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State aims to drive up bike, transit use

In a concerted effort to get people off the highway and onto trains, bikes, and their own two feet, the state has announced plans to triple the share of noncar travel by 2030, a long-range goal officials said would cut emissions of greenhouse gases and improve overall public health.

Richard Davey, the state’s transportation secretary, said the state will pursue a range of policies aimed at increasing the number of people who walk, bike, or take the train to work and at reducing the ranks of solo drivers to ease highway congestion.

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“We’re trying to get people to and from in a different way,” he said at a press conference Tuesday at South Station.

Davey said the goal is ambitious but achievable and added that he is confident that more drivers will change their habits if presented with better alternatives, from reliable train service to safer cycling and walking routes.

“If you give people a reliable ride, people will shift,” he said. Expand­ing rail service and potentially introducing congestion pricing — charging drivers to use busy roads at peak times — would reduce automobile traffic, he said.

A number of environmental and transportation advocates hailed the initiative as an important step, and a benchmark for future projects.

“Of all the state’s green policies, this is the one that really counts,” said Marc Draisen, who directs the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, a regional planning group that supports development around transportation hubs.

With a specific goal in place, the state will be able to evaluate various transportation plans based on their impact on advancing toward the goal, he said.

The initiative carries major impli­cations for economic growth and public health, and advocates had been urging state officials to adopt the goal.

Transportation officials call the objective a “mode shift” and say no other state has set a specific goal to increase the share of noncar travel. Officials did not have an estimate of how much the initiative would cost, but said they would seek funding to improve the transit system and make the roads more friendly to ­cyclists.

Officials said they want to triple the number of trips taken by transit, bike, or foot. They could not imme­diately provide an estimate of the present number of such trips.

The state transportation system’s financial woes, Davey said, calls for a systemic approach that carefully weighs costs and benefits.

“This is exactly the time to have this announcement,” he said.

Perhaps most critically, the push is seen as central to reducing heat-trapping greenhouses gases. In 2010, the Patrick administration set a goal that by 2020 emissions would be 25 percent less than 1990 levels.

Rafael Mares, staff attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, said that while improvements in ­fuel economy and emissions standards will reduce greenhouse gases, such improvements are insufficient by themselves.

“You need to also operate the transportation system more efficiently,” he said. “If you don’t ­reduce the number of vehicle miles traveled, you aren’t going to be able to reduce greenhouse gases sufficiently. And the way to change the behavior is to provide more infrastructure.”

Eric Bourassa, transportation director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, said land-use regulations must promote development near jobs and transit.

“If all of our growth is along ­[Interstate] 495, we’re not going to hit our goal,” he said.

Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.
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