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Major New Study: Sustainable Transportation Reduces Emissions While Saving Money

Image from Moving Cooler.

If anyone’s not seen it yet, the new Moving Cooler report is destined to be a real landmark moment in United States sustainable transportation. It’s quite rare to see any sort of think tank or government report be a watershed moment in anything; the closest I can think of might be the 1983 report “A Nation at Risk,” which sparked a new generation of debate about the public schools. This one seems big, though.

Moving Cooler has an incredibly wide-ranging set of sponsoring organizations. The American Public Transportation Association, Environmental Defense Fund, Federal Highway Administration, Federal Transit Administration, Intelligent Transportation Society of America, Kresge Foundation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Rockefeller Foundation, Shell, Surdna Foundation, Urban Land Institute, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency all sponsored this report. That means that a sizable chunk of the federal government—and these are agencies with very different priorities—has given this its stamp of approval, as have major players in the environmental and philanthropic communities. You might expect anything where APTA, the FHWA, and the EPA agree to be some tepid bureaucratic pablum.

This report, though, is nothing if not forceful. The study finds that there are a wide array of policies that would simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save money. Moreover, most of these policies can be implanted without any economic regressivity. That’s quite a claim and Moving Cooler doesn’t back down from it. They repeatedly state, in no uncertain terms, that “combining various transportation approaches together could yield meaningful GHG emission reductions, while also achieving fuel savings and savings to consumers on their transportation costs.”

The authors of the report categorize almost 50 transportation-related reforms into nine categories: pricing and taxes (gas taxes or congestion charges), smart growth and land use, non-motorized transport, public transportation, ride-sharing, regulatory strategies (such as reducing speed limits), operational and intelligent transportation strategies (ways of making existing systems more efficient), capacity expansion (building or widening roads), and multi-modal freight strategies. This categorization includes both radical and extremely incremental reforms and doesn’t give short shrift to any outlook or transport mode and is almost certainly a categorization worth stealing.

They then mix-and-match these strategies to make six bundles based on different goals, such as maximum impact, fastest impact, cost-efficiency, looking just at improving driving behavior and so on. One picture from the report is worth 1,000 words. Take a look at this graph:

That’s the maximum-results bundle, which focuses on achieving as many greenhouse gas reductions as possible. Think about what the cost-effective bundle looks like. In all, five of the six bundles significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save money beyond the implantation costs, up to $112 billion over 40 years. According to the report, the most effective policies were pricing strategies, reducing speed limits, educational strategies to encourage more efficient driving, smart growth, and the use of multi-modal systems to increase transit options.

Let’s say this again. We have Shell and the Federal Highway Administration agreeing that smart growth and transit expansions would sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions (up to 24% below baseline by 2050 without any technological improvements) and save money. There’s a long distance between a policy brief and a policy. But this paper has a wide array of key stakeholders unequivocally arguing for sustainable transportation. This could be big.

(h/t Streetsblog Capitol Hill).

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  • Sachin


    I’m sorry you took it to mean such, but my intention was not to take away, as you say, the “thrust” of this post. I understand that this post is more about public transportation options, and I meant my comment as more of an innocent and passive one about what kinds of impacts there might be on high budget sustainable transport when electric and better hybrid vehicles come out on the market.

    There is no reason to be critical of car only societies, as many people enjoy a great drive down the highways in California by the ocean and even around Europe. They have come to be images of such places.

    I myself enjoy public transportation, and envy the Shinkansen of Japan and Eurostar and highly criticize services like the Acela. I am very excited to see funding going for public rail improvements around NYC, where I live.

    While I understand your comment, I feel that you have assumed way to much about my earlier post.

  • Sachin,

    I think it is quite clear how people feel about the issue when you put it that way: they want to keep car-only roads going strong.

    If you read what this report has to say, you’ll see that it is calling for different strategies to reduce green house gas emissions by doing things like funding transit and designing communities in better ways.

    Your comment, though a darling perspective for journalists to bring up in their “car drivers needs are the voice of the people” articles, is a bit of a red herring and distracts from the main thrust of this post.

  • Sachin

    I wonder how everyone feels about upcoming vehicles like the Chevy Volt. Might that change the amount of funds poured back into the keep up of streets and highways?