Monday, June 22, 2009

Smart growth and better transit could reduce VMT by 10% per capita

Washington, DC — The Center for Clean Air Policy (CCAP) released a study today concluding that comprehensive application of smart growth best practices and improved transportation choices could significantly reduce transportation emissions at a net cost savings to society. The study is released as House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar announces his outline for surface transportation authorization legislation.

Most greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction studies miss the benefits of smart growth and improved transportation choices. However, the new CCAP study shows that these policies can reduce the amount Americans need to drive — as measured in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) — by 10 percent per capita from 2005 levels. A 10 percent reduction in per capita VMT would reduce annual transportation emissions by 145 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (MMTCO2) in the year 2030, equivalent to the annual emissions of about 30 million cars or 35 large coal plants. These reductions would equal approximately 6 percent of the 2030 GHG reduction goal proposed in the American Clean Energy and Security Act.

The new study, titled “Cost-Effective GHG Reductions through Smart Growth & Improved Transportation Choices: An economic case for strategic investment of cap-and-trade revenues,” was prepared with input from Transportation for America, Smart Growth America, Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund, Rails to Trails and HDR.

Climate advocates say that addressing the transportation emissions is critical for reducing U.S. GHG emissions because nearly one third of U.S. emissions come from transportation, making it the nation’s largest end-use source of emissions. Furthermore, transportation is the fastest growing source of U.S. emissions.

“We cannot address climate change without addressing transportation emissions. Our analysis indicates that we can achieve transportation emissions reductions with significant economic benefits, yielding net cost savings per ton CO2, when factoring in avoided infrastructure costs, consumer fuel and insurance cost savings and projected tax revenue growth from high value economic development,” said Steve Winkelman, director of transportation and adaptation programs at CCAP. “These positive economic findings hold at local, regional, state and national levels.”

CCAP reviewed a number of reports and case studies about U.S. cities and states that demonstrate how making smarter land use and transportation choices reduces emissions and saves money. For example, Sacramento projects GHG savings of 7.2 MMT CO2 by 2050, while saving $9 billion in infrastructure costs and $380 million in annual consumer fuel costs, yielding a net economic benefit of almost $200 per ton of CO2 saved. Portland,Oregon’s investments in bicycle infrastructure will reduce emissions by 0.7 MMTCO2, with net economic benefits of more than $1,000 per ton CO2 saved.

At the state level, Georgia could save more than $400 billion over 30 years, while saving 18 MMTCO2 with strategic investments in transit, freight and travel demand management (e.g., four day work weeks, telecommuting, carpooling). In Atlanta, Georgia, the Atlantic Station redevelopment project is reducing residents’ need to drive by more than 30 percent, which would cut 0.6 MMTCO2 over 50 years, and generate $30 million per year in much-needed local tax revenue.

The study points out that although the price signal from a national cap-and-trade system will be sufficient to change behavior of major point sources of emissions, it will be far less effective in influencing travel demand for Americans. This study demonstrates that achieving economy-wide emissions reductions will be less costly if strategies include smart growth and improved travel choices. Therefore, CCAP recommends dedicating 10 percent of national cap-and-trade allowance value to smart growth and improved transportation choices.

Winkelman said that this investment will jump start smarter land use and transportation choices at the local, regional, and state levels while lowering economy-wide GHG mitigation costs.

“It is time to invest in our citizens, to improve their health, their quality of life, their neighborhoods and their employment opportunities — by supporting smart growth and improved transportation options,” said Winkelman. “The U.S. should seek investments that bring the greatest benefits to society, particularly during this economic downturn. This study shows that smart growth pays dividends to all citizens.”

This summer, CCAP will release a more in-depth review of the economic impacts of smart growth and improved transportation choices, called “Growing Wealthier: The Economic Benefits of Smart Growth.”

For more information on CCAP’s smart growth and transportation program, please visit:

Since 1985, CCAP has been a recognized world leader in climate and air quality policy and is the only independent, non-profit think-tank working exclusively on those issues at the local, national and international levels. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., CCAP helps policymakers around the world to develop, promote and implement innovative, market-based solutions to major climate, air quality and energy problems that balance both environmental and economic interests. For more information about CCAP, please visit

David Goldberg
Communications Director
Smart Growth America

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