On the official blog of the US Secretary of Transportation last week, Ray LaHood stated that driving less is the key to reducing carbon emissions, plain and simple. He gave an outline, on his blog, of what he said to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works earlier that day and this was the bottom line. However, how we get there — how to encourage people to drive less — was another key aspect of his presentation and blog post.
Dancing around the need to deter vehicle miles traveled is the sad dilemma of transportation in the US today. It is understood that cars create a large percentage of carbon emissions, but people are often afraid to say, “drive less.” Even in progressive university cities, such as Charlottesville (VA), where I worked as the executive director of a non-profit based around these issues, the overarching goal may be expressed the community and elected officals, but when it comes down to explicit, practical policies to limit driving, elected officials and even staff are often afraid to go against the public’s habit to drive.
The Transportation Secretary made a big statement by directly saying this last week: “Well there it is, for all to read: If we want to reduce transportation carbon emissions, we need to reduce the amount of driving we do.” Even the Wall Street Journal picked up the story.
The main steps he said we need to take to get to this ideal are:
1) Give communities additional transportation choices. In particular, he mentioned light rail, fuel-efficient buses, and pedestrian and bicycle paths that intersect with transit centers. Research shows that people want dedicated paths if they are to walk and bike for transportation purposes, and that connectivity to key destinations is also an important factor. The Secretary seems well aware of this.
2) Invest transportation money in coordination with housing and economic development. Ignored for years, but recognized now as a key to creating mixed-income, transit- and pedestrian-friendly communities, land use changes, transportation, and economic development need to be carefully coordinated in order to produce whole communities. Getting people to switch their transportation mode is not a single issue, it is a combination of issues.
The Secretary pointed out that fuel efficiency just won’t cut it when it comes to preventing serious climate change. “(E)ven if we were to achieve a 55 mile-per-gallon fuel efficiency standard in the coming years, carbon emission levels from transportation would still only decline modestly.”
The Secretary also pointed out that using alternative modes of transport will also “reduce household transportation costs, strengthen local economies, lower traffic congestion, and reduce reliance on foreign oil.”
The Secretary will continue his conversation with Congress regarding these goals as they develop the climate and surface transportation bills that are in Congress now.
Image credit: Surrealize via flickr under a Creative Commons license