Tagclimate change

Department of Road Diets: the carbon tax

Grand Avenue over the Kennedy Expressway. Its four lanes look like this – empty – most of the day. But then there are times of the day where people who bike, take the bus, and drive all need to “share the road”. That failed strategy has led to increased road rage, slow transit, and dead bicyclists. Time to put roads like this on a diet. 

My friend Brandon sent me an article about the one-page solution to (mitigating) climate change in the United States that NPR posted this summer.

But Henry Jacoby, an economist at MIT’s business school, says there’s really just one thing you need to do to solve the problem: Tax carbon emissions.

“If you let the economists write the legislation,” Jacoby says, “it could be quite simple.” He says he could fit the whole bill on one page.

Basically, Jacoby would tax fossil fuels in proportion to the amount of carbon they release. That would make coal, oil and natural gas more expensive. That’s it; that’s the whole plan.

This new carbon tax would support different infrastructure construction and expanded government agencies with which to manage it. It would support a Department of Road Diets. Road diets are projects that reduce the number of lanes for cars on a roadway, either by reducing the width of the roadway, or converting the general purpose lanes to new uses, like quickly moving buses or giving bicycles dedicated space.

See, in the carbon taxed future, people will want to drive less and use more efficient modes of transportation like transit and bicycles. And those uses will need their own space because the status quo in our cities (except the ones in the Netherlands) of having each mode compete for the same space isn’t working. It results in frustration, delay, and death.

Enter the Department of Road Diets. We have millions of miles of roadways that will need to go on diets so a department dedicated to such transformation would be useful. The agency would be in charge of finding too-wide roads and systematically putting them on diets, I mean, changing their cross section to less carbon-intensive uses.

Unaffected by weather, or politics at COP15

The Danish mail delivery worker rides their bike in the winter. No need to jump start dead batteries or leave the engine running. No fuel, no emissions. No politics.

Look at how many bags of mail the bicycle can carry. Check out the bicycle’s wheeled stand system (see the small gray wheels behind the front bike wheel). When the worker has reached their destination, they can deploy the small wheels (think training wheels for a child) and walk with the bike.

For the Christmas and holiday shopping season, United Parcel Service (UPS) hires part-time workers to deliver packages via bicycle.

The company started bike delivery in 2008 in Portland, Oregon. I should probably say re-started, because UPS was founded in Seattle, Washington, by a young person riding his bicycle to deliver goods. This year, UPS expanded the program to Silicon Valley, California (video).

UPS can’t get all the credit for super-ultra-low-emissions vehicles (don’t forget a van still trucks these packages to a drop off site for the bike worker). Messengers, cycle couriers, and food delivery people work all year round in every major American city.

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