At the Transportation Research Board (TRB)’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg outlined a vision for designing a more equitable and sustainable transportation system. Leveraging the historic levels of funding available through the recently passed Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act, Secretary Buttigieg said funds must be distributed in order to simultaneously create jobs, address the climate crisis and racial inequities, and reduce road traffic deaths.
The Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act provides an enormous opportunity to improve both large cities and small communities. “The law contains some of the most significant investments in our transportation infrastructure in generations. These investments are going to have a very real impact on daily lives. They are going to put people to work, reconnect communities, and save lives.”
But the “promise” of the infrastructure bill also “depends on whether we succeed in making the most of these investments.”
For example, transportation policy needs to be intentionally framed to increase jobs and economic development. “Income inequality had been rising long before the pandemic. Good transportation policy directly and indirectly creates jobs that help families build generational wealth for the future. The key is creating opportunities that reach people in places where they are most needed. Last year, I visited the tunnels underneath Atlanta’s international airport, which helped create a thriving Black middle class during its construction, simply by ensuring communities of color had a seat at the table when it came time to award the contracts to build that airfield in the first place.”
A focus on ensuring equitable access to both transportation and the economic opportunities that come with the new federal investment was woven throughout his speech. “Every transportation decision is inherently a decision about equity. That’s why we’re building equity into our grant criteria.”
He added that “transportation and racial equality are two stories that go together. We want to proactively work with communities seeking to do the right thing, over and above the legal minimum.” Another part of this approach is increasing partnerships with diverse small and medium-sized businesses, so there are “partners ready to run with opportunities.”
New transportation policy must also address past climate and environmental injustices: “We have a commitment, as an administration, to ensure 40 percent of the benefits of climate and clean energy investments go to underserved and overburdened communities.”
And he gave his support for advancing universal design through the All Stations Accessibility Program (ASAP) Act of 2021, championed by Senator Tammy Duckworth, which would fund more transit facilities becoming ADA-compliant.
Shifting to climate, TRB noted that transportation now accounts for nearly 30 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Secretary Buttigieg said given transportation is the single largest sector contributing to the climate crisis, “we have an obligation to strive to be the biggest part of the solution.”
When asked what are the best ways to decarbonize transportation, he highlighted the kinds of planning and design solutions landscape architects provide: “We really need to think about every dimension of a trip, and what can be done to make it greener. Can we use design to reduce the necessity of some of thetrips people take? When people take trips, can we create alternatives so they can take those trips in other modes?”
And he focused on other strategies landscape architects plan and design to advance climate goals. “Housing and transportation policy has to fit together. Transit-oriented development is a climate opportunity as well as a planning concern. All of these things have be considered together in an integrated way. That’s something you already see in the most forward-thinking communities.”
Secretary Buttigieg also explained how electric vehicles, and the charging infrastructure to support them, along with co-siting large-scale renewable power plants with new transportation systems will be key to a more sustainable future.
As part of the combined strategy to advance goals on jobs, equity, and climate, safety also remains the “fundamental mission of this department,” Buttigieg said. “We lose 3,000 people every month to traffic crashes. We must confront the fact that these tragic deaths are not inevitable, but preventable. We need to take new steps, like a safe systems approach nationwide.” Soon the department will be releasing its first national roadway safety strategy.
“If we do this right, we’ll look back on the 2020s as a period when transportation equity reached new levels. That makes not only historically excluded groups better off, but the whole country better off, because we’ll have a stronger, more stable, richer, fairer economy for all.”
Learn more about what is in the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act.
More public transport using renewable resources, more bicycle transport roadways, and less individual vehicles.
In the course of trying to afford solar panels as a low income elder homeowner, I discovered that Venture Capitalists have entered the electrify freight infrastructure arena.. and decimating roof solar in the process.. so if you look under the hood a bit you will find those economists publishing books (Scale Fast, Dorren) and articles in Harvard Business review , Haas institute of energy etc are intentionally taking roof solar out of the ‘plan’ These “academics” who are actually venture capitalists themselves are writing hit pieces on roof solar..blaming inequity on those who buy roof solar when it is of the design of the large investor utility companies positioning to keep subscribers.. why? they need us to fund their enormous returns, and stay on a centralized grid .. this profit layer so embedded into the infrastructure, it will keep wages down, and opportunities for lower income to be able to actually have affordable energy costs.. It is really a shame we lack the imagination to frame our development more equitably since solar is intrinsically an affordable fuel.. Now it will be the profit of a very few people getting very very very rich. One of the pieces I read actually has a foundation that is offering seminars to other VC on the logistics of electrifying freight… believe me it is these firms who are protecting returns by shifting fixed costs onto the ratepayer.. why is this acceptable?? They are acting as wealth management companies not utilities or caring about how well and equitable the infrastructure will work for everyone.
If you want equity, you have to address the energy infrastructure of this nation and who will make electrification of transportation happen. The infrastructure of our grid is going to dictate how transportation plays out. i am seeing Venture Capitalists moving in the freight sector. I dont see equity, I see a profit layer embedded into the infrastructure so the cost will have to accommodate their returns FIRST. Please look at what is happening with our large investor owned utilities decimating roof solar. why? to keep rate subscribers centralized Why? Right now, the VC are planning on electrifying freight and need the constant cash flow and a centralized grid. The profit layer so far embedded it will keep job wages low, access is less, the priority of the people actually using will be second to their returns, and more costly .. and so right now lower income folks won’t be able to afford solar. and roof solar, a green employment sector that is just getting started is directly threatened by these large investor owned utilities. Too bad…a fuel that is intrinsically cheaper than fossil fuels. This is not equity to have these companies behave as wealth management firms instead of utilities and infrastructure builders, not equitable really.