Cities Can Lead the Way to Clean Transportation Plans

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Watching the Olympics has been fun and exciting, as always. And if we pull the lens back, we can see that Rio de Janeiro is part of another competition, namely the competition to solve climate change as dramatically underscored in the Opening Ceremonies.

Thankfully, although many investments made by host cities turn out to be of little use to a city after the Games, much of Rio’s transformative redevelopment may have lasting value. It’s far from a foregone conclusion based on past experience, but if it works it will be due to leadership by Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes working with the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. As C40 chair, he talks about his dedication to urban sustainability in this inspiring piece he co-authored with the mayor of Paris.

Overall, there’s an emerging trend—cities stepping up as problem-solvers in the age of climate change.

For example, yesterday the Sierra Club published a new report profiling 10 cities in the U.S. that are shifting to clean energy. In June, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions and the U.S. Conference of Mayors launched a new Alliance for a Sustainable Future, which will build better partnerships between states and cities and promote best practices in urban areas. And NRDC’s own City Energy Project is building on its work with pioneer cities nationwide to boost the energy efficiency of commercial building stock.

Now the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has the chance to add to this trend by requiring that long-range transportation plans developed by metropolitan areas go for the gold in the race against climate change—a new performance standard for taxpayer-funded plans to track greenhouse gas pollution and set targets for reducing it.

NRDC and our partners at the Center for Neighborhood Technology and the United States Public Interest Research Group filed detailed comments about the proposal this week, and I urge you to read them and share them. The Center for American Progress and the National League of Cities this week endorsed the proposal as well.

This commonsense proposal is understandably popular as this recent poll shows.

Pollution from transportation sources is a big problem, and cities can’t tackle it alone. They need collaborators, specifically in their metropolitan planning organizations (which include suburbs like Washington, D.C.’s College Park, MD, where I live) and state departments of transportation. These government agencies forge long-term transportation plans directing billions of dollars of investments in coming decades.

The simple truth is that a new performance standard for greenhouse gas pollution from our nation’s metropolitan and state transportation plans would catalyze that work and take a big stride toward solving climate change, with our cities leading the way.

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