“We Need to Build More Walkable Cities,” Says Governor Jerry Brown. In Germany.

Governor Brown at the signing ceremony this year for the cap-and-trade extension. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog
Governor Brown at the signing ceremony this year for the cap-and-trade extension. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

Governor Jerry Brown says a lot of things, and he said some contradictory things at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bonn in mid-November.

As Special Advisor for States and Regions, Brown made several speeches and appearances during which he talked about the importance of tackling climate change. “Please, push yourself to the furthest degree,” he said to world leaders gathered to talk about the existential crisis—Brown’s words, on many occasions—of climate change. “I will promise you that California will be right there with you,” he said. “We are committing ourselves to do everything possible to get on the side of nature instead of fighting it, to deal with the climate change challenge.”

This is nothing but good news to those of us worried that it may too late. We need strong leadership, and Governor Brown is uniquely positioned to be a voice for the change we need. That’s why Kathy Dervin, a former state health department official working on public health and climate change policy, a member of Climate Plan, and an attendee at the summit, was so excited when she heard some of the other things the Governor said.

Brown introduced a session on The Urban Energy and Transportation Nexus—How Can Cities Be Leaders in Transformative Climate Action? During that introduction, Dervin took notes, and she heard the Governor say that people need to walk more.

“Our current mobility system is too passive,” said Brown. And also: “We need to build more walkable cities and promote walking more.”

Hear, hear! Our Governor gets it! He knows that the car-centered way of life we have in California isn’t working for everyone, is not sustainable, and needs to change.

“We need more action,” said Brown, according to Dervin’s notes. He called for an “elegant density” that would mean “transforming our cities.” “That means YOU, on bikes and walking,” he told the attendees in Bonn. “Cars have dominated our urban landscape.”

But, he added, “There’s more to transportation than cars. We want our cities to make space for walking around—we need to create space for gathering together.”

And: “Cars cannot be the model for a planet with nine billion people.”

Brown has been a staunch supporter of many sound policies to fight climate change. Several years ago he called for steeply reducing California’s reliance on fossil fuels. He supported the CEQA changes currently under review that would switch from measuring congestion to measuring induced travel. And he has been quoted multiple times, in Bonn and elsewhere, making a “strong case” to join the fighting on climate change before it’s too late.

But he has also refused to ban fracking, the cap-and-trade system is not producing much in the way of greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and in seeking to extend it Brown accommodated many demands from the oil industry.

And the most-quoted thing he said at Bonn was not “We need to bike and walk more” but his off-the-cuff, bungled response to protestors who interrupted a speech he was making. When they shouted “Leave it in the ground!” he told them, “Let’s put you in the ground”—not exactly an opening for dialogue.

Brown also has not said a whole lot publicly about how important it is for people to use more active modes of transportation, like walking and biking.

Dervin was pleased to hear Brown address the importance of sustainable transportation at Bonn. “It seemed that he was calling for the kinds of truly transformational change in transportation that many of us think we need,” she said.

“I hope the Governor will share these well-put sentiments with Caltrans the next time active transportation (which includes walking, biking, and taking public transit) is considered in sustainable transportation planning—and especially in funding decisions,” she said.

How about it, governor? The Active Transportation Program has grown in recent years, but it needs more planning support, and a larger share of the transportation funding pie, if we’re going to make a dent in that car-dominated landscape you decry. We also need a California Transportation Commission that understands these issues, and is at the forefront of bringing a shift to the conversation on transportation.

What do you say? Will we get to see YOU riding a bike to work soon on the flat streets of Sacramento?

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