Moving in the right direction: Woonsocket event celebrates electric vehicles, RIPTA, and intercity bike paths

In order to avert inexorable and ever-worsening climate crisis, we need to get moving. That was the message of Saturday’s Moving Planet RI event, jointly hosted by the Sierra Club RI and the YWCA of Northern Rhode Island.

Moving Planet was an event that took place not only in Rhode Island, but around the world, coordinated by, an international movement named in honor of the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration deemed by scientists to be the maximum that the planet can sustain without suffering rapid and drastic repercussions for humans and other species. Each year in September, community groups in all corners of the globe get together in their respective locations to advocate for lessening carbon dioxide concentrations to that target level. Those concentrations are currently at 390 ppm and climbing; reaching the 350 ppm target will be possible only through a focused effort on a global scale.

In Rhode Island, our most urgent priority must be to wean ourselves off fossil fuel-based transportation modes. Transportation-based emissions, stemming largely from dependence on private cars for travel, account for 45% of our greenhouse gas emissions in our state. At the same time, dependence on the automobile has negative repercussions for our health, isolates us from our communities, and costs us all money.

That’s why Sierra Club and the YWCA teamed to host last weekend’s family-oriented event. The occasion featured a hybrid RIPTA bus (about 60 buses out of RIPTA’s 200-bus fleet are low-emitting hybrids), games for kids, a raffle, and something few Rhode Islanders have had the privilege of seeing: Chevy’s not-yet-released 2012 Volt, a cutting-edge plug-in electric vehicle. Electric cars, public transportation, and higher gas mileage standards (the focus of Sierra Club’s nationwide GO60 MPG campaign), are all steps in the right direction.

U.S. Congressman David Cicilline, who spoke at the event, highlighted other important steps underway to green RI’s transportation sector. Specifically, he commended the five RI towns, including Woonsocket, that have adopted “complete streets” resolutions committing city planners to considering the needs of cyclists, pedestrians, and bus riders when planning changes to local street design.

In addition, Cicilline called on those present to show their support for the proposed John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Historic Park. The park would be based on the existing John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley Heritage Corridor, which is set to lose federal funding next year. If established, the new park will connect the Blackstone River, the Blackstone Bikeway, and multiple historic landmarks along the valley. Establishing the park is a vital step to assure that these venues continue to be available for the use and enjoyment of Rhode Islanders on the move.

Cutting transportation-based greenhouse gas emissions requires action not only in our state but at the national level as well. In that vein, Sierra Club staffer Nicholas Oliver urged those present to continue to put pressure on President Obama and Congress to enact high gas mileage standards. Earlier this year, President Obama unveiled a plan to raise those standards to 54.5 mpg by 2025. Oliver praised the president’s proposal, saying that it will lead to reductions in tailpipe emissions of 5% per year and save Rhode Islanders money. But continued public pressure is needed, he stressed, to assure that Obama and Congress do not delay or water down the plan.

Moving Planet RI was a sociable event on a pleasant, if humid, fall afternoon. But the problem that inspired it – rising greenhouse gas emissions that stem from our current unhealthy transportation system – – is a serious issue. It is up to all of us to push for improved transportation choices in our neighborhoods: walk-able sidewalks, bike-able streets and bike paths, and consistent public transit. Pick up your sneakers, helmet, or bus pass: now is the time to make our move.

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