Clearing the Air: L.A.’s Vision for Clean Transportation

By: Larissa Koehler and Jorge Madrid

3091482472_90f3126a9f_zThere’s something remarkable happening in the city of Los Angeles, you can feel it in the air – and it’s definitely not the country’s worst pollution or the record-breaking heat – it’s the winds of change. Los Angeles is in the process of reinventing itself from a dystopian vision of traffic jams and unbreathable air into an urban leader in sustainability.

Last week L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti unveiled a bold new plan (pLAn) to revolutionize sustainability in Los Angeles, including taking a bite of the big enchilada responsible for the most air pollution that gets in our lungs and greenhouse gas pollution that causes climate change – the transportation sector. Mobile sources (think diesel trucks, trains, ships, aircraft, and cars) account for 90 percent of Southern California’s harmful air pollution. Statewide, the transportation sector is responsible for nearly 70 percent of smog-forming gases and 40 percent of the state’s climate change pollution every year.

While some progress has been made – the number of non-attainment days (days when an area doesn’t meet the federal air quality standard) has decreased dramatically since the 1990s and the Port of Los Angeles has reduced diesel particulate matter by 80 percent since 2005 – there are still huge clean air disparities. We know the dirtiest zip codes in L.A. are also the ones with a disproportionately large amount of low-income communities and people of color. We cannot run a victory lap on this issue until EVERYONE in L.A. can safely get around the city and breathe healthy air at the same time.

So what about these winds of change? We think the mayor’s pLAn is a big deal, it can help spark a transformation of the entire region and we look forward to helping make it even stronger. For starters, the pLAn will:

  • Increase the percentage of all trips done through walking, biking, or public transit to 35 percent by 2025 and 50 percent by 2035
  • Increase the percentage of electric vehicles (EVs) and zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) in the city to 10 percent of all vehicles by 2025 and 25 percent by 2035
  • Install more than 1,000 public EV charging stations, including 100 on city-owned property
  • Grow charging infrastructure in commercial buildings, as well as make them a more viable option in homes and multi-unit apartments
  • Increase the percentage of goods transported via the Port of Los Angeles without any emissions to 15 percent by 2025 and 25 percent by 2035
  • Expand policies designed to lower emissions of 70 percent of ships that come into the Port of Los Angeles

These are ambitious targets for a sprawling mega city built for the car and not for people, and now trying to reorient itself towards greater mobility with expanded transit options and opportunities for active transportation (the fancy term for walking and biking). Given that cars are still a major mode of transportation today and for the foreseeable future, electric and zero-emission vehicles and complementary charging infrastructure are critical to reduce air and climate change pollution both in L.A. and across the state. A recent study from the Sierra Club found that the U.S. needs 10 million EVs on the road by 2025 to have a shot at avoiding the worst effects of climate change. L.A.’s leadership, in tandem with other state pilot projects, can grow EV use to the levels needed to meet the state’s clean energy and climate goals – and help make them more affordable to Californians.

Speaking of affordability, the mayor’s pLAn takes great care to emphasize the need for affordable housing, especially around transit hubs. Affordability is key because the last thing we want to do is undermine our sustainability goals by making the city too expensive for working-class and low-income folks – the people most likely to ride transit and live car-free – pushing them out to the suburbs and peripheries of the city.

Finally, the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach and the diesel trucks that move over 40 percent of all goods from overseas into the country are critical battlegrounds in the effort to cut pollution. In addition to cleaner ships and trucks at the port itself, we need to take a serious look at zero-emissions, all-electric freight along the 710 freeway, where nearby residents are exposed to the dirtiest and most cancer-ridden corridors in the country.

Los Angeles certainly has its work cut out. The total package that the pLAn presents – including strategies to increase clean transportation, clean energy technologies, and focus on communities most burdened by the ill effects of pollution – is exciting and forward-thinking. What’s more, these strategies are doable and extremely necessary.

We’re looking forward to the seeing this vision of a new Los Angeles come to life, one where everybody breaths clean air while they get about this great city.

Photo source: Flickr/Mulling it Over

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