The Lone Voice Crying in the Wilderness Isn’t Quite So Lonely Anymore

I’ve been using the Bacon’s Rebellion forum for some time now to make the connection between Virginia’s energy-intensive pattern of land use and Virginians’ vulnerability to oil price shocks. Every $.20 increase in the price of gasoline translates into $1 billion hit to Virginia consumers. It’s been a lonely job — no one else in the media picked up the theme. No other lobbying or activists groups picked it up either. Until now.

Three leading conservationist/environmental groups have issued a press release making much the same point that I have. Indeed, they’ve done me one better: calling for the state to set benchmarks for per capita Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) as a tangible measure of the effectiveness of state transportation policy.

“Certainly, neither VDOT’s long-term plans nor the proposals before the General Assembly account for the predicted continuation of rising gas prices,” says Lisa Guthrie, executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters. “We are concerned about the absence of fundamental reform in land use and transportation planning in this era of high energy costs.”

“Our first priority in transportation should be to set and meet a goal to reduce the amount that current and future Virginians have to drive,” says Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. Progress would be measured in terms of Vehicle Miles Driven per capita. Reducing the amount of driving not only would reduce traffic congestion but cut energy consumption, energy dependence, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

“To achieve this goal we must reduce the growth that is extending farther and farther away from our job centers. By revitalizing our cities and towns, and creating more mixed-use walkable communities we make walking, bicycling, carpooling, transit and shorter car trips possible,” says Chris Miller, President of the Piedmont Environmental Council.

“In America,” he adds, “one of the largest contributors of global climate change is the air pollution which results from the increasing vehicle miles traveled. Reductions in per capita VMT do more to reduce greenhouse gases that are the cause of global warming than new technologies and improved energy efficiency.”

(The press release does not appear to be online at this moment, but the Coalition will get around to posting it eventually. Click here to check its website.)

Full disclosure to readers: The Piedmont Environmental Council underwrites Bacon’s Rebellion’s Road to Ruin project. Chris Miller and I chat from time to time but we have never discussed the connection between land use and energy dependence. This is an issue the PEC has arrived at independently from Bacon’s Rebellion — unless, of course, they’ve actually been reading our stuff! In any case, we’re delighted to have someone else sharing our perspective on this issue.


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8 responses to “The Lone Voice Crying in the Wilderness Isn’t Quite So Lonely Anymore”

  1. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Jim: Your goals are admirable. But I’m not buying these two statements as reasons.

    “In America,” he adds, “one of the largest contributors of global climate change is the air pollution which results from the increasing vehicle miles traveled. Reductions in per capita VMT do more to reduce greenhouse gases that are the cause of global warming than new technologies and improved energy efficiency.”

    The cause and effect between human activity and global warming is like macro-evolution, more theology than science.

  2. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Jim, I’m agnostic on the global warming issue. And you’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned that angle in my own writing. Any land use reforms we institute in Virginia will have an infinitesimably small impact on global temperatures — in the thousandths of a degree, under the best of circumstances. But I felt that it was important to include the quote from Chris rather than gloss over it.

    As for local air pollution, I think the connection between Vehicle Miles Driven, auto emissions and low-atmospheric ozone is indisputable.

  3. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    No argument on people pollute. The dispute for me is that people pollution cause global weather changes.

    And as “Mr. Master of the Obvious”, reducing pollution is good.

  4. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “Every $.20 increase in the price of gasoline translates into $1 billion hit to Virginia consumers.”

    Nobody will recognize this fact faster than consumers, and you can bet that adjustments will be made ASAP. And there is no doubt that recucing pollution is a good thing.

    However, it simply doesn’t follow that our first priority in transportation should be to set and meet a goal to reduce the amount that current and future Virginians have to drive.

    And it is even more of a stretch to claim that to achieve this goal we must reduce the growth that is extending farther and farther away from our job centers.

    Our first priority out to be to make the transportation we need as efficient as possible, and that is not the same as making the distances shorter.

    The per capita expenditure on transportation in Fairfax County is $208 per year compared to $20 in Hampton Roads and $18 in Richmond.

    One business executive pegged extra costs – most of which are passed on to the consumer – resulting from congestion at 15 to 30 percent.

    The leader of the firefighters spoke to the extra fire houses that need to be built, staffed and equipped because response times have become unacceptable with existing stations deploy fire trucks onto jammed roads.

    A member of the Technology Council spoke to the most alarming trend he has noticed – technology firms are beginning to grow their business at a greater rate outside of Northern Virginia (and many times outside of the state) than inside Northern Virginia.

    If we reduce the mileage that people drive by reducing growth, or redirecting it to the places that are most expensive to support, it could easily cost us many times as much as your $1 billion hit, and produce more pollution as well.

    Chris Miller is making claims that are unsupportable, in my opinion, and contrary to the most casual observations. I don’t see that this kind of reasoning advances his cause.

    Quotes in italics are from http://policysoup.blogspot.com/

  5. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Ray, You’re setting up a straw dog. No one is saying that cutting gasoline should be the one and only guiding principle of Virginia transportation policy. What we are saying is that thoughtlessly continuing Business As Usual — perpetuating energy-intensive land use patterns — is foolhardy. Virginia policy makers need to take the rising price of gasoline into account.

  6. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    OK, I misunderstood: I thought that “Our first priority in transportation should be to set and meet a goal to reduce the amount that current and future Virginians have to drive” was a more singular and exclusive statement than it actually is. If that is actually the case then Chris Miller should learn to make more system oriented statements. Transportation is tied up in everything that we do, and we should not make pronouncements about transportation policy without considering all the ramifications it might have.

    Before we go off making policy to avoid creating energy intensive land use policies, we need to understand what those uses actually are, as opposed to what we would like to think they are – and we need to take the rising price of energy into account.

  7. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    I can drive to work and get 17MPG.

    I can also drive to work and get 34MPG. Yes, that’s double.

    What’s the difference? When I drive to work later in the morning and there’s no traffic congestion, fuel economy dramatically improves.

    I don’t understand why people willingly sit in their cars to drive at an average speed of 15MPH for an hour. Just spend the extra hour at home and leave later.

  8. Toomanytaxes Avatar
    Toomanytaxes

    One of the bigger problems facing smart growth (which I don’t oppose concept) is the cost/benefit ratio for “closeness.” Assuming a reasonably attractive, safe and functional core community (read Arlington, for example), the costs (or prices, if you prefer) for living closer are substantially above those located further from the core community. One can purchase a lot more house for the dollar by moving further away from the core.

    Some people would rather pay more for less house to shorten their commuting time and stress. Others simply will not. The idea of a 70-year old house with two bedroom and no garage for several hundred thousand dollars more than a four-bedroom, three-car garage home at today’s outskirts simply does not appeal to many people. I would further submit that the substitution of a condo for a single family home appeals to even fewer people.

    So if a sizable number of people simply do not want or cannot afford to “live close” to D.C. or in Tysons Corner, etc., is not part of the solution to move more good-paying jobs outside the D.C. Metro area? Is it not possible to have smart growth in Fredericksburg, Warrenton, etc.? Or, do people argue that smart growth can only happen in Fairfax County and nearby communities? Might the overall costs to society be less if the next 500,000 people moving to NoVA didn’t because they moved and worked in outlying communities?

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