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Complete Streets Greenways Policy

Our Work: More important than ever

  • Climate change is making flooding events more severe and more common
  • Transportation in Michigan is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change
  • Investments in infrastructure that increase biking and walking are the most efficient way of decreasing transportation emissons

The pandemic prompted the question: What priority are greenways and Complete Streets+ in light of the health needs of Detroiters? While they’re certainly not an immediate priority like health care, they do have a role in building a healthier, safer city and residents.

We saw use on the Dequindre Cut rise 55% as people sought safe outdoor activities and transportation options. We learned that walking, biking, and other exercise improved immune system response, not only to COVID but the vaccine as well.

However, one negative pandemic outcome was a drastic increase in speeding, which led to a 67% increase in Detroit road fatalities in 2020. Pedestrian fatalities rose 46% while bicycling fatalities quadrupled. The need for Complete Streets (to deter speeding) and separated bike/walk facilities is apparent from a public safety perspective.

Now Flooding

Detroit’s recent flood events have brought the discussion of infrastructure priorities to the forefront. The discussion has mostly been about addressing critical short term impacts.

While that is critically important, we also need to look to the near future and the expectation for substantially worse flooding.

“What you would call a 100-year event of 5 inches of rain, our climate models are now projecting that 5 inches by 2050 could be anywhere from 5 inches to 14 inches of rain,” said Amy O’Leary, executive director of SEMCOG.

Close to ‘crisis mode’ — Here’s how much infrastructure improvements could cost, WXYZ

“Researchers warn that unless and until greenhouse gases are controlled, expect more of the same, only worse, in the years ahead.”

Floods in metro Detroit bear hallmarks of human-caused climate change, scientists say, Detroit Free Press ($)

It seems the crisis at hand is keeping us from discussing longer term issue of climate change, where transportation is the largest contributor to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. We just can’t keep building bigger sewer pipes.

Perhaps nothing illustrates this better than Governor Whitmer holding a press conference on a flooded I-94 where she said we must do “everything we can to address climate change.” Just to her east, MDOT will be adding travel lanes that add more impervious surface while inducing more vehicle travel and more carbon emissions. MDOT’s long term plan is more of the same.

We are encouraging everyone to comment on MDOT’s Michigan Mobility 2045 long range plan. The draft plan ignores the role Michigan’s transportation has in greenhouse gas emissions. They need to hear that this plan cannot ignore the significant impacts it will have on climate change. It cannot ignore the Governor’s carbon neutrality pledge.

Public meetings are being scheduled for August 3rd and 4th. Comments can also be submitted online.

Reaching Carbon Neutrality

Last September, Whitmer pledged to make Michigan carbon neutral by 2050. It’s a significant commitment that requires significant changes to our transportation system. It’s more than electrifying vehicles. It’s going to require major reductions in vehicle miles travelled (VMT).

That means the Michigan’s transportation funding should no longer be largely prioritized based on pavement surface quality. It needs to be prioritized for increased safety, reduced VMT, and additional green stormwater management. “Fix the damn roads” can’t focus on potholes. It needs to abruptly shift towards building a safe and sustainable state transportation network.

Greenways and Complete Streets encourage more biking and walking, perhaps the two most effective means for reducing VMT while adding green stormwater infrastructure. Improved clean public transportation is also a necessity.

This is why we’re on the Governor Whitmer’s Council for Climate Solutions Transportation and Mobility Workgroup. We making the ambitious push for real policy change along with Transportation Riders United (TRU) and others to ensure the carbon neutrality pledge becomes reality. (Comments can be submitted to the workgroup.)

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