A new report offers New England states a roadmap for creating a future transportation system that is cleaner and more accessible.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, which is an environmental advocacy group, pinpoints a host of transportation challenges for New England - things like gridlock, crumbling roads and bridges, pollution, and lack of access to affordable, reliable transportation.
Last year, a coalition of New England states and Washington D.C. agreed to develop a plan to tackle these issues. The NRDC report, “Transportation Reimagined: A Roadmap for Clean and Modern Transportation in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Region” offers a comprehensive solution for urban, suburban, and rural communities in these states.
The NRDC finds that rural communities have little in the way of convenient and affordable alternatives to driving, which creates a financial burden for drivers and tends to isolate people who can’t drive, like the elderly. The report recommends that rural communities would benefit from more public transportation options that link to jobs and health care closer to urban centers.
For urban and suburban communities, traffic jams, pollution, and underutilized public transit are major issues. The NRDC suggests municipalities should create compact, multi-use development, which will encourage more walking and biking, with a focus on affordable housing near public transportation. The report also encourages suburban and urban communities to become more walkable and bikeable, and invest in electric buses and other vehicles.
The NRDC's senior advocate for climate and clean energy Bruce Ho said he understands many of these proposals will come with a hefty price tag, and may take years to complete. But Ho said land use will be equally critical to achieving the goals set out in the report.
“For example, we talk about the need to ensure that communities all have access to pedestrian- and bike-friendly streets,” said Ho. “We also talk about the critical need for equitable transit-oriented development, to ensure that people have access to our public transit systems and can live close to them.”
The report holds up Old Saybrook as a good example of this. The shoreline town set up an “incentive housing zone” in a former commercial zone in 2009 to build affordable housing units for the elderly, veterans, young people, and the formerly homeless.
Ho says these measures will not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions and traffic congestion, but will revitalize these communities, and spur economic growth.