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Increasing density is a key strategy for achieving carbon neutrality.  However, it requires a significant level of effort and planning to ensure that dense neighborhoods include good schools, parks, public safety, and many other factors that make communities work.

Dense communities reduce climate impacts through energy efficiency and conservation.  They also can reduce transportation emissions and automobile use by bringing jobs, housing, recreation, and shopping in closer proximity and offering the opportunity to connect urban villages and centers via efficient transit and ped/bike systems.

But, while it is important to develop the transportation infrastructure and choices that help reduce automobile use and emissions, changing people’s travel patterns and behavior requires a deeper understanding of how those choices are made as well as the social and cultural context for those decisions.  Then the conditions that support change can be developed.

So, why do we travel?  Our home to work commutes mimic many traditional cultural patterns, from the pattern of daily travel in settled villages surrounded by agricultural lands to seasonal migrations from lower to higher elevations or dry to wet areas (‘transhumance’) that are characteristic of many cultures built around livestock.  And even the poorest contemporary societies are linked by large numbers of overcrowded buses carrying people to and from market centers and on family visits.  People like to travel, and mobility is a basic human drive.  If we are going to positively affect people’s travel choices to emphasize low-carbon options, we have to work with people’s desires, not against them.

Approaches are sometimes developed with the intent to restructure how people travel or to criticize or penalize people for choices without creating the positive conditions that can develop new behavior.  The intent should not be to stop people from traveling, but to create opportunities to minimize resource use and maximize energy efficiency.  For example, strategies that reduce the amount of travel by making it easy to walk from home to work are great and will reap results (but we should understand that the benefits of these short trips and saved money may be invested in long-distance vacations). 

A strategy that relies solely on penalizing mobility risks failure as people find a way to get around whatever restrictions are placed on them.  Increasing the cost for parking in downtown Seattle can help to encourage people to choose different modes of travel.  But it must be matched with convenient transportation alternatives and compelling reasons to go downtown.  Only by making both alternative modes and the destination compelling can we count on people not choosing to drive to a shopping mall or workplace with free parking instead.

An effective strategy for reducing carbon emissions from must draw people to efficient modes by designing and funding systems that reflect people’s needs and provide enticing options for change.  Make transit and bike/ped routes safe, convenient, reliable and desirable – fashionable would be optimum.  We can’t assume that people will stay put – and the complexities of two-job couples and multiple-destination families ensure that not many people will be able to avoid using automobiles entirely.

Don’t try to make people feel guilty about driving; rely on urban design to reduce trips as much as possible, and then on economic incentives and system design to draw them into the best choices for the trips they do take.  And acknowledge that the private vehicle is going to be part of the equation, and that there will be a lot more people in our metropolitan area, so that even as we reduce per capita trips we will reduce total trips by a much smaller percentage.  That means designing systems that will make automobile travel easy using efficient electric cars, but that will have significant disincentives to using cars when there are other possible alternatives available — and making sure that there are lures to get people to use those alternatives.

Reshaping transportation choices is a long-range goal, and we cannot expect that change happens immediately.  We need to assertively plan for the transition to a future that is not dependent on fossil fuels while acknowledging current patterns of behavior and providing for current economic and social needs.  This will require some experimentation to find the best ways to move people efficiently as well as thoughtful planning to identify interim actions. 

Effective strategies must be built around community engagement.  They will only be embraced if they embody a shared understanding of the challenges and an appreciation of our common needs.  The approach must emphasize hope, convenience, and community, not fear and penalty.  Riding the bus must not only be good for the planet, easy, and good for the pocketbook – it should also be a fun way to travel as you join the bus rider community.  For a climate strategy that works we must accept our desire to be mobile, acknowledge the limitations of our natural environment, and take creative steps that help people choose change because they want to!


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Comment from Mary
Time September 2, 2011 at 12:02 am

Generally people would not want to spend on gas and the hassle of driving through rush hour if there was effective and fast public transportation. The idea would be to improve public transportation along side making both cities and towns more green.

Comment from isabel de los rios
Time October 5, 2011 at 6:18 pm

ultimately there is no easy answer to the whole problem of global warming. Simply put, there are way too many people now living on this planet, and if we are really going to tackle this huge problem then we need to start right at the root of the problem i.e. introduce more birth control and restrictions on the number of kids that families have. Maybe in 50 to 60 years time then we may start to see a slight reduction in the level of greenhouse gases, due to less people putting less pressure on the environment. But im afraid its all going to take a long long time.

Comment from vince delmonte download
Time October 7, 2011 at 8:10 am

In my opinion, deciding which method of travel to use isn’t always straightforward, if we want to be as ‘green’ as possible.

For example, where i live, in London, Uk, the city has been literally inundated with ‘rickshaws’ over the last ten years or so, trying to take a piece of the lucrative taxi trade’s customers. Whilst they promote themselves as being ‘green’, the reality is that they go so slowly through the narrow streets of London that they actually CAUSE so much traffic congestion and pollution. Unfortunately the powers-that-be i.e. the local council, spend zero time actually ‘on the ground’ to observe this phenomenon, so the activity just carries on regardless.

It is believed by many that the presence of rickshaws is the root cause therefore of much of the current pollution in the city.

To keep traffic flow moving, in my opinion, public transport should be encouraged as much as possible. However, the use of non-polluting SLOW modes of transport, such as in places like London, only serves to make the pollution levels worse, for reasons i have just outlined.

Just my opinion of course!

Comment from mobile movies
Time December 5, 2011 at 5:11 am

Great blog really amazing

Comment from mobile movies
Time December 5, 2011 at 5:13 am

That generally people do not want to spend on gas and the hassle of driving through rush hour if there is an effective means of public transport and highways. The idea is to improve public transport along with the make all towns and cities more green.

Comment from Miranda
Time February 1, 2012 at 10:21 am

I think relaying many of the tasks that currently require travelling to the office or elsewhere on Internet based systems will decrease time, money and efforts spent on travelling and of course pollution. Of course, there are things that need travelling (manufacturing, surgeries, repairs, etc), however, creating opportunities for employees to live not far from their work could be a way out.