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September 20, 2007
Press Release: Less Auto-Dependent Development Is Key to Mitigating Climate Change but Missouri’s Growth Patterns are Fueling Increases in Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Meeting the growing demand for conveniently located homes in walkable neighborhoods could significantly reduce the growth in the number of miles Americans drive, shrinking the nation’s carbon footprint while giving people more housing choices, according to a team of urban planning researchers. 

Their study was a collaboration among leading urban planning researchers at the University of Maryland, the University of Utah, Fehr and Peers Associates, the Center for Clean Air Policy and the Urban Land Institute. Smart Growth America coordinated the multi-disciplinary team that researched and developed recommended policy actions.

The executive summary, full white paper, and regional data on the growth of Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) are available at www.support.smartgrowthamerica.org/growing_cooler 

In a comprehensive review of dozens of studies, the researchers conclude in a report published by the Urban Land Institute that land development patterns are currently a key cause of climate change but they could also be an essential factor in combating it.

The report, Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change, is being released in St. Louis by organizations and individuals who want to expand housing and transportation choices in our metro area while reducing the causes of global climate change. The report warns that if sprawling development continues to fuel growth in vehicle miles driven, the projected 59 percent increase in total vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in the U.S. between 2005 and 2030 will overwhelm expected gains from vehicle efficiency and low-carbon fuels. Even with those technological improvements, vehicle emissions of carbon dioxide would remain 41 percent above today’s levels due to projected increases in VMT. Thus, according to the report, we would not even begin to achieve the goals scientists believe are necessary to avert further run-away global warming, i.e. to reduce CO2 emissions by 60% to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

The report finds that to meet the challenge of global climate change, we need to start reducing and even reversing our current growth in vehicle emissions. AASHTO, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, has determined that the average number of vehicle miles Americans drive their motor vehicles needs to be cut in half in order to adequately begin to reverse the threat of global climate change.

“In the St. Louis metropolitan area, seven mayors have signed the U.S. Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement, including Mayor Slay in St. Louis City, said Henry Robertson, Energy Committee Chairman of the Sierra Club of Eastern Missouri. "Mayor Slay’s staff has been working with his Greening Task Force to find ways to reduce global warming pollution in the City,” said Tim Embree, assistant to Mayor Slay.

From 1992 to 2005, the population of the St. Louis metro area increased only six percent, while our VMT increased by 33%, giving St. Louis the thirteenth highest increase in VMT per person among 36 metropolitan areas. Kansas City metro area was fifteenth highest. The same holds true for Missouri, where census data show that from 1980 to 2005 Missouri’s population increased eighteen percent (18%), while our state was experiencing an increase of 102 percent in total VMT, giving Missouri the eighth highest VMT per driver and the sixth highest increase in VMT per driver among the 50 states.

Spread-out development is the key factor in those rates of VMT growth, the research team found. On average, Americans living in compact neighborhoods, where cars are not the only transportation option, drive a third fewer miles than those in typical automobile-oriented places such as single-family subdivisions, the report found. Moreover, the researchers found that there is an unmet market for more compact, mixed-use neighborhoods, as shown by housing price differentials. Thus, if St. Louis residents were offered more compact, mixed-use neighborhoods, more of us would move there and would drive our cars less often.

The report cites real estate projections showing that two-thirds of development expected to be on the ground in 2050 is not yet built, meaning that the potential for change in land use patterns, and therefore in transportation patterns, is profound. The study calculates that shifting 60 percent of new growth to compact, mixed-use patterns would save the equivalent of a 16 percent increase in vehicle fuel economy standards. “What is especially promising about making buildings and land use patterns ‘greener’,” said Emily Andrews, coordinator of the St. Louis Regional Green Building Council, “is that such investments will be made anyway, they last a long time and thus continue to save energy and reduce green house gases over time, at no additional cost.”

The findings show that people who move into compact, “green neighborhoods” are making as big a contribution to fighting global warming as those who buy the most efficient hybrid vehicles but who remain in car-dependent areas. While demand for such smart-growth development is growing, government regulations, government spending, and transportation policies all still favor sprawling, automobile-dependent development. The report recommends changes in all three areas to make green neighborhoods more available and more affordable. It also calls for including smart-growth strategies as a fundamental tenet in climate change plans at the local, state, and federal level.

“Being able to spend less time behind the wheel will benefit our health, our pocketbooks and the environment” said Tom Shrout, Executive Director of Citizens for Modern Transit. He has collaborated with health professionals at St. Louis University to establish the 10-Toes program, which encourages residents to walk more often and teaches them how to use transit. “To help residents take advantage of transit services, Metro transit agency has put all bus and light rail schedules and maps on its website, along with a ‘Trip Finder’ that figures out what bus or train a rider will need to get from Point A to Point B at the desired time, said Adella Jones, Vice President for Government and Community Affairs at Metro. “The Multi-Modal center which is now being built next to the Civic Center MetroLink station in Downtown will create a convenient way for St. Louisans and tourists to access more energy efficient modes of transportation,” said urban development consultant John Roach. “We urge all public officials to make smart growth, including infrastructure for safe walking and bicycling, a key strategy to mitigate global warming in our metro areas and our states, said Karen Karabell, Board Chair of the St. Louis Regional Bicycle Federation.”

For more information: Virginia Harris, Transportation & Smart Growth Committee of Sierra Club, 314-994-7106 or voice mail at 314-503-1320, gingerharris@charter.net