Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Sea Change at DOT? Let's Hope it Sticks.

Something's afoot in Washington. DOT, HUD and EPA are drinking the same cool aid and the result may prove to be very good news for cities. Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood's testimony to Congress is spot on what I and other new urbanists have been saying for years - it's the land use, stupid! The big question is whether the politicians will follow suit. My fingers are crossed. Perhaps there is hope. Thanks to Josh Martin with the Coastal Conservation League for passing this article along.

Testimony of Ray LaHood, Secretary of Transportation
Congressional Hearing on Transportation's Role in Climate Change and Greenhouse Gases
July 14, 2009


Addressing VMT growth plays a key role in decreasing transportation related GHG emissions and should be included in overall efforts to prevent climate change. One way to achieve significant reductions in VMT is to develop more livable communities. The effects of reduced VMT on greenhouse gas emissions have repeatedly been demonstrated. A report aired on National Public Radio evaluated the carbon footprint of two families living in Atlanta. One family moved from a walkable, transit-served community to a car dependent one and another family moved from a car dependent area to a livable community. The greatest difference in CO2 emissions between the families was in transportation related emissions. The carbon footprint for the family that moved to a car dependent area was 40 percent higher, and transportation accounted for almost 85 percent of the difference.(Emphasis added) This report, among others, indicates the relevance of VMT to greenhouse gas emissions and indicates that we should accele! rate our efforts to identify ways to reduce VMT growth in order to meet our climate goals.

There are several steps that can be taken to spur the development of more livable communities and reduce VMT:

First, we can provide more transportation choices in more communities across the country. Single occupancy vehicles should be only one of many transportation options available to Americans to reach their destinations. Walking, bicycling, light rail and buses can be made available in more places.

Second, we can promote development of housing in close proximity to transit. In addition to reducing VMT and greenhouse gas emissions from cars driven by commuters, such planning would have the added benefits of decreasing transportation costs for families and reducing traffic congestion.

Third, we can promote mixed-use development, which incorporates residential and commercial buildings, allowing individuals the choice to walk, drive a shorter distance or easily use public transportation to reach their destination. Residents should have the option to live in an area with services and goods that are easily accessible. In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, this would also reduce travel times involved in driving to and from grocery and department stores, medical service providers or even entertainment centers such as movie theaters.

While many view community planning and multi-modal transportation as affecting only urban or larger suburban areas, there are many ways in which such provisions would benefit smaller towns and rural areas as well. A strong, well planned town center could provide smaller towns or rural communities with easy access to jobs and services in one centralized location and increase foot traffic around locally owned small businesses. These town centers will also protect open spaces and valuable farmland. Additionally, all people, whether in urban or rural areas, need access to job centers, medical services and schools. In urban settings this access might take the form of sidewalks and bike lanes. In rural areas, it might look more like intercity rail and bus service. But, especially as populations age, non-driving access to essential services is increasingly central to making towns more livable for 21st century populations. This poses a particular challenge for rural areas.

All of these factors will be critical elements of our livability initiative. Our work will not be easy, but it offers great promise for improving the lives of all Americans and reducing our use of energy and greenhouse gas emissions. The Department of Transportation and other agencies are already working closely to determine the best means to support sustainable, livable communities.

On June 16, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, and I announced a new partnership to help American families in all communities - rural, suburban and urban - develop sustainable communities. Over the course of our collective work, we have defined six guiding principles. We are committed to

• providing more transportation choices,
• promoting equitable, affordable housing,
• enhancing economic competitiveness,
• supporting existing communities,
• coordinating policies and leverage investment, and
• valuing the uniqueness of communities and neighborhoods.

These principles will guide the interagency working group as we continue our efforts.

As we consider surface transportation reauthorization -- both in the short and longer-term -- the Department will prioritize creating a livability program that measurably works to reduce VMT, greenhouse gas emissions, and also provide added economic benefits to Americans in all geographic locations. Multi-modal transportation combined with mixed-use development and smart community planning are important issues to address when we consider transportation’s role in climate change. Combined with more efficient vehicles and cleaner burning fuels, these strategies will be important to reaching our GHG reduction goals. They will also reduce our reliance on foreign oil

The Senate now has the opportunity, for the first time, to create a system of clean energy incentives designed to jumpstart a clean energy economy and confront the threat of carbon pollution. As the President has said, it is important that we accomplish these goals while protecting consumers, and helping sensitive industries transition. I have outlined in my testimony today some of the ways in which the Department of Transportation can contribute to this effort. We would be particularly pleased if the final legislation gave the Department better tools to integrate climate change considerations into the transportation planning, financing, and implementation process and to facilitate system improvements. Failing to recognize the connection between transportation and climate change will likely jeopardize our ability to achieve our GHG reduction goals."


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