Reducing Greenhouse Gases

By Dom Nozzi

What tactics can we use to reduce greenhouse gases? I prefer the efficiency of pricing as a lever to achieve greenhouse gas (GHG) objectives, rather than land use policies (such as resolving to create mixed uses and higher densities in appropriate locations). I say this because I am convinced that we need to address the enormous problem of travel externalities (the tailpipe emissions and noise from your car, for example, polluting the air that we all breath, and the peace and quiet we all desire).

Most all of the roads and parking in America are either un-priced or underpriced. That means we have an enormous number of “low-value” car trips in our metro areas (trips on a main road to, say, rent a video at rush hour). Since the costs of motorized travel is largely (exclusively?) externalized, we are experiencing an excessive number of motorized trips. If our society were to “internalize” more of the external costs of driving (by, for example, increasing the gas tax or charging users for using roads or parking), we’d see a lot less low-value car trips.

We therefore need to institute and then calibrate road and parking pricing more comprehensively. If we still have what we believe are excessive GHG emissions, those prices need to be ratcheted up until motorized Single-Occupant-Vehicle (SOV) travel is reduced sufficiently. Revenue from the pricing needs to be exclusively dedicated to non-SOV travel (transit, bicycle, pedestrian), and perhaps toward assisting local governments to pay for the work needed to prepare new policies/regulations to reduce low-value car trips.

I recognize that pricing can have negative social impacts on other worthy community objectives, such as the need to allow lower-income groups to affordably live in the area, or commute to lower-pay jobs from remote (affordable) locations. I therefore support travel pricing rebates or travel subsidies when lower-income people can provide sufficient evidence that they are low-income. Part of this affordable housing issue is the need to have local governments provide adequate quantities of housing that is situated in mixed-use, relatively dense neighborhoods, so that the household can own less motor vehicles and devote more of the household income to housing instead of a second, third or fourth car.

While living in Richmond VA, I noticed that while that city has way too much free parking in the metro area, there are quite admirable road pricing strategies (via toll booths found on a number of metro roads and highways). I say this not because Richmond is an example of a city that has used pricing tactics to avoid sprawl (indeed, it has sprawled more than most any city in the US over the past few decades), but because the city shows that such road pricing is politically and financially feasible.



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Filed under Bicycling, Economics, Environment, Sprawl, Suburbia, Walking

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