Close to Home: Drive less to combat climate change
Sonoma County aims to be a leader in the battle to cope with the climate crisis. Our Regional Climate Protection Authority seeks to have “net-zero” greenhouse gas emissions within the next nine years — by 2030. However, a recent analysis revealed that plans for more bicycle-pedestrian trails and bridges won’t be sufficient to reach that goal. We will need changes in culture comparable to those ignited by the COVID pandemic.
Our pre-pandemic driving habits made transportation the largest source of the greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the world. Long commutes by solo drivers have been a major source of emissions, although most trips by car are less than 5 miles and could easily be made on an electric bicycle.
While a shift to zero-emission vehicles could reduce emissions from transportation by 2050, the 2030 goal is more daunting. It will take other major efforts to minimize transportation emissions in the next nine years.
Steps to reduce driving can include actions by every public and private entity to:
— Incentivize telecommuting, carpooling, van pools and transit ridership to greatly reduce long commutes in cars.
— Create safe streets that enable us to walk and bicycle comfortably, leaving autos at home for most trips.
— Charge for the use of parking spaces, so that those who walk aren’t required to pay for something they don’t use. Drivers and cyclists can pay with smartphones for the space they need to park.
Sonoma County has been a leader in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but we are known to fail in meeting ambitious goals. Our success in becoming carbon-neutral over the next nine years will depend on reducing emissions from transportation. Some changes already are working in our favor.
Many firms and employees have become comfortable with remote work, so telecommuting is likely to continue, and long commutes can become infrequent.
There is a regional goal for large firms to reduce commuting by car to 40% of employees.
Zoom meetings of city councils and other groups have become routine during the pandemic. Sticking with them would enable staff and members of the public to participate without spending time in a car.
The SMART train and bus systems are experimenting with lower fares to increase ridership. Employer can offer the option of saving money by cycling or using transit rather than parking at work. Technology can make it easy to pay for parking anywhere without the risk of getting a citation.
To make streets safer, the Sonoma County Transportation Authority has started a Vision Zero project to identify and redesign high-risk locations.
We also can learn from cities that have shown how reduced driving can improve the quality of life.
Oakland is demonstrating the development of neighborhoods with slow streets. Its efforts took shape just as the pandemic was requiring people to stay at home. Lower speed limits and temporary signage were used initially on an experimental basis. The changes are being evaluated; some are being modified, and some are being made permanent. About 20 neighborhoods are involved.
Cities in the Netherlands have shifted from increased use of automobiles to more reliance on cycling. It took the Dutch several decades to make the transition, but we have seen the results and can learn from their practices more quickly.
There are a variety of designs that can transform existing streets into places that are safe for pedestrians and cyclists.
Neighborhoods can evolve in ways that permit residents to reduce driving for groceries or vitamins. With appropriate zoning modifications, neighborhoods can become more compact, gain better bus service and attract corner general stores that serve walk-in shoppers and cyclists.
It will take significant efforts to shrink our driving habits, but the change is essential if Sonoma County is to demonstrate a practical way to tackle the greenhouse gas emissions problem.
Willard Richards of Santa Rosa chairs the Sonoma County Transportation and Land-Use Coalition. Richard Sachen of Petaluma chairs the Sierra Club’s Sonoma Group.
You can send letters to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org.
UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy: