DC Region Growth Patterns Contribute to Emissions Problem

For Immediate Release: September 20, 2007
Stewart Schwartz, CSG, (202) 244-4408 x121
Bob Lazaro, PEC, (540) 454-2742

Coalition for Smarter Growth – Sierra Club* – Piedmont Environmental Council
Chesapeake Bay Foundation -Audubon Naturalist Society – Washington Area Bicyclist Association
Clean Water Action – Virginia Bicycling Federation

DC Region Growth Patterns Contribute to Emissions Problem
Less Auto-Dependent Development Key to Mitigating Climate Change

Washington DC – 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.

In “Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change,” a report published today by the Urban Land Institute, researchers conclude that development patterns are not only a key contributor to climate change, but an essential factor in combating it.  Coming on the heels of the annual Texas Transportation Institute congestion study, the report illustrates that traffic is not the only result of auto-dependent development — these patterns also lead to more emissions that contribute to global climate change.

“The number of miles driven in our region has been rising faster than our population growth, and is a direct result of our spread out development, the scattering of office sites, and the failure to offer more communities where walking, bicycling and transit are convenient options,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

“The report makes clear that clean cars and greener buildings are part of the solution but are not enough to tackle the climate change problem,” said Chris Carney, conservation organizer for the DC region for the Sierra Club.  “We can do more to reduce the amount we have to drive through investments in transit, carpooling, and pedestrian and bicycle facilities in support of more compact development.”

The report shows that both Maryland and Virginia rank in the top half of the states in terms of growth in vehicle miles traveled, and the DC Metropolitan Region ranks 24th among large metro areas in growth in daily VMT per capita.  Locally, the Washington DC Council of Governments has estimated that if current trends continue, the region’s vehicle miles traveled will rise 37% above 2002 levels by 2030 and CO2 emissions by 48%, when the need is to reduce all emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 according to the consensus among leading climate scientists.

“But our region also offers good news. Our extensive transit systems, the revitalization of the District of Columbia, and both old and new mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods, offer the opportunity to drive less and lower our individual emissions.  We simply need more of these places,” said Mike Harold of the Audubon Naturalist Society.

Neighborhoods throughout DC; Arlington’s transit villages; Old Town Alexandria and Del Ray;Silver Spring, Bethesda and Takoma Park; King FarmReston; Falls Church; the City of Fairfax and Old Town Manassas and old town Leesburg are examples of new and old neighborhoods where residents have transportation choices and the opportunity to live a great lifestyle while reducing the emissions that contribute to global warming. (Click on the links above to view images from these neighborhoods).

“The region’s investment in Metrorail and ever-increasing support for transit-oriented development is making a real difference,” said Schwartz.  The District of Columbia shows the smallest increase in overall vehicle miles traveled and the fifth lowest VMT per capita among the nation’s largest cities.  Pedestrians (12%) and transit users (40%) account for 52% of all commuting trips in the city and bike commuting has doubled in just two years,” according to Eric Gilliland, executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.

In nearby Arlington, the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor has added 30 million square feet of development with no local traffic increase with 50% of corridor residents walking, biking or taking transit to work.  Some 35% of peak hour commuters in the region use transit, and the share of transit and carpooling trips in key corridors through Arlington and Montgomery to DC reaches 50% or more.  For neighborhoods not near Metro, those that offer the option to drive less are those with a strong network of local streets, sidewalks and bike lanes, along with safe routes to schools and stores.

“Governor Kaine, Governor O’Malley, and Mayor Fenty, as well as county leaders in Fairfax, Arlington and Montgomery, are taking positive steps to address global climate change. What this report shows is that strong state and local commitment to smarter growth and fundamental change in our transportation investment priorities must be an integral part of the solution,” said Chris Miller, President of the Piedmont Environmental Council.

Leaders in the DC region must:

  • Increase funding for public transit, bicycle and pedestrian facilities, build the Purple Line on both sides of the river and across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, and advance other key light rail, streetcars, bus rapid transit, and efficient local bus service.
  • Commit to completion of transit-oriented development at the region’s Metrorail and commuter rail stations, offering incentives to ensure a mix of jobs, housing, schools, and recreation, and designs that are pedestrian and bicycle friendly.
  • Continue the revitalization of DC and declining suburban commercial corridors using mixed-use redevelopment, while creating strong disincentives for low-density, car-oriented development and expanding land conservation programs.
  • Not build infrastructure which has the major effect of, and/or whose goals include, increasing vehicle miles traveled, such as the Inter-County Connector and Western Bypass (Tri-County Parkway/Battlefield Bypass).

The ULI report warns that if sprawling development continues to fuel growth in driving, the projected 59 percent increase 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 the report.

The paper recommends changes 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.  With such changes, the report predicts that some 85 million tons of CO2 annually could be saved, by 2030.

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.