Tag Archives: Smart Growth

New USDOT Report Identifies Win-Win Transportation Emission Reduction Strategies

Considering my recent uptick in searches related to Todd Litman, win-win emission reduction strategies and federal implementation of New Urbanism, some of you may have already heard about this.  Nonetheless, here is Todd Litman’s latest Planetizen article on the US Department of Transportation‘s Earth Day release of their report, Transportation’s Role in Reducing US Greenhouse Gas Emissions.  This shows a shift in policy away from simply advocating the creation and buying of more energy-efficient vehicles, since this has little long-term effect on emissions and none on other problems such as congestion, accidents, and sedentary living.  This report evaluated the net costs of implementing different transportation strategies, and found the following to be most effective:

Not only do these save money in reducing carbon emissions, but they also reduce congestion, parking costs, consumer costs, accidents, energy costs, and sprawl, while improving public health and mobility for non-drivers.  Litman says that the savings estimates may be conservative, because the study relied on out-dated data about how much can be saved by vehicle reductions and the benefits of pay-as-you-drive insurance.  Even with these conservative estimates though, it is exciting to see the federal government recognizing the importance of transportation and planning policy in reaching other goals.

Win-Win Transportation Emission Reduction Strategies: Good News for Copenhagen

First of all, I must apologize.  It has been over a month since I’ve written.  I have started a new semester, finished five graduate school applications, and have gone through an unusually busy time at work, but mostly, I wanted to be able to give this story due diligence.  I’ll probably have some stories backed up to work on and hopefully will get back to my normal writing schedule soon.

This story from Todd Litman of Planetizen is a doozie of a story on transportation policy.  It took me forever to read it because I wanted to read all the links from his page, some of which I will copy but many you will have to go to his page to see.  In light of the climate conference at Copenhagen in December, Litman comments on how transportation policy can be changed to help reduce carbon emissions, congestion, sprawl, and a number of other social ills, while contributing to economic growth.  He calls these “Win-Win transportation emission reduction strategies.”  He lists a number of strategies, as well as how much they could potentially reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT):

  • Pay-As-You-Drive insurance and registration fees (8-10%): This would mean changing the insurance industry so that people would pay insurance based on the distance they drive (since people who drive more are more likely to be in a car accident) rather than a flat monthly fee regardless of how much you drive.  This would encourage people to drive less, switch to more efficient modes, and would make it easier for low-income individuals to afford car insurance.
  • Efficient parking pricing and cash out (6-10%): This involves making most parking pay parking instead of free.  It would make places where parking is in greater demand higher priced while making less-desirable parking cheaper.  This would reduce traffic generated by people circling a block trying to find a parking spot, and would spread out parking in a more efficient way so that existing parking could be maximized.  It would also encourage people to switch to different transportation modes in an effort to not pay for parking.
  • Efficient road pricing (3-6%): This relates to a number of strategies, but two of the major ones are toll roads and congestion pricing.  Toll roads would require users to pay a fee to drive on the road, so that the road could be maintained by user fees and not paid for by the taxes of people who may or may not actually use the road.  Congestion pricing requires people to pay a fee to drive in congested areas.  This was pioneered in London‘s downtown, and has had great effects as far as reducing automobile congestion.  Toll roads may encourage sprawl to a degree in that they make exurban growth possible like any freeway, but both of these strategies limit the number of cars on the road, encourage ride sharing and transit, and can encourage other modes of travel.
  • Mobility management programs (4-8%): This is essentially a plan and a set of goals that coordinates the other strategies listed here.  It includes creating a document and staff that are concerned with implementing these strategies and tracking their performance.
  • Transit and ridesharing priority (3-9%): This strategy involves creating High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) and HOT (HOV lanes that allow single-occupancy vehicles for a toll) lanes.  These can create an incentive to carpool or to take transit, especially if they have their own separated right-of-way or on- and off-ramps for added convenience.  They can, however, encourage sprawl, much like toll roads.
  • Walking and cycling improvements (2-6%): This involves either creating new pathways for bikes and pedestrians or making existing facilities more attractive and safe.  This, obviously, could encourage some people to walk or bike instead of driving, but it could also encourage people to drive less and walk part of their trips instead of driving all the way.  It also reduces congestion and is generally favorable from an economic perspective.
  • Smart growth planning reforms (4-12%): This is in many ways related to previous strategies, but the main thing that it implies is mixing uses and creating transportation networks with greater connectivity for all modes.  This would encourage people to use alternative modes to reach work or retail services, since they would be closer together, or at least allow them to take shorter trips.  Smart growth communities are selling at a premium and are a great economic investment.
  • Freight transport management (0.5-2%): Although this strategy only focuses on a small population, trucks have a considerable impact on their environment, not just in emissions, but in congestion due to their large size.  The strategies listed here include better coordination between water, rail and truck transport, and introducing other types of freight delivery such as bicycle freight for intra-city deliveries.
  • Carsharing (1-2%): This is a fairly new technique where a government, neighborhood or company can buy a fleet of cars, position them strategically in an area, and charge an hourly and by-mile fee to use them.  This eliminates the need for an individual to own a car, but makes it so that one will be available when other modes won’t get the job done.  Zipcar is at the forefront of this movement in the US.  This does a great job of getting cars off the road, but so far it has mostly been employed in urban areas and used by people who didn’t drive much to start with.
  • Tax shifting (5-15%): This strategy could be the one that makes the biggest impact.  It would involve charging fuel producers a fee based on the carbon content of their fuel.  Strategies like this have been used in Germany and Japan and have had an enormous impact on the fuel efficiency of cars and on the higher use of other transport modes in those countries.  It seems to work better than trying to create incentives to have better mileage.  It could encourage producers to make cleaner products, car companies to make better cars, and individuals to switch to transit, biking or walking, thus reducing congestion, emissions, accidents, and a number of other ills.

Litman comments on how contemporary planning processes are not coordinated.  A number of different organizations work on a number of different goals which often compete.  These organizations need to synchronize their work so that these greater goals can be accomplished without stepping on anyone’s toes.

The prices to consumers for the current way we develop are high.  Right now, anyone who pays taxes is funding road and parking projects that they may never use, often at the expense of other travel modes.  Many of Litman’s proposed strategies would shift costs to users rather than to society.  Also, with added revenues, improvements could be made to other types of infrastructure that could encourage environmental goals.

Litman also shows how these policies would aid economic development.  American communities generally have a greater GDP per capita when they also have better transit options.  On the contrary, GDP per capita goes down as car mileage goes up.  Increased efficiency would lead to increased productivity, decreased emissions, and a number of other benefits.

Automobility and Freedom: Conflicts and Resolutions

In this article, Todd Litman discusses how freedom is often associated with cars.  Opponents to smart growth often argue on the grounds that restricting car use and where people live restricts freedom.  He quotes P.J. O’Rourke on a rant about how trains are nothing more than a way for the government to control our lives.  Litman argues that this view is immature and selfish, and that true freedom includes elements of responsibility.  Cars restrict our freedom through being expensive, altering land use patterns to remove other travel options, being limited to those old enough or wealthy enough to drive, creating greater risks to non-drivers, and massive public subsidies.  The true measure of car-based freedom should be determined on whether or not its positives outweigh these negatives.  He also questions, how much of our driving is voluntary and how much of it is mandated by the way our cities are built?  Would some drivers choose to walk, bike or take transit if these options were as convenient, attractive and affordable as car travel?  “A transportation system maximizes freedom by offering a diverse range of mobility and location options, so people can choose the combination that best meets their needs,” he says.  Car-dependent transportation is sneaky about taking away freedom.  Sure, you can walk places, but the fact that everything is built for the car makes other modes less safe, timely and accessible, as well as taking needed funds from other systems.  “Economic theory can help guide this analysis,” he says.  “It indicates that, in general, an efficient and equitable transportation system must reflect the following principles:

  • “Consumer options (also called consumer sovereignty), which means that consumers have viable transportation and location options to choose from.
  • Cost-based pricing, which means that the prices of goods and services (including the costs of using roads, parking facilities and fuel) reflect the full marginal cost of providing them unless a subsidy is specifically justified.
  • “Neutral public policies, which means that planning, funding and tax policies do not arbitrarily favor one transport mode, location or group over others.”

In many ways, our contemporary transportation systems don’t reflect these facts.  We need to build transportation that is more intelligent, equitable, and free.

Stewart Schwartz: “Smart growth” saves taxpayer money

Stewart Schwartz brings us this article in which he argues that smart growth and New Urbanism are inherently conservative.  Traditional sprawl has created massive infrastructure costs, and the remedy proposed by Republicans was to create areas of concentrated development similar to pre-WWII towns and suburbs.  These areas should have more walkable, safer streets with more accessible services.  Family budgets have been hurt by the extra funds needed to live a car-dependent lifestyle.  “After housing, transportation is the second highest cost in family budgets — $9,369 per year to own a car driven 15,000 miles per year according to AAA,” says Schwartz.  The free market is turning away from the suburban model and back to cities, towns, and even inner-ring suburbs.  He says that, in addition to wasteful infrastructure spending, we are wasting money on energy.  “Because we have grown so inefficiently, our 5 percent share of the world’s population consumes 25 percent of the world’s oil with 70 percent going to transportation. Over 60 percent is imported.  We have some oil here at home, but it is a limited and long-term strategic resource. Smart growth policies would allow us to use less oil, and instead of sending our dollars overseas, we would save more, invest more, and be more competitive.”  New Urbanism is an issue that should be important to both sides of the aisle, and conservatives need to realize that this change would support their policies more than the status quo.

When the real estate market recovers, smart growth will claim a larger share. Here’s why.

Kaid Benfield of NRDC brings us this article on the changes in the real estate market that show positive indicators for smart growth, transit-oriented development and New Urbanism.  The shift from sprawl domination to some level of urbanity was already beginning before the recession, and that along with rampant foreclosures and rising gas prices could very easily continue the trend, hopefully to the point where sprawl doesn’t come back as the dominant building form.  There are more foreclosures in suburbs than in cities, and city property values have declined less and in some cases even increased during the recession.  Central cities and inner-ring suburbs are experiencing a building boom, and urban schools are seeing greater enrollment.  At the same time, suburban locations have seen a drop in their share of building permits being granted.  Surveys show that the majority of people want offices and shops near their homes, don’t want greenfield development, want to redevelop old areas, want to live in communities where they can walk more and drive less, and want more public transportation.  Only 25% of Americans want single-family homes on large lots (bigger than 1/6 acre).  Benfield argues, as many have, that a large part of this is due to demographic shifts.  We are no longer a nation of traditional families.  People are having fewer children, they are taking longer to have them (if they do), and they are living longer after they leave the house than previous generations.  People without children care less about big backyards and privacy than they do about having things to do and opportunities that don’t require a car.  We need to plan for singles and non-nuclear families as well as traditional ones.

‘Incentivization,’ smart growth – Part 3: Growing up smart in Portland

Alan Kandel brings us this article on how Portland has redeveloped because of and become a national leader in transit.  After briefly defining smart growth, Kandel goes on to describe how Portland is working to reach the goals of smart growth using transit-oriented development.  He writes: “Portland Streetcar CEO Rick Gustafson, in ‘Street Smart’ was quoted as having said streetcars ‘”create the right decision-making environment,” for policy and investments that will support compact, walkable, high-density, sustainable development,’ wrote Poticha and Ohland.”  And so it has.  $2.3 billion has been invested within 2 blocks of the streetcar line, including 7248 housing units and 4.6 million square feet of office and commercial space.  And because this is all TOD, parking ratios have actually gone down.  Again, from Kandel:

From the section of “Urban Idyll” subtitled: “’Lessons Learned in Portland,”* listed are five topics of discussion and from the “Reduced parking” topic is this:

“As a result, developers are able to construct mixed-use projects with lower parking ratios than are found elsewhere in the city. Reducing the amount of parking that a developer must build makes a building more financially feasible. Now, with a full understanding of the role that the streetcar can play in affecting the urban environment and market confidence in urban living, developers have begun construction on larger, higher-risk projects in the South Waterfront.”

Reducing parking isn’t only good for developers, it’s also good for the city.  Free parking is maintained at the city’s expense, and it is a huge expense that is often not entirely covered by paid parking, if at all.  Imagine if cities provided free gas for everyone who visited the city, because they were under some mistaken impression that restricting gas use or charging for it would hurt the city economically.  And even with these restrictions, it is still very easy to find parking in Portland, from my experience.  I don’t think car users really have anything to complain about because of TOD in Portland.  It’s good for transit users because it allows them to live and travel without a car.  It’s good for drivers because it gets a lot of people off the road.  It’s good for the city because it lowers their maintenance costs.  It’s good for the environment because it lowers carbon emissions.  It’s good for everyone.