Re-making our transportation system will shift us toward better, cleaner, and more equitable living.
Imagine useful, affordable, and accessible village centers and downtowns with a variety of services, housing, and jobs. Where many people of all ages, socio-economic classes, and backgrounds could live and work, without needing frequent trips to a commercial strip or school complex accessible only by car and flanked by vast parking lots.
Imagine if cars weren’t king of our downtown streets. Instead, streets were a true common space, where kids could walk or bike to school or sports practice, people could engage with neighbors and nature on foot or human-powered wheels, and where transit, car-share and ride-share would foster strong social ties.
For people who live outside of town, imagine a robust public transit system where vanpools, buses, and trains bring elders, workers, and school kids in and out of village and downtown hubs, reducing our need for parking lots, highway expansion, and fossil fuels.
If that doesn’t sound like a future worth working for, here’s a reminder of what we have now—a system that gives people tough choices with their limited money, time, and mental energy, all causing a vicious cycle of physical and emotional stress and degradation of our Earth.
Our car-dominated transportation system is hard on our wallets. Vermonters collectively spend $1.38 billion on fuel every year – and most of those dollars leave the state. Add car payments, insurance, maintenance, and snow tires to the cost of gas, and how much of your pay goes to your commute, especially if you can’t or don’t live close to town?
Policy makers say there’s not enough funding for a region-wide transit system, but it’s worth looking into how much taxpayers spend on parking lots, highways, and subsidies to the automobile and petroleum industries.
Our car-dominated transportation system degrades our health and wellbeing. Many of us spend an hour or more driving to work plus more time running errands and shuttling kids. Many kids spend an hour on the school bus each way. Time sitting in a motor vehicle is inactive, cloistered, and adds to stress, plus drains time from exercise, healthy eating, and community engagement.
Also, the Upper Valley’s population is getting older. Soon, a large cohort of elders will stop driving. They will need affordable places to live and rides to critical services and social events so they aren’t isolated at home. How will we make this happen?
We hear that bike/pedestrian infrastructure and more efficient land use is too hard and expensive, yet how much money and energy do we spend on fitness regimes, health care, and sub-standard elder care?
Our car-dominated transportation system fuels climate change. Fifty-five percent of household carbon dioxide emissions are from transportation. And worsening climate change will likely contribute to a less stable economy, more volatile gasoline prices, and increased storm damage, exacerbating all the other issues we face.
Some see electric vehicles as a silver bullet for halting greenhouse gases from transportation, but will a new kind of car operating in the same old system just provide a stop-gap while maintaining other deep problems in our society?
So what are we waiting for? Let’s get together to change the future. We frugal people of New England specialize in people-sized solutions, simple, ingenious, and on a shoestring. Let’s get to work to combat climate change using those local values and make our community healthier, more vibrant, more prosperous, and more resilient for everyone. Get started today by checking out these resources:
Then contact the Vital Communities Transportation Team to learn more!
– Bethany Fleishman, Transportation Program Manager