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What Will Our Future Be Like If We Don’t Change How We Get Around?

What will transportation be like in 2030? It depends a lot on what policies we institute, a RAND report finds. Image: ## RAND##

What will transportation be like in 2030? It depends a lot on what policies we institute, a RAND report finds. Image: RAND

How will Americans get around in the year 2030? A recent report from the RAND Corporation lays out two “plausible futures” developed though a “scenario analysis” and vetted by outside experts. While RAND takes a decidedly agnostic stance toward the implications of each scenario, the choice that emerges is still pretty stark.

In the first scenario, oil prices continue to climb until 2030 and greenhouse gas emissions are tightly regulated, as a result of the recognition of the harm caused by global warming. Zoning laws have been reformed to promote walkable urban and suburban communities. Transit use has increased substantially. Road pricing is widely used to limit congestion and generate revenue for transportation projects. Vehicle efficiency standards have been tightened, and most drivers use electric vehicles. This is the scenario researchers at RAND call, rather dourly, “No Free Lunch.”

In the second scenario, “Fueled and Freewheeling,” oil prices are relatively low in 2030 due to increasingly advanced extraction methods. Americans’ relationship to energy is much like it was in the 1980s and 1990s. We’ll own more vehicles overall and drive more miles. Suburbanization will continue. Roads are in bad shape because no revenues are raised to repair them. Congestion is worse. This scenario represents the future if little action is taken to counter the effects of global warming.

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New Report Outlines How California Can Kick Its Addiction to Oil

If you want to reduce oil dependency, go after the big dark green area first.

The government is encouraging you to drive a car, and if California is truly serious about reducing its oil dependency that needs to change. This is the unequivocal conclusion of Unraveling Ties to Petroleum  a new report commissioned by Next 10 California and written by UCLA researchers  Juan Matute, Director of the UCLA Local Climate Initiative, and  Stephanie Pincetl, Adjunct Professor and Director of the California Center for Sustainable Communities at UCLA.

“State and local policies that promote autos over other modes make it hard to drive less, even when someone is determined to do so,” writes Matute.

In addition to compiling mountains of statistics about car use, energy use, and gasoline dependence, the authors looked at fifteen policies that change incentives for driving or land use, and evaluated their total effects on statewide petroleum use.  Most of the time, the incentives were not transparent.  Together, the policy choices made at the state and local level impact statewide petroleum use by as much as 50 percent.

It used to be that CA got almost none of its oil from other countries. That has changed.

The biggest change governments can make? Change the non-residential parking policy by changing or removing parking minimums, encouraging different land use through zoning and creating a more attractive urban form. The researchers estimate these changes could reduce gasoline demand in the transportation industry by nearly 25% under the best circumstances. Other potential areas for reform include encouraging insurance companies to offer per-mile rates (an estimated 8% drop), an affordable rideshare and taxi program (up to an 18.35% drop) and even allowing jitney and dollar van services to operate (a whopping .1% drop.)

Sadly, the buffet of options for reducing oil usage also points back to one of the reports’ other main points. The government is encouraging car usage, and has a variety of ways to soak the car-free and car-lite. These include:
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Streetsblog NYC
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What Went Unsaid at Last Night’s Debate

If you want to hear the President say "transit" on the national stage, you have to put the words in his mouth. Image: AP

At last night’s presidential debate in Nassau County, the best opening for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to talk about transportation policy came when undecided voter Phillip Tricolla asked the following question of the President:

QUESTION: Your energy secretary, Steven Chu, has now been on record three times stating it’s not policy of his department to help lower gas prices. Do you agree with Secretary Chu that this is not the job of the Energy Department?

Let’s imagine the contours of the straightforward, leveling-with-America response that never came:

OBAMA: Yes, I do agree with Secretary Chu that it is not the job of the Energy Department to lower gas prices, any more than it’s the job of the Commerce Department to lower the price of tin or cotton.

But there’s a lot we can do to become more resilient in the face of oil price shocks. We can give people real transportation choices — invest more in transit, and in making our streets safer — so you aren’t forced to burn a gallon of gas every time you need to pick up some groceries.

My administration has started us down a smarter path with the Sustainable Communities Initiative and the Department of Transportation’s TIGER program. These programs are laying the groundwork for a 21st Century transportation system that makes our communities more productive and efficient while reducing our addiction to oil. If we make these investments, not only will we free ourselves from constantly worrying about prices at the pump, we’ll also stave off the disaster of climate change and prevent the kind of droughts and other extreme weather events that are battering America.

Feel free to add your own embellishments in the comments.

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BP, Toyota, and the Illusion of the Car System Tech

Last Christmas, an Oregon couple driving with their baby in the
backseat followed erroneous GPS instructions and got stranded on
wilderness roads in a Cascades snowstorm. Twelve hours later, they had
given up hope and taped a farewell video. While a rescue party
fortunately was able to save them, they no doubt wished they hadn’t
allowed their belief in modern electronics to override their own clear
eyes and good instincts.

will take more than tech fixes to put an end to catastrophic oil spills
and reverse the mounting death toll wrought by motorized traffic on the
world’s streets.

Their misplaced faith is hardly
exceptional. If there is one true religion in the United States, it
worships at the altar of Technology. Christian or Jew, Muslim or
atheist, we accept this doctrine: that technology provides the main path
to improving our lives and that if it occasionally fails, even
catastrophically, all it will take is another technology to make everything better.

How else to explain two case studies in modern hubris that now appear to be reaching their denouements: The Deepwater Horizon catastrophe and Toyota’s sudden acceleration debacle.

It is our belief in technology that has for years reassured us, along
with oil industry advertising and the promises of the U.S. Minerals
Management Service, that drilling offshore — way offshore — could be
done safely while we kept on refilling our tanks. It has reassured us,
along with car company marketing and green lights from the NHTSA, that
our cars — increasingly electronically complex — would keep our
families safe while we put ever more miles on the odometer.

The automobile, not the computer or smart phone, is still the
technological icon we venerate with the greatest fervor. The car is the
most important, most expensive piece of technology most of us own. It is
the technology of the past century, and neither BP nor Toyota would be as large or as powerful without our genuflections.

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Grassroots Coalition Jumps Into the Fight to Protect AB32

4544049143_8503ae5ac4.jpgA protest earlier this year against efforts to rollback AB 32. Photo: Ella Baker Center

A new coalition launching in the coming weeks is mobilizing groups with deep roots in their communities to take on Proposition 23, a measure on the November ballot that seeks to overturn AB32, California’s landmark greenhouse gas regulation bill.  Communities United Against the Dirty Energy Proposition represents those who suffer the worst effects of greenhouse gases but often have the most trouble being heard.

The contrast could hardly be sharper.  In one corner, there are the big Texas oil companies who are Prop 23's most prominent backers. In the other, you have groups like the Green the Rez Campaign, a project of the Bishop Paiute Tribe in the Eastern Sierra that promotes renewable energy and sustainable living on the local reservation.

The oily Texans trying to roll back AB32 already face opposition from a number of mainstream politicians and environmental groups. Now they’re about to get clobbered by a concerted effort that pulls together organizations with strong ties to Asian, Latino, African American, and Native communities. The connections they make between their health needs and the economy call into question the stale jobs versus environmental rhetoric and will give the No on Proposition 23 campaign loads of street cred.

“Prop 23 is a dirty oil industry trick to try to undo a major California environmental law, and if passed, will put all people at risk from more pollution, especially low-income and people of color, who bear a huge and disproportionate burden of fossil fuel and industrial pollution,” said Bradley Angel, Executive Director of Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, a member of the new coalition. “The health of our state’s most vulnerable communities is more important than dirty oil company profits.”

Greenaction has been in the thick of the struggle to stop expansion of a waste dump in Kettleman City, where residents have reported a cluster of birth defects they attribute to the current dump already nearby.



The Moral Imperative of the BP Oil Spill: Drive 20 Percent Less

2010_JH_Flyover_June_4_3.jpgPhoto: Jonathan Henderson, Gulf Restoration Network
Editor's note: This is an essay from Jason Henderson, a Geography Professor at San Francisco State University. He was born and raised in New Orleans and spent many years exploring Louisiana's wetlands. He is currently writing a book about the politics of mobility, and frequently advocates for reduced car parking and improved bicycle space in San Francisco.

The Moratorium

After almost two months of failed attempts at "topkills," "tophats," "junkshots," "cofferdams," and "caps-on-the-diamond-cut-riser" it is evident that the BP wellhead spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico has unleashed an unprecedented catastrophe. We made a mistake in wishing away the risks of deepwater drilling. Despite protests from the oil industry, the six-month moratorium proposed by the Obama administration is clearly needed in order for the nation to have a pointed and deliberate reflection about its priorities.

As a Louisiana native I am sensitive to the disruption this moratorium might cause for the 150,000 people employed in offshore drilling and corollary services. Yet take one look at the destruction of a truly renewable and sustainable industry -- fisheries -- and think it through. The offshore oil industry just killed the commercial and recreational fishing industry, it may destroy tourism, and will kill more if we do not get drilling and environmental protection right. How many jobs will be lost because of this ecological catastrophe? And what future start-up companies or footloose firms want to move to a region that is mired in a toxic cesspool of oil? Who would want to invest in property or raise families in a region that has not carefully protected its environment and regulated polluting industries? In the long run, the moratorium gives us time to work this out, and is better for the Gulf Coast economy. It's also best for the nation.

But in the short run, a solid and comprehensive moratorium could mean roughly 1.7 million barrels a day eliminated from the US energy portfolio without any stopgap measure in place to check that demand. Far-off energy miracles in hydrogen, wind, solar, or nuclear energy will not meet the immediate demand. Instead, as Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu points out, the nation might get the 1.7 million barrels it draws from the Gulf from somewhere else.[1]

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LaHood to Congress: It’s Time to Talk About a Gas Tax Increase

As Congress maneuvers to end the political impasse over the next
long-term national transportation bill, lawmakers going to have to
debate an increase in the federal gas tax, Transportation Secretary Ray
LaHood said today.

Trans_Secretary_Ray_LaHood_Discusses_Cash_Jx_HxR08cPwl.jpgTransportation Secretary Ray LaHood (Photo: Getty Images)

In his remarks at a Fort Worth transportation meeting, first reported by the local Star-Telegram, LaHood stopped far short of reversing the White House’s stated opposition to raising the federal gas tax, which has remained at 18.3 cents per gallon since 1993.

LaHood appeared to edge the door open to a solution to the nation’s
transportation funding crisis — provided that lawmakers swallow their
re-election concerns and acknowledge that the current gas tax is no longer raising enough money to run an effective system.

Here’s what LaHood said today (emphasis mine):

To index the federal fuel tax [to inflation], that’s something Congress is going to
have to decide. As we get into the reauthorization bill, the debate
will be how we fund all the things we want to do. You can raise a lot
of money with tolling. Another means of funding can be the
infrastructural bank. You can sell bonds and set aside money for big
projects, multi-billion-dollar projects. Another way is [charging motorists for] vehicle miles traveled. The idea of indexing the
taxes that are collected at the gas pump is something I believe
Congress will debate.
When the gas tax was raised in 1992 or 1993, in
the Clinton administration, there was a big debate whether it should be
indexed. At that time, they thought there’d be a sufficient amount of
money collected. Now we know that isn’t the case. That is one way to
keep up with the decline in driving, and more fuel-efficient cars.

Another fact not mentioned by LaHood: Transportation construction inflation has increased at a rate twice as high [PDF]
as the Consumer Price Index, the Labor Department’s traditional method
of measuring price hikes for household goods. That means that raising
the federal gas tax to appropriately reflect the cost of infrastructure
improvements would be even more challenging than many in Washington now


A Last Word on ‘Cash for Clunkers’

One thing the government’s CARS program — a.k.a. "cash for
clunkers" — has clearly stimulated is commentary. For a policy
involving a shade under $3 billion in federal spending, it has enjoyed
no shortage of media coverage.

2022282239.jpg(Photo: Newsday)

part this is because the program looks like a big success, and
certainly congressional leaders and the White House have not been
bashful about touting it as such. The original $1 billion allocation
for the program was exhausted within days, and as sales data for August
begins to emerge it is clear that car sales experienced a banner month.

Was CARS a good policy, all things considered? Let’s look at a few of the latest numbers on the program.

were approximately 1.17 million vehicle sales in August, which works
out to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of about 14 million vehicles.
June’s sales rate was under 10 million and near the recession low,
while last August’s rate was also about 14 million. Meanwhile, the
August norm in good times was about 16 million.

What does
that say about the value of the program? Well, let’s say that August
sales would have matched June’s sales in the absence of CARS. They
almost certainly would have been higher given economic improvements
between June and August, but for argument’s sake, let’s say they were
the same. We can then estimate how many additional sales CARS produced
and the actual subsidy per new sale.

Here‘s economics blogger Calculated Risk:

If is correct,
and total sales were 1.17 million…in August, then the tax credit
only generated about 320 thousand extra sales. Of course some regular
car buyers might have put off a purchase to avoid the rush in August,
so this isn’t perfect, but instead of costing taxpayers $4,170 per car
(as announced by DOT), the cost to taxpayers per additional car sold
was close to $7,200.

In other words, CARS just didn’t generate that many new sales. Much of the subsidy went to buyers who would have purchased anyway.

it turns out, much of the subsidy also went to people who weren’t
interested in purchasing GM or Chrysler vehicles. While year-over-year
sales figures rose in August for Ford, Honda, and Toyota, sales declined by
15 percent and 20 percent respectively for Chrysler and GM. To the
extent that CARS was designed to help struggling American automakers,
it doesn’t seem to have had the desired effect.

Particularly worrisome is today’s report
that sales fell precipitously in the last week of August — after the
CARS program ended. Rather than generate momentum for the automobile
industry, CARS may have primarily moved sales around. To a certain
extent, it might also have been counterproductive. How so?

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A Progress Report on State-Level Oil Dependence

states460.gifNRDC’s depiction of how hard states are hit by gas costs, ranked by percentage of income spent.

America’s oil addiction is readily acknowledged, even by its biggest enablers. But what is the nation actually doing to kick the habit and embrace a safer, healthier, more realistic energy future? 

An attempt to answer that question was released today [PDF]
by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which has ranked the
"oil vulnerability" of the 50 states for three years running.

its face, the list is unsurprising: Mississippi remains in first place,
with the average driver spending more than 9 percent of annual income
on gas, while Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut were rated the
least oil-dependent states. Yet NRDC’s analysis also offers some
instructive tidbits:

  • New York is the overwhelming
    leader in transit — but not much else. The state dedicated 41 percent
    of its federal transportation money to transit as opposed to roads in
    2007, making it the benchmark by which NRDC measured all others. Yet
    that was only enough to hit No. 6 on the overall scale of sustainable
    energy use, thanks to the state’s lack of a low-carbon or renewable
    fuel standard, action on smart growth, and incentives for hybrid
  • New Jersey’s transit spending
    may not be getting through to some of its drivers. The state ranked
    second behind New York with 30 percent of transport cash used on
    transit, but the state’s average driver spent $2,286 on gas last year
    compared with $1,654 in New York. It’s not due to a high state gas tax;
    New Jersey’s is one of the lowest in the nation. 
  • Capitol
    Hill can set the pace for reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT). Only
    six states have set targets for shrinking their VMT, a goal that
    Transportation Secretary LaHood has called essential to fighting climate change. Without congressional passage of legislation
    making VMT reduction a national priority, it’s difficult to see a
    majority of states taking action individually in the near term.