Thursday, March 22, 2018

A bold, divisive plan to wean Californians from cars

The MacArthur Commons development, adjacent to an Oakland transit station, will create almost 400 units of housing. Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times





Conor Dougherty and Brad Plumer report for the NY Times:

SAN FRANCISCO — It’s an audacious proposal to get Californians out of their cars: a bill in the State Legislature that would allow eight-story buildings near major transit stops, even if local communities object.

The idea is to foster taller, more compact residential neighborhoods that wean people from long, gas-guzzling commutes, reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

So it was surprising to see the Sierra Club among the bill’s opponents, since its policy proposals call for communities to be “revitalized or retrofitted” to achieve precisely those environmental goals. The California chapter described the bill as “heavy-handed,” saying it could cause a backlash against public transit and lead to the displacement of low-income residents from existing housing.

State Senator Scott Wiener, the bill’s sponsor, responded by accusing the group of “advocating for low-density sprawl.”

In a state where debates often involve shades of blue, it’s not uncommon for the like-minded to find themselves at odds. But the tensions over Mr. Wiener’s proposal point to a wider divide in the fight against climate change, specifically how far the law should go to reshape urban lifestyles.

Although many cities and states are embracing cleaner sources of electricity and encouraging people to buy electric vehicles, they are having a harder time getting Americans to drive less, something that may be just as important.

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Transportation accounts for one-third of the nation’s carbon-dioxide emissions and recently surpassed power plants as its largest contributor to global warming. Even as stricter federal standards push cars to become more fuel efficient, the gains have been steadily offset as Americans drive more.

“We can have all the electric vehicles and solar panels in the world, but we won’t meet our climate goals without making it easier for people to live near where they work, and live near transit and drive less,” Mr. Wiener said.

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