Driving is a huge source of carbon pollution. To cut it, create the freedom to go carless by clustering mass transit, jobs & homes together.
My proposal calls for a 50 states campaign to get 1) governors to announce executive orders that align, promote, and support transit-oriented development policies throughout their administrations, and 2) state legislatures to adopt laws to enable, implement, and foster transit-oriented development policies—including laws necessary for cities to do the same in "Dillon's Rule" states.
Cars and trucks are responsible for a large portion of carbon pollution, accounting for nearly one-fifth of all U.S. emissions. As one headline blared, "Cars Will Cook the Planet Absent Shift to Public Transportation"—and that shift to passenger travel in urban areas via clean public transport and nonmotorized vehicles could eliminate 1.7 gigatons of carbon dioxide each year.
Transit-oriented development is necessary to the shift away from America's costly car culture. It generally refers to a community development model that compactly clusters residential and commercial development, such as housing, retail space, offices, and other public amenities, within safe walking distance (1/4 to 1/2 mile) of public transit stations. That is, transit-oriented development makes it easier, quicker, safer, and more affordable for people to travel to work and get around without dependence on a personal vehicle.
Heeding the importance and promise of the development model, the Obama Administration has, among other things, already established the Partnership for Sustainable Communities between the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to align, support, and promote more sustainable strategies, including transit-oriented development, in key parts of the federal government.
However, Uncle Sam's interest does not necessarily translate into action or even interest at the state government level—where much of the mass transit, land zoning, housing, and urban development decisions are made. It's time to change that.
What actions do you propose?
I. The Dilemma
On first glance, James Robertson wouldn't be an obvious candidate for capturing the national spotlight. A factory worker in his 50s, James toiled away for $10.55 per hour in a suburban locale 23 miles away from his hometown of Detroit. What is extraordinary was his daily four-hour trek each way to his full-time job: unable to afford a car and stranded by an inadequate bus transit system, he was forced to walk 21 of those miles every day. When his predicament was brought to light by a local newspaper, his story lit into a national cause célèbre.
Yet Robertson's plight is not rare. Across the country, individual horror stories abound because mass transit options are often entirely lacking and inadequate, inefficient, and infrequent when available. They are the symptoms of a transportation system that favors the affluent with cars rather than the impoverished and the working class. For the latter, a car and its upkeep costs represent a small fortune—but still a lifeline necessary to keeping a job in the absence of good or any mass transit options. When both mass transit and a car are out of reach, they're simply just out of luck. In fact, public transportation is completely out of reach for 46% of American households  and millions more have inadequate service levels.
Compounding the problem are broader trends that are increasingly widening the distance between where people live and where they work. In the 100 largest metropolitan areas, where nearly all transit passenger miles traveled take place, only 30% of jobs require a transit travel time of 90 minutes or less for the typical commuter. For jobs in low- and middle-skill industries, the fraction accessible via transit within 90 minutes is only a fourth. Especially problematic is suburban sprawl, reflecting "white flight" as well as the historical migration of jobs out of urban centers and into suburban areas with cheaper commercial real estate. The trends are especially poignant for people of color, who have long been on a march for dignity and equality that can seem profoundly lonely: for the James Robertsons of the world, the walk alone is literal.
Not only does this state of affairs undermine the economic security of millions of working families, it drags down our economy and ultimately harms us all as a nation. Employers are missing out on a vast pool of workers who simply can't get to them and businesses are missing out on foot traffic. Americans still looking for work are missing out on job opportunities from companies they can't reach, as well as jobs from the same businesses that would need to hire to match the rising demand from shoppers. As such, state and local governments are missing out on revenues. Mass transit is also critical for economic mobility, which is associated with a city's level of economic integration—which in turn mass transit help make possible.
The benefits for climate are major reason for hope and action: mass transit use rather than personal car use significantly cuts down on our dependence on fossil fuels and thus the industrial carbon pollution that is disrupting our climate. By taking one car off the road and switching to public transit instead of driving, the potential is "savings of up to 30% of carbon dioxide emissions." TOD responds to the reality that personal cars are the mode of travel for nearly 90% of all trips in the country, even though almost 60% of all trips are less than five miles.
That James Robertson's story isn't so unusual after all, then, warns us that we have a massive public policy failure on our hands—with serious ramifications for climate change. The great news is that the problem is fixable.
II. The Solution
Transit-oriented development is a common sense idea that flows from the facts: if the problem is that the places that people to access are too distant from each other, then the solution is to bring them together. That's what TOD entails: the tight clustering of residential and commercial development, such as housing, retail space, offices, and other public amenities, within safe walking distance (1/4 to 1/2 mile) of public transit stations. The model makes it easier, quicker, safer, and more affordable for people to travel to work and get around without dependence on a personal vehicle. It makes it possible for people to go carless and shift the country away from a costly car culture.
Transit-oriented development is critical for cutting emissions. Cars and trucks are responsible for a large portion of industrial carbon pollution, accounting for nearly one-fifth of all U.S. emissions. As one headline blared, "Cars Will Cook the Planet Absent Shift to Public Transportation"—and that shift to passenger travel in urban areas via clean public transport and nonmotorized vehicles could eliminate 1.7 gigatons of carbon dioxide each year.
Acknowledging the importance and benefits of transit-oriented development, the Administration has already established the Partnership for Sustainable Communities between the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to coordinate and align key parts of the federal government in their "investments and policies to support communities' development in more environmentally and economically sustainable ways, including transit-oriented development." The FTA is also running a pilot program, pursuant to the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, that provides grants to state or local governments for "advance planning efforts that support transit-oriented development."
Worth also noting is HUD's decision "to score grant applications on their location efficiency—the degree to which residents are connected to jobs, schools, and other amenities through accessible transit options—a first for any federal grant program." The FTA's grant-making process factors in transit-oriented development as well.
However, Uncle Sam's interest here does not necessarily translate into action or even interest at the state level—where much of the mass transit, land zoning, housing, and urban development decisions are made. As of 2012, less than half the states had laws on the books to foster TOD, whether they simply define the concept or provide financial incentives. It's time to change that. It's time for a concerted campaign to replicate the push for transit-oriented development in the states.
III. The Proposal
My proposal calls for a national initiative, resulting in a 50 states effort, to get 1) governors to announce executive orders that align, promote, and support TOD policies throughout their administrations, and 2) state legislatures to adopt laws to enable, implement, and foster TOD—including laws necessary for action by cities in "Dillon's Rule" states that impose stricter constraints on municipal authorities.
The concept of transit-oriented development—along with best practices, pitfalls to avoid, sample legislation, messaging, polling—should cross the desk of every policymaker involved in how their states, counties, cities, and communities are built and connected. When new urban development is on the table, TOD should be factored into the government's decision and funding "strings" so that mass transit and the new structures are built to fit with each other. With respect to existing commercial and residential neighborhoods, we can tweak the buildings and bring the transit to them. That is, state and local officials, stakeholders, and policy experts could develop building retrofit policies, prioritize certain housing over others, make changes to their mass transport systems (such as rerouting bus routes through population centers and making them more frequent), and take other such actions based on a transit-oriented development approach.
To further accelerate the policy development at the state level, the President could even issue an Executive Order or take further executive action to elevate transit-oriented development in all federal agency grantmaking and activities that touch on relevant state actions.
 "Buying this guy a car was nice. Buying a mass transit system would be way nicer.," Grist, Feb. 25, 2015,http://grist.org/cities/buying-this-guy-a-car-was-nice-buying-a-mass-transit-system-would-be-way-nicer
 "Five Years Of Recovery Haven’t Boosted The Median Household Income," Sept. 16, 2014, FiveThirtyEight,http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/five-years-of-recovery-havent-boosted-the-median-household-income
 American Public Transportation Association, "Public Transportation Reduces Greenhouse Gases and Conserves Energy," accessed Mar. 15, 2015,http://www.apta.com/resources/reportsandpublications/Documents/greenhouse_brochure.pdf
 "No One Should Have to Walk 21 Miles to Get to Work," Moyers & Company, Feb. 5, 2015,http://billmoyers.com/2015/02/05/public-transportation
 "Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America," Brookings, May 12, 2011, http://www.brookings.edu/research/reports/2011/05/12-jobs-and-transit.
 "The Role of Transportation Planning and in Shaping Communities," Community Investments, Vol. 22 (Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Summer 2010),http://www.frbsf.org/community-development/publications/community-investments/2010/august/transit-oriented-development/Full_Issue.pdf
 Reconnecting America, "TOD 101: Why Transit-Oriented Development and Why Now?", accessed Mar. 14, 2015,http://reconnectingamerica.org/assets/Uploads/tod101full.pdfAlso see .
 "Mass Transit Investment Also Matters for Economic Mobility," Next City, July 23, 2013,http://nextcity.org/daily/entry/mass-transit-per-capita-spending-economic-mobility-atlanta-detroit-san-joseAlso see: "Transportation Emerges as Crucial to Escaping Poverty," New York Times, May 7, 2015,http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/07/upshot/transportation-emerges-as-crucial-to-escaping-poverty.html
   EPA, "Smart Growth: A Guide to Developing and Implementing Greenhouse Gas Reductions Programs," 2011, accessed Mar. 15, 2015,http://www.epa.gov/statelocalclimate/documents/pdf/sm_growth_guide.pdf
 For background on transit-oriented development, see generally:
"Planning for Transit-Supportive Development: A Practitioner’s Guide," Federal Transit Administration, June 2014,http://www.fta.dot.gov/16046_16042.html
Community Investments, Vol. 22 (Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Summer 2010),http://www.frbsf.org/community-development/publications/community-investments/2010/august/transit-oriented-development/Full_Issue.pdf
Government Accountability Office (GAO), "Public Transportation: Multiple Factors Influence Extent of Transit-Oriented Development," Nov. 19, 2014,http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-70
National Conference of State Legislatures, "Transit-Oriented Development in the States," Dec. 2012,http://www.ncsl.org/Documents/transportation/TOD_Final.pdf
 Union of Concerned Scientists, "Cars and global warming," accessed June 12, 2015,http://www.ucsusa.org/our-work/clean-vehicles/car-emissions-and-global-warming
 Cars Will Cook the Planet Absent Shift to Public Transportation, Scientific American, Sept. 17, 2014,http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/cars-will-cook-the-planet-absent-shift-to-public-transportation
 White House, "Partnership for Sustainable Communities," accessed March 15, 2015,https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/uploads/SCP-Fact-Sheet.pdf
 GAO, "Public Transportation: Multiple Factors Influence Extent of Transit-Oriented Development."
 "CI Notebook," Community Investments, Vol. 22 (Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Summer 2010),http://www.frbsf.org/community-development/publications/community-investments/2010/august/transit-oriented-development/Full_Issue.pdf
  NCSL, "Transit-Oriented Development in the States."
Who will take these actions?
The "outside" players
Stakeholders: With one leading coordinator, a coalition of state and national advocacy groups, civil rights groups, grassroots organizations, policy scholars, think tanks, and other stakeholders would craft and implement the 50-states initiative—complete with a policy agenda, political strategy, legal strategy, media outreach, informational resources, polling, messaging, and grassroots mobilization plans.
The public: polling shows that Americans prefer mass transit, hate traffic, and want more public investments in public transportation. One survey shows that two-thirds of Americans support "government investment in to expand and improve public transportation" and "twice as many people favor new transit – buses, trains and light rail – rather than new highways as the best way to solve America’s traffic woes."
 Americans For Transit, Polling, accessed Mar. 15, 2015,http://www.americansfortransit.org/polling
 Rob Perk, Natural Resources Defense Council, "New poll finds that people hate traffic, love transit," NRDC Switchboard, September 12, 2012,http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/rperks/new_poll_finds_that_people_hat.html
The "inside" players
State governors: working with stakeholders, other elected leaders, and local communities, craft and announce executive orders that align, promote, and support TOD policies throughout their administrations.
State lawmakers: working with stakeholders, push for the introduction and enactment of legislation and funding to enable, implement, and foster TOD—including laws necessary for action by cities in "Dillon's Rule" states that impose stricter constraints on municipal authorities.
The Administration: to further accelerate TOD policy development at the state level, the President should consider issuing an Executive Order or taking further executive saction to elevate transit-oriented development in all federal agency grantmaking and activities that touch on relevant state actions.
Where will these actions be taken?
The decisions and political steps described will be mostly taken by the states—in governors' offices and statehouses. In order to establish "proof of concept" and strategically build momentum and support, initially a select group of states with major metropolitan areas, a receptive political class, and a strong advocacy and nonprofit infrastructure would be targeted. When the physical changes to residential and commercial development as well as mass transit systems that are planned are set in motion, they would be taking place within the communities themselves.
How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?
The potential here to cut carbon pollution is likely major, based on numerous reports and studies that estimate the emissions reductions from shifting people to mass transit. According to one report:
The United States is the current world leader in urban passenger transport emissions, at 670 megatons of CO2 annually. More efficient vehicles and a decline in driving are expected to lower those emissions to 560 megatons by 2050. However, under the high shift scenario—based on mode shifting and policies that encourage denser development and the substitution of telecommunications for travel—the United States could drop its emissions much faster to 280 megatons of CO2 by 2050.
By taking one car off the road and switching to public transit, the potential is "savings of up to 30% of carbon dioxide emissions." TOD as a smart policy arises from the reality that personal cars are the mode of travel for nearly 90% of all trips in the country, although almost 60% of all trips are less than 5 miles.
What are other key benefits?
The greater the success of this proposal, the closer we'll get to a vision of America where we all have the chance to live in a "complete community." It means equitable and meaningful access to good work opportunities, a decent place to live, and participation in religious and civic life—no matter your wealth, where you live, or what you look like.
That's because transit-oriented development creates more and better mass transit choices, frees up money for working families to spend on things like education, spurs jobs, reverses destructive social and economic inequities, drives foot traffic into businesses, generates revenue for state and local governments, and helps break down the barriers that allow de facto segregation to continue to fester. This is what win-win for everyone looks like.
* See "Linking Transit-Oriented Development, Families and Schools," Community Investments, Vol. 22 (Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Summer 2010).
What are the proposal’s costs?
This ideas-portion of the proposal could be scaled up or down. Under a shoestring budget, we could invest comparatively modest sums of money into it by focusing primarily on collecting and disseminating pre-existing informational resources, conducting online advocacy and outreach, and relying on other organizations that already do related work.
A moderately funded budget would allow for developing more policy and consulting with experts, creating and customizing sharper informational resources, allocating more staff time spent on one-on-one advocacy with target states, and creating and conducting sophisticated political and legislative strategies (including travel).
A generously funded budget would allow for all the above and on grander scales with more staff, plus extensive media work and advertising.
As for the costs of the physical changes to city spaces and mass transit systems themselves, some of the costs could potentially be minimal—such as from reconfiguring bus lines, as Houston did recently without spending any more money, or simply make many disconnected transit systems work more seamlessly for commuters, as San Francisco did recently. State and local governments may also choose to invest millions or billions more into their transportation systems.
 "Houston just dramatically improved its mass transit system without spending a dime," Vox, Feb. 18, 2015,http://www.vox.com/2015/2/18/8056039/houston-transit-reimagining
 "How to dramatically improve public transit without building more of it," Wash. Post., Mar. 31, 2015,http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/03/31/how-to-dramatically-improve-public-transit-without-building-more-of-it
2015: Building the coalition; researching and establishing the policy, political, and legislative agendas.
2016 and beyond: Conducting the dissemination, advocacy, lobbying, and legislative work. (Many state legislatures meet earlier in the year and adjourn by the summer.)
2017 and beyond: Changes to mass transit systems and residential and commercial development are set in motion.
Citations are contained within each section.
The citation for the excerpt in the "other benefits" section is the following:
Cars Will Cook the Planet Absent Shift to Public Transportation, Scientific American, Sept. 17, 2014,http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/cars-will-cook-the-planet-absent-shift-to-public-transportation