Press Releases

Less auto-dependent development is key to mitigation

ATLANTA ? Sept. 20, 2007 - Meeting the growing demand for conveniently located homes in walkable neighborhoods could significantly reduce the growth in the number of miles metro Atlantans drive, helping combat global warming while also building stronger communities, according to a team of urban planning researchers.
In the battle to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, their research shows, the metro Atlanta region and state of Georgia have key roles to play. Metro Atlanta ranks No. 5 among metropolitan regions in total vehicle miles traveled. Georgia ranks No. 5 among states in total vehicle miles traveled.
Based on a comprehensive review of dozens of studies, the researchers conclude that development patterns are both a key contributor to climate change and an essential factor in combating it.
The report, released today by the Livable Communities Coalition in Atlanta and Smart Growth America in Washington, D.C., warns that if sprawling development continues to fuel growth in driving, the projected 59 percent increase nationwide in the total miles driven 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 be 41 percent above today?s levels, well over the goal of reducing CO2 emissions to 1990 levels by 2050, according to Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change.
?As the metro area with the 5th highest number of vehicle miles traveled annually, our region has the opportunity to play a prominent role on the national stage when it comes to aggressively reducing factors contributing to global warming pollution,? said Jim Durrett, executive director of the Livable Communities Coalition. ?But to meet that challenge, we need to start driving down our growth in vehicle emissions instead of just driving around the problem.? The Livable Communities Coalition is a 40-member coalition working to reduce traffic problems by changing land use patters in the region.
Georgia residents are driving more than ever before, fueling increases in vehicle fuel emissions, one of the leading sources of global warming pollution. Spread-out development is the key factor in that rate of growth, the research team found.
In fact, Georgia ranked:
  • 5th in the nation in the total number of vehicle miles traveled, with approximately 113.5 billion. Georgia trailed only the mega-states of California, Texas, Florida, and New York for total miles traveled.
  • 3rd in the nation in the percentage increase in total vehicle miles traveled annually. The yearly total for vehicle miles traveled in the state rose nearly 163 percent from 1980 to 2005, from approximately 43.2 billion miles in 1980 to approximately 113.5 billion miles in 2005.
  • 4th in the nation in the number of miles driven per driver annually. Georgians logged an estimated 19,111 miles per driver in 2005.
According to the study, metro Atlanta ranked:
  • 5th among U.S. metropolitan areas in highest annual vehicle miles traveled, with 46.85 billion miles. Metro Atlanta trailed only New York-Newark, Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, Chicago, and greater Miami.
  • 4th most sprawling metro area in the nation, with a score of 57.7 on the ?Sprawlometer,? a 0 ? 200 scale created by the research team, with 0 being the most sprawling and 200 the least. By comparison, Houston ranked 93.3.
Research shows that one way to reduce vehicle miles traveled is to make development more compact. The Livable Communities Coalition works to promote compact development locally; Smart Growth America promotes the same kind of development nationally. Such development offers substantial opportunities.
  • 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 subdivisions and office parks, the report found.
  • 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 is profound.
  • The paper calculates that shifting 60 percent of new growth to compact patterns would save 85 million tons of CO2 annually by 2030, equivalent to a 28 percent increase in fuel economy standards, the report Growing Cooler calculates.
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 remain in car-dependent areas. While demand for such smart-growth development is growing, government regulations, government spending, and transportation policies often still favor sprawling, automobile-dependent development.
The paper recommends changes in all three areas. 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 benefits our health, our pocketbooks and the environment,? said Durrett. ?We urge county and city planning staffs and commissions to make compact development and quality growth a major component of comprehensive plans for growth throughout the metro Atlanta region.?
The study is 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 (ULI). ULI will also publish the report in book form. Smart Growth America coordinated the multi-disciplinary team that developed the recommended policy actions and is leading a broad coalition to develop those strategies further.
Further Reading

Chris Leinberger: The Structural Shift in Building in Metropolitan Atlanta

Chris Leinberger Interviewed about Tyson's Corner, VA on NPR