Moving Cooler:  Fair Assessment Awaits Release of Appendices

Last Tuesday’s briefing for the release of Moving Cooler: An Analysis of Transportation Strategies for Reducing GHG Emissions (see Moving Cooler Website) was met with much enthusiasm from Congressmembers and Senators supporting the findings.  With Congressman Oberstar and Senator Carper each plugging their respective transportation bills at the briefing, there’s no doubt that greenhouse gas reduction from travel behavior is a hot topic in Congress right now (see Federal Policy).  Peter Rogoff from the US Federal Transit Administration opened his remarks with “It’s very rare to follow the Deputy Secretary for the Department of Transportation and say ‘whatever he just said’”.

The Cambridge Systematics study was sponsored by the American Public Transit Association, Shell, Federal Highway Administration, Federal Transit Administration, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, Urban Land Institute, US Environmental Protection Agency, Surdna Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Kresge Foundation, Intelligent Transportation Systems of America, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.  Moving Cooler examined travel activity and vehicle/system operations, including GHG reduction from 50 transportation strategies both individually and combined into “bundles”.

The analysis finds that under maximum deployment of the “long-term/maximum results bundle”, which combines most of the 50 measures evaluated, a 24% reduction in GHG emissions is possible without strong economy-wide pricing measures.  With a nationwide price signal such implementing fuel taxes equivalent to those in Europe, the study estimates a 52% reduction under the “maximum deployment” scenario would be possible (and a 35% reduction under the “aggressive deployment” scenario).

Moving Cooler Analysis of GHG Reductions

Source: Cambridge Systematics, Inc. Moving Cooler: An Analysis of Transportation Strategies for Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Urban Land Institute. July 2009.

There have been numerous postings in the blogosphere both praising and admonishing the study’s findings, however, a complete critique of the methodologies used for both the baseline and deployment levels cannot be done until the release of the appendices in 1-2 weeks.  It is worth noting that the overall approach taken to this study was limited to supply-side strategies, and does not account for potential GHG reduction from slowing the growth of roadway capacity projects.  In order for a balanced analysis of all transportation measures’ impact on the creation or reduction of greenhouse gas measures, both demand-side and supply-side strategies should have been analyzed.

AASHTO’s “Real Transportation Solutions” website/report was released the same week, highlighting their commitment to “reaching 80% GHG reduction from 2005 levels by 2050”.  AASHTO’s report maintains an objective of “reducing greenhouse gases without sacrificing jobs and our way of life”.  The report cites a study by Parsons Brinckerhoff that finds “if VMT grows by 1% annually through 2050, it will take a light-duty-vehicle (LDV) fleet with a fuel economy equivalent to 100 mpg (mpgge) to meet a target of reducing LDV GHG by 70% below 2005 levels by 2050.”  Both Parson Brinckerhoff and AASHTO reinforce that a 100mpg average fuel economy and complete decarbonization of fuels will be possible by 2050, thus allowing us to achieve our GHG objectives if we can slow VMT growth from the projected 1.4% annual growth (EIA) to 1% annually. The AASHTO report also states that the organization would like to see modest increased investment in others modes, as well as system efficiency investments in our national highway system:

  • $500 million/year for bicycle and pedestrian improvements
  • $18 billion/year for transit
  • $100 million/year for coordinated land use

Table 1 is from my recent submission to the Transportation Research Board on a proposed framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from travel behavior (see Four Circle Approach to GHG Reduction from Travel Behavior).  This table compares the greenhouse gas reduction estimates from single and combined policy scenarios from Moving Cooler and Caroline Rodier’s A Review of the International Modeling Literature: Transit, Land Use, and Auto Pricing Strategies to Reduce Vehicle Miles Traveled and Greenhouse Gas Emissions (2008).

TABLE 1 GHG Reductions from Single and Combined Policy Scenarios in Context of Four Circle Approach


Median GHG Percent Reduction from Trend: 10 yr horizon (Rodier)

Median GHG Percent Reduction from Trend: 40 yr horizon (Rodier)

GHG Percent Reduction:

2050 Baseline (Moving Cooler)

Single Policy Scenarios

Complete Neighborhoods





Land Use



0.2% to 4.4%


0.2% to 0.5%


Cordon Pricing



Parking Pricing



Congestion Pricing



0.8% to 1.8%

VMT Pricing/PAYD+



1.2% to 4.4%

Fuel Tax




Transport System Efficiency

Speed Limit Reduction

2.0% to 3.6%


1.1% to 2.7%

Intelligent Transportation Systems


Vehicle Capacity Constraint

Highway Capacity Expansion & Bottleneck Relief

.02% increase++

Combined Policy Scenarios

Complete Neighborhoods

Land Use & Transit




Pricing: Parking, VMT, Congestion



Complete Neighborhoods & Pricing

Transit & Pricing



Land Use, Transit & Pricing



Complete Neighborhoods, Pricing & Transport System Efficiency

Land Use, Transit, Pricing and Operational Improvements

24% to 52%*

+Pay as You Drive Insurance

++While highway capacity expansion and bottleneck relief had some short-term GHG reduction, the study concluded that this strategy was the only one out of fifty to increase GHGs in the long-term

*These results indicate maximum deployment under the “long-term/maximum results bundle” with and without an economy-wide pricing mechanisms

GAO-09-926T Recovery Act: States’ Use of Highway Infrastructure Funds and Compliance with the Act’s Requirements