Public transportation won big on election night

From Austin to Los Angeles, voters chose to invest in a better way to travel.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
CREDIT: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

On Tuesday night, American voters showed strong support for measures to increase public transportation projects throughout the United States.

A record 48 public transportation initiatives were on the ballot in cities and states across the country, which in total would have raised some $200 billion for projects such as bike-sharing, bus improvements, or more walkable cities, according to the American Public Transportation Association. And on election night, 33 of those passed — 69 percent.

“This remarkable passage rate for public transportation measures sends a strong message to President-elect Donald Trump and to Congress that Americans support moving forward with funding from all levels of government that connects infrastructure investment with job opportunities and our country’s economic vitality,” APTA Acting President and CEO Richard A. White said in a statement.

In Los Angeles, residents voted for a permanent sales tax increase that will fund an expansion of the city’s public transportation system. Measure M — which will raise the sales tax by a half-cent through 2039 and a full cent thereafter — will raise some $860 million annually for the next few decades. That money will be used to create better cycling infrastructure, green pathways throughout the city, repair sidewalks and potholes, and expand the city’s bikeshare program.

Voters in Seattle also approved a $54 billion plan to help finance an expansion of the city’s light rail system, commuter-train system, and bus lines. The plan will be paid for via increases in property, sales, and car-tab taxes.

In Austin, Texas, voters passed a package that will allow the city to borrow $720 million for transportation projects, an “unprecedented amount” that is four times larger than any previous transportation bond approved by the city, according to the Austin-American Statesman. The money will likely be used for roads, as well as transit improvements. Of the $720 million, $137 million is specifically earmarked for “local” transportation, improving things like sidewalks, the city’s bike lane system, and street repairs. $482 million will be used to make improvements to major roads, which city officials hope will help ease congestion throughout the city.

Public transportation projects like these are just one example of how cities might look to tackle climate and infrastructure issues under a Trump administration, which promises little to no regulation of greenhouse gas emissions or the environment at a federal level.

Cities have been some of the most progressive places around the world for climate action, and, since they represent about 70 percent of global carbon emissions, cities are a place where local initiatives can make a big difference. Groups like the C40 network — a coalition of more than 80 cities, representing a quarter of the global economy, and the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, which includes leaders from 7,100 cities, have already begun working to help cities share ideas about green projects or infrastructure, help finance climate adaptation or mitigation projects, and generally increase climate action at a local level.

For cities both inside of and outside of the C40 network, public transportation is a huge part of the transition a low-carbon economy. By providing a lower-emissions alternative to driving, increased public transportation projects can help reduce carbon emissions from cars, as well as lessen air pollution caused by cars idling in congested areas. More robust public transportation systems also allow people to live more densely, which is better for the environment — New York City, which has one of the most extensive public transportation systems in the world, also has one of the lowest per capita carbon footprint in the United States.

And cities in the United States aren’t the only ones looking to bolster public transportation infrastructure as a means of creating greener cities. In Rio de Janeiro, the city’s new bus rapid transit system — which connects parts of the city underserved by the existing metro line — is considered one of the few successful climate legacies of the 2016 Olympic games.