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Victory for climate-friendly transportation

Marc Lefkowitz  |  07/13/09 @ 11:46am

Thanks to the advocacy of the GreenCityBlueLake Institute in recent months, regional plans in Northeast Ohio will be changed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. This is very important because the transportation sector is responsible for 28% of the region's carbon dioxide emissions that are heating up the planet.

When two of the region's transportation agencies-the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) and the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study (AMATS)-released drafts of their long-range transportation plans in early 2009, they glossed over the impact of climate change. Although both plans mentioned a number of activities, suggestions and goals that would be considered effective responses to climate change (such as bike lanes and more public transit), neither mentioned climate change as a serious challenge to the region. Nor did they include reduction of greenhouse gas emissions as a criteria for setting goals.

In response, GCBL staff met with agency staff and board members and explained what other regional planning agencies (such as the one for the Columbus region) and federal agencies are doing to address climate change. We outlined how they could add climate change language to their plans. We shared our climate change transition plans and explained how they could be consistent with the goals and vision of long-range transportation plans. And communicated these outreach efforts here.

As a result of our work and public comments, NOACA recently amended goal Number Two of its 2030 long-range plan to specifically identify climate change. Just as important, NOACA promised to initiate an effort to develop a more detailed climate change policy for the region. They explicitly identified areas in which they will develop "strategies for reducing the region's transportation related greenhouse gas emissions and incorporate the resulting strategies into the agency's project review, selection and funding processes."

How these efforts take shape is still open for debate, but they could include reducing vehicle miles traveled and fuel consumption. Or they could include expanding alternative fuel choices, expanding public transit fleets, expanding efforts to encourage employers to support alternative transportation choices, and measuring the carbon footprint and impact these types of initiatives would have.

With AMATS, GCBL engaged in the public debate by posting about the need for climate change as part of the Summit County area's long-range plan. And our staff met with AMATS board members individually. As a result of the increased awareness, AMATS recognized the region faces a significant challenge, and, thus, adopted climate change language in their 2030 Regional Transportation Plan. Now the agency is beginning to prioritize its projects and review their performance through the lens of carbon reduction.

The following is from the amended Goal 2 of the NOACA 2030 Connections Plan:

There is a growing scientific consensus that climate change is a real phenomenon that will have real consequences for humankind and the environment. There is also a growing belief that greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector are playing a significant role in contributing to climate change. It is likely that MPOs will be asked to consider climate change by future transportation planning regulations. NOACA's efforts to preserve and maintain existing infrastructure, reduce congestion, promote alternative modes of transportation, and support clean vehicle technologies already actively contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the region. NOACA has chosen to update this goal to specifically reflect climate change, however.

NOACA considers this to be the initiation of an effort to develop a transportation related climate change policy for the region that can expand upon its existing emission reduction efforts. In cooperation with NOACA's Governing Board and its committees, staff will identify strategies for reducing the region's transportation related greenhouse gas emissions and incorporate the resulting strategies into the agency's project review, selection, and funding processes. These strategies could include:

  • Efforts to reduce total Vehicle Miles of Travel (VMT) in the region in order to reduce fuel consumption;
  • Expanded efforts to reduce congestion in the region in order to reduce fuel consumption;
  • Efforts to support expansion of alternative fuel choices and availability in the region;
  • Efforts to increase the rate of conversion of public fleets to alternative fueling choices;
  • Expanded efforts to promote employer support of alternative transportation choices for their employees;
  • Tracking of the impacts of the above efforts on the region's transportation related carbon footprint.

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