Recent Reports Highlight Transportation and the Environment

I’ve written a fair amount over the last year or so about the intersection of transportation and the environment in public policy, about Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth, about Climate Change and Transportation and about Green Transportation. Several new reports on related issues have come across my desk in recent weeks. Here’s a rundown.

  • The Pew Center on Global Climate Change released a report last week illustrating how greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector can be cut drastically by 2050 using existing and emerging technologies. The report demonstrates that a combination of strategies will be necessary to see major reductions in emissions from transportation. Those strategies include improving vehicle efficiency, increasing the use of less carbon-intensive fuels, changing travel behavior and improving operational efficiencies. Greenhouse gas emissions from transportation currently account for 27 percent of all GHG emissions from the U.S. economy and 30 percent of the world’s emissions.
  • One strategy some believe may get folks out of their emission-producing cars is investing in new bicycle infrastructure. Now a new report from the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst says that could make good economic sense too. Researchers used data provided by the city of Baltimore that showed on-street bike lanes and pedestrian measures created more direct jobs, more indirect jobs and more induced jobs per dollar than either road upgrades or road resurfacing. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood touted the study on his official blog last week and pointed out that a recent survey released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated widespread public support for street design activities that increase physical activity. “Putting the two studies together creates a powerful argument for continuing the Department of Transportation’s support for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure projects,” the Secretary writes. “Even as these investments increase mobility, they also generate economic growth. And people are demanding them for their communities.”
  • One thing holding back efforts to decrease the number of cars on the road is the availability of lots of free or cheap parking. Under-priced street parking helps contribute to urban congestion and gives travelers less incentive to seek out alternative forms of transportation. But parking infrastructure may also be exacting another toll on the environment. A team of researchers from the University of California at Berkeley write in a recent issue of Environmental Research Letters that: “The environmental effects of parking are not just from encouraging the use of the automobile over public transit or walking and biking (thus favoring the often more energy-intensive and polluting mode), but also from the material and process requirements in direct, indirect and supply chain activities related to building and maintaining the infrastructure.” The researchers estimate that the United States has roughly 800 million parking spaces and when parking spots are taken into account, an average car’s per-mile carbon emissions go up as much as 10 percent.