Some prominent politicians, including Santa Fe Mayor Gonzales and New York City Mayor DeBlasio, have repudiated President Trump's efforts to withdraw the US from the Paris Climate accord. But a funny thing happened on the way to the soap box. Its harder to do something than to sound impressive.
Not that I am arm-waving my way past the considerable uncertainties in climate science. Readers of this virtual fish-wrapper have been down that path of caveats before. But in the face of major, unresolved uncertainties, one should, I think, hedge one's bets and that means not adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere as if we were drunken sailors on a fossil fueled shore leave binge. Uncertainty recommends prudence.
In New York, my old friend and Vision Zero colleague Charlie Komanoff called Mayor Bill DeBlasio on his statements that the Big Apple would work to preserve the spirit and letter of the Paris Accords even as the Mayor routinely drives a hulking SUV on congested NYC roads to a gym that is eleven miles from Gracie Mansion (aka the mayor's residence). Mayor Bill huffed back that Charlie was long on symbol and short on substance but I agree with Charlie: if our leaders think they are too important to reduce their carbon footprint, why should Joe Sixpack, who is just as busy juggling his life as the mayor, trade in his Tahoe for a bicycle? And if transit doesn't work for Mr. Mayor, why do we think it will work for anyone else?
Closer to home, Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales also promises to fight climate change through local action and I tip my hat to him. Indeed, while it would be tough for Mayor Gonzales to find a gym eleven miles from city hall in compact Santa Fe, those in the City Different are plagued with bad designs that maximize road surface, vehicle speeds, and level of service at the expense of transportation options other than the family car. Indeed, the New Mexican complains about a proposal to use privatized speed vans to slow down speeders. The problem is, enforcement, privatized or otherwise, cannot trump bad planning because roads that look like they were designed for high speeds (wide, clear lines of sight, etc) will be driven fast. Indeed, the whole notion of the 85th percentile rule to set speed limits means that a road that looks like it should be driven fast will have its speed limit set fast. While government enforcement is a requirement for public safety, privatized enforcement has proven to generate huge amounts of public mistrust at the motives of those speeding tickets. But the bottom line is that speeding and the bad road design that encourages it go hand in glove and puts huge emotional and safety roadblocks into using biking or walking. So Mr. Gonzales and his council will have to somehow take back the city from bad state planners who think roads in a city should be urban versions of interstate highways, aka "stroads".
The bottom line is that going to a low carbon transportation future is not someone else's problem. Its everyone's problem. Even Mr. Workout, Bill deBlasio's problem. I think Mayor Gonzales gets it but like other mayors, he is somewhat held hostage not only to the current paradigm, but to those government organizations and their private sector tagalongs in the transportation industry who have a vested interest in continuing business as usual. And business as usual is moving more cars efficiently.