Fighting Climate Change

Climate Change Boulder

Why 80% is the Magic Number

Think about cutting something down by 80%. Reducing your height by 80% leaves you with your head and neck. Eating 80% fewer calories means your lunch goes from a sandwich and chips to a dozen almonds. And reducing your commute by 80% is the difference between going from Denver and Boulder everyday and going from Lee Hill Drive to CU. 80% is a lot.

But for Boulder, 80% is the target. The city wants to reduce greenhouse gas (GhG) emissions by 80% or more by 2050. But 80% is not just an ambitious goal to keep our mountains green; it represents the scientific consensus on the reductions needed to avoid significant impacts from climate change. In other words, 80% has to happen. The world is a much bigger problem, but the effort has to start somewhere.

Pearl Street B-Cycle

This proposed goal would fit into the Boulder Transportation Master Plan, which focuses on creating a transportation system that allows many different modes of transportation, manages traffic congestion, and reduces air pollution and noise.

Right now, based on estimates by the City of Boulder, local transportation contributes about 22% of Boulder’s greenhouse gas emissions.

But the city is already seeing success, as vehicle miles of travel have returned to earlier levels, reducing greenhouse gas (GhG) emissions by over 30% from where they would have been.

Despite certain stereotypes and impressions that are common in Boul- der, our cars are not much greener than cars anywhere else. Of the 68,000 vehicles registered in Boulder, there are a high number of hybrid and electric vehicles, but there are also a high number of SUVs and the Subaru Outback (to no one’s surprise) is the most popular vehicle in town. So, Boulder’s overall average miles per gallon is similar to the national average.

But private cars are not the only ones that need to improve. With a growing number of cleaner fuel options available for the transit fleet, including electric vehicles, RTD bus- es are poised for a makeover. In 2016, transit emissions are estimated to be about 25,500 metric tons of CO2 for RTD and Via, the community’s special transit provider. Shifting to fully electric buses that use low-carbon electricity sources would reduce GhG emissions of the fleet by 83% by 2035.

RTD Flatiron Flyer Bus Front

And while more energy efficient cars and buses improve our average mileage, single occupancy trips still account for most of the emissions. By far the most effective way of reducing emissions is through mass transit. Through planning and increased investment, city officials hope to more than double transit ridership by 2035, generating a 15% net drop in greenhouse gas emissions.

Improved transportation systems go beyond just how you get around on the roads. It includes how far you have to go on them. Land use and zoning changes aim to create more “15 minute neighborhoods,” (see our story on page 12). The intention of these neighborhoods is to motivate residents to walk and bike more often, but they also improve community livability, economic vitality, and equitable access.

80% is a big number, but it’s not out of reach. So next time you think about driving yourself somewhere, think about if you could ride your bike. The city is hard at work to make sure we get there, but they can’t do it alone. Remember, 80% is a lot.

This post was originally published in the Boulder edition of BikeLife Magazine.