KATU: PSU professor: Tackling carbon emissions starts with rethinking your transportation
Author: Chris Liedle
Posted: September 18, 2019

To read the original story, visit KATU.

Data shows transportation is the largest single contributor to global carbon emissions, with America being one of the biggest polluters.

The Director of Portland State University's Institute for Sustainable Solutions said that’s largely because of how we designed our neighborhoods post World War II, which made it difficult to get around without using a car.

“We’ve made it so that you need to burn a gallon of gas to get a gallon of milk," said Robert Liberty.

After the war, families moved outward into single homes away from urban cores in sprawling suburbs.

Liberty says many of these neighborhoods lacked walk or bike-friendly options, and connectivity to shops, workplaces and nightlife.

Many cities and counties are now working to correct that.

Liberty says solutions include increasing density and moving living spaces closer to where people work, shop and play to encourage pedestrian traffic, biking, or use of public transportation.

“[It] gives us more choices, and we'll use it more efficiently if there are stores nearby in walking distance,” said Liberty.

He says transportation also includes freight, air travel and shipping.

Liberty says we need to rethink how we move as a society.

He says households that meet or exceed the average median income, which is about $72,000 in this region, are more capable of changing their habits because they have more options.

"I think of people who bear the biggest responsibility for contributing to pollution and changing the climate, they have the most responsibility for making a difference," Liberty said. "People of modest means, people who are just getting by, it’s hard to ask them to do anything that costs more. We could make things easier for them by giving them more choices about places to work that doesn’t require such a long commute or choices in housing."

Liberty says municipalities can encourage pedestrian or bike travel by improving safety.

Building protected bike lanes, greenways, sidewalks in neighborhoods where they don't exist, safer crosswalks and lowering speed limits are all great options says Liberty.

"If our standard is, 'we need people to risk their lives in order to reduce their driving,' that’s not realistic or appropriate,"Liberty said. "We need to make it easy, convenient."

He points to cities in Europe, like Copenhagen, where people are 10 times more likely to commute by bike. He adds that the average median income is similar to Portland, and the weather is worse.

He says the difference is safety.

Liberty says he recognizes not every one has the ability to ditch their car for a bike, but by cutting an unnecessary trip or walking to the store are all small, positive ways to reduce carbon emissions.

"The logical thing to do is to find something that helps the planet, he said. "You can do that with things that save money or save time."