The Feds Are Driving A National Policy of Sprawl

Rush hour traffic on the San Diego Freeway (Interstate 405) approaching downtown LA.

Rush hour traffic on the San Diego Freeway (Interstate 405) approaching downtown LA. Vince360 / Shutterstock.com

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

COMMENTARY | "Any legislative or policymaking approach to climate that fails to see the connections between emissions, how and where we build, and our transportation infrastructure decisions, will be destined to fail."

Whether it’s in the Green New Deal, the recent climate and transportation hearing before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, or the President’s mythical infrastructure bill (perpetually “coming soon!”), I am heartened to see infrastructure and climate change together in the national conversation about our country’s greatest challenges.

But wherever these proposals are being debated, most of them, including the ambitious Green New Deal, make the same two basic mistakes.

First, they ignore the full impact of land use (how and where we develop our land) as a critical part of the solution to climate change. Second, they treat climate change and our infrastructure choices as separate, disconnected challenges rather than interconnected problems that could be best solved together.  

We know that building denser, walkable, mixed-use, and mixed-income places near existing transit and other infrastructure can not only improve people’s lives but also reduce vehicle miles traveled and the resulting climate-warming emissions. But federal financing tools often prevent these types of walkable, transit-oriented developments from being built. Many of the brightest lawmakers in Washington fail to see that existing federal infrastructure policy and programs are driving the growth in the transportation-related emissions fueling our climate crisis. While other sectors have seen improvement, transportation emissions are continuing to climb.

It’s no mystery why: 83 percent of all transportation emissions come from driving, and federal transportation policymakers have spent the better part of the last 50 years trying to see just how much driving we can encourage.

Better transportation technology won’t save us either.  I know that technological marvels excite us—look no further than our fixation on automated vehicles, but shiny technological solutions are metaphorical drops in the bucket when it comes to climate change.

For example, we pin a lot of hope on the distant promise of electrifying all of our vehicles—a monumental challenge in itself. Even if California managed to convert to an all-electric fleet and 75 percent renewable energy, they would still have to reduce overall driving by 15 percent beyond what their current plans project in order to hit their statewide emissions targets.

The hard truth is that we cannot truly tackle the climate crisis without a federal infrastructure policy that reduces driving. We don’t need to ban cars, Ubers or AVs, we just need to upend the federal policies that require most people to need one of them just to participate as a member of our economy.

So what’s the secret to reducing driving? Smarter land use.

What if, instead of clutching our pearls about autonomous vehicles, we built places where people of all incomes and races could live, work and play without having to use a vehicle for every single trip—whether it’s driven by Google or not? If we take an approach where we build places in a way that reduces the need for commerce and commuters to travel in a vehicle, and build those places where the infrastructure and people already exist we can truly impact climate change while also dramatically improving people's lives.  

Instead, our federal transportation policy rewards states that build more miles of highways and increase vehicle miles traveled with yet more federal transportation dollars to do more of the same.

Other existing federal policies also work against our stated goals of reducing emissions. Take the new federal Opportunity Zones tax incentive intended to jumpstart investment in low-income areas. Unfortunately, the bulk of the census tracts designated as Opportunity Zones by states consist of sprawling areas, undeveloped greenfields, exurbs, and rural areas.

Without improved federal guardrails and effective state and local incentives, billions in Opportunity Zone capital could soon be used to incentivize new development in places far from existing infrastructure, jobs, schools or social services. This will only encourage yet more driving—or require expensive new infrastructure to serve it.

The Green New Deal proposes many worthy solutions. But we need to legislate, make policy, and think in a more interconnected fashion. It will be a waste of time to attempt to slash emissions with our climate policy if we continue to subsidize new highways and encourage yet more driving with our federal infrastructure policy, and incentivize sprawl with our land use policies and federal financing tools.

The existential threat that we face today is a product of continuing to incentivize our bad land use and transportation choices. But the solution can be found—in part, at least—by unifying our infrastructure investments, land use choices and climate change solutions.

Any legislative or policymaking approach to climate that fails to see the connections between emissions, how and where we build, and our transportation infrastructure decisions, will be destined to fail.

Calvin Gladney is president and CEO of Smart Growth America.

FEATURED CASE STUDIES
Powered By The Atlas
Erie County, PA offers all local restaurants free digital tools to plan for safe COVID reopening
Erie County, PA, USA
New Parking Plaza Adds Capacity & Embraces Sustainability at San Diego Airport
San Diego, CA, USA
Strategic Energy Plan & Energy Efficiency Projects Help Manage San Diego Airport Energy Resources
San Diego, CA, USA

NEXT STORY: A Suburban Community Rejects Transit Expansion

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.