The Maine Climate Council voted to finalize its Climate Action Plan on climate change on Nov. 11, and the Bicycle Coalition of Maine would like to congratulate everyone who worked on and contributed to the plan. However, the council’s plans for addressing the emissions generated by transportation include very few references that support bicycle, pedestrian or transit infrastructure. We are disappointed that the council chose to focus so emphatically on electric vehicles while offering only scant encouragement for healthy, low-emission modes like walking, bicycling and transit.

Paul Swearinger of Auburn rides his custom built bike through a parking lot in Auburn in March on his way to the Androscoggin River to collect driftwood to carve into pieces of art. Investing in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and public transit promotes modes that are low- or no-emission.  Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

While we agree electric vehicles are low-emission and will be an important aspect of reducing greenhouse gases, the Climate Council’s draft action plan relies on optimistic rates of adoption for electric-vehicle technology, at the expense of investing in other transportation modes that are proven, practical and equitable.

Moreover, emphasizing the adoption of electric vehicles will not help with traffic congestion and the epidemic of injuries and deaths inflicted by speeding motor vehicles. Getting hit by an electric vehicle traveling 35 mph in a 25-mph zone will be just as devastating as getting hit by a gas-powered vehicle.

The Climate Council’s draft plan will direct millions of dollars toward incentivizing and expanding automotive traffic, when it could have promoted investment in sidewalks, bike facilities and expanded transit – all of which are proven low- or no-emission modes of travel. Getting more people walking or riding bicycles (including riding electric-assist bicycles) and using buses, light rail or both is the most practical, inclusive, effective and fundable strategy to both reduce emissions and transform transportation culture in Maine. And making investments in these types of transit has numerous additional benefits.

Investing in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and public transit is a practical solution: We already know how to build facilities and run transit systems, we just need to scale up both. The better the system is, the more it will attract users to make the choice not to drive. We can start increasing capacity in both bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and transit almost immediately, without waiting for new technologies to be refined and implemented.

Investing in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and public transit is inclusive, and can serve users equally from all socioeconomic contexts. Walking, bicycling and riding the bus are all low-cost options that require minimal individual investment and can serve a wide range of communities.

Investing in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and public transit promotes modes that are low- or no-emission. Walking and bicycling do not generate emissions, and provide additional benefits to community health. A bus with only a quarter of its seats filled emits 33 percent lower greenhouse gases per capita than solitary car trips for the same distance, while a full bus emits 82 percent lower emissions.

Investing in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and public transit is achievable under existing agencies without expensive incentives or waiting for technology to mature. A reallocation of funds devoted solely to the 10 lowest-priority roadway maintenance and construction projects on the Maine Department of Transportation’s three-year work plan would have a huge impact on bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure funding, and would certainly provide needed support for transit services.

As a member of the Climate Council’s Transportation Workgroup, the Bicycle Coalition of Maine made these points in numerous meetings throughout 2019 and early 2020. With the “finalization” of the Action Plan, we feel that Maine has missed an opportunity to invest in strategies that would have more immediate benefits in terms of emissions, and create a better integrated and comprehensive transportation system that would also yield ancillary benefits in terms of better health outcomes and more livable communities.

The Bicycle Coalition of Maine will continue to advocate for investments in pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure and incentives. We look forward to working with climate advocates across all sectors to meet Maine’s ambitious yet vital goal of reducing global warming emissions.


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