1 Day Before Greta Thunberg Arrives, Report Shows 102% Increase in Metro Denver Auto Emissions

A man holds a sign reading "We're on a highway to hell!" while marching in the Global Climate Protest in downtown Denver on Sept. 20. Photo: Andy Bosselman, Streetsblog Denver
A man holds a sign reading "We're on a highway to hell!" while marching in the Global Climate Protest in downtown Denver on Sept. 20. Photo: Andy Bosselman, Streetsblog Denver

Greenhouse gas emissions from autos increased 102 percent in the Denver Metro over 1990 levels, according to new reporting in the New York Times. Passenger vehicles and trucks are the largest source of such emissions in the United States. 

The news comes one day before 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg will lead a Fridays for Future Strike in Denver. It also highlights how little has been achieved through existing efforts to reduce auto emissions, especially amid declining public transit ridership, according to Julia Williams of 350 Colorado, one of the organizers of tomorrow’s protest. 

“We hope our elected leaders will see these numbers and recognize that a commitment to climate action is intrinsically linked to significant investments in our public transportation systems,” she said. “Colorado’s public transportation systems are woefully inadequate to match the demands of our ever-growing population.”

In the New York Times story titled The Most Detailed Map of Auto Emissions in America, a graphic shows total auto emissions doubling in the Denver Metro since 1990. Per-person auto emissions increased 16 percent over the same period. 

Despite goals to reduce single-occupancy vehicle trips and boost transit ridership, the region continues to expand roads and highways, which will worsen the problem according to Brad Evans, a member of the group Ditch the Ditch, which opposes the expansion of I-70 underway now in Denver.

“It just shows where we failed, which is getting people out of their cars,” he said. “It shows that talk won’t work.”

On the day of the Global Climate Strike last month, Streetsblog Denver called on Gov. Polis and Mayor Hancock to issue a moratorium on the expansion of urban highways. Neither official responded. But Michael Strott, a spokesperson for the mayor, said today that Hancock wants to reduce driving. 

“We are constantly looking for new ways, either through education or infrastructure improvements, to get people out of cars and into other modes of transportation,” he said. “We need to do more to create other modes of transportation for people to choose from.”

Next month, Hancock will ask voters for approval to change the Department of Public Works into an agency that prioritizes mobility. But the move comes with no new funding, a point Evans emphasized.

“We’re creating this new transportation department and there is no money for it,” he said. 

In a recent Streetsblog story about Hancock’s 2020 budget failing to meet the city’s mobility goals, Jill Locantore of the Denver Streets Partnership agreed.

“There’s this major disconnect between the city’s own goals and how they are allocating money in the budget,” she said. “All modes — walking, biking, transit, Vision Zero — there’s not enough funding in any one of those.”

The State of Colorado also fails to align its transportation funding and sustainability goals. Streetsblog asked Gov. Polis, who campaigned as a champion for the environment, why his administration continues to expand highways and provide inadequate funding to the Regional Transportation District. His office was unable to provide a response in time for publication of this story. 

Ahead of Greta Thunberg arriving in Denver to lead a climate demonstration tomorrow, Streetsblog asked the mayor’s spokesperson how Hancock would respond to the children who say adults are not doing enough to address this crisis. 

“We agree. Adults are not doing enough,” said Strott. “Climate change is the greatest environmental threat to our national security and well-being, and we need to do more at all levels of government to address it.”

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