For many Arizonans, the turmoil caused by the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic last year taught us that our daily automobile commutes aren’t necessary, but that having transportation options are imperative.
In addition to realizing more fulfilling ways of spending our time than sitting in traffic, telecommuting is helping individuals and families save money by reducing the need to fill up gas tanks or see a mechanic.
Meanwhile, numerous essential workers that rely on public transit continue to demonstrate the importance of buses to get to their jobs and save money on vehicle expenses. And walkable and bikeable neighborhoods, particularly those in areas that rededicated street space to enable socially distanced individual mobility, are being recognized as safer and cleaner. Without realizing it, our state and nation has embarked on a transportation experiment on a previously inconceivable scale.
If our travel patterns could change so quickly and dramatically as a result of a pandemic, imagine what could happen if policymakers made a deliberate effort to provide us with viable transportation options — options for pedestrians and cyclists, as well as vanpools, buses, rail, and electric vehicles.
There has arguably never been a better time for policymakers to bring 21st Century Transportation to our state. Too many of us don’t have a viable alternative to a personal vehicle. Where walking, cycling and other active modes of transportation are an option, the auto-centric design of our streets can make these forms of transportation unappealing at best, and at worst, lethal.
Consider the following: traffic-related air pollution cuts short an estimated 58,000 American lives every year and causes or exacerbates serious illnesses ranging from childhood asthma to lung cancer, strokes, heart disease and dementia; motor vehicle crashes each year kill an estimated 40,000 Americans and seriously injure 4.5 million; and transportation is now America’s number one source of carbon pollution, with greenhouse emissions from cars, trucks, buses and other vehicles surpassing every other source.
Although problems of our car-dependent transportation system are prevalent, the good news is, so are the solutions. Transportation choices and clean transportation technologies have been tried and tested and are well on their way to becoming mainstream.
Bike lanes, e-bikes and e-scooters are increasingly common sights in various municipalities. Streets designed for pedestrians and cyclists to coexist safely with cars — giving people the option to spend less time behind the wheel and more time traveling in ways conducive to safeguarding our air and health — no longer seems outlandish.
Zero-emission electric vehicles have proven themselves as viable alternatives to internal combustion engines with EV ownership rising rapidly as more car manufacturers produce diverse models. Furthermore, municipalities and school districts that have added electric buses to their transit fleets have found them to be less expensive, cleaner, and more efficient than their old, polluting diesel counterparts.
The path has been laid. Federal, state, and local leadership can and should prioritize policy changes to transform transportation.
Diane E. Brown is the Executive Director of the Arizona PIRG Education Fund, an organization that conducts research and education in the public interest. The organization’s latest report Transform Transportation can be found at www.ArizonaPIRGEdFund.org.