..... Sierra Club Eastern Missouri Group Home Page

SierraScape December 2007 - January 2008
Back to Table of Contents

Why Do Sierrans Care About Transportation and Smart Growth Policies?

by Ginger Harris
Transportation and Smart Growth Committee Chair

Sierrans care because:

1. Scientists believe that in order to avert further run-away global warming, Americans must reduce CO2 emissions by 60% to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

2. Scientists project that unless current auto-dominated transportation and land use patterns change, Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) will increase by 59 percent by 2030, thus overwhelming any CO2 reductions brought about by future vehicle efficiencies or low-carbon fuels, so that vehicle emissions of carbon dioxide will remain 41 percent above today's levels in 2030. Even AASHTO, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, has determined that the average number of 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.

Smart Growth America coordinated a multi-disciplinary team from the Urban Land Institute, the Center for Clean Air Policy, several universities and others who reviewed dozens of studies and concluded that current auto-dependent land development patterns are a key cause of climate change but if modified they could be an essential factor in combating it. Their report, Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change, was released nationally and in St. Louis on September 20.

The St. Louis press release was organized by the Sierra Club's Transportation & Smart Growth Committee, with the participation of the Executive Director of Citizens for Modern Transit, the Vice President for Government and Community Affairs at Metro transit, the Board Chair of the St. Louis Regional Bicycle Federation, the Coordinator of the St. Louis Regional Green Building Council, an assistant to St. Louis Mayor Slay, Sierra Club's Energy Committee Chairperson, and several entrepreneurs who consult on urban development and transportation issues.

These St. Louisans are concerned because our local growth patterns are fueling the thirteenth highest increase in VMT per person among the 36 metropolitan areas studied. Kansas City metro area experienced the fifteenth highest increase, while Missouri had the eighth highest increase among the 50 states.

The report found that spread-out development is the key factor in those rates of VMT growth. 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 and low-density office parks. It also found that there is an unmet market for more compact, mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods, as shown by housing price differentials.

Moreover, real estate projections show 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. Since such real estate investments will be made anyway and last a long time, they'll continue to save energy and reduce green house gases over time at no additional cost.

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.

To help implement changes in transportation policies at the local level, our Transportation & Smart Growth Committee initiated collaboration between local bicycle and pedestrian advocates (notably Trailnet staff) and a local political representative regarding St. Louis County's plan to widen Hanley Road south from I-64/40 without providing safe spaces for cyclists and pedestrians even though cyclists and pedestrians use this road, for example, to access three MetroLink stations. The County's policy was contrary to federal transportation guidelines and would have set a terribly backward precedent for the region. Thanks to Trailnet's intervention and the subsequent reconsideration of this anti-environmental plan by the municipalities of Maplewood and Brentwood, Hanley Road plans have been temporarily put on hold. If you live in one of these communities or nearby, e.g. in Richmond Heights, Webster Groves or Shrewsbury, please let your City and County Council members and the County Executive know that you favor making roads in urban areas safe for cyclists and pedestrians and of a scale appropriate in our inner suburbs.

The author welcomes feedback at gingerharris@charter.net or 314-994-7106.