Panelists Speak on VMT Reduction

Winkelman testifies “sidewalks are as sexy as hybrids” when it comes to GHG reduction

Yesterday the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW)  heard from expert panelists representing multiple  levels of government from Portland, Oregon to Salt Lake City, Utah.  The Committee’s hearing was entitled, “Transportation’s Role in Climate Change and Reducing Greenhouse Gasses.”

The panelists included:

  • The Honorable Ray LaHood, Secretary, U.S. Department of Transportation
  • The Honorable Regina McCarthy, Assistant Administrator, Office of Air and Radiation, United States Environmental Protection Agency
  • The Honorable Ralph Becker, Mayor, Salt Lake City, Utah
  • David Bragdon, President, Portland Metro Council
  • Steve Winkelman, Director of Transportation and Adaptation Programs, Center for Clean Air Policy
  • Ray Kuntz, Chief Executive Officer, Watkins and Sheperd Trucking

With Secretary LaHood opening that we will not be able to achieve our greenhouse gas reduction targets within the transportation sector even with a 55mpg fuel economy standard, the panelists continued to chime in today that VMT reduction is an absolute necessity and failure to reduce vehicle travel will result in excess strain on other economic sectors.  The President of Portland Metro and the Mayor of Salt Lake City sat side-by-side noting that while their communities are very different in many regards, they both are moving ahead with visioning and action to plan for compact growth supported by transit, bikeways, and pedestrian infrastructure that allow people to have a lifestyle that is less dependent on the automobile — and thus, a household budget which is less vulnerable to the economic impacts of gas prices.

David Bragdon from Portland noted that a large obstacle for implementing VMT reduction strategies is that federal funding is often only available in large quantities for highway funding, when they would prefer to use the same amount on light rail and surface street projects.  The mayor of Salt Lake City noted his enthusiasm for engaging and educating the public in how they can tackle the challenges of climate change and congestion by working together (or through challenges within the community) to bicycle and take transit more frequently.  Steve Winkelman’s signature comment to the EPW senators was that there is evidence to support that “sidewalks are as sexy as hybrids” when it comes to achieving greenhouse gas reduction through reduced VMT.  Winkelman’s full testimony, complete with references to short-term VMT reduction strategies can be found here: Winkelman Testimony.

Highlights from Steve Winkelman’s testimony:

“I encourage you today to consider “travel efficiency” in crafting climate legislation.  Travel efficiency measures include smart growth, transit, walking, biking, telecommuting, system efficiency and freight improvements. They benefit cities, suburbs and rural towns and are just as important for fast growing as long-established communities. The key is to provide communities with the tools and incentives they need to determine and implement their own solutions.”

  • Reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) is critical for climate protection;
  • Travel efficiency measures can reduce per capita VMT by 10 percent, reducing emissions growth by 145 MMTCO2 — equivalent to taking 30 million cars off the road;
  • Travel efficiency measures reduce household transportation costs and yield net economic benefits per ton of CO2 reduced, unlike some other mitigation strategies;
  • There are many short-term GHG savings opportunities for communities with new, economic developments and those reinvesting in existing infrastructure; and
  • The Center for Clean Air Policy and the participants in their VMT and Climate Policy Dialogue recommend that Congress dedicate significant cap-and-trade allowance value to fund the planning, implementation, and measurement of travel efficiency policies and projects.