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Pushing Green Transport in the Pioneer Valley

Pushing Green Transport in the Pioneer Valley

From Pioneer Valley Relocalization Project
By Larry Ely, Steve Randall, and Rob Crowner

“Whatever the nature of water, the fish will be the last to know.” — Chinese proverb

Highways and roads are an expanding universe. Distances to work, shopping, entertainment, and services become ever greater. By design, the interstate highways and the exurbs they promoted have foisted car dependence on us.

This must change because cars are the most money- and energy-wasteful, most CO2-spewing mechanized transport there is, and we must reduce CO2 since we’re in a crisis concerning possible runaway climate change. This dictates immediate responses from communities having the imagination and will to act. Also, oil production worldwide has peaked, and by 2020 gas could be $20 a gallon. Our region’s political leaders are charged with addressing town needs, and these crises are surely needs. What should they do? Transport emits 25% of our C02, so green transport is mandatory. Note these mpg per person figures: car with one person (25), car with two (50), bus (4-50, passenger dependent), train (40), carpool (85), walking (230 equivalent), biking (650 equivalent). An average car carries only about 1.1 people.

We must return to living in close proximity so we bike or walk to town, and take convenient buses and trains in and between towns. Reducing car use will catalyze the building of new landscapes we need—in-town living, walkable town centers, off-road bike paths—like in European towns. We need 1) frequently running, well-filled, multi-purpose buses with weatherized bus stops for those without cars—which cost $7,000 a year—and also for car owners 2) small buses and pre-sign-up vans serving hub and outlying towns and bus end points 3) hub town-administered carpooling. We need big structural changes to reduce car use, not parking meter tweaking and more cab licensing.

Reducing reliance on cars requires new thinking. First, let’s realize we don’t even acknowledge how artificial is the asphalt built environment that dictates car dependence. We unconsciously use it— as unconsciously as fish use water. But unlike fish, we can change our behavior. Amherst and its neighbors had practical trolleys, but car companies bought them and others across America to scuttle them. We could reintroduce a train between Northampton and Amherst. The single passenger car simply must be replaced by convenient alternatives. Ironically, the car inculcates hyper-individualism in us, undermining the calm democratic thinking required to reduce car use.

Second, in-town bus service has been designed for students and those without cars—the underclass and elderly. Car owners must begin taking buses, and they would if buses went four times an hour as in Europe instead of four times a day, if bus stops were weatherized, and if buses’ end points were linked with bike paths and van service. The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) in concert with our towns has not been imaginative enough in motivating people to leave cars. An educated, then engaged public would lead to cooperating towns forging the necessary green transport infrastructure. Our region is not unique in its transport unconsciousness—it’s the same across America. But it might be in our local genes, given our progressive population, to actually do something. Truly, a jolt of some kind is necessary, like the famous and healthy Daniel Shays rebellion here that unified the country’s previously uncoordinated thirteen colonies.

Third, PVPC’s funding mechanism is part fare, part subsidy borne by town budgets, rendering funding inconstant as budgets become whims of town politics. Without funding constancy and an understanding that transport is a community necessity, planned change will not occur. The Northampton-Hadley-Amherst core is a cultural-economic unit in reality, but not in transport governance. Same for Amherst-Pelham-Leverett-Shutesbury. This simply must change. Please be conscious that money not sent to Exxon Mobil for gas could be sent instead to towns for better schools, policing, fire protection, libraries, and swimming pools.

We beseech you, whatever your town, to call all the following municipal executives. Tell them you want green transport change ASAP: Amherst (259-3002), Hadley (586-0221), Northampton 587-1249.

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