We are in a climate crisis. This unsettling reality becomes more visible with each passing day. Here in Minnesota, our actions disproportionately impact the future of our shared planet. If Minnesota and 12 other states of the American Midwest were their own country, it would be the 5th-largest carbon emitter in the world.
Transportation is the biggest source of climate pollution in Minnesota. The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) created the Sustainable Transportation Advisory Council (STAC) in March 2020 to guide our state toward a cleaner transportation sector that will put Minnesota back on track to meeting its emission reduction goals.
To reduce emissions, Minnesotans have to shift trips from cars to other modes of transportation. Even with an accelerated move toward electric cars, it will not be possible to achieve the necessary emissions reduction without reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT).
We are members of the STAC's Reduce VMT and Improve Transportation Options work group. In December 2020, this work group urged MnDOT to commit to reducing total VMT by 20% statewide by 2050. MnDOT adopted the STAC recommendations in March 2021.
A 20% reduction in total VMT by 2050 is both necessary and achievable. It is on par with VMT reduction goals of other states including Delaware, Washington and California. Hennepin County has also committed to a 20% total VMT reduction goal. The cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have even more ambitious targets.
For your individual household, a 20% VMT reduction would mean driving about one hour less per week, shifting one or more trips to transit, biking or walking, or by working remotely one more day per week. We recognize that reducing VMT will look different across different parts of the state, and that the majority of VMT reduction will need to come from metropolitan areas.
VMT reduction is not about restricting people's ability to travel. Reducing VMT in cities and towns means providing better, more affordable transportation options, making it easier for people to get where they want to go without a car. A less car-dependent transportation system brings many other societal benefits, including cleaner air, fewer traffic deaths and healthier communities.
Now is the time to commit to goals that meet the scale of the crisis we are facing. Our collective future is at stake.
In the coming months, MnDOT will announce its VMT reduction target. We were very concerned to learn during a recent presentation on the Statewide Multimodal Transportation Plan that MnDOT is now considering watering down the VMT reduction goal by making the 20% reduction per capita. Using current population projections, if the 20% overall reduction was changed to per capita, it would translate to only a 7% total reduction by 2050.
Further, it appears that as MnDOT's VMT goal dwindles, so does the agency's vision for Minnesota's future. As MnDOT's VMT reduction goal shrunk from 20% to 7% by 2050, the agency lowered its aspiration from "complete networks for walking, biking and transit" by 2050 to a lackluster goal that "walking, biking and transit options improve." We should not settle for an "options improve" 30-year vision for our great state's transportation system.
Finally, MnDOT has not applied its preliminary VMT reduction goal to any of the major road or highway projects it is planning. These projects, including rethinking Interstate 94 and I-94/252, will either advance climate action and environmental justice for neighboring communities or cement more emissions and pollution for decades.
In light of these concerns, we are writing to call on MnDOT to adopt the 20% VMT reduction goal as recommended by the STAC and to begin applying it to projects immediately.
Ashwat Narayanan is executive director, Our Streets Minneapolis. Sam Rockwell is executive director, Move Minnesota. Dorian Grilley is executive director, Bike MN. Katie Jones is a former Minneapolis City Council candidate. Peter Wagenius is legislative director, Sierra Club North Star Chapter. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, is a member of the Minnesota Senate. Russ Stark is chief resilience officer for St. Paul.