Moving Forward

Biden policies may help us get around

By Walt Seifert
March 2021

The federal government’s approach to transportation will be far different under President Biden than under former President Trump. How much of that new approach is implemented remains to be seen. As with any president, Biden confronts many competing interests and a Congress that may not cooperate.

What the federal government does filters down to the local level. Transportation policies will impact our region, neighborhoods and daily lives. Ultimately, we can expect to see more electric vehicles, along with more emphasis on active transportation (walking and biking), public transit, intercity rail, and maintenance of roads and bridges.

Primary among Biden’s transportation initiatives is the promise to address climate change and the environment. The transportation sector accounts for nearly 30 percent of greenhouse gases in the United States (for California, it’s more than 40 percent). It’s not feasible to solve global warming without changing how we get around.

Here’s a look at some local possibilities over the next four years as Biden attempts to decarbonize transportation.

As a bike advocate, it was heartwarming for me to see Biden bicycling during the campaign. John Kerry, the Biden choice for international climate change envoy, is another cyclist. Will bike sympathy translate into better conditions for bicycling in Sacramento?

Imagine having a 70-mile American River/Dry Creek/Ueda Parkway off-street trail loop. Funding might be available for the Sacramento River Parkway trail through Pocket and many miles north into Natomas on the new levee along Garden Highway. Think about streets closed to auto traffic, or with bike lanes physically segregated from cars instead of separated by a 6-inch stripe of white paint. Crucial bicycle and pedestrian bridges over the Sacramento and American rivers could be built, creating new access for neighborhoods.

Biden wants to increase funding and focus transit efforts on the 315 American cities with populations of more than 100,000. That means it might be possible for Sacramento Regional Transit to finally extend light rail to the airport, extend the southern Blue Line to Elk Grove Boulevard, and start Bus Rapid Transit routes on Stockton Boulevard, Florin Road, Sunrise Boulevard, Arden Way and Watt Avenue. Bus RT uses street designs and signal preemption to provide speedier, rail-like bus service.

You can bet Amtrak Joe, who as a senator commuted by train between Delaware and Washington, will support rail, including intercity rail. Locally, money could go to the Capitol Corridor, which runs between Sacramento and the Bay Area, to improve its current 45 mph average speed and make travel times more competitive than driving on congested freeways. Part of that effort would likely be electrification of the corridor locomotives to replace slower, dirtier diesels. Sacramento is an end point for California’s high-speed rail. That long-awaited system may get a boost from the feds instead of the back of the hand.

Infrastructure projects that were promised but never materialized during Trump’s term may be realized. It’s one area where bipartisan agreement seems possible. How much funding goes to maintenance versus creating new highway capacity will be a key. The pressure to build new roads and add lane miles on freeways may be reduced due to lingering effects of the pandemic and a long-term shift to work from home.
Electric vehicles appear to be central to the new administration’s transportation and climate strategy. Monumental investments in electric power generation and the grid will be needed to speed the shift away from fossil fuels.

People like me contend that a move to active transportation and public transit would be less costly and more effective in cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Overreliance on single-occupant vehicles, even if powered by electricity, has serious environmental consequences. How this all gets sorted out in coming years will be interesting.

Walt Seifert is executive director of Sacramento Trailnet, an organization devoted to promoting greenways with paved trails. He can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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