Public transportation has the potential to transform traditional cities into sustainable paragons. When comparing the carbon footprint of public transit to that of single-passenger cars, the former carries a myriad of benefits. These include reduced fuel consumption, improved air quality, decreased traffic congestion and cost savings for commuters.
Public transportation has the potential to be a key player in the future sustainability of urban areas. Cities across the United States are working to find green transportation solutions to improve an outdated system. These initiatives include switching to electric buses, improving walkability in communities and making policy changes.
Here are five green transportation solutions to be on the lookout for in the future:
1. Alternative Fuel Technology
Alternative fuel technology is one solution to improving the public transportation system. Electric buses are one successful example of green transportation. Diesel-powered trolleys are the most energy-intensive of all bus types, but many cities are transitioning to zero-emission all-electric buses. Electric buses are quickly outpacing diesel vehicles as communities across the country seek public transit options with less pollution.
One alternative fuel that developers are testing is natural gas. CNG vehicles, powered by compressed natural gas instead of gasoline, are more accessible than electric technology, depending on the city. Many people tout natural gas as a more cost-effective solution than gasoline, though there is debate over the sustainability of its long-term use.
Buses aren’t the only form of public transit testing out alternative fuels. Rideshare companies like Uber are also responding to consumer trends for more sustainable fuel sources. In London, the company announced that all vehicles must be electric by 2020. With alternatives to gas-powered automobiles becoming more widespread in the future, fuel technology is one green solution that can succeed.
2. Pedestrian-Friendly Design
Pedestrian-friendly design isn’t just about streets with nice sidewalks and plenty of trees. One of the key aspects of a walkable community is access to public transportation. Transit-friendly planning involves designing urban areas that are equally accessible by walking, biking, driving and public transit.
Pedestrian-friendly design supports public transit by making infrastructure more accessible. These features can include anything from providing amenities for transit riders to creating priority lanes for vehicles. When residents can easily walk to public transportation routes, they are more likely to utilize them. According to the American Planning Association, pedestrian-friendly development includes elements like continuous sidewalks, appropriate buffering systems from traffic, street-oriented buildings and transit routes every half-mile.
A pedestrian-friendly layout is a green transportation solution because it looks at development holistically. Green infrastructure refers to the process of solving urban and climate issues by developing spaces that work with nature rather than against it. By making public transportation more accessible, cities improve the likelihood of residents utilizing these options.
3. Innovative Climate Policy
Cities across the United States are aware of the effects of climate change and the importance of taking proactive measures to combat the impact of carbon emissions in urban areas. Parts of the United States already utilize what is known as a cap-and-trade system, or cap system. This policy places limits on how much carbon a company can produce. If similar restraints applied to passenger vehicles, people might feel more incentivized to take public transportation.
According to research done by the Federal Transit Administration in conjunction with the EPA, transportation accounts for 29% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. The study also found that public transit reduces emissions by up to 76% per passenger mile than single-occupant vehicles. However, federal regulations around public transport are not always helpful in supporting green solutions.
After the United States withdrew from the Paris Agreement in 2017, individual cities — from Los Angeles to New York — formed the coalition We Are Still In to continue citywide efforts to reduce emissions. Public transportation plays a pivotal role in their efforts, with California citing that transit accounts for 37% of statewide greenhouse gas emissions. With efforts made on the individual level, innovative climate policy could transform public transportation’s role in turning a city greener.
4. Citywide Bike-Share
Bike-shares, while not currently recognized as a type of public transportation, are gaining popularity in cities nationwide. Because the IRS does not presently acknowledge bike-shares as public transportation, there are no tax benefits to this system. However, that may change in the future, given the success of implemented programs.
Citywide bike-share programs alleviate heavy traffic congestion during commuting hours, reduce fuel consumption and provide a cost-effective transport option for urban communities. They are also easy to utilize and serve as a flexible option for daily commuters who may choose to get a workout on their way to the office. From a city planner viewpoint, bike-shares are also inexpensive and require few adjustments to current infrastructure.
Research also found that bike-shares have a positive economic impact on local businesses. According to one study, out of business owners in neighborhoods impacted by the Capitol Bike Share program in Washington, D.C., 70% reported positive feedback with the new system.
Evidence exists that bike-shares promote efficiency, especially in city centers. When individuals need to travel locally and cannot access locations by traditional forms of public transportation — or by walking — biking is an excellent solution for medium distances. In addition to providing more efficient transportation, bike-share programs are also flexible. New York City’s bike-share program offers day passes or annual memberships, making this amenity easily accessible for residents and tourists alike.
5. Sustainable Urban Planning
About 75% of Americans commute to work in single-passenger cars. Urban planning is a technical process dealing with the development and use of the built environment and land. Sustainable urban planning focuses on infrastructure that promotes clean air and water and renewable resources. Improving the layout of public transportation is an essential part of the solution, and sustainable planning accomplishes it.
Investing in public transportation infrastructure doesn’t seem to be enough, however. In Dallas, their extensive light rail installation cost billions of dollars, but the number of commuters did not change. Developers did not look at the problem holistically — nor did they consider issues of accessibility or cost.
City planners are now relying on sustainable mobility indicators to make decisions. This type of data analysis allows urban planners to look at specific regions or neighborhoods and assess the transport issues particular to that location. Then, they tailor proposed solutions directly toward the local problem instead of applying one solution to diverse concerns.
By using indicators such as frequency and density, planners can holistically investigate transportation issues and act accordingly. Sustainable development plays a decisive role in future green transportation design and could facilitate more livable communities centered around public transit.
Public Transportation and the Environment
The benefits of public transportation include saving money, improving air quality and reducing our society’s dependence on fossil fuels. Public transit plays a crucial role in how people will build future cities. It will also influence how architects and urban planners design living environments to optimize our relationship with the space around us.
Green transportation solutions for the public transportation system can be implemented in any urban area. Public transportation is proven to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, encourage sustainable development and save energy. Considering alternative fuels, implementing green policies and planning more sustainable cities all contribute to improving the public transportation system.