Commentary

Why the Transportation Climate Initiative makes sense

September 22, 2021 12:02 am

Traffic flows over the American Legion Bridge along I-495, the Capitol Beltway, on the day before the Thanksgiving holiday November 22, 2006 between Virginia and Maryland. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

By Andrew Savage

If you thought the vibrant, blood orange sunsets over Virginia in July were striking, you weren’t alone. Unfortunately, those sunsets were caused by wildfire smoke out of the West that engulfed the state in a hazy smog and triggered a public health alert.

Now, constant natural disasters are clear evidence of an urgent truth: Climate change is here, it’s getting worse and we need to take collective action to address it. We don’t at our own continued peril.

In Virginia, the climate crisis is exacerbated by a transportation crisis, in which residents are left stranded by a broken, polluting transportation network responsible for 45 percent of our climate-warming carbon dioxide emissions. If Virginia is going to do its part, state leaders must take action to reduce fossil fuel emissions while providing residents with affordable, accessible, sustainable and safe mobility options.

As the head of sustainability at Lime, a transportation company operating a dockless scooter and bike share network in Richmond, and cities across Virginia, the U.S and the globe, micro-mobility programs have the potential to help achieve the critical objectives of making communities cleaner and more people-friendly. However, there’s a big obstacle in the way. Many residents would love to leave their cars at home, but the streets in many communities are not protected, connected and equitably designed for safe walking, cycling and scooting.

Richmond’s Department of Public Works has made strides toward improving street safety and enhancing the city’s transportation network. However, the city could make far greater progress if Virginia joins its neighboring states in the Transportation & Climate Initiative Program (TCI-P), a regional proposal to reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector.

The TCI Program has two major objectives: make fossil fuel suppliers purchase allowances for the emissions they cause in the state; and invest the proceeds from the program in clean transportation options, such as expanded public transit, safer streets and connected bike lanes for cycling and scooting. Both aspects of the program will reduce air pollution and greenhouse gases that contribute to a warming planet.

Lime supports TCI-P because Virginia and neighboring states will be better off with less air pollution and expanded mobility options. We urge Gov. Ralph Northam to sign Virginia on to TCI-P, and we urge the Virginia General Assembly to adopt legislation to solidify the state’s participation in the program.

Gov. Northam has participated actively in shaping TCI-P, but hasn’t formally committed Virginia to joining the program yet. In December, the leaders of Washington, D.C., Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island formally joined TCI-P, pledging to decrease local transportation emissions by 30 percent by 2032. Together, those jurisdictions are expected to generate nearly $300 million in revenue each year under TCI-P, at least 35 percent of which must be directed to overburdened and underserved communities. That’s too much transportation investment for Virginia to simply leave on the table.

With TCI-P in place, Virginians will have access to sustainable transportation options while breathing cleaner, healthier air. It’s no exaggeration to say this will literally save lives. Crash fatalities due in part to unsafe streets in Virginia increased to 847 in 2020, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation. Meanwhile, public health researchers recently found that full implementation of TCI-P could prevent up to 1,000 pollution-related premature deaths and 5,000 childhood asthma cases in the region by 2032.

Lime is one of many local employers that support TCI-P. Last fall, we joined over 100 businesses and institutions in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Southern regions to urge our governors to launch TCI-P and incorporate equity, public health, and emission reductions as priorities for investments. Like many major companies and investors, Lime understands the urgent economic need for a modern, efficient transportation system. We understand that what is good for the health of Virginia’s residents is good for businesses, too. When goods and people can easily, efficiently and affordably move around Virginia while reducing their environmental impact, companies are more likely to settle in the state, bringing jobs and economic growth. Research also shows that higher rates of micro-mobility increases spending on local businesses.

In the same way climate change is not solvable by one person, company, or state, the potential impacts of TCI-P require collective action. We ask Gov. Ralph Northam and the Virginia General Assembly to join neighboring states in this regional program to cut pollution and invest in clean transportation solutions.

Andrew Savage is vice president and head of sustainability at Lime, an electric scooter company.  

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