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Opinion: We Must Transform California’s Transportation to Stop Fueling Climate Change

OpinionOpinion: We Must Transform California’s Transportation to Stop Fueling Climate Change

Traffic on a smoggy day in Los AngelesCommuters navigate early morning traffic as they drive towards downtown in Los Angeles. REUTERS/Mike Blake

For over half a century, runners had been trying to break the 4-minute mile. Then, in 1954, Roger Bannister finally ran a mile in 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds. And then, just 46 days after Bannister showed that it could be done, another runner did it.

Since then, over a thousand runners have beat the 4-minute mile. It shows how much of what we think is physically and practically impossible is psychological. What holds us back is often our mindsets.

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And that brings us to transportation, climate change, and California bills AB 2237 and AB 2438.

There is no argument that the climate crisis is here, and we have to be bold in our actions at both the state and local levels to curb its effects. The most significant source of climate pollution, by far, is from our cars and trucks, and it harms those living adjacent to freeways and highways first and worst. Thus, to protect public health, clean the air, and finally get California on track to meet its climate commitments, we must stop pouring our resources into building more highways.  

We pen this together — as an assemblymember and chair of the Assembly Transportation Committee and as an environmental attorney and the executive director of Climate Action Campaign — to say that now is the time to transform our transportation system and stop fueling the climate fire. It is time to make our communities walkable, bikeable and transit-friendly so that families have genuine choices in how they get around, and prioritize health and a livable future. 

California has shown it can lead on sustainable transportation. Governor Newsom’s executive order to phase out internal combustion engines by 2035 was not just heard in California but by leaders internationally. As we all know, as goes California, so goes the world.

Newsom broke the 4-minute mile when he announced that the second-largest car market in the world was ready to prohibit new gas cars. Transforming the landscape seemed daunting until someone was able to break conventional thinking.

However, we know that zero-emission vehicles are only part of the solution. We will not “ZEV” our way out of the climate crisis and transportation injustice. Transit-dependent Californians — older folks, students, parents, individuals with disabilities, and lower-income communities — must have equitable access to sustainable transportation options for life’s daily needs.

And yet, some insist California continue funding harmful, substandard projects that originated 20 to 50 years ago. We are talking about projects that would invite more traffic congestion, further pollute environmental justice communities, and reinforce an unjust system of mobility that favors those who can afford to own and are able to drive cars.

All the science and data have been clear—we need to align our transportation policies with our climate and equity goals. And that is the purpose of bills AB 2438, which would call for the state’s transportation agencies to coordinate and prioritize funding for sustainable projects; and AB 2237, which would call for regional transportation authorities to do the same at the local level.

Advocates are organized and justified in their urgent calls for lawmakers to take serious action. Climate Action Campaign is a strong supporter of these sister bills, which would create good-paying jobs, reduce commute times, and increase safety, all while slashing transportation emissions and detoxifying our air.

Aligning our transportation spending with our state climate goals is necessary to stop the worst impacts of the climate crisis and environmental injustice, which impact communities of color and low-income first and worst. We can and must take action to achieve climate-just communities for all before it’s too late.

The passage of AB 2237 and AB 2438 will propel us forward and ensure the thinking behind measures such as Let’s Go! San Diego is the norm in California. It’s all about setting our minds to it and getting past the psychological barriers that hold us back.  

Assemblymember Laura Friedman of the 43rd District is chair of the Assembly Transportation Committee and is a long-time environmental advocate. Nicole Capretz is an environmental attorney with Climate Action Campaign, a nonprofit based in San Diego and Orange County with a simple mission: stop the climate crisis through equitable policy action.

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