By Roy L Hales
“Would we have a sustainable transportation system if all automobiles were electric powered?” asked Todd Litman, the founder and Executive Director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute.
Then he added that while electric power would reduce emissions, it does not, “reduce traffic congestion, reduce accidents, reduce roadway costs, reduce parking facility costs, improve mobility for non-drivers, improve social equity, improve public fitness and health, reduce sprawl, eliminate hazardous waste, or protect threatened habitat.”
These are the problems besetting all modern communities.
He was the speaker at the BC Sustainable Energy Association’s March 11, 2014, podcast, hosted by Guy Dauncey. There were around 250 registered listeners from across North America. A number of which were from planning or transportation sectors.
Most Western communities were designed for automobiles. We appear to have reached the saturation point and demand for auto travel is peaking. Now city planners need to reverse their priorities and consider:
- Public Transit
- Service & Freight
- Private Automobile
That means designing compact, energy efficient communities, where even the wealthy choose to walk, or cycle or take public transport. That means building more sidewalks, crosswalks and bike lanes. We need communities where it is possible to walk, or cycle, to work or school. The amenities need to be nearby.
You know why? Because we are living in a society that is becoming increasingly sedentary!
“If you ask sedentary people what physical activity they will most likely stick with, walking usually ranks first,” Litman said.
We need a public transporation system that people want to take. There is a portion of the population that are transit dependent and will use it even if it is poor quality, but as the quality of public transit improves it will attract discretionary travelers.
“So how do we convince people who drive luxury cars to shift mode?” Litman asked. “What does it take for someone to wake up in the morning and say, I can’t wait to get on my commuter bus?”
We need communities where there are more opportunities for neighbors to interact in positive ways, where there is room for people who are physically disabled or less affluent.
A typical green single family suburban house uses about 75% of the energy of its auto-dependent correspondent and this proportion holds true in attached and multi-family homes as well.
An office in a public transit oriented city, such as New York, will normally use half the amount of energy consumed by an office in an auto-dependent suburb.
There are about 1/4 of the number of traffic fatalities per 100,000 in smart urban cities.
“Houses in multi-model communities can save an average $4,000 annually in transportation costs,” Litman said. “Everything being considered, the inhabitants are more prosperous.”
They do not have to pay for a car or any of the associated costs (gas, upkeep, insurance etc) or parking. People use public transportation and taxis.
So how do we encourage the transition from an auto-dependent society to one that encourages other means of transportation?
- Locate affordable housing near services, jobs and public transit.
- Reduce property taxes and utility fees for clustered and infill housing.
- Employees who receive driving or parking allowances could be given the option of taking cash. That encourages those who walk or take public transit.
- Instead of charging fixed rates, automotive insurance could be calculated by the kilometer. That would both encourage people to not drive as much and shift the expense to those who drive the most.
Someone mentioned that when a $3 toll was levied on traffic crossing the Port Mann Bridge, in BC’s Lower Mainland, motorists drove to crossings where there was no cost.
Litman suggested that a $1 to $1.50 toll should have been levied on ALL bridges, that would have both shared the cost load and encouraged those who were swayed by the pricing to find other means of transport.
Litman stressed the fact he was not “anti-car.”
“A balanced transport policy is no more ‘anti-car’ than a healthy diet is anti-food. Motorists have every reason to support these reforms because they:
- reduce traffic and parking congestion
- improve safety
- improve travel options
- reduce chauffeuring burden
- are often the quickest and most cost effective way to improve driving conditions.”
We need to bring together the various interest groups in a “Win-win partnership” that benefits everyone: businesses, seniors, youth and students, public fitness and health professionals, transportation professionals, affordable housing and low income advocates and local governments concerned about infrastructure costs.