Change land use, change congestion



Change land use, change congestion

2. TRANSPORTATION: Land-use planning more powerful tool

Debra Kahn, ClimateWire reporter

SAN FRANCISCO — California’s global warming plan is the first in the country to attempt to include land-use planning in estimating possible future emissions reductions. Transportation experts are saying the state could go even further in pursuit of emissions cuts from that method today, although the bulk of emissions cuts stemming from land use will come in future decades.

California’s plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2020, released in draft form late last month, contains a variety of measures that address emissions from most sectors of the economy for a total of 169 million metric tons of reductions by 2020. For the transportation sector, the biggest contributor to emissions, the draft plan estimates that the majority of cuts — nearly 80 percent — will come from more stringent fuel economy standards for vehicles and a low-carbon fuel standard for refiners.

Just 3.2 percent, or 2 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent, is projected to come from local efforts to modify transportation use, including such tactics as coordinating local and regional planning efforts and directing state resources to local efforts. The plan does recognize that land-use planning will reap greater benefits later on, estimating reductions of 2 percent below business-as-usual levels in 2020, double that in 2030 and continued increases through 2050.

These estimates are on the low side, according to land use experts in Oakland. Stuart Cohen, executive director of the Transportation and Land Use Coalition, said reductions from land-use planning could reach 10 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent by 2020 and double that by 2050 if the state promotes more “assertive” policies. Such measures could include charging fees based on driving habits, like congestion charges, and indirect source emissions rules for new development.

In the coming months, Cohen is looking for the state’s Air Resources Board to examine more closely the potential for local and regional governments to create emissions reductions through their planning processes. His group will be producing an analysis of its own to bolster claims of greater emissions reductions.

Higher gas prices will cause significant reductions by themselves, according to U.S. Department of Transportation figures, Cohen said. Sport utility vehicles and small trucks already are costing $100 or more per tank to fill. And if prices rise further, California needs to take into account people’s willingness to ditch their cars, Cohen said.

“There’s a lot of potential to reduce driving more quickly than people give credit for,” he said. “There’s many more people on the margin: people who can take trips together, take public transit, go in a circle rather than taking trips separately.”

Wanted: big reductions in vehicle miles traveled

Although land-use planning offers a large potential for reductions, it carries an equal risk of increased emissions if municipalities neglect this potential, Cohen said. “Think about the massive congestion we’ll have if we don’t start doing things differently,” he said. “The cascading benefits of [planning] are enormous, and how much you could save on infrastructure and things like that.”

The League of California Cities, a voluntary organization of almost all California cities that advocates at the state level, approves of ARB’s hands-off approach to land-use reductions. Bill Higgins, a legislative representative for the group, said the draft plan “puts us on the chart to getting reductions, but doesn’t put ARB in the land-use planning business, and I don’t think they want to be there.”

“Everyone has concerns about it because it’s new, and we’re no different,” he added. “There’s words in it that make me uncomfortable, but it’s a really good first step and signals that we can tackle the problem.”

One reason for the lack of specificity regarding local planning is that some areas of the state will need to expand more than others to account for population increases, while minimizing emissions, Higgins said.

“This was a concern for people involved in developing the scoping plan, to make sure you didn’t cut your greenhouse gases by saying no to housing, and that’s one of the reasons why we need the flexibility,” he said. In the Sacramento region, for example, “we may ask certain cities to increase their total GHGs [greenhouse gases], instead of putting those houses out 30 miles away from us.”

Good estimates for reductions in vehicle miles traveled are harder to obtain than for most other reduction methods because they depend entirely on individuals’ behavior, Higgins pointed out. But he thinks local governments have a unique role to play in influencing people’s behavior.

Higgins said some of the pricing mechanisms under consideration might not need to be enacted, if gas prices get high enough. “One might say in the last year we’ve had a pricing mechanism occur, and it looks like it’s going to go higher,” he said.