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The Changing Landscape of Transportation Policy

In the more than 15 years I have been working on transportation, the focus has truly shifted. For decades in America, transportation industry and policy experts have spent most of their time addressing first capacity and then congestion challenges. To most of these experts, the problems to tackle was how do we create mechanisms that deliver commuters from idyllic suburban neighborhoods to inner city jobs, how do we move goods from manufacturers, warehouses, and ports to supercenter retailers, and finally how do we make space for cars to visit those same stores. The answer to all of these problems by and large was large swaths of pavement generally where it was cheapest to build without regard to what future this paved world would generate.

When I started paying attention to transportation, this was still the focus of nearly everyone I knew or with whom I worked. It seemed easy to think about optimization problems and addressing bottle necks. Identifying funding mechanisms for the continued maintenance and repair of a system we inherited. Time, experience, and some understanding colleagues have helped me recognize the perspective of extreme privilege these problems represent.

Today’s transportation challenges still include ways to move goods efficiently and maintain existing infrastructure, but we can no longer ignore the impacts our transportation policies and decisions have on our residents and the world. Mobile sources and the fossil fuels that power them continue to contribute a majority of NOx emissions, a significant precursor to smog and particulate matter, and are the largest portion of GHG emissions in California. In addition to regional air pollutant levels, many communities in the State experience measurable harm in the form of negative health impacts from high levels of localized pollution. There is an immediate need to reduce emissions and exposure in these highly-impacted, low-income and disadvantaged communities throughout the State.

Leaders in the transportation sector are broadening their attention to recognize the importance of their decisions in light of the impacts they have on communities and the world. No longer can we move forward with transportation decisions without making these important considerations. This changing focus is one of the most disruptive and important issues in the transportation policy world today, and those who wish to lead must take it into consideration in their daily practice.

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