The latest authoritative climate science, most notably from IPCC, says critical climate action requires that we transform transportation, and the heart of that is high-functioning multimodal systems. Getting it right will unleash abundance. For starters, by returning time, money, and freedom to people that designed car dependence has taken away.

And doing so is extremely possible, by commissioning rule changes and management at local levels where there is collectively great control over mobility systems. With investments that pay back quickly.

But we are not on the way. Transportation emissions have gotten away from us, and we continue to build infrastructure and industries taking us in the wrong direction.

What blocks us from redesigning transportation to give us more wealth, freedom, and joy—while also happening to deliver rigorous climate action?

The answer: A century of mutually-reinforcing auto industry advocacy, auto-centric transportation design, and cheering from Wall Street to create and exploit a modal monopoly have given personal autos nearly complete primacy. Autos dominate our lives in almost every way, and are normalized for even absurd uses which crowd out all others. As a result, those working in policy and other positions of influence feel “locked in” without easy ways to break the cycle.

To be clear, breaking the cycle is not about taking cars away. It’s about removing the mandate to drive in all situations, and giving people new options they can use as is suitable. Such a development would release the need for a massive amount of energy in the system, which directly causes both pollution and spending.

Lock-in to a system that is overly energy-intensive explains not only why IPCC shows emissions have continued to rise at 2 percent per year this past decade while other climate pollution from other sectors have leveled off, but that we have generally not even assigned people to be working on the problem structural change in a deliberate way. 

Moreover, despite good direction from science, citizens and even policymakers and professional staff appear hazy about what rigorous climate action in transportation even looks like, and who actually has the power. In turn, citizens are rightfully skeptical that there is some other way.

It may sound like a lot, but lock-in isn’t the biggest problem we’ve ever faced, and we have tools to overcome it, town by town, on the ground while creating wider structures and movements for action. In fact once we begin the journey, we can make it inevitable. And at the destination there is treasure.

But we are



Leaders and decision-makers who understand they have a role and want to create value might want to consider the following:

All leaders: Alignment of public agency policy, investment, technology, and engagement commitments for decarbonization consistent with authoritative climate science. Follow up with strategies for lock in, internal org power, and change management. Also, Understande problems of car dependence on your community and look for opportunities to invest in abundance, and understand how climate change is expected to impact the transportation systems and services you care about, and what resilience looks like

Climate policy leaders: Your level of alignment and commitment to IPCC direction; How you can support the ASI agenda and drive greater integration between them; also how existing regs and code are working against desired outcomes in A and S

Local elected officials and organization leaders: High-level expectations: High-level expectations with organizational design and alignment/accountability, land use, investments advocacy and intergovernmental relations. Follow up with specific effort to understand and tap current subsides for car dependence as resources

Business leaders: Deep decarbonization and commercialization strategies for solutions providers. Business assessment and strategy for incorporating transportation climate action into business

Incorporate decarbonization strategies in community and transportation master plans consistent with IPCC and keep updated



IPCC (April 2022). Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel.

Litman, Todd (November 2021). Are Vehicle Travel Reduction Targets Justified? Victoria Transport Policy Institute.

Hardman, Scott, et. al. (August 2021). A Perspective on Equity in the Transition to Electric Vehicles. MIT Science Policy.

International Transit Forum and C40 (November 2020). Making COP Count: How Investing in Public Transport This Decade Can Protect Our Jobs, Our Climate, Our Future.

International Transport Forum. (September 2020). Good to Go? Assessing the Environmental Performance of New Mobility. International Transport Forum of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Alarfaj, Abdullah F, et. al. (September 2020). Decarbonizing US Passenger Vehicle Transport Under Electrification and Automation Uncertainty Has a Travel Budget. Environmental Research Letters.

Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH (March 2019). Sustainable Urban Transport: Avoid-Shift-Improve.

Hawken, Paul (2018). Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming — First Edition

Mawhorter, Sarah (2018). California’s SB 375 and the Pursuit of Sustainable and Affordable Development. The Terner Center.

Curry, Melanie (June 2018). Californians Must Drive Less, Says ARB at Historic First Joint Meeting with CTC. Streetsblog.


Colorado Department of Transportation (May 2022). Policy Directive 1610 on GHG Mitigation Measures.

California Air Resources Board (May 2022). Draft 2022 Scoping Plan Update.

California Air Resources Board (September 2020). 2020 Mobile Source Strategy.


Sato, Ichiro, et al. (2021). What Is Carbon Lock-in and How Can We Avoid It? World Resources Institute.

Seta, Karen, et al. (November 2016). Carbon Lock-In: Types, Causes, and Policy Implications. Annual Review of Environment and Resources.


Wilson, Kea (May 2022). We Need More — And Better — E-Bike Incentive Programs Across America. Streetsblog.

Boudway, Ira (May 2022). How to Make a City Safer for E-Bikes? Think Infrastructure. Bloomberg.

Zipper, David (March 2022). It’s Time to Treat E-Bikes Like Vehicles. Bloomberg.

Kinchen, Kimberly (February 2021). Electric Bicycles Can Play a Big Role in Combating Climate Change. People for Bikes.

Delrive, Thomas (October 2021). The world needs much more cycling to combat climate change. European Cyclists’ Foundation.

Carrington, Damian (August 2021). Cargo bikes deliver faster and cleaner than vans, study finds. The Guardian.

transportation abundance + climate action

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