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The Three-Legged Stool To Reduce Transportation Emissions


Posted by David J. Petersen. Cross-posted from the Sustainability Law Blog.

According to the Urban Land Institute and Smart Growth America, transportation-based carbon emissions are a three-legged stool: vehicle fuel efficiency, the carbon content of the fuel itself, and the number of miles driven.

Most efforts to reduce transportation emissions have focused on fuel efficiency. Lower-carbon fuels such as biofuels are also rapidly becoming part of our fuel supply. However, not much attention has been given to reducing the third leg – miles traveled.

How do we reduce miles traveled? The classic approach is to improve public transit, but that is a long-term and expensive solution, and there is a limit to the number of travelers who will take public transit no matter how available it is. A more novel approach is to consider how land use planning impacts transportation. This means containing sprawl, of course, but it also means planning uses and zones in ways that mimic people’s driving habits so as to reduce the miles necessary to complete vehicle trips. For example, placing more small-scale commercial centers in residential neighborhoods, rather than forcing everyone to shop at big box stores miles away, will reduce vehicle trips and the drivers won’t even realize its happening.

This isn’t just theoretical; the land use advocacy group 1000 Friends of Oregon is leading efforts to set goals and adopt policies for land use planning in Oregon to implement these principles. You can read more in the Oregonian’s editorial here.

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