-numbers effect. The major factor in bicycle safety is the attentiveness of motorists, and when there’s an uptick in active transportation users people using cars learn to pay more attention. To quote one paper on the subject: “this result is unexpected….the behavior of motorists controls the likelihood of collisions with people walking and bicycling.”

    My solution is not fewer people traveling by foot or traveling by bicycle, but providing environments that give people the choice to safely choose not to use automobiles, since automobiles are what make our roads dangerous.

  32. My solution is also to not limit or reduce the numbers of cyclists and pedestrians and any implication that was my position is utterly false.

    Your point of safety in numbers is likely correct going from a very low % of pedestrians & cyclists to a substantial %.

    But it will not be correct when going from a substantial % to (example) a 20% higher substantial %. Significantly more exposures will result in more incidents.

    Transporting people in automobiles and trucks is a vital part of what makes our economy function.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  33. (1) A big part of the problem is precisely that the U.S. even built most of its large cities to support only automobile transportation.
    (2) I’ll point out again that Germany proves that small cities can provide a varied set of transportation options. The American pattern of urban and suburban development is not a law of nature.

  34. 1) Many of our large cities, – NY, Boston, Chicago, etc. were built to their basic central designs long before cars were prevalent. Saying these were built for the auto is patently false.
    2) Most German cities developed to their basic central designs long before most Germans could possibly own personal cars. Transit travel was the only realistic option for most Germans until at least the 1950s & 1960s – so governments did transit.
    3) You said: “The American pattern of urban and suburban development is not a law of nature.” AND I TOTALLY AGREE.

    American patterns developed because affordable cars from a bit before 1920 gave normal working class Americans precious freedoms of affordable travel when and where they wanted to go – independent of restricted transit locations and schedules. The Model T was crude, but it was reliable and affordable. I have driven two Model Ts and one 1912 EMF (contemporary and built 2 blocks away from the Detroit Model T plant). I hosted a couple overnight who circumnavigated the USA in their 1912 EMF in a successful 10,000 mile trip – and got to drive their maintained but mechanically stock vehicle.

    Realistic transit options will never exist in the vast expanses of rural and small town America where the population density would never justify creating serious and frequent transit options. We frequently travel independently by car in Europe using the “Lonely Planet” and similar guide books. The books point out MANY interesting destinations where a car is mandatory or where an important tourist destination is accessible only once or twice a day by bus – and perhaps not at all on Sundays or holidays. YES, transit is much better developed in Europe, primarily because cars were not affordable to most people until at least the 1950s & 1960s – and for some not until the 1970s or 1980s.

    If people want to live in inner cities and use the available convenient transit options for almost all their travel, they are absolutely free to do so – perhaps using personal or rental cars only a few times a year for long distance or rural travels. But if others want to use their affordable personal cars for the freedom to travel when and where they want independent of restricted transit routes and schedules – and often in perhaps half the door-to-door times transit requires, THEY HAVE THAT RIGHT and efforts to restrict or end those freedoms are wrong.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  35. CItations, please.

    You are for setting speed limits without regard for the context of the road. You say you are fine with engineering streets for appropriate design speeds, but whenever that is recommended you recite a script about dire and mostly imaginary “consequences” of doing so.

    I’m going to need to see a citation for your claim about safety in numbers. Also what your point is. You seemed to be claiming that more biking and walking would mean more fatalities, which isn’t necessarily true, due to safety in numbers effects and the switch of those road users from modes that are more dangerous to everyone.

  36. You always bring up rural areas’ dependency on cars when discussing the needs of cities and suburbs. That someone in a farmhouse in the boondocks requires a car to get anywhere has no bearing on whether that person should expect cities and suburbs to be built so they can take that automobile wherever they wish, regardless of the consequences.

    I think you missed fdutf’s point again: you insist the high utilization of automobiles is proof that the American people prefer automobiles. The reality is that the prevalence of automobiles is often a consequence of the skewed infrastructure of our cities. That skewed infrastructure was built by entities not accountable to local citizens and often over vocal protests (the most vibrant areas of US cities today, from Manhattan to Austin, are places where those protests were successful). Cities that are moving forward now recognize that car-centric infrastructure is poison to the safety and prosperity of the urban environment and are working to level the playing field. Since automobiles are so hostile to the proper functioning of cities, that progress will necessarily entail slowing cars down and restricting their movement. While that might seem like a restriction of “freedom” for cars, it facilitates an increase in freedom for human beings.

  37. “Context” of the road in your sense means artificially changing the numbers on the signs without regard to the actual behavior of the drivers – a plan that does not and will not work. I am only interested in realities.

    Cities are free to re-engineer their major collectors and arterials for lower actual speeds, but must accept the negatives that may result. We oppose strangling traffic flows on arterials and collectors that were designed to carry the bulk of commuting, shopping, tourist, visitor, and commercial traffic — but cities can do so if they accept the negatives.

    More exposure = more incidents.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  38. Some city and suburb residents will reduce car use, particularly when they do not have families with kids that want single family homes in the suburbs with large yards, in quiet neighborhoods, with great schools, and away from commercial developments.

    Some won’t. People like fdutf and yourself heavily discount the very serious advantages of private travel freedoms to go when and where we want to go – often without the need for any prior planning. You also heavily discount the city dwellers’ needs to go beyond the range of the metroplex transit system.

    And most of what I support also applies to modest size towns, not just people who live in the boondocks. I live in what is often rated as the best small college town in the country with about 120,000 permanent residents + about 45,000 students. It is a LOT more convenient to use a car for most people.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  39. I’m not discounting anything. I simply value freedom of choice, fiscal responsibility, environmental sustainability, and human lives, all things which your little for-profit fringe group considers a distant second to the convenience of those who like using cars.

  40. You keep saying that you’re “only interested in realities” but you’ve had professional engineers and transportation researchers tell you repeatedly that your positions are counterfactual. You rely on flawed, decades-old studies to support your biases and ignore the cascade of research since that shows that speeding kills, that enforcement works, and that cities experience very few negatives when they prioritize humans over automobiles (what you call “strangling traffic flows”). Worse, you brush off 40,000 deaths a year as a worthwhile trade off for the convenience of your preferred lifestyle. You should be ashamed of yourself.

  41. No, by far most people use private cars, because private cars are the only practical option for most people, after decades of governmental investment in facilities for motorists to the exclusion of all others. As others have already said, this isn’t a market outcome.

  42. People don’t use transportation in order to consume miles. “Per mile” metrics are irrelevant. If a 50% increase in miles traveled results in 25% more fatalities, that’s still 25% more fatalities. For those of us who wish to see fewer fatalities, it’s a big step backwards.

  43. you stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the #1 rule of speed limits – they have almost no effect on the actual travel speeds

    …unless they’re seriously enforced (which you don’t want, either).

  44. Is that your fringe group’s standard approach? When you have no factual response, you just say “utter nonsense”?

    Correct. That’s his fringe group’s standard approach.

  45. The FHWA defines context as “A broad description of a project’s physical, economic, and social setting. The context may include the community, ecological, aesthetic, and transportation conditions as well as the political and policy environment.” Designing a roadway to meet the needs of its pedestrians, its cyclists, and its transit riders (including pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders engaged in commerce), and setting and enforcing a speed limit that takes those users into account, produces very different results from designing a roadway only for motorists, providing only the bare minimum accommodations in case there is ever a pedestrian, cyclist, or transit rider.

  46. No city has or will hire the resources to have all their main collector and arterial streets “seriously enforced” because then enforcement becomes a huge cost item in the budget they cannot afford.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

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