New Urban Land Institute Study

Behavioral Changes in Travel Backed To Achieve Needed CO2 Emission Cuts

A new Urban Land Institute report on Americans’ traveling behavior concludes that cleaner cars and cleaner fuels alone can’t reduce carbon emissions unless Americans drive fewer miles at slower speeds, avoid gas-burning traffic jams, and reduce their number of trips.

It’s all part of the prescription being put forward by a new ULI report linking carbon emission trends and excessive climate change to a growing population.

More fuel efficient cars and cleaner fuels alone simply won’t be sufficient, the ULI report says. Instead, it points to a need for those fundamental shifts in traveling patterns and behavior. And the best way to achieve those changes is likely to involve building more new homes near work and stores; easing the way for more bicycling; and boosting the price of gas for all drivers and raising insurance premiums for those driving beyond specified amounts.

Moving Cooler: An Analysis of Transportation Strategies for Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions, the new 85-page book, written for ULI by the independent firm of Cambridge Systematics, Inc., is a self-proclaimed “cutting edge” report that says projected population increases pretty much rule out more casual strategies.


Sponsors of Moving Cooler
American Public Transportation Association
Environmental Defense Fund
Federal Highway Administration
Federal Transit Administration
Intelligent Transportation Society of America
Kresge Foundation
Natural Resources Defense Council
Rockefeller Brothers Fund
Rockefeller Foundation
Shell
Surdna Foundation
Urban Land Institute
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The 85-page book, available for $24 at http://movingcooler.info is the product of a public-private consortium including the Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Shell Oil, the American Public Transportation Association, and several others (see sidebar).

The report’s sponsors say these kinds of travel behavioral changes have not gotten the amount or kind of attention and scientific analysis they deserve.

They say better technology and better fuels aren’t enough if America is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by significant percentages over the next 40 years.

NRDC organized the effort to publish this report, gathering nonprofit, corporate, and government sponsors to get it going and assembling independent data.

“A couple of years ago, I got tired of colleagues doing studies calling me up because I’m one of the people who focus on the third factor – the travel behavior,” said Deron Lovaas, NRDC federal transportation director. Lovaas pushed for the report and sought partner organizations to work on it together, he said.

“I got one too many calls from colleagues asking me what was my educated guess of what could be achieved from [changing] travel activities,” he said. “The travel activity question had required an educated guess. So basically it became very clear to me that there was a chasm.”

Rob Padgette, director of policy and research for the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) and a member of the steering committee for Moving Cooler, said the ideas the report puts forward, while not original, had not previously been considered as they are in the new report.

Moving Cooler, Padgette said, newly assesses how many vehicle miles traveled – known in air quality circles as “VMTs” – people will travel based on population projections. It also lays out the problem and potential solutions to how many miles Americans drive now, but it avoids suggesting how laws, regulations, and funding might address them.

“The goal of this report was to understand the range of effects,” Padgette said. “We very specifically told the group not to consider the political feasibility. We wanted them to think bigger than that.”

Some of the strategies Moving Cooler outlines to improve public transportation would be very costly, he said. APTA supports assigning 10 percent of revenues from whatever federal climate change legislation eventually may pass to fund buses and subways. Cities and states now fund most of that transportation. Cities can’t increase service and attract more people to use it without lower fares, discounted passes, and more buses and trains, he said.

Increased use of public transit in many communities in 2008, boosted by record-high fuel prices, showed many public transit systems unable to deal with a large increase in riders. Phoenix, for instance, saw a temporary ridership increase of 11.5 percent, and public transit use in San Diego and San Antonio increased 10 percent each.

Moving Cooler opens by citing some key statistics:

  • the U.S. transportation sector is the second largest source of U.S. GHG emissions, accounting for 28 percent;
  • the United States’ transportation emissions make up one-third of the world’s transportation emissions;
  • cars, pickup trucks, sport-utility vehicles and minivans taken together represent more than 59 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in this country; and
  • the key to controlling greenhouse gas emissions is, first, the “activity level” of a vehicle, or how many miles each vehicle travels.

The Cambridge Systematics authors next sketch a baseline of carbon emissions drawn from current emissions data and projected technology improvements of cars and trucks. They argue that without reducing vehicle miles traveled, the baseline will not change.

Moving Cooler is no pep talk for people to take their bicycles out of storage and venture into the car lanes of exurbia. Rather, it suggests that America needs dramatic changes. The most effective changes, the report says, are to make fuel more expensive, raise fuel taxes, and require pay-as-you-drive insurance.

The report outlines how American municipalities could regulate the building of new housing between 2015 and 2050. It advocates that residents of denser housing developments use biking and walking trails to link to their houses and apartments.

“Together, the higher density and non-motorized strategies would result in a cumulative reduction in carbon emissions (from the 2005 level) of between 6 percent to 9 percent by 2050, with the most impact on an annual basis occurring closer to 2050,” the report sponsors said in a release.

Christine Woodside

Christine Woodside is a freelance writer living in Deep River, Connecticut. She is a regular contributor to The Yale Forum. (E-mail: christine@yaleclimatemediaforum.org, Twitter: @chriswoodside)
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