Submitted to OTC by Alan Journet December 20th 2021
I write as cofacilitator of Southern Oregon Climate Action Now, an organization of over 1600 rural Southern Oregonians who are concerned about global warming and its climate change consequences, and who seek meaningful state action to address the problem. Probably more directly than is the case with urban inhabitants, rural and coastal Oregonians live with the consequences of climate change – the warming and heat waves, the reducing summer rainfall, the reducing winter snowpack, the drought, the increasing wildfire risk and the threat to our agriculture, forests, oceans and rivers. Since the transportation sector is recorded as responsible for the largest percentage of regulated greenhouse gas emissions in the state, it is incumbent upon ODOT and the OTC to take whatever steps it can to reduce emissions from this sector. Both Governor Brown’s Executive Order 20-04 and current climate science dictate this need.
It is in this context that I write to urge upon OTC a forward-thinking approach to the use of state and federal funds. Historically, the agency has focused attention on the very projects that contribute to the problem. That means projects that further facilitate the use of private internal combustion engine vehicles. The climate crisis, largely driven by the combustion of fossil fuels, comprises a wake-up call to many of us just as it should comprise a wake-up call to the OTC and ODOT staff. It is no longer adequate to continue business as usual; we must take bold steps to promote a change in public behavior away from the private automobile as the means for travel.
My background in biology, specifically teaching ecology for many years, has alerted me to an alarming reality. If we continue the business-as-usual-behavior of accelerating fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, we will compromise if not devastate the natural systems across the planet and the biodiversity they support. Possibly more troubling, since our agriculture, forestry and fisheries depend on the same two variables of temperature and precipitation that determine natural ecosystem distribution across the planet, these critical human requirements will also be devastated. For a more detailed discussion of this problem, visit my discussion here: Biological Consequences of Climate Change: A Southern Oregon Perspective.
Coming from the U.K., I am well aware that it is possible to have a much more extensive public transit system of buses and rail than is the case in the U.S. On face value, it might seem reasonable to argue that the population density in the U.S. is much lower than that in Europe, so public transportation systems are much less likely to be successful and economic. The persuasive counter-argument is that a prime driver of the U.S. dependence on the private auto has been the nation’s history of support and subsidy for that mode of transport. We now recognize that the private auto is a prime contributor to the problem. This means that it’s time for us to reverse the investment of taxpayer dollars in promoting the problem by encouraging private auto use but and, instead, use these funds to promote a multi-model transit system that encourages the forms of transportation that reduce rather than exacerbate the problem.
It is pretty obvious that this means we should maximize our investment in, as in our funding for, projects that promote bus and rail transit, as well as promote livable communities wherein it’s not necessary to hop in the car to undertake simple errands such as grocery shopping:
- We encourage the OTC to reconsider the historic pattern of funding and take the state in a new direction: To reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions, Oregonians must drive their internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles less.
- The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act 2021 should add substantially to the State’s transportation funding with some $4.5 billion over the next five years. The primary focus for the use of these funds should be to promote modifications to our infrastructure to reduce the devastating impact of global warming and its climate change consequences.
- We should reduce or eliminate the allocation of funds to gasoline-powered automobiles since this is the very pattern of investment that has caused the problems that confront us.
- For generations we have invested public funds in making personal auto travel the cheapest, moat convenient, and most attractive method of traveling. To promote a transition away from the private auto, we must offer public transport alternatives that are equally or more attractive. Their attraction and convenience then have the potential to encourage less Single Occupancy Vehicle (SOV) usage more dense housing.
- If we wish to reduce the state’s contribution into the global climate crisis, the evidence suggests that we should consider a major investment in rail for local and inter-city travel.
- Regulations governing land use in Oregon encourage more dense residential development and reduce sprawl – an enemy of public transportation. The forthcoming Climate Friendly and Equitable Communities proposal will similarly emphasize such development. Since we are moving to a development stage where we encourage multi-modal transit, it is time to encourage all forms of public transportation but the personal automobile
- The only form of personal vehicle that ODOT and the OTC should consider encouraging is the Battery Electric Vehicle (BEW).
For these reasons, we (SOCAN) encourage the Oregon Transportation Commission to reconsider its focus on the business-as-usual approach to planning and allocate as large a percentage of the available funds as possible to rail and public transit.