Tuesday, March 22, 2011

City's design, transit system can ease gas costs

March 22, 2011
By Larry Copeland, USA TODAY
Some cities in the USA are better positioned
to deal with rising gas prices than others
because of their design and transit
systems, according to a national non-profit
group that works to build stronger cities.

The key factor: whether residents have to
drive everywhere, or have other options.

That's according to CEOs for Cities, a
Chicago-based network of civic, business,
academic and philanthropic leaders seeking
to build and sustain stronger cities for the
future. Researchers analyzed federal
government data on vehicle miles traveled in
51 metropolitan areas that have at least 1
million residents.

It's a timely analysis: Gas prices have eased a
bit in the past few days — to a national
average of $3.60 for a gallon of regular
unleaded Monday — but they are still 28%
higher than a year ago.

The average American driver logs 25 miles
per day. Motorists in compactly developed
cities that have extensive transit systems
can drive nearly 50% less.

The way to cut back on driving miles in a city
isn't by reducing commutes, says Carol
Coletta, president and CEO of the group.

"What adds up is all those small trips, which
are much shorter and not as necessary," she
says. "The question is, how do we make the
city a place where we don't have to drive as
much or as often?"

Edward McMahon, an expert on sustainable
development at the Urban Land Institute
(ULI) in Washington, D.C., says the analysis
confirms a study done in 2009 on the
relationship between urban design and

"Most trips in a car are not back and forth to
work," he says. "Most trips — 80% to 85% —
are lifestyle trips to the movies, the grocery
store, taking the kids to school, and so on.
What we found is if you live in a community
where you can walk, ride a bike, take a short
trip, those savings start to add up really

McMahon says ULI examined automobile
usage trends in two Maryland cities:
Bethesda, a mixed-use community with
transit, and Germantown, a traditional car-
oriented suburb. "We found that in Bethesda,
about 75% of trips during the day were in
fact on city transit," he says. "In
Germantown, 90% of all trips were by car."

Cities where people drive less tend to do well
in three essential areas, Coletta says:

• Land use. People running errands, such as
to buy milk, can walk instead of getting in the
car and having to park, Coletta says.

• Urban design. Sidewalks or bike trails are
designed in such a way that people want to

• Transportation. The public transportation
network is extensive enough that residents
have choices.

CEOs for Cities estimates that if every driver
in those 51 metro areas cut their driving by
just 1 mile a day, the savings on gas and
other costs would total $29 billion a year.

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