09 Dec Airo Security Stated: My Word | Will we rise to meet our region’s transportation
As we barrel toward 2021, our struggle with climate change has taken its rightful place at the center of national, state and local policy discussions.
In California, the passage of Proposition 22 is the latest demonstration of the power of the tech industry to influence how we get from place to place.
A string of deaths on Broadway and vehicular violence against protestors have led to startlingly consistent headlines in local news outlets.
The connections between these phenomena are exposed and explained in a recent policy paper published by the Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities (CRTP). “Elephants in the Road: How Climate Chaos, the Safety Crisis, and the Rise of Autonomous Vehicles Will Shape the Future of Humboldt County’s Transportation System, and What We Need to Do About It, ” released in August 2020, puts transportation in the spotlight.
How we navigate between our homes and our places of work, the sites of community and communion with nature — how we access our needs and desires in the physical world — deserves some scrutiny. Indeed, transportation is this community’s largest contribution to the rapid change of our climate. It is a venue for tech industry profit and influence. Our roadways regularly see physical harm befalling community members. The report argues that reduction of our carbon footprint, control of our cityscape and safety for people on our streets and are best understood as pieces of the same puzzle.
The first, incredibly important topic is how transportation accounts for an absolute majority of emissions on the North Coast, at 54%. There is no sector more significant. Speaking as someone who grew up in McKinleyville, I can attest that there is a certain feeling of inevitability about driving on the North Coast. After all, how many people you know would choose to walk on Central Avenue or Broadway given another option? The answer isn’t a coincidence; it’s the result of design choices. “Elephants in the Road” illuminates the limits we self-impose on our imaginations by accepting our current landscapes and streetscapes as unchangeable. It also overflows with practical and cost-effective ways to make climate-friendly modes of transport seem like the natural choice, such as designating transit lanes, making sidewalk improvements, and dedicating more public road space to humans using active means of transportation. Often, interventions as simple as fresh lines of paint can truly transform a street.
In addition to climate crisis, there is another revolutionizing force that experts agree will radically change our local transportation system: the ascendance of autonomous vehicles. The tech industry has already revolutionized our social lives and shaped our media diets. This industry now has its sights on the transportations sector. Surely, some of what is to be offered will improve our lives (e.g. reduced amount of drunk driving), but it also comes with big unknowns and potentially huge downsides. The report puts it bluntly: we can either get ahead of the curve and define how we want the inevitable wave of autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles to wash through our streets, or we can do nothing and merely react when it arrives. One option gives us agency, the other lets politicians and CEOs make the most critical decisions for us.
These revolutionary forces of climate change and autonomous vehicles enter already turbulent roadways. Just in the past two months several bicyclists have been killed on the streets of Eureka. The deeply embedded feeling that driving is normal imbues these deaths with a sense of inevitability. Indeed, referring to the cause of death as violence rather than the more absolving “accident” is jarring. Worldwide, traffic is the No. 8 leading cause of deaths — the only top-10 cause that is not a disease. A significant number of these are experienced by pedestrians and cyclists. The report suggests that increases in safety can be offered by adopting strategies such as traffic calming measures and implementing complete transit, bike and pedestrian networks. In short, we must design places where walking, biking and rolling feels truly are safe and efficient.
We are at a critical point. “Elephants in the Road” is well-researched and is a tremendous resource for our community. If local agency matters to you, if you recognize that transportation dwells at the intersection of these critical collective struggles, and if you would like to know some of the concrete actions that you can advocate for, please read the report! You can find it on CRTP’s website at transportationpriorities.org.
Keenan Hilton is on the board of the Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities, and resides in Arcata.