The biggest challenge to sustainable transportation is that most cities are not designed to accommodate carbon-friendly modes of transit like walking and biking. If we want people to make more sustainable transportation choices, we have to design cities that allow them to make that choice.
I believe everyone should have a choice in where they live and how they travel to and from their home. Due to car-focused city design and a lack of systemic thinking about our transportation systems, this isn’t our reality. I have been involved with topics of transportation and climate change for many years, first as the Economic Development and Sustainability Coordinator for a five-county region in eastern Iowa; as the city of Dubuque’s Transportation Services Manager; and now running my own business as a transportation consultant. I also serve on the Dubuque Climate Action committee and the City's Resilient Community Advisory Commission. These roles have made me aware of the vulnerabilities in our transportation infrastructure to climate change.
The biggest challenge to sustainable transportation is that most cities are not designed to accommodate carbon-friendly modes of transit like walking and biking. If we want people to make more sustainable transportation choices, we have to design cities that allow them to make that choice. Forty percent of vehicle trips are under two miles, but the major roadways that crisscross many cities make carless travel nearly impossible or extremely difficult without major investment in bike and pedestrian work-arounds. We have to start designing our cities and rebuilding our streets for people and not just people in cars. We should approach city design as an opportunity to create neighborhoods where people aged 5-95 can travel independently. When seniors can walk to a grocery store or kids can walk to a park, then we’ve created transportation networks that make it feasible for everyone to walk and bike, decreasing unnecessary vehicle trips and reducing carbon emissions while improving quality of life for a large number of residents.
Not everyone will desire to walk or bike, which is fine, but that does not make them immune to the impacts of climate change in our communities. There will be impacts to private and public infrastructure which will either increase costs or make motorized transportation less reliable. In extreme heat and cold, even newer vehicles struggle to function as designed and the same is true for roads and bridges. Iowa’s roads, bridges and public transit fleet are aging and were not designed for the temperature fluctuations we’ll be facing. This is a challenge, but also an opportunity for our legislators to develop funding strategies that provide for replacement of this infrastructure while implementing the systematic design approach of Complete Streets and alternative fuel vehicles.
Dubuque has recently adopted an updated Climate Action Plan which has three major tenets in its approach to sustainable transportation and community design. First, it proposes consolidation of residential zoning categories and implementation of Smart Growth principles. This will create more dense neighborhoods of mixed residential types, uses and amenities and promoting urban growth that is both sustainable and equitable. Secondly, we need to implement community-wide Complete Streets. Complete Streets include pedestrian and biking infrastructure to encourage carless travel, and they make communities more liveable for more residents. Third, we need to increase the number of electric vehicles in our community while simultaneously increasing clean energy production for their fueling. This will require updating of local policies around vehicle purchasing and advocating for changes to solar regulations at the state level. We will need our legislators to help make expansion of alternative energy sources feasible and challenge utility companies who are fighting against community solar programs.
I have two small children and I work on climate, transportation and sustainability for them. I want to see legislators who will make holistic, systematic changes and take action for our planet, our children, and our future.