Less Auto-Dependent Cities Important Key to Addressing Climate Change

Sprawling development patterns are a key contributor to global warming and an essential factor in combating it, according to the report released today in Washington, DC, by the Urban Land Institute, Smart Growth America and other organizations.

Published: 29-Sep-2007

Pennsylvania needs a more aggressive approach to global warming based on a new report that shows an alarming increase in how many miles the average person is driving, according to Brian Hill, President of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council.

Sprawling development patterns are a key contributor to global warming and an essential factor in combating it, according to the report released today in Washington, DC, by the Urban Land Institute, Smart Growth America and other organizations.

"Today's report shows that the smart-growth recommendations included in PEC's Climate Change Roadmap for Pennsylvania need to be high on our priority list to overcome global warming," said Mr. Hill, noting that Philadelphia ranks third in the nation in growing vehicle miles traveled. "The impact of smart growth is profound, not only because of the increased miles driven by so many people but also because most of those people are also spending a lot more time stuck in traffic, moving slowly if at all while the gas keeps burning. And smart growth is not just about the global environment, it's also about the livability of our communities and the economic cost with high gasoline prices," Mr. Hill said.

The landmark report warns that if sprawling development continues, the total miles that people drive will increase 59 percent between 2005 and 2030, and carbon emissions from this increased driving will overwhelm expected gains from vehicle efficiency and low-carbon fuels.

Even with those technological improvements, vehicle emissions of carbon dioxide would be 41 percent above today's levels, well over the goal of reducing CO2 emissions to 1990 levels by 2050, according to Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change.

Pennsylvanian residents are driving more than ever before, fueling increases in vehicle emissions, one of the leading sources of global warming pollution. Spread-out development or sprawl is the key factor in that rate of growth, the research team found in their report based on a comprehensive review of dozens of studies.

Annual vehicle miles traveled by all Pennsylvanians increased 51 percent from 1980 to 2005, and only part of that increase was caused by population growth. Annual VMT per driver in Pennsylvania increased 26 percent in that time period, and mileage does not consider the added impact of people stuck in slow-moving traffic.

As grim as the numbers are, Pennsylvania ranked 42nd among the 51 states and District of Columbia in increased VMT per driver.

The Philadelphia metropolitan area is one of the most problematic, ranking third among 36 metro areas in the rate of growth in vehicle miles traveled with a 51 percent increase from 1992 to 2005. This alarming growth in miles behind the wheel happened despite the slow population growth of only 2.5 percent.

Pittsburgh compared favorably with many other metro areas, ranking 27th among the 36 areas. But vehicle miles traveled increased almost 13 percent even though the population increased only 5 percent.

While demand for such smart-growth development is growing, government regulations, government spending, and transportation policies all still favor sprawling, automobile-dependent development. The ULI report recommends changes in all three areas to make green neighborhoods more available and more affordable. It also calls for including smart-growth strategies as a fundamental tenet in climate change plans at the local, state, and federal level.

"Most people are surprised to learn that the way we drive has a profound impact on Pennsylvania's rivers and streams, and the Chesapeake Bay," said Harry Campbell, Chesapeake Bay Foundation Pennsylvania Scientist. "The pollution that comes out of the tailpipe often finds its way into our waters. Global climate change not only threatens to alter Pennsylvania's environment, but our health and welfare as well. The time to address these issues, including the way land use is managed and our driving habits, is now, not tomorrow."

Mr. Hill added, "Being able to spend less time behind the wheel will benefit our health, our pocketbooks and the environment. We urge Governor Rendell and our state legislators to make smart growth a key strategy to mitigating global warming in Pennsylvania."

The ULI report found:

The study represents a collaboration among leading urban planning researchers at the University of Maryland, the University of Utah, Fehr and Peers Associates, the Center for Clean Air Policy and the Urban Land Institute. Smart Growth America coordinated the multi-disciplinary team that developed the recommended policy actions and is leading a broad coalition to develop those strategies further.

Further information is available at: http://www.pecpa.org.

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