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Report: Sprawl and Global Warming

Urban development patterns — and public policies that contribute to sprawl — are fueling increases in automobile use that will offset any emissions reductions achieved with new “green” technologies, according to a new report.

In the Chicago region, annual miles traveled per driver grew by 34 percent between 1980 and 2005, in a pattern replicated across the nation, according to “Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change,” a new report from the Urban Land Institute and Smart Growth America.

Per capita vehicle miles traveled, or VMTs, are rising so fast — because sprawl forces people to drive whenever they want to go anywhere, and increases the distances that must be driven — they will more than offset any emissions reductions gained by more efficient vehicles and cleaner fuels, according to the report.

Even with the most stringent fuel-efficiency standards now under consideration, emissions would be 40 percent above 1990 levels in 2030 if development patterns keep VMTs rising at current rates.

The report’s focus on VMTs provides a crucial connection between global warming and “land use patterns that keep us committed to our cars,” said Michael Davidson, manager of the Chicago-area Campaign for Sensible Growth. He said development policies should aim at reducing the need to drive.

“We can implement policies that reduce vehicle miles traveled — and reduce congestion, and improve air quality and quality of life,” he said.

“People want more options for transportation and for housing,” including housing in compact, walkable communities that are accessible to transportation, jobs and services, he said.

“Growing Cooler” calls for changes in a range of government policies that now favor sprawling, auto-dependant development, and for including smart-growth strategies in forthcoming climate change legislation.

Davidson said long-term stable funding for the RTA is a “perfect example” of policies needed to reduce congestion and emissions. “If we don’t have a great transit system with dedicated funding, we’re going to have more people spending more and more time on our roads,” he said.

Good Jobs First, which also touted the new report, has criticized economic development programs in Illinois that subsidize sprawl instead of promoting investment in urban areas that are served by transit.

For more: Michael Davidson, Campaign for Sensible Growth, 312-863-6009

Jeff McCourt, Good Jobs First-Illinois, 312-332-1480

See also: Newstips 8-22-07: Reducing Chicago’s Carbon Footprint

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Category: global warming, sprawl

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