It takes more than lip service to lead the fight against climate change.
Every big-city American mayor, it seems, wants to style themselves as a righteous climate change fighter. But few are willing to take political risks and champion the policy changes that will maximize carbon reduction in their cities.
Transportation is now America’s largest source of carbon emissions, and as Climate Wire recently put it, carbon spewed by cars “threaten[s] to undercut blue states’ climate goals.” Mayors can play a big role in reducing per capita energy consumption by facilitating more efficient modes of travel and more compact land use. But most remain beholden to the status quo.
There’s Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who calls himself a “climate mayor” but is backing an expensive highway widening in a central urban neighborhood. And you’ve got New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who staged a press spectacle out of suing Big Oil but hands out tens of thousands of free parking perks.
To avoid further confusion, we’re laying out a short list of prerequisites for any mayor who wants to claim the mantle of battling climate change. It takes more than lip service to be a climate mayor.
1. Reduce or eliminate parking minimums
2. Make room for effective transit on your streets
3. Allow more housing near good transit
4. Make streets safe for biking and walking
Wide, dangerous streets clogged with car traffic are a disaster for the climate. We know that most car trips in the U.S. are actually quite short and could be done by walking or biking — if the streets weren’t so intimidating for people outside of cars.
Despite a newfound emphasis on crash reduction at many city DOTs, few mayors have really stuck their necks out to turn car-centric streets into places where everyone feels comfortable walking or biking. Even in America’s “leading” cities, protected bike lanes and pedestrian safety plans are rolled out tentatively.
To make progress that matters for the climate, mayors will have to implement cohesive networks for active transportation much faster. Real climate mayors take street space from cars so people can walk and bike.