7 Steps to Phase Out Carbon Emissions From American Transportation

Here in Sonoma County, 65 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation. That is why the ECO2school program focuses on changing students’ transportation habits.

Angie Schmitt with Streetsblog USA highlights seven easy actions we all can take now to cut down the miles we drive and to reduce our carbon footprints.Frontier-Group-Figure-1-New-Way-Foward

1. Walkable Development: We have to build more walkable places where people don’t have to hop in a car for every trip. People living in compact neighborhoods drive 20 to 40 percent less than people living in spread out areas. If 60 to 90 percent of new construction between now and 2050 is walkable development with good transit connections, it could reduce total GHG emissions from transportation 9 to 15 percent.

To accomplish that, Frontier says big coastal cities like New York and San Francisco need to “build up” and make room for more people. Meanwhile, sprawling places like Atlanta and Houston need to seize opportunities to redevelop existing space — parking lots or closed malls, for example — in a compact form.

2. Pricing Roads: Pricing parking alone could reduce total vehicle miles traveled by up to 3 percent. A blanket vehicle miles traveled tax, meanwhile, could reduce mileage by 10 to 12 percent. Congestion pricing, which puts a higher price on road use where and when traffic is most intense, is another avenue to cut mileage. London’s congestion pricing system, which only covers the central city, has helped reduce driving 10 percent even as the population has grown, Frontier reports.
3. Safe Routes for Walking and Biking: Shifting trips to bicycling can reduce GHG emissions by as much as 11 percent by 2050, according to the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. In order to promote such a big change in behavior we have to reallocate street space for transit, walking and biking. Providing safe routes is the key to getting more people to bike, says Frontier reports.

4. Better Transit: Investing in reliable, convenient transit service will not only shift travel to a more efficient mode, it also feeds into a “virtuous cycle” of more walkable development and less car dependence.

The rest of the reduction in transportation emissions would come from changing the types of cars we drive and how we use them. Frontier Group focuses on three key changes that could reduce the energy consumption of passenger vehicles (not freight trucks) by 90 percent:

5. Electric Vehicles: Replacing internal combustion engines with battery-powered electric cars could yield big emissions reductions. Electric cars can of course be powered with renewable energy, and unlike internal combustion engines, they don’t lose most of the energy they produce to heat and friction. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that if just over half of the vehicles on the road in 2050 are electric, GHG emissions from transportation would be reduced 52 to 60 percent.

6. Self-Driving Cars: Autonomous vehicles could be designed to be much lighter, and therefore much more efficient. They may also facilitate more trip sharing. Which brings up the final step…

7. Sharing Car Trips: Households that switch from driving their own cars to ride-hailing and other shared-mobility options could reduce their transportation GHG emissions 51 percent, according to research published last year by T. Donna Chen and Kara M. Kockelman. A 2015 study by Peter Viechinicki estimated that as many of 19 million Americans would switch from private cars to ride-hailing if barriers were eliminated.

7 Steps to Phase Out Carbon Emissions From American Transportation, StreetsBlog. Open Plans 25 May 2016. Web. 25 May 2016


2 replies
  1. Chris
    Chris says:

    These aren’t sequential “steps”; each improvement can be independent, but to prioritize, the biggest, most immediate effects can come from #3:
    Bikes are vastly more efficient than cars to start with. Even with a useful range of battery power, an electric bike or trike can weigh less than the person it carries. –Better than cars by orders of magnitude. (To feel this difference, just try pushing a car for a few minutes! –if you can.) For wind resistance, the bike presents a much smaller profile and therefore lower drag –and air drag takes most of the energy in high speed travel. A smooth plastic bubble protecting the bike rider will boost efficiency much more. If you need to double your speed, (from the 35 MPH top residential road speed to 70 MPH common for freeways) it costs you 4 times the power, no matter what you drive. -That’s just physics. Break-neck speed is best in trains, and that’s where an electric bike excels: you can take it with you on BART and other transit systems. Having more luxury electric bikes and high-speed wheelchairs is a genuine transportation solution, not more heavy cars.
    The other “steps” can support individuals switching from thinking they need their own car. #1 Walkable development will follow that change, not lead it.

    • Amy Jolly
      Amy Jolly says:

      Chris, Thanks for your thoughtful reply. As a cyclist and a bike commuter I agree that bikes are a great way to travel. However, they are not always practical. Only 60% of the trips people take are in easy walk or bike distance. We need viable alternatives for the other 40%. A mix of solutions are needed. In semi-rural Sonoma County where public transit is not well developed having having electric and fuel efficient vehicles are a solution that is in reach today. When it comes to reducing our commute carbon footprint we need solutions that possible for a variety of situations and people with a variety of needs.


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