Thursday, September 20, 2007

Nothing from nothing leaves nothing...

Duh.

Suburban sprawl is the missing link in climate change, a group of urban planning researchers said today, warning in a new report that global warming can only be slowed by changing development patterns to reduce the need for driving.

Living in more compact, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods actually would do more to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide -- the chief climate-changing gas -- than driving a hybrid car while staying in a typically spread-out suburb, the report asserts.

"The research shows that one of the best ways to reduce vehicle travel is to build places where people can accomplish more with less driving," Reid Ewing, the report's lead author and a research professor at the National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education at the University of Maryland, said in a statement released with the report.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Suburban sprawl is the missing link in climate change, a group of urban planning researchers said today, warning in a new report that global warming can only be slowed by changing development patterns to reduce the need for driving."

The "only way" to slow global warming is by changing development patterns to reduce the need for driving? Besides that being a very urban-planner-centric view of the world, even other researchers and reports from that same research center doubt changing development patterns alters driving amounts as much as some case studies have claimed.

There's many, many ways to slow global warming that will be as effective or more effective - non-fossil fuel electricity and quenching ongoing subterranean coal mine fires being a few examples. There's also many, many ways to reduce the need for driving that will be as effective or more effective such as brownfield smart growth (which, unlike greenfield mixed-use development, doesn't cause urban creep), effective and desirable public transit, and public policy that doesn't subsidize or promote large population migrations, but instead addresses in place those same populations.

"Living in more compact, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods actually would do more to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide -- the chief climate-changing gas -- than driving a hybrid car while staying in a typically spread-out suburb, the report asserts."

Unless the report is using "living" to mean residing and working and reserving leisure pursuits to the pedestrian neighborhood, the linked report above refutes this claim, stating that those who incur less of a commute during the week wind up traveling additional amounts on weekends that offset any gains from changed development patterns. A hybrid, however, would reduce the carbon footprint of all travel relative to a gas car, improving both work-based weekday and weekend-leisure emissions. Thus, it's hard to claim building denser suburbs will solve climate change any better than driving current-generation hybrids.

"The research shows that one of the best ways to reduce vehicle travel is to build places where people can accomplish more with less driving," Reid Ewing, the report's lead author and a research professor at the National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education at the University of Maryland, said in a statement released with the report.

Ok, so if the goal is to eliminate the typical 25 minute drive from a residential suburb to more urban areas of employ, why does Mr. Ewing focus on building new compact, pedestrian-friendly places instead of repurposing existing compact, pedestrian-friendly places? To build new ones isn't really protecting against further suburban sprawl - it's just replacing near-in suburban sprawl with denser urban sprawl and, in turn, providing new outlying employment areas within reach of building new developments further out in rural landscapes (via widened Routes 108, 32, and 70 perhaps?) Hello, Megalopolis.

Pop quiz time. What was the average fuel efficiency of a car almost 100 years ago? About 30 mpg.

Are emissions requirements where they could or should be with current technology? Well, 1931 Doble E steam cars weighing about 5,000 pounds can go 0 to 75 in 10 seconds, have a road life of decades, and still meet California emissions standards, so you tell me.

100 years progress, but fuel efficiency hasn't advanced? The best solution to eliminate the effects of the 25-minute commute is to replace the internal combustion engine car as the primary mode of transportation. Hybrids are better, electrics better still, steam even better, and if you want to beat any of those in multiple ways - maglev personal rapid transportation.

In case no one's paying attention, Columbia does have pedestrian friendly places - they're called villages with neighborhood centers, neighborhood schools, integrated open spaces/paths/recreation, and village centers. Employment centers within Columbia's residential areas are lacking for the most part, by design, as a matter of aesthetics and environment. The solution isn't to mix up businesses and residences in the same landscape - it's to demand transportation solutions that don't require 25- or 30-mpg CO2-breathing monsters.

Neighborhoods should be peaceful, free of Concerto No. 2 for the Dumpster Truck in the morning, business traffic during the day, and the into-the-night extended-business hours' exterior lighting that washes over surrounding residences.

Countering climate change is probably the biggest challenge facing this and upcoming generations. It's going to take a lot of cooperation, innovation, and understanding. Claiming denser suburban development is the key solution oversimplifies the problem and its causes and diminishes the many other necessary solutions to be implemented.

Eldersburg1976 said...

"Suburban sprawl is the missing link in climate change, a group of urban planning researchers said today, warning in a new report that global warming can only be slowed by changing development patterns to reduce the need for driving."

Well, for me, this would mean increased commercial development along 40 in Ellicott City and Route 26 in Eldersburg. I live in Eldersburg and work in Columbia.

If reducing the amount of travel time in our vehicles is the goal…. then.....increasing the density of the current commercial districts would be beneficial. My typical commute takes me down Marriottsville Rd, I-70, to I-29 into Columbia. When I need to make a stop at the store, I switch to 40 in lieu of I-70 which accounts for maybe an extra mile to my commute. Right now, I’m able to make approx 80% of my extra car trips/stops (non-work related) on my way to/from work.

Walkable communities may be the ultimate goal, but a large portion of the population does not want to live next to a Best Buy and until Petco’s start showing up in Columbia Village Centers, there will be the need for commercial/retail districts of some type.

The answer to the current environmental problems will come from a combination of lifestyle changes (walkable communities) and technology (hybrids on steroids, wind power, cold fusion (ok, that may be a stretch)., etc).

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