Science Notes

Polis Calls on Pairing Infrastructure with Transportation Planning to Reduce Driving in Colorado GHG Roadmap

By Sophie Mangassarian

January 2021

Smog in Denver, Colorado – Photo by the United States Department of Energy

In 2018, nearly 30% of total greenhouse emissions in the United States were attributed to the transportation sector, making it the largest contributor nationwide. With most of these emissions originating from passenger vehicles, it is no surprise that a lot of climate-focused policymaking in the U.S. is aimed at the electrification of vehicles and supporting infrastructure. However, the transportation sector involves more than just the movement of people and goods through cars and trucks; it also includes public transportation, walking and bicycling, and micromobility options such as scooters and e-bikes. In order to fully achieve ambitious climate targets, we must be able to reduce emissions from every facet of our transportation sector, as well as how activities in this sector interrelate with others like infrastructure and energy production.

Colorado took a leading role in the renewable energy transition in 2004 when it first adopted a voter-approved renewable energy standard, which requires utilities to source a certain amount of the energy they generate or sell from renewable sources. Now, 17 years later, Colorado once again seeks to lead in state-wide climate action. Motivated by an imperative to protect the public health and safety of all Coloradans and reduce the impacts of climate change in the state, Governor Polis’s office released its final version of the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap on Jan. 14, which includes strategies to reduce emissions in the transportation sector.

The transportation sector bypassed electricity generation as the largest source of greenhouse gas pollution in Colorado in 2020. 

“It’s very much in our interest to do our part,” Gov. Polis told the Associated Press. “We have a climate-driven economy. Hundreds of thousands of jobs in Colorado are climate dependent. And we want to position Colorado as a climate and green energy leader.” 

The roadmap identifies not only the importance of the electrification of end uses and transportation in reducing greenhouse gas pollution – it also calls for strategies that reduce the growth of driving by making changes to transportation planning and infrastructure. These goals come just as federal transportation bill funding has been extended for another year and lawmakers, transportation professionals, and reform advocates seek to restructure transportation spending.

While equity issues in electric vehicle distribution are substantially confronted, it is important to recognize the benefits of addressing all aspects of the transportation system and the potential for a greater equity focus on transportation planning. Most transportation planning occurs on the local-level in Colorado and can offer local deliberations through working groups and community meetings where residents can express what matters most in their neighborhoods to their elected officials. These conversations often have real impacts as they provide concrete examples of possibilities as they scale up for climate policymaking statewide.

Voters in Denver seem to agree that there is a greater need for holistic environmental policies. In November 2020, nearly 65% of voters approved measure 2A, which raised Denver’s sales tax to fund green initiatives across sectors, from parks and open space to transportation. This measure was one recommendation of Denver’s recently formed Climate Action Task Force, consisting of representatives from diverse groups around the city. Among the group’s top priorities include expanded bus systems, investments to electric vehicle infrastructure, and a reconfiguration of city streets for active transportation. The funding generated by Measure 2A will go towards supporting citywide microbility programs, improving public transportation, and fully completing bike and pedestrian networks. And while active transportation infrastructure may seem to be mostly focused on urban centers, reports have shown that walking and cycling are just as common in rural communities and must be funded and planned for.

Transportation decision-making in the state will be critical to meeting its science-based target of 90% emissions reduction by 2050. But environmentalists are skeptical, saying that the roadmap is still not strong enough to drive significant change. More localized conversations around all aspects of the transportation system can have major influences on state-wide policies and how effective these policies will be further down the line in addressing climate change impacts in the state.

Stay updated on developments associated with the Colorado Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap and more by following our ‘Science Notes.’


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