It would be great if people could get out of their cars. But Southern Nevada doesn’t have a rapid mass transit system that will make that possible for the vast majority of drivers. And that’s not going to change any time soon.
Those were some of the takeaways from a Regional Transportation Commission “Clean Energy and Transportation Summit” in Las Vegas this week
“We love our cars in Southern Nevada,” said Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones, one of several federal, state and local elected officials who spoke at the event. “And so we’re going to have to find better ways to make some changes when it comes to complete streets,” Jones said, referring to a planning term used to describe streets with built-up infrastructure for bicycles, pedestrians and transit access that make walking, crossing streets, biking, and transit riding more attractive.
Southern Nevada needs to do more to “encourage people to get out of their cars, ride their bikes, walk, and do some major changes when it comes to mixed use planning so that people don’t always have to get in their cars to do anything,” Jones said.
But while there are ways to build systems to spare people from always getting in their cars, in Southern Nevada, there has not been a will.
David Swallow, RTC’s chief engineering and technology officer, reviewed the fate of the recently considered — only to be dismissed — light rail proposal for the Maryland Parkway corridor.
The RTC board scrapped the plan in favor of “bus rapid transit,” a project to add dedicated bus lanes to Maryland Parkway between Russell Road near the airport into downtown, then westward into the medical district near University Medical Center.
“I think right now given the economic conditions that we’re dealing with— balancing how much service we can provide versus how much it costs to implement new rail systems— our board had to make a really tough choice,” Swallow said. “Does it make sense today? And no it doesn’t. But that’s something we can revisit if conditions change.”
“We can have a conversation on how do we pay for it and really look at connecting the whole valley with a higher order transit network.”
Capital costs for the light rail proposal were estimated at $1 billion. The estimated cost of the bus project is $345 million.
Supporters of a proposed light rail option believe it would be transformative, not just for the corridor but to the whole of Southern Nevada. It could spur economic development, establish a sense of place, and kickstart an appreciation for public transit among in notoriously car-centric city.
And reducing the number of automobiles — and the amount of auto emissions — would also reduce pollution and associated public health risks.
The Environmental Protection Agency lists the transportation sector as the greatest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Part of the agency’s recommendation for reducing emissions from transportation include developing “advanced vehicle technologies such as hybrid vehicles and electric vehicles.”
Every four years the state Department of Environmental Protection inventories greenhouse gas emissions. The last report was issued in 2016, and the most recent data set in that report was from 2013. It showed transportation and electricity generation accounted for roughly the same amount of emissions in Nevada, at 33 percent and 34 percent, respectively.
“So imagine a city bragging about public transportation. That’s our goal, to create a system like that,” Swallow said. “How do we connect our community together through public transportation and then compliment that with what we call our foundational bus network.”
Gov. Steve Sisolak also spoke at the forum, and touted Nevada’s clean energy initiatives, including 2019 legislative accomplishments.
“Climate change is real and something we have to address now, not just for ourselves but for future generations,” Sisolak said. “Nevada is leading the way in deploying the technology for advancing autonomous and electric vehicles, including funding an electric school bus pilot program that will bring savings to our schools and reduce harmful diesel emissions by almost 80 percent.”
Sisolak, as well as other speakers, highlighted in particular the legislation to change the state’s renewable portfolio standard to 50 percent by 2030, with a goal of reaching 100 percent carbon-free by 2050.
“The RTC coordinated this event because it wants to move forward the discussion on clean energy and transportation, especially since the transportation sector generates the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Tina Quigley, RTC CEO, who noted the RTC continues to study the viability of adding electric buses to the transit fleet in Southern Nevada.