Report recommends cutting urban sprawl
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We drive too much -- to work, to soccer practice, to the mall -- according to a new report that says a national move toward less sprawling, more compact residential and commercial development is needed to reduce our miles behind the wheel and blunt global warming.
The report by the Urban Land Institute, Smart Growth America and other national and state organizations warns that total vehicle miles driven in the United States are on track to increase 59 percent by 2030, and the exhaust from all those vehicles driven all those millions of extra miles will overwhelm expected emissions reductions produced by more efficient, cleaner-running cars and trucks.
Since 1980, the number of vehicle miles traveled in the United States has increased at three times the rate of the population, the report says, primarily because of the vehicle-oriented way communities and commercial areas are designed and built.
The report projects that even with expected increases in miles per gallon produced by more efficient engines, vehicle emissions of carbon dioxide in 2030 will be 41 percent higher than they are today, far from the goal of reducing vehicle emissions to 1990 levels by that date.
Vehicle emissions account for about one-third of the nation's greenhouse gases that fuel global warming.
"We can no longer ignore vehicle miles traveled and the land use that drives it," said Steve Winkelman, director of the transportation program at the Center for Clean Air Policy and one of the authors of the report, "Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change."
Pennsylvania residents are driving more than ever before -- 108 trillion miles in 2005, up 50 percent since 1980.
The report released yesterday in Washington, D.C., recommends adoption of national growth and development strategies to curb vehicle emissions, with a focus on "compact development" areas.
Such developments are close to the urban core instead of in outlying suburban or recently rural areas, and are denser than the big lots found in many sprawling suburban tract developments.
The report estimates that a compact development strategy would reduce vehicle miles traveled by 12 percent to 18 percent by 2050, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions from mobile sources 7 percent to 10 percent.
Compact development also could save billions of dollars annually in fuel costs.
"Living in a compact development is as good as driving a hybrid," Mr. Winkelman said. "A walk to the coffee shop or to soccer practice can make you as proud as a bright shiny new Prius."
Although such a change would be a major shift from the sprawl that has dominated most urban and suburban development in the last half century, there are indications that a sizable segment of the public is ready to go in that direction, said Keith Bartholomew, an assistant professor of urban planning at the University of Utah and an author of the report.
Mr. Winkelman said those changing lifestyle trends will drive the market to build more compact developments in more urban areas.
First Published September 21, 2007 12:00 am