The Coming Debate On Reducing 'Vehicle Miles Traveled'

<p>The Wall Street Journal's "Eyes on the Road" columnist, Joseph B. White, ponders the "next big debate over the role of the automobile in America" now that fuel efficiency was raised, and the direction he points to is most surprising.</p>
February 11, 2008, 9am PST | Irvin Dawid
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Now that the landmark federal energy legislation increasing fuel economy to 35 MPG is law, Joseph B. White, the WSJ columnist who writes the Online Journal's "Eyes On Road" every Monday, concludes that the next "next phase of the energy/climate change debate over cars will force us to learn another piece of technical jargon: VMT, or vehicle miles traveled."

White clearly understands the 'transportation - land use connection', explaining how America's sprawling growth patterns account for enormous disparities between population and VMT growth:

"From 1977 to 2001, the number of miles driven every year by Americans rose by 151% -- about five times faster than the growth in population..."

But he notes that auto-dependency goes beyond land use reasons.

"Meanwhile, the bulk of the money spent on transportation infrastructure was directed to building more and bigger highways. We could have subsidized bullet trains and more light rail systems, but we didn't.

Now, many of the environmentalists, politicians and scientists who made the case for boosting vehicle fuel efficiency are turning their attention to the problem of how much we drive -- and the legacy of 20th century land use and transportation choices."

The growth in VMT will overcome the technological benefits in fuel economy, so "carbon dioxide emissions could grow by as much as 41%, according to a report titled "Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change," published by the Urban Land Institute."

"The Natural Resources Defense Council, and other environmental groups, fresh from their victory in the fuel-efficiency debate, are turning their attention to issues such as reforming land use rules to promote denser development and concentrating more public spending on better mass transit systems for metro areas, Deron Lovaas, an NRDC transportation researcher, says."

Even the Energy Dept. has gotten into the act, White notes, as they have commission the "National Academy of Sciences to study how travel behavior will change as people live in communities that are designed to have different services closer to their homes, and more homes closer together."

Thanks to Ron McLinden

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Published on Tuesday, February 5, 2008 in The Wall Street Journal
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