CCAP's Winkelman says transportation policy should complement federal cap-and-trade program

With Americans driving more and more each year, there is a new push on Capitol Hill for legislators to go beyond vehicle efficiency improvements and alternative fuels mandates be developing ways to encourage less driving in the United States. In his new book, "Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change," the Center for Clean Air Policy's Steve Winkelman says this can be achieved through smarter urban planning. During today's OnPoint, Winkelman, manager of adaptation and transportation at CCAP, explains how new urban areas can be developed to maximize the emissions reduction benefits of a cap-and-trade program. Winkelman explains why urban sprawl could undermine steps being taken on the local and federal levels to combat global warming and urges action in this year's transportation bill.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Steve Winkelman, director of the Center for Clean Air Policies Transportation and Adaptation Program. Steve, thanks for coming on the show.

Steve Winkelman: Great to be here.

Monica Trauzzi: Steve, you're research and work focuses on the creation of policy options in the transportation and urban planning sectors that could be complementary to a federal cap-and-trade program. Just how important is it to consider these two areas beyond just the CAFE and alternative fuels issues when it comes to transportation? How important is that in an overall cap and trade?

Steve Winkelman: The projected growth in driving, the amount of miles we drive each year, is expected to wipe out basically the benefits from the new CAFE standards and the new low greenhouse gas fuel requirements in the energy bill. That's something we've been working on for a decade, working with states, going back to New York, Connecticut, now helping California develop their climate plans. When you do the math you realize that you have to look at basically what we call all three legs of the stool, the vehicles, the fuels, and the vehicle miles traveled or the other sectors, the utilities, the car companies which are basically in a cross race for regulation. Well, either has to be regulated harder or you miss your target if you don't deal with the VMT, with vehicle miles traveled.

Monica Trauzzi: And so this is getting some traction on the Hill now as well?

Steve Winkelman: This is getting significant traction I would say in the last six months, significant meaning going from nothing to an awareness of it. And I would say especially in California it's being taken very seriously where, again, they realize even with their new car standards and fuel standards they'll need to deal with the amount that people drive with vehicle miles traveled, land-use planning, which is basically about creating choices for people, meeting unmet market demand for walkable communities and such and an integral part of climate policy.

Monica Trauzzi: So, why do we need to approach this on a federal level? Isn't it better to do it locally because each locality requires a different standard? Or why does there need to be a federal plan for it as well?

Steve Winkelman: There probably needs to be a nested approach. There are responsibilities at the local level, at the state and at the federal. Certainly land-use is a local decision, and because of that there's been a lot of concern about not touching it in federal policy. Yet a number of policies encourage certain types of development and I think probably the most important policy opportunity coming up on this front is the next transportation bill. Whether it's $300 billion or whatever the amount is, that's an investment we're going to make and it's important to ask, is that going to help or hurt on the climate front? Right now what's interesting is the way the formularies are set up. Because its gas tax related, the more you drive, the more gasoline you burn, the more money you get back. But from a climate perspective, the more you pollute the more money you get. And so the question is how do we wean ourselves from those formulas and set up the transportation bill so that it actually helps on climate instead of, again, wiping out the gains from the energy bill.

Monica Trauzzi: And people are receptive to that at this point?

Steve Winkelman: Well, it's interesting, this morning I was just on a panel with the American Association of State Highway transportation officials and they have a goal to cut growth in driving, not cut the overall amount of driving, but shave the growth by a significant amount, cut that in half, which is exactly consistent with what the environmental groups and the transportation advocates are advocating. And so I think there's a real recognition of the problem and of the challenge and it's a discussion that's going to take, you know, a year or two as climate policy evolves, as transportation policy evolves, to figure out how to make it work. I think there's agreement upon the problem. The solutions are just now being debated and designed. So it will be an interesting discussion going forward.

Monica Trauzzi: In your book, "Growing Cooler," you talk about smart growth policies. Explain what that means.

Steve Winkelman: Smart growth has a number of definitions, but in the context we're talking about it means looking at integrated transportation and land use. Basically not isolated uses where you have residential here and commercial here. It's about blending development so that people can actually walk to the store or kids can walk to the park or to school, because the amount we drive, the work trip is only 30 percent of all the miles that we drive. So it means even if we have transit in a place, that design is really important. So, there are the elements of transit orientation, of sidewalks, and also looking at the regional location. When things are farther apart people drive more. If things are closer together, even if there isn't great transit, you have shorter trip distances. In fact, that's what we find in the book. A lot of the benefits are just from shorter trips.

Monica Trauzzi: Are we only talking about new growth and development here? What about current cities that need to be looked at and revamped?

Steve Winkelman: Right. There's a natural turnover cycle. One of the statistics that we talk about in the book is what's going to be on the ground, all the buildings in the year 2030. Half of them don't exist yet, so there's a big opportunity for the new growth and that's where we focus our calculations in terms of what the potential savings are. But if you look at a place like Arlington, Virginia, the Ballston Roslyn corridor there, where they have over 20 years focused development around some metro stations, that didn't affect the nearby neighborhoods. That actually created new choices for those folks in terms of taking transit, walking to transit, walking to the cafe and shopping. So it's focusing the growth, that's what Smart growth is about, but there can be multiple benefits for existing development as well.

Monica Trauzzi: And one item that got a lot of traction in the news recently was in New York City. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg wanted to propose or implement a congestion tax in midtown Manhattan and it didn't fly with local residents there. Could something like that work in a city the size of Manhattan or do we need to be looking at making the city more walkable, making it more bike friendly before you start implementing a plan like that?

Steve Winkelman: I'm still in mourning about that.

Monica Trauzzi: I'm sorry.

Steve Winkelman: Because in PlaNYC, what New York City put together was really a comprehensive package that says there's a need for a revenue stream. Folks, we need some money. There's an infrastructure deficit and we have to have money to invest in things. We're going to raise it in such a way that we're discouraging driving. We're increasing transit choices for neighborhoods and boroughs that haven't had good choices. We're adding affordable housing. They're doing good land use. So, a lot of those pieces are still happening in New York City, but any pricing measure without good choices, and just look at current gas prices, wind up being regressive. If you don't have a choice, it's not a good thing if you have a higher price. If you have a higher price and you have good options and you can walk to the store instead of drive five miles to get your gallon of milk, then it works together. So, I don't think that's dead in New York City. I'd say stopped for now, but that comprehensive approach is also what's different from what we've seen in any effort to deal with transportation and land use. In California they really, in years past, said technology and fuel policies are the only thing that works, partly because they focused on employer, site level decisions. So, if you have a bike rack or you have a shuttle, without looking at the full regional context and the full set of policies to get there. And I think we're at a point where we're saying what is the comprehensive policy set that's necessary to provide choices for people so that they don't have to drive everywhere or long distances?

Monica Trauzzi: So, this is a lifestyle change. How do you convince someone who's used to driving everywhere that they should be taking public transportation or riding their bike?

Steve Winkelman: Well, they'll just read my book and they'll know. No, the point is that one of the things we talk about in the book, there's an unmet market demand. And number of surveys from the realtors, from the Association of Home Builders, and from other developers show that about one third of the market nationally wants more walkable communities, call it smart growth development. And a small fraction of the market actually fits into that category. Also demographic changes, with the aging of the baby boomers, more single-family households, new immigrants, show that there will be less and less demand for large lot, single-family, detached and more for multifamily, transit oriented development. That doesn't mean all new development. That doesn't mean everyone wants it, but it means there's a big chunk of the market that wants it and it's important to figure out where exactly that it is so that you meet that demand and not force it upon people who don't want it.

Monica Trauzzi: So this is just a question of using our common sense and adapting to the changes that are occurring?

Steve Winkelman: Right. And exactly what I'm saying about the transportation bill. Let's look at the whatever trillions of dollars we're going to spend in infrastructure in the next couple of decades, let's make sure that they're creating those choices, better transportation choices, and also look at what does that do to vulnerabilities to the impacts of climate change. We have our Urban Leaders Adaptation Initiative working with nine cities around the country and counties including King County, Washington. And we're saying if you put a new development in a floodplain, well, that's not a good idea because that's probably expanding and floods are going to be more frequent. What do you do about more frequent heat events, more frequent storms? And how do your infrastructure and land-use decisions play into that? Basically, the bottom line is that what we build, where and how, has a big impact not just on emissions and the amount we drive, but also the vulnerabilities of our communities and infrastructure. And so I think as those pieces become integrated it's not that we need whole new investment streams, but it's just about looking forward, what we doing and what's our vision for how we want to grow?

Monica Trauzzi: OK, a good note to end on. Thanks for coming on the show.

Steve Winkelman: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: This is OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Thanks for watching.

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