Integrating Energy, Transportation and Land Use

It's impossible to think of ways of curing our overwhelming addiction to oil and other fossil fuels or significantly cutting our greenhouse gas emissions just through altering the source of our primary energy production. If one truly wants to achieve greater efficiencies and demand reductions, you have to start including two important policy areas: Transportation and Land Use.

We recently discussed New Jersey's Transit Oriented Development projects in local communities - the Transit Village program that encourages mixed use development around mass transit hubs.

Today, Jeff Zupan of the Regional Planning Assocation and Martin Robbins and Scott Weiner of Rutgers University calculate the efficiency difference of workers commuting to suburban office complexes, versus those that commute to downtown business centers. They write about it in today's NY Times opinion section:

A recent Rutgers study documented the energy benefits that derive from commuting to cities by public transit versus commuting by car to suburban work sites. We found that driving to a suburban office campus in Morris County's Parsippany-Troy Hills area consumed 57 percent more energy than taking a train or a bus to downtown Newark. If the substantial job growth predicted over the next two decades was in downtown Newark and similar cities instead of in distant suburbs along highways, New Jersey would see huge energy savings. Nearly 11.5 million gallons of gasoline a year would be saved by increasing the number of jobs in downtown Newark, essentially doubling them, instead of locating them in the suburbs.

This shows that energy, transportation and land use policies are all connected. So, how can we change the path of job creation and development away from the suburbs and closer to denser population and mass transit hubs?

Here's what the author's of this study conclude:

As Gov. Jon Corzine begins to update the state's strategy for conserving energy, he should encourage initiatives that integrate energy, transportation and land use policies. At the state level, energy planning has focused primarily on stationary energy sources like power plants instead of cars and trains. But now, more than ever, energy and transportation issues need to be melded.

It is true that energy policy has often focused almost exclusively on electricity production. This more holistic approach to energy policy that the authors recommend is spot on the mark. And their data clearly show that a great deal of energy could be saved if development patterns changed in the future. The authors have some ideas on how this might be accomplished.

For starters, the state needs to establish financial and zoning incentives for developers to build and encourage companies to move to areas where public transportation is readily available to their employees. Over the last decade, the state has designated 17 municipalities in New Jersey, including South Orange, Rahway and Collingswood, as "transit villages." The state has given these villages incentives, like transit station improvements, to encourage them to build housing units and retail and commercial space. This should be broadened to include office development in major cities, like Newark, Elizabeth and Camden, that are served by public transportation.

To further encourage transit use, cities well served by public transportation should set strict limits on the number of parking spaces associated with new buildings in downtowns, following the example of Jersey City, which has a maximum of 0.9 parking space per 1,000 square feet of office space. Too much supply lowers the price, making driving too competitive with transit. Tightening the parking supply, as in Manhattan, drives prices higher and leads commuters onto trains and buses.

And transit planning should focus on projects that support downtowns, like upgrading neighborhood bus routes into the Newark business district and extending the southern New Jersey River LINE light rail system into downtown Trenton. These investments would further exploit the transit system's potential and encourage commuters to abandon their cars for the train or the bus.

It's time for energy, transportation and land use policies to be better coordinated around the priciples of smart development around population and mass transit centers instead of scattered around the suburbs in isolated pockets. And it's time for energy efficiency to take center stage on the list of policy goals.

I couldn't agree more with you.  However beware the 'new cities'/ New Urbanism movement, in that some of its prescriptions (eg on parking) are likely to be unsustainable in the long run (if people can't park, they won't go there/ businesses won't relocate there).

To make a mass transit line (or improvement) work you need to increase the density along this line.  The Toronto experience, where this was not allowed along the subway extensions (Spadina, Shepherd Avenue) is that you just stretch the core system, without increasing revenues enough to compensate-- Toronto now has a massive (unfilled) transit financial deficit.

The local municipalities in Toronto fought to prevent rezoning around the new subway stations as it would 'ruin the family quality of the neighbourhoods'.

(top left of the 'U', and later the right hand purple extension east)

Tall buildings, condos etc. are for other people.

I noted in the NYC City Official Plan the same thing going on, a deliberate down zoning of zoning in a number of neighbourhoods (mostly Queens and a few in Brooklyn).  The result, inevitably, will be that public transport will never be good enough there to divert significant road traffic.

The big win is in congestion.  Sprawl creates congestion, amazingly, concentration does not, because concentrated sites have fewer total car journeys (you walk from the office to the shops, you live closer, etc.).  You cannot fight congestion by building more roads: driving is a zero marginal cost activity, so people just drive more until the roads are filled up again.

The other big win is in housing affordability.  There is an economist at Harvard (Edward Gleaser) who has shown that almost all of the discrepancy in the last 30 years between housing prices on the coasts (rising much faster than real incomes) and in the centre of the USA (rising about with real incomes, if you strip out the last 5 years) is due to tightened zoning.  Effectively, NIMBYISM.

If you can build more densely, you can build more affordably.

It all depends on how you define "congestion". In the limit case of every house being half a mile away from anything else, with plentiful roads in between, there will be no congestion. You may have to drive 50 miles to the nearest store, but you'll be driving at the speed limit all the way, so that's no congestion. On the other hand, in a dense city, there's almost always some other car in front of yours, so there's 100% congestion, or at least, congestion for 100% of car trips. Even not taking into account the fact that many people will walk or take transit instead of driving, a 15 minute trip in Manhattan counts as congestion, while a 40 minute drive on an empty freeway counts as not congestion, even if both have the equivalent effect of getting you to the nearest mall.
I guess I was defining congestion in the context of an urban area.

The UK experience is if you build a road, it fills up-- it creates its own demand.

Similarly if you expand an urban area, you create flows of traffic to and from that new subdivision, leading to total traffic flow (on existing roads) than was there before-- households in the new subdivision want to work, shop and play in other places besides the new subdivision, and that creates traffic.

Jane Jacobs pointed out the reverse case very well: close a road, and a significant fraction on the traffic in question disappears (I think this happened on the West Side Highway in New York).

I think this all stems from the unique nature of car travel-- it takes up a lot of road space, but doesn't move many people (at 1.1 people per car which I think is the worldwide developed country average).

It's sprawl that creates traffic, rather than density per se.  What happens with density is people make shorter trips and fewer trips by car.

Since people like to live further apart, that seems to be human nature, the trick is to balance the two.

The other thing about car journeys that I recall, and I don't have the exact number to hand, is that something like 90% of car journeys are less than 5 miles ie in a place like the UK, easily doable by bicycle.

I don't know what the comparable US statistic is.

The countries that have tackled traffic congestion (Netherlands, Denmark) have done so by restricting traffic in favour of pedestrians, and aggressively encouraging bicycles.

"It's sprawl that creates traffic, rather than density per se.  What happens with density is people make shorter trips and fewer trips by car."
There you go. That's the more correct version of your statement, with "congestion" replaced by "traffic". Because "traffic" does have the implication of vehicle-miles-travelled, whereas congestion implies travel that is slower than some theoretical maximum.