Traffic, Climate Change, and Austin

Traffic Austin

Austin Mayor Steve Adler traveled all the way to Illinois this week to sign a very important document – the Chicago Climate Charter. 

Created in response to President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement, the Chicago Climate Charter brings together 50 cities pledging local action on climate change.

Every city that signed the charter made the pledge to:

  • Reduce their own carbon emissions, in line with the pledges made by their country in Paris Agreement. (For US cities, this means following through the Paris Agreement, even if the federal government isn’t on board).
  • Quantify, track, and publicly report on their carbon emissions.
  • Join in with other mayors to advocate for greater local authority and leadership so that policies can be developed empowering cities to take aggressive action on climate.
  • Recognize and include groups traditionally underrepresented in climate policy.
  • Incorporate climate change into all aspects of local infrastructure and emergency planning, so that communities can become more resilient in the face of extreme weather, etc.
  • Support strong regional, state, and federal policies and public-private partnerships, that incentivize the transition to a new climate economy.
  • Partner with experts, communities, businesses, environmental justice groups, advocates and other allies to develop holistic climate mitigation and resilience solutions.

The charter was signed at the North American Climate Summit, which brought together mayors from Canada, the US, and Mexico to share commitments to the Paris Agreement and recognize the impact cities can have in the fight against climate change.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler was a featured speaker at the summit, giving a speech about how Austin is addressing climate change by tackling our city’s growing traffic problem. 

“Addressing climate change through transportation policy in Austin is thinking globally but acting locally,” Adler said. “Preserving our environment is a big priority in Austin. It’s huge. But most Austinites, stuck in rush hour traffic every day, will tell you traffic is the most immediate, in-your-face challenge.”

In his speech, Adler explained that transportation and climate are inextricably linked. After all, transportation is responsible for a whopping 36 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in Austin. After energy, that makes it our second largest emission source, and unlike energy, we don’t have a clear path forward in reducing those transportation-related emissions.

Austin Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Austin’s greenhouse gas emission sources

But, as Adler explained, we’re starting to move in that direction. This includes efforts like:

  • Embracing Google driverless cars in serving as the home of the first self-driving car trip on public roads in 2015
  • Cap Metro’s new Connections 2025 plan, which will dramatically increase the number of bus routes in Austin running every 15 minutes or better
  • New parking technologies that will be tested out this year at SXSW, including an app that will allow people to reserve downtown parking spaces in advance, so they don’t have to circle around the city looking for a spot
  • The 2016 mobility bond, which dedicated millions of dollars to bike lanes and sidewalks

In the end, Adler said his goal is to provide Austinites with as many transportation options as possible. “The lessons we’re learning are clear,” Adler said. “Where we offer multiple, diverse transportation options, Austinites get out of their cars and ride bikes, take buses, and even walk.”

Smart Mobility Roadmap
Another major transportation initiative that Adler mentioned in his speech is the Smart Mobility Roadmap, a draft version of which was recently released to the public.

Smart Mobility Roadmap

The Smart Mobility Roadmap makes several recommendations for how Austin can lead on the deployment of shared, electric, and autonomous vehicle technologies. As the report lays out, neither of these can be viewed in isolation if we’re going to fix our dual problems of climate change and traffic. For example, if not incorporated into a larger shared vehicle system, autonomous cars will likely only increase the amount of vehicles on the road (because more people will be able to “drive” then ever before).

Recommendations laid out in the report include:

  • Creating a Chief of Electric Autonomous Vehicles position at the City of Austin
  • Increasing public awareness and education around autonomous vehicles through several pilot projects
  • Setting up a training program for those who have the potential to lose their jobs if autonomous vehicle adoption grows significantly
  • Launching an electric bike and electric scooter sharing program
  • Creating an app that will allow transit riders to pay for all transportation options in one place
  • Creating multi-modal transit hubs next to bus stops for better first- and last-mile solutions
  • Expanding Austin’s rapid charging electric vehicle charging station network
  • Exploring options to provide free downtown parking for electric vehicles
  • Deploying shared electric vehicle charging stations throughout the city, including in low income neighborhoods

The roadmap was first presented to the city’s Joint Sustainability Committee last week, where it was met with mixed reviews. Many committee members expressed their concern that climate change isn’t stressed heavily enough in the roadmap (especially since the City Council resolution that directed city staff to write the report specifically stresses climate change). They explained that they had hoped to see more of a concrete plan for reducing transportation emissions than what is currently in the report.

How to get involved

If you’re interested in the Smart Mobility Roadmap, you can read through the entire report (and make comments) here. At this point, it is still in draft form, so changes can be made.

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