Atlanta needs a Green New Deal that addresses urban design
There’s a lot of good stuff in the Green New Deal for mitigating climate change, but there’s also something very concerning: it addresses the symptoms but not the true sickness.
When it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, there’s nothing wrong with tackling the direct sources of fuel consumption. But it’s essential that we also address the root problem: un-walkable, inefficient urban design that demands high use of energy, both for buildings and for transportation.
In the Atlanta region, which has been called the “King of Sprawl,” this issue is particularly serious, and it’s something we can never fully solve at the local level as long as the federal government is actively providing incentives for bad development and car dependency.
The federal government stacks the deck in favor of sprawl and driving.
As this good post from T4 America points out, the deck is majorly stacked in favor of car-centric sprawl at the national level, and that needs to be changed. Consider these points raised in the post:
1.) Congress distributes transportation funding to states based on how much fuel is burned. The more gas that gets burned in a state, the more money the state gets. Which means that we’re giving money to promote driving where it’s going to do the most damage to the climate – and that’s insane.
2.) That transportation-funding program dedicates 80 percent of funds to highways and only 20 percent to transit—and the highway funding is guaranteed over multiple years while transit funds are on the chopping block every year. No wonder we’ve built out our urban areas at a scale for driving, where highways become our main routes for weekly trips. We’re essentially demanding both urban sprawl and growth in car trips through federal funding.
3.) If you build a new highway, a transportation agency has to come up with a 20 percent local match. But if you want to build new transit, you have to come up with at least 50 percent at the local level. And yet we know that highways exacerbate greenhouse-gas pollution while transit reduces it.
Atlanta and other sprawling areas need a Green New Deal that addresses urban design.
We’re providing billions of federal dollars as incentives for driving while giving comparative scraps to transit, which can barely compete within the funding slant. The damage is clear in the Atlanta region, which has a pitifully small amount of transit use compared to driving – only 3 percent of trips are by transit here according to data from 2016.
But even more concerning is the way our urban spaces are designed around car trips, rather than being built in a way that supports walking, cycling, and transit as great ways to reach destinations. A good land-use plan is the best transportation plan, and we’re doing ourselves a disservice by creating car-centric land uses.
Atlanta needs all the help it can get with overcoming the problems that have been created by this funding model that favors driving and sprawl. As Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times:
“Atlanta is the Sultan of Sprawl, even more spread out than other major Sun Belt cities. This would make an effective public transportation system nearly impossible to operate even if politicians were willing to pay for it, which they aren’t. As a result, disadvantaged workers often find themselves stranded; there may be jobs available somewhere, but they literally can’t get there.”
Sprawling, car-dependent regions need a Green New Deal that addresses the urban design that lies at the source of so much of our national greenhouse-gas emissions misery. We need a deal that helps us create better places, where we can get to stores and jobs and schools without getting in a car every time.
Top image: McMansion sprawl in Cumming, GA from Bing Maps
Lower image: Interstate 75/85 in Atlanta, photo by Darin Givens