Enhancing the Pickens Plan with some old-fashioned walkability

You may have seen oilman T. Boone Pickens around lately.

If not, then you haven’t turned on your television, radio, or opened a newspaper in the last few weeks. He’s been touting his new Pickens Plan nonstop to nearly any outlet that will listen, taking out full-page ads in newspapers from coast to coast and even enduring inane questions from low-watt bulbs like Larry King.

It’s pretty heady stuff, and worthy of the attention. Whenever a rich guy who made their fortune off of drilling, refining, and selling oil tells you that cheap gasoline is gone forever and we need someone to tell us the hard truth about energy if we’re going to keep our country moving, you tend to listen up.

Most of his plan hinges on converting a sizable chunk of our transportation fleet to natural gas and harnessing the abundant wind energy blowing through the midsection of America (that he’s already started to tap into.) It’s laudable stuff, and while not perfect, acknowledges the alarming problem of being so dependent on oil from foreign sources — having paid more money to foreign countries last year than we did to our military to protect us.

So he was invited to testify before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs last week about his huge, visionary, long-range plan to wean us from foreign oil (and arguably make us dependent on domestic natural gas instead, to be fair.)

SGA President Geoff Anderson was also invited to join Pickens in testifying, and he talked about a simpler side of the energy equation: Cutting down on vehicle miles traveled and trips necessary by investing in convenient walkable neighborhoods — in high demand these days. Check out this take on Geoff’s presentation:

His presentation was on the future development of “walkable communities” as opposed to “drive only communities”. Basically, what he was referring to was the fact that the past century’s residential development had been geared to the development and widespread use of the automobile as the primary means of transportation … to the point that most residential developments were based on the necessity of the automobile to reach required services. One fact he presented was that currently only 11% of school children walked to school as compared to 50% in 1960.

He discussed a “walkable community which had been developed in Atlanta, GA. [he’s referring to Atlantic Station in Midtown Atlanta] It was anticipated that the residents in that community would only drive an average of 27 miles per day compared to the typical (?) 34 miles per day that the average Atlantan drove. They found that the average resident of that community actually drove only 9 miles per day, 1/3 of their estimate. A “walkable community is one where nearly all essential services and many nonessential services are within walking distance of the resident’s home. He envisioned “walkable communities” interconnected by convenient forms of mass transportation.

Ultimately, just as Earl says in his post, there is no magic bullet solution. All of these ideas presented in the hearing are going to be part of the solution in some way — though some will take much longer to develop than others. There’s no “one” thing that’s going to solve the energy and climate dilemma. We need energy from alternative sources just as much as we need to break down the barriers that are preventing investments in walkable neighborhoods and expanding convenient public transportation.

But think of the numbers: If tomorrow someone is moving and chooses to move from a place where they drive 30 miles a day down to a new place where they can take convenient transit and walk more, cutting their daily miles down to 9, isn’t that a huge overnight savings in energy costs (and emissions reductions)?

Watch the full hearing here on CSPAN