ULI Study Says U.S. Can Cut Vehicle Carbon Emissions in Half by 2050; Raising Price of Driving Is Key To Reducing GHG Emissions

July 30, 2009 at 7:04 pm
(Source: Environmental Leader, Hybrid Cars, CitiesGoGreen)
The importance of sustainable land development in mitigating climate change is highlighted in a comprehensive new research report, Moving Cooler: An Analysis of Transportation Strategies for Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions published by the Urban Land Institute.

The report evaluates incremental reductions in U.S. carbon emissions that could occur within the transportation sector as a result of a variety of transportation- and land use-related actions and strategies to minimize auto use. The report finds that land use strategies will produce the most emission reductions of all 50 strategies analyzed by the report.

Focusing solely on energy-efficient vehicles and cleaner fuels will not address the problem of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, according to this recent report. A key finding indicates that the U.S. could cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by as much as 24 percent by 2050, without road pricing strategies, through changes to current transportation systems and operations, travel behavior, land use patterns and regulatory strategies.

With pricing measures such as pay-as-you-go drive insurance, direct fees for vehicle miles traveled, carbon pricing or increased gasoline tax, GHG emissions reductions could be as high as 41 to 52 percent.

The research, prepared by Cambridge Systematics, Inc., focuses on strategies to reduce vehicle miles traveled and improve the efficiency of the transportation network. Land use is one of nine categories of strategies considered by Moving Cooler, along with transportation pricing and taxes, public transportation improvements, non-motorized transport such as walking and biking, regulations to moderate vehicle use and speed, intelligent systems, expanded highway capacity and more efficient freight movement. The effectiveness of each strategy in cutting greenhouse gas emissions is measured against a baseline that represents current trends.

Moving Cooler outlines a number of bundled strategies for discouraging travel in personal vehicles:

  • create more transportation -efficient land use patterns
  • encourage greater levels of walking and bicycling as alternatives to driving
  • support ride-sharing, car-sharing, and other efficient commuting strategies
  • subsidize public transportation fares, expanded routes and new infrastructure
  • improve intelligent transportation systems to make better use of the existing capacity and encourage more efficient driving
  • expand capacity and relieve bottlenecks to reduce congestion

But none of these steps will be as effective as establishing “strong economy-wide pricing measures.” For example, adding $0.60 to the price of a gallon of gasoline, starting in 2015 and increasing to $1.25 per gallon in 2050 could result in a 17 percent reduction of GHG in 2050, according to the study. If we introduced a fee similar to current European fuel taxes, starting at $2.40 a gallon in 2015 and jumping to $5.00 a gallon in 2050, we could see a 28 percent reduction in 2050. (These fees presumably would be added to the market price for gasoline.)

Moving Cooler points out that economy-wide pricing measures — such as an increase in the gasoline tax, carbon pricing, and pay-as-you-drive insurance – would produce the most significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, due to the likelihood of substantial shifts in driving behavior mandated by the high costs. However, outside of these pricing measures, the land use strategies produce the most emission reductions of any of the other strategies analyzed. Moreover, the costs of implementing such changes in development patterns are offset by the substantial savings in the cost of vehicle ownership and maintenance, the report adds.

The study’s authors say these pricing measures would have two effects: to cut back on vehicle miles traveled and to accelerate implementation and purchase of fuel-efficient vehicles—like hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric cars.

Moving Cooler cites multiple benefits derived from combining concentrated, mixed-use land development strategies and non-motorized transportation strategies to reduce auto dependency: “The combined effect of more compact land use, improved transit service and improved bicycle and pedestrian conditions would be to improve mobility by non-automobile modes…Increased opportunities for walking and biking will lead to improvements in public health, and exercise and activity levels increase. Finally, denser development can lead to energy and greenhouse gas savings through decreased building use, in addition to transportation efficiencies.”

Click here to read the Executive Summary or here to download the the entire report in PDF.