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LA mayor signs order to address climate crisis—and get people driving less

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“We can’t achieve a zero-emission future without us driving less”

AFP via Getty Images

Dedicated lanes for buses and weekly festivals promoting car-free culture are among more than 20 measures aimed at fighting climate change that Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced this afternoon.

In an executive directive signed today, the mayor ordered city staffers to begin work on a network of bus-only lanes, traffic signal adjustments that prioritize trains over private vehicles, and projects centered on pedestrians and cyclists.

“We can’t achieve a zero-emission future without us driving less and having a good way to walk to the bus stop or cycling to school,” Garcetti said Monday, speaking on a Downtown LA rooftop.

The directive maps out the city’s response to the climate crisis in what the mayor termed a “decade of action.” It includes strategies for reducing emissions related to construction, trash collection, and power supply, but places a large focus on transportation emissions.

Garcetti’s orders establish deadlines for some of these measures, including a fully electric city bus fleet (2028), the start of traffic signal synchronization (2021), and city sponsorship of weekly open streets events like Ciclavia (2022). It also establishes a goal to improve bus travel speeds by 30 percent in time for the 2028 Olympics.

Last year, the mayor announced a Green New Deal initiative that included an ambitious set of goals aimed at reducing citywide net carbon emissions to zero by 2045. With the transportation sector producing nearly half of all carbon emissions statewide, cutting down on auto use will be a key part of hitting that mark.

In car-centric Los Angeles, it could also be tricky.

“Can we make this happen?” Garcetti asked Monday, speaking broadly about the city’s sustainability goals. “We don’t have a choice.”

The city will also aid Metro in a forthcoming study on congestion pricing, a system in which drivers pay tolls during peak traffic hours or on a per-mile basis.

Metro CEO Phil Washington has in the past presented a region-wide toll system as a potentially game-changing fix to Los Angeles’s traffic woes and a funding source for future transportation initiatives, including free fares for local trains and buses.

It remains to be seen whether this will be enough to achieve one of the key goals laid out in the city’s Green New Deal: A nearly 50 percent reduction in the number of miles LA residents drive daily.

Garcetti said Monday that these measures are only one portion of the city’s efforts to reduce transportation emissions. Another part of the plan focuses on planting and maintaining 90,000 trees and building shade structures at busy bus stops in a bid to make neighborhoods more hospitable to pedestrians and transit riders.

For the most part, local environmental and transportation advocates reacted positively to the mayor's plan.

“With continued commitment from the City and a robust community engagement process, these efforts will significantly advance LA’s efforts to cut carbon emissions from transportation,” wrote Carter Rubin, transportation technical strategist for the National Resources Defense Council.

“The Mayor’s vision of the direction to go in is right on, but I’m antsy to see more progress faster,” Climate Resolve deputy director Bryn Lindblad writes in an email.

She points out that the plan calls for new active transportation projects that would bring bike lanes and other street safety infrastructure, but that it mandates only one project per year.

“Other cities like New York City, Mexico City, and Paris have installed bike lanes at what seems like lightning pace compared to LA,” she says.

CicLAvia director Romel Pascual says the organization is planning out potential routes for future open streets festivals and preparing for a possible increase in the number of yearly events.

“We’re incredibly happy that Mayor Garcetti sees our open streets events as exemplifying a greener LA, and that he recognizes that CicLAvia is part of the fabric of LA and what makes this city so special,” he says.

Beyond the approaches outlined in the executive directive, the mayor touted local efforts to encourage new housing development in areas around transit and to stop requiring parking in areas well-served by public transportation.

“There’s no silver bullet, [but] the closer you can get people to transit, the more likely they are to use it,” said Garcetti.