What will it take to decarbonize transportation? According to the best evidence, we need to tackle six problems.1
Electrify, diversify, rightsize, and contain transportation. Also, coordinate these efforts and do it quickly.
Electrify everything with wheels and a motor.
- Switch the powertrains of cars, buses, trucks, and other vehicles from internal combustion systems to battery-electric ones.
- Use the superior power of battery-electric systems to commercialize and diffuse new classes of ultra-efficient vehicles, such as neighbhorhood electric vehicles, e-scooters, and other kinds of micromobility.
- Interconnect transportation electrification with the electrification initiatives of other sectors (e.g., power generation and buildings) to improve the economics and resilience of electrification for decarbonization overall.
Diversify the design of transportation away from dictating a monopoly for cars and towards a system of multiple interoperable modes.
- Build out comprehensive infrastructure and service networks for biking, walking, public transit, and vehicle sharing.
- Develop and redevelop communities for more compact use of space and transit-oriented, mixed-use, upzoned neighborhoods.
- Invest in creating a culture of car-lite, multimodal living.
Rightsize vehicle systems to deliver the travel and accessibility needed without unnecessary waste.
- Eliminate excessive vehicle mass.
- Sanctify the safety and comfort of ultralight travelers (e.g. pedestrians and bicyclists) in the design of vehicles, infrastructure, and laws.
- Allocate urban spaces to people and high-occupancy public transportation instead of private motor vehicles.
Contain the number of miles that motor vehicles travel.
- Stop and reverse the incentives that drive sprawl.
- Cease expansion of capacity for private cars, especially travel lanes and parking.
- Limit the potential for new technologies such as “connected” and “automated” to create new driving demand.
Coordinate the activities of electrification, diversification, rightsizing, and containment by creating deliberate strategies to support one another.
- Widely deploy, encourage, and provide comprehensive support for e-bikes which provide incredible new capabilities for ultra-efficient, affordable shorter-distance travel.
- Commercialize electric cars to maximize per-mile energy-efficiency, safety features to protect people outside the vehicle cabin, and use in high-utilization community/public sharing systems.
- Price public EV charging and parking amenities to reward high-occupancy use.
#6. Organizing Now
Organize for it all very quickly.
- Make no new investments that work against solutions for electrification, diversification, rightsizing, containment, and integration.
- Take stock of public subsidies, including “unlisted” items like zoning and parking policies that encourages car dependence, and shifting them in accordance with climate action.
- Familiarize with the treasure trove of low and “negative” cost measures for transportation climate action and get them commissioned and financed.
1 Based in part on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report (2022).
Here is a List of Reading on Transportation Climate Action.
This document is a working explainer by Ryan Schuchard. Please watch for updates. For questions and feedback, please connect with Ryan through the contact form.
Updated April 20, 2023
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