A bizarre 2020 should make us rethink our transportation priorities

Salem Parkway, North Carolina, User Breawycker via Wikipedia Commons, Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 4.0

When COVID-19 shutdowns began a year ago, rush-hour traffic evaporated from America’s highways.

Thanks to new data from the Federal Highway Administration, we now know just how many cars vanished from the roads. Americans drove 13.2 percent fewer miles in 2020 than the year before. On average, Americans drove less last year than in any year since 1989.

In some places, reopening of businesses, schools and other activities began to bring cars back to the roads as the year went on. But even by year’s end, traffic in most of the country hadn’t fully returned.

Vehicle-miles traveled per capita, U.S…


Why the states still matter on climate change

Imagine you are Steve Kornacki. [1]

You’ve got a TV audience of millions, a map of the 50 states behind you, an army of stat geeks waiting in the wings to supply you with fresh information, and an entire wardrobe filled with well-worn khakis.

Election night is long over. Instead, you’ve got a new assignment: Explain to your viewers how states are faring in the fight against global warming.

Your high-tech map enables you to zoom in to see emissions coming from anywhere in the country — from a skyscraper in Manhattan to a tractor in a tiny county in…


Bicycling toward a better future post-COVID

Mural along the Neponset River Greenway, Dorchester, MA. Photo by the author.

Bicycling in an American city is fun, great exercise and a way to do one’s part against climate change.

But it’s more than that. Bicycling is a reminder that a different world is possible — a world where people move a bit slower but more joyfully; where our neighborhoods are transformed from places to get through as quickly as possible to sites of exploration, wonder and genuine community; and where the pollution and noise of cars and trucks is seen for what it is: optional, and not an unalterable fact of life.

Bicycling helps you see the world differently. And…


Mission creep in a key Fed rescue program threatens public trust

FirstEnergy Stadium is home to football’s Cleveland Browns. FirstEnergy is one of hundreds of Fortune 1000 businesses that meet the criteria for the Federal Reserve’s “Main Street” lending program. Credit: Erik Drost, CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

When politicians talk about “Main Street” businesses, I picture the shops on our local main drag, Dorchester Avenue in Boston. I think of the just-opened restaurant run by a man who has overcome hardship, missteps and tremendous odds to finally see his dream of a kitchen of his own come true. I think of the local bike shop, the cafe with the tasty muffins, and the myriad small pharmacies, grocers and stores in our neighborhood’s “ Little Saigon.”

I don’t think of Fortune 1000 companies. And I sure don’t think about corporations with their names on football stadiums. Yet, these…


On what to keep and what to leave behind after COVID

(Photo by the author)

I’ve just finished Vaclav Smil’s book , “Growth,” which tracks patterns in the growth of … well, almost everything — bats, microbes, gas turbines, cities, empires — in an attempt to process the mechanics and meaning of growth in our world.

I had been intending to read the book ever since I’d seen an interview with Smil in the The Guardian that included the following quote:

“We could halve our energy and material consumption and this would put us back around the level of the 1960s. We could cut down without losing anything important. Life wasn’t horrible in 1960s or…


Vehicle travel during COVID-19 and what comes next

The COVID-19 crisis has felt surreal in many ways, but few aspects have felt quite so strange as the evaporation of car traffic from American cities. In my neighborhood of Boston, for example, one is just as likely to hear birdsong as car engines during the morning rush hour these days. A new analysis by the firm StreetLight Data, based on cellphone data, shows just how dramatic the drop in vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) during the COVID-19 outbreak has been. Household vehicle travel across the contiguous U.S. …


The COVID-19 crisis has felt surreal in many ways, but few aspects have felt quite so strange as the evaporation of car traffic from American cities. In my neighborhood of Boston, for example, one is just as likely to hear birdsong as car engines during the morning rush hour these days.

A new analysis by the firm StreetLight Data, based on cellphone data, shows just how dramatic the drop in vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) during the COVID-19 outbreak has been. Household vehicle travel across the contiguous U.S. …


The Highway Lobby wants to spend billions of dollars to prop up a failed approach to transportation. That’s a bad idea.

Credit: Trong Nguyen, Shutterstock

Sports seasons are suspended. Concerts and public gatherings are canceled. Millions of us are cooped up at home trying to stay healthy and stay sane.

But the work of teeing up the next generation of boondoggle highway projects doesn’t stop — not even for a global pandemic.

Two weeks ago, the Oregon Transportation Commission voted to move a proposed expansion of Interstate 5 through the heart of downtown Portland one step closer to construction. …


Wasteful, environmentally damaging highway projects should not be a priority during or after the COVID-19 crisis.

Sports seasons are suspended. Concerts and public gatherings are canceled. Millions of us are cooped up at home trying to stay healthy and stay sane.

But the work of teeing up the next generation of boondoggle highway projects doesn’t stop — not even for a global pandemic.

Two weeks ago, the Oregon Transportation Commission voted to move a proposed expansion of Interstate 5 through the heart of downtown Portland one step closer to construction. …


The emergence of the novel coronavirus has been a shock to our health care system, our economic system, our communities, our relationships and our psyches. What makes some of those systems more able to absorb, respond and rebuild from shocks than others?

Two incidents last week got me thinking about that question. The first was a chance encounter with a friend on the street. He does residential construction work and, like many Americans, he is facing a sudden loss of income coupled with a looming rent payment on April 1.

He told me about a conversation he’d had with his…

Tony Dutzik

Associate director/senior policy analyst @ Frontier Group focused on energy, transport & climate policy. http://www.frontiergroup.org

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