We need to cut emissions from transport before the climate hole gets too deep – ecoRI News
By BARRY SCHILLER
I have a car and a license, so I can appreciate the convenience of coming and going when you want, even over longer distances, and in Rhode Island usually being able to park quite close to the door. What’s not to like?
The problem is that everyone is doing the same thing not only results in traffic jams, deaths and injuries on the roads, more and more cobbled countryside and our mined central cities, but it also increases climate emissions which, according to the Rhode Island law must now be checked.
The state had hoped that the Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI) would address this by “capping” transportation emissions so that they gradually disappear. But politicians understandably bailed out on this when they feared it would add to the hike in already rising gas prices, political poison. But as ecoRI News recently reported, they had no Plan B to reduce transport emissions, and in the meantime, we are digging ourselves deeper into the transport climate hole.
How? ‘Or’ What? First, massive highway spending to increase highway capacity – already underway on Highways 6 and 10 and Interstate 95, and soon on Highways 4, 37 and 146 and Highways 195 and 295. The widening north of I-95 into the heart of historic La Providence costs about a quarter of a billion but will allow more drivers to cross Providence, encouraging longer and more frequent trips.
We built a new I-295 interchange to allow Citizens Bank to move much of its workforce from the metro area to the Johnston Woods – more driving, more sprawl, more demand for ‘energy. The state will soon spend more than $ 200 million a year to eliminate property taxes on cars (but not on residences) – a huge plus for those with many luxury cars, zero for those who don’t. car or an old one. Where is the fairness in that?
At the same time, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation’s (RIDOT) bike and pedestrian program has slowed at a breakneck pace, bike paths still do not reach downtown Woonsocket or Narragansett Beach, and the Bridges of the East Bay bike path remain closed. RIDOT has twice transferred funds from cycling and walking projects to highways. The electrification of our commuter train, even if already mainly under the wire that Amtrak uses, is too intimidating because it requires two-state cooperation.
Likewise, little progress has been made in coordinating Amtrak, Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA), and Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) fares as does EZ pass for freeways in many states. And RIDOT tried to use the 2014 Transit Bonds, not to improve statewide bus hubs as promised to voters, but rather to break down the Kennedy Plaza central bus hub, making the system confusing and less convenient bus rides – all to appeal to politically connected downtown landowners who don’t want disproportionately low-income runners near their properties.
Fortunately, the proposed dismantling of Kennedy Plaza has generated so much opposition that they might back down, as Governor McKee’s administration may not be as committed to it as the Raimondo administration had been.
It is not all bad. We know what to do. The new federal infrastructure bill will help fund charging infrastructure to launch electric vehicles more significantly. We need to implement this quickly. State planners have approved ambitious Transit Master and Bicycle Mobility plans showing another way forward, and regional planners have a plan, the North Atlantic Rail, to better take advantage of our relatively energy-efficient rail system.
The Government of the City of Providence is promoting a Great Streets program for safer mobility for those who cycle, walk or use public transportation. RIPTA is using federal relief funds to start making service improvements, such as more frequent buses and longer service hours on some routes, and is developing a serious effort to electrify the fleet.
Even the RIDOT is finally working on the Pawtucket-Central Falls station and sponsored the seasonal Providence-Newport ferry. It also has a strong safety program for national roads.
I have heard many non-users say that the RIPTA service âsucksâ, but in many cases the bus service is much better than non-users think. I once asked a reporter from Newport who denigrated RIPTA how many buses a day he thinks he goes between Newport and Providence. He guessed three. There are actually about 45 each way each day of the week. So I suggest you find out about RIPTA service where you live, you might be surprised. Over the decades my wife and I have saved a lot of money by getting by with just one car using RIPTA as well.
But to get the attention of non-users and to help low-income people who actually pay most of the fares, some lawmakers are talking about free fares on RIPTA. While this will cost about $ 15 million more in taxes, it’s only about 7% of what we’ll spend on reducing property taxes on automobiles.
So even without TCI there are many things we can do to reduce transportation emissions, but we will have to do things differently, the status quo will not work.
Barry Schiller, a transit passenger and long-time public transit advocate, is a former member of the RIPTA Board of Directors.