How to Get People Out of Their Cars

Patrick M. Condan, The Tyee
Editor’s note: This is the fourth excerpt from Patrick Condon’s new book Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities: Design Strategies for the Post Carbon World. This series, running Wednesdays and Thursdays for four weeks, offers just a sampling of Condon’s vital guide for green planning; interested readers are encouraged to seek out the book.]

Many believe that electric cars and windmills will solve the climate change crisis, with no need for fundamental change in city form. This belief excludes an acknowledgment of the gargantuan energy and material demands consequent to such an ever more sprawling metropolitan pattern.

Prof. William Rees of UBC, co-inventor of the ecological footprint concept, maintains that we are, as a species, already in “ecological overshoot” mode. Ecological overshoot is the point at which human activities are draining down more resources from the planet than the planet can resupply.

…The conclusion is inescapable. The per capita consumption of materials and energy must be dramatically cut if we are to find a balance with the planet’s ability to supply them.

Since 80 per cent of North Americans now live in cities, it follows that the form and function of the city, along with the resource content of the food and material goods that flow into it for our use, must be substantially changed.

Given that getting from one place in the car to another is responsible for up to 40 per cent of the problem, and that walking is a zero carbon substitute, a careful look at walking seems like a good place to start.
(September 2010)
Long significant article in what looks like an informative series. Learn more about the book here. -KS

The data problem that holds back climate action and smart growth

Philip Langdon, new urban network
For years, advocates of smart growth and New Urbanism have tried to get transportation departments to put more of their money into mass transit and into street and road networks that foster community life — rather than into mainly building and maintaining highways. Some progress has been made on that front, as the Obama administration has shifted federal policy toward a smart growth perspective.

But it’s now becoming clear that the transportation establishment suffers from another distinct problem: an inability to determine whether the transportation network is producing what today’s environmentally-oriented society is calling for.

Scientists have repeatedly said we must reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. Many of those emissions come from the more than 250 million cars and trucks hurtling along the nation’s highways. Yet the transportation establishment is unable to produce truly helpful calculations about how to reach the reduced emissions goal.

David Kooris, vice president of the Regional Plan Association (RPA) in greater New York, articulated that problem in New Haven Sept. 17 when he was the key speaker in a roundtable discussion of transportation and climate change, hosted by Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Sciences.

…Conventional transportation planning has focused on “speed, distance, and throughput,” Kooris pointed out. But speed, distance, and throughput (the number of vehicles accommodated) no longer tell us everything we need to know — if they ever did. Some of the chief things that need to be emphasized today, according to Kooris, are “access, proximity, and VMT [vehicle miles traveled].” The overall number of miles driven should be cut, to help the world avert hotter and more erratic weather.

“The problem is data availability,” in Kooris’s view. “It’s difficult to get data that is reliable and that answers the questions we are now asking.”

Some things do seem to be known, of course. In Connecticut, for example, it’s been calculated that 92 percent of carbon emissions result from the combustion of fossil fuels. Approximately 40 percent of that combustion comes from the transportation sector. Greenhouse gas emissions per year in Connecticut, which have been hovering around 44 million tons in the past few years, need to be brought down enormously — to less than 10 million tons. That’s one of the reasons why cutting VMT is crucial.

If a reduction of 12 percent could be achieved through smart growth strategies such as building more compactly, at densities and in locations that support transit, walking, and bicycling, that “would be a significant part of the solution,” according to Kooris. “VMT is a big challenge. It is central to attack VMT…”
(1X September 2010)

Bicycle – The Freedom Machine

Warren McLaren, Treehugger
This post is part of series written by TreeHugger contributors about trading in your car for a bike for trips that are two miles or less in distance. The series is sponsored by the Clif 2-Mile Challenge.

Do you remember receiving your first bicycle as a child? A seminal moment for many of us. It punctuates that time in our lives when we were enveloped by a sense of unbridled freedom. We were no longer dependent on our parents to shuttle us around the place. We weren’t constrained by bus or train timetables. We could cover long distances faster and more easily than walking. Exciting new vistas and opportunities suddenly opened up before us. We knew instinctively that a bicycle was our ticket to freedom.

What happened then when we attained the dizzy heights of becoming a grown-up? Did we discard this innate wisdom, duped by the shiny, siren-like allure of the car? Did we exchange our freedom machine for a millstone around our neck? How smart are we?…
(21 September 2010)
Some of us don’t need to be convinced of the superiority of the bike over the car. Some of us live in supposedly “green” cities that have horrible provision for safely navigating your bike through traffic if you are not an experienced urban bike rider. -KS