Focusing On Fuels As Opposed To Auto Dependency

Two Bay Area 'voices' illustrate that lowering carbon content of fuel and increasing its efficiency hardly gets at the root of the transportation-global warming problem -- auto dependency, and offer three strategies to solve it.

In this commentary, Stuart Cohen and Seth Schneider of the Oakland-based Transportation & Land Use Coalition show how global warming is more than a technology challenge.

"California is leading the way to improve fuel efficiency and reduce the carbon content of our fuel."

But is that enough to reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions?

In the Bay area, "the transportation sector accounts for a staggering 50 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions -- which is even higher than California's average of 40 percent."

"If we only focus on fuel efficiency and carbon content, as California continues to grow it may add another 10-15 million clean fuel vehicles. And if we continue to use the same suburban design standards for our land use planning, each of these vehicles will demand seven parking spaces (at homes, offices, grocery stores, etc.).

Increased fuel efficiency is necessary, but not enough. We have to get to the source of the problem: our addiction to driving, which is rooted in bad land use planning and auto-oriented communities that are not conducive to walking or bicycling. Building a new coal plant locks us in to dirty energy for 60 years. Building auto-dependent sprawl communities locks us into excessive driving for the next 100 years or more.

We need to show California's regulators and elected leaders that it is possible to reduce driving by combining three strategies: fast, reliable, and affordable transit; walkable, bikable communities that are compact enough to protect our open spaces; and prices for driving and transit that really reflect their true costs, combined with education to get people to try alternatives to automobiles."

Thanks to MTC-ABAG library

Full Story: Californians Driving toward Global Warming: The Solution? Smarter Land Use.



Right, but it is tougher and easier

Stuart and Seth are right in that we need to reduce our dependency on the 20th Century automobile. Personally, I like bicycles and have bicycle commuted for work and errands over 100,000 miles. Every planner should have a copy of the March/April 2007 American bicyclist with its pictures of Bicycle Friendly Communities. Or make a favorite.

I do suspect Stuart and Seth are overestimating how much concern for the Climate Crisis causes self-sacrifice. They may also be underestimating the propensity for convenience which minimizes use of 20th Century transit. For sure they underestimate the speed at which 21st Century electronics can transform automobiles to transit.

First, consider one indicator of where Climate Crisis fits on a hierarchy of needs. Bendixen & Associates conducted a cellphone poll of 601 people ages 16 to 22 for New American Media and the University of California Office of the President. Their most pressing concerns are conflicts in their own homes (24%), violence in their neighborhood (22%), poverty (17%), global warming (14%), and anti-immigrant sentiment (7%). (From Frank Moraga’s “Some hope for the future” in VC Star 4-27-07).

Second, consider a parking oriented way for electronics to transform automobiles into transit – Easy Parking Sharing – A smart “communicating” parking meter (a GPS locator plugged into a car’s 12-volt power outlet) Bluetooth connected to a cellphone would allow people and businesses to share and sell parking spots. A city or transit agency would operate a geographic information system database of all the available parking spots and their real-time occupancy and “reserved” status. Drivers would be directed to the nearest parking spot at the price they chose. By tracking passenger cellphone movement, the system could verify carpooling, allowing for lower rates or closer spots for vehicles with high passenger miles per gallon.

Suddenly, we don’t need seven parking spots per automobile and we need to adjust our parking space requirements. Maybe we can convert some existing parking into stormwater treatment mini-forests.


Auto Dependency

To quote James Howard Kunstler:

Driving a Prius might induce raptures of eco-moral superiority, but changing the zoning laws would produce a better outcome -- and that's just too hard.

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