Infrastructure funding is a chance to think beyond cars

Thanks to decades of car-centric policy in the United States, it is nearly impossible to get around in most cities and towns without a car. As a result, emissions from transportation have skyrocketed, and Americans have few alternatives when the price of gas rises.

We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to course-correct. In November, President Biden signed the bipartisan  Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which gives states access to historic levels of funding to upgrade the country’s infrastructure. 

While on paper, the infrastructure law dedicates the majority of its funding to roads, there’s a big opportunity for state and local governments to think more expansively about how to spend it. In many cases, a portion of this money can be flexed to support a wider range of mobility options. State and local governments can use it to make improvements to public transit systems, to build complete streets projects that allow people to walk and bike safely, to install bus shelters, and make improvements in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for the disabled and mobility impaired. These sorts of investments can begin to ensure safe, reliable, and accessible transportation for everyone, no matter where they live.

We especially stress the importance of investing in public transit. We know that abundant transit unlocks freedom of movement and dramatically increases access to opportunity. When people can count on the bus or train to get where they need to go, they can easily access jobs, education, medical care, culture, goods and services, and the daily life of their communities. They benefit from greater economic mobility and lower household costs. And because transit is resource-efficient and supports low-emissions neighborhoods, it’s also an indispensable tool to prevent climate change, clean our air and protect public health.

The good news is that many of these improvements can be implemented on a short timeline and can quickly start paying climate and equity dividends, providing Americans with dignified and dependable alternatives to driving. 

With Russia’s war against Ukraine driving the price of gasoline to near historic records, and transportation emissions continuing to climb, now more than ever — for our economy and for our environment — we need state and local governments to take advantage of Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funding to dramatically up their investments in clean mobility solutions. We cannot drill our way out of this crisis, and building additional infrastructure for cars only prolongs our reliance on fossil fuels. 

We often imagine cars as the symbol of American freedom and independence, but the current gas crisis underscores the limitations of that ideal. If we want to embed genuine freedom in our infrastructure, we need bold investments that provide Americans with mobility options — instead of doubling down on car dependency. 

David Bragdon is the executive director of Transit Center and former president of the Metro Council in the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area. 

Tags Biden Carsharing Climate change Energy Infrastructure Joe Biden public tranpostation transit Transportation

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