Ecocity Snapshots

Ecomobility Bridges the Political Divide

Philadelphia’s Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk anchors the Circuit Trails Network, one of more than 150 multi-use trail networks underway across the US.
Written by Rick Pruetz

by Rick Pruetz, Vice President, Ecocity Builders

States are primarily using transportation funding to accommodate roadway expansion for cars, resulting in even more climate changing greenhouse gases. Instead, that funding could be used to build sidewalks, bikeways, public transportation and other forms of ecomobility that provide safe, planet-friendly transportation as well as opportunities for healthy recreation, economic development, community cohesion, and property-value enhancements that boost tax revenues. Advocates should be urging elected officials to abandon the futile attempt to solve traffic congestion by building more roads. A recent survey finds that active transportation gets solid support across the political spectrum.

States could use a huge chunk of the $1.2-trillion generated by the US Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to fund ecomobility improvements that do not exacerbate the climate crisis. However, a recent study finds that most of the money is being poured into car-centric projects that will generate more than 180 tons of CO2-equivalent emissions above the national baseline. That is the equivalent of 49 coal-fired power plants operating for an entire year. In fact, states are spending more on roadway expansion than the amount modeled for a worse-case, high-emissions scenario in a study conducted by RMI. This lopsided expenditure is on track to offset the climate action goals claimed for this landmark legislation.

Writing for Streetsblog, Kea Wilson blames the culture of state departments of transportation which cling to the now-debunked mission of catering to the automobile at the expense of other transportation modes. As Wilson puts it: if you see yourself as being in the business of building highways, you better keep building highways or else you could be out of a job.

Transportation for America is reviewing the projects already reported under the Infrastructure Act, (35,000+ so far), to determine whether roadway widening projects are being disguised as roadway repair projects, a misidentification that would only make the climate impacts even worse. According to Wilson, public pushback is the only way to change this business-as-usual mindset.

Fortunately, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy recently conducted a survey showing strong support for active transportation infrastructure, particularly interconnected, multi-use trail networks. Almost one-third of the respondents said that trail networks would allow them to reach everyday destinations without a car. Respondents similarly reported that they would walk and bike more if trails were protected from motor vehicles and designed to provide access within a 10-to-20-minute walk. The respondents also thought that walking and biking infrastructure gets too little funding compared with other modes. Importantly 81 percent of Republicans, 81 percent of Independents, and 84 percent of the Democrats responding to this survey approved of spending tax dollars of these networks.

The task of creating a more balanced transportation system is daunting. But public opinion will make a big difference. Significantly, the Rail-to-Trails survey suggests that steering more money toward active transportation is one goal that might be embraced by folks on both sides of the political divide.    


Brooks, P. 2023. New Data Illustrates Importance of Connected Trail Infrastructure to the Nation. Rails to Trails Conservancy. Accessed at New Data Illustrates Importance of Connected Trail Infrastructure to the Nation – Rails to Trails Conservancy | Rails to Trails Conservancy.

Wilson, K, 2024. State DOTs Spend Even Money on Highway Expansion Than We Thought. Streetsblog. Accessed at State DOTs Spend Even More Money on Highway Expansions Than We Thought (

About the author

Rick Pruetz

Rick Pruetz, FAICP, is Vice President of the Ecocity Builders Board and an urban planner who writes about sustainability, most recently Ecocity Snapshots: Learning from Europe’s Greenest Places and Smart Climate Action through Transfer of Development Rights.