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Reducing Chicago’s Carbon Footprint

With 50 percent of in-town trips made in single-occupancy automobiles, Chicagoans could do much to reduce the city’s carbon footprint by changing their own individual behavior, according to a new report.

And while city policies – including 350 miles of bikeways and 10,000 bicycle racks – have increased opportunities to convert car trips to bike trips, much more could be done to reduce transportation-related carbon emissions, said Rob Sadowsky, executive director of the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation.

CBF is one of four urban transportation groups across the country that released the Urban Transportation Report Card last week.

One goal of the report, which covers transportation policies and air quality in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle, is to spur competition with other cities when Chicago issues its emissions reduction plan later this year as part of the Clinton Climate Initiative, an international effort to reduce urban greenhouse gas emissions. “Chicago’s plans should be in line with, or better than, these other cities,” Sadowsky said.

Another goal is to move the conversation on reducing emissions beyond promoting hybrid vehicles, which reduce but don’t eliminate carbon emissions – and have environmental costs that are as high as other vehicles in manufacturing and shipping. Like other cars, hybrids also take up far more street space than mass transit, bicycling or walking, contributing to congestion that increases emissions in general.

According to the report card, 50 percent of area trips are made by single-occupancy automobile, compared to 26 percent by transit and 14 percent by car-pooling. Sadowsky said the 2000 census indicated that bike travel accounted for less than half of 1 percent of trips, but that figure represented an 80 percent increase over the previous decade. He guesses the number today would be 3 or 4 percent.

The report notes that Chicago’s new Complete Streets policy aims at making all streets safe for bicyclists and pedestrians, and the city’s Bike 2015 plan set a goal of converting 5 percent of all trips under five miles to bicycle over the next eight years.

But by focusing on moving autos quickly, the city’s traffic management department often undercuts other initiatives promoting biking and walking, Sadowsky said, and Chicago’s zoning code doesn’t do enough to promote transit-oriented development.

He said the city could reduce emissions with congestion-mitigation policies such as variable parking rates, and the state urgently needs to fix the funding formula for public transit, so the system can be expanded to address global climate change and rising gas prices.

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Category: bicycles, climate change, environment, transportation

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