How we use land drives the demand for oil; better land use = less oil use

Dan Burden in Linden, originally uploaded by Michigan Municipal League (MML).
Walkability expert Dan Burden leading a “walkability audit” in Michigan.

On a Friday where anyone can bring up a live video stream on their computer of oil still pouring from a broken well at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, perhaps you, like a lot of Americans, feel a little powerless and aren’t sure what we can do to prevent such a disaster in the future.

While certainly not responsible for the spill itself, that well and thousands of others are there because we need quite a lot of oil every day. According to Andy Revkin’s surprising figures from Dot Earth, the entire field that this well was drilled into contains around 100 million barrels of oil. “That’s five days and change worth of American demand for this precious fuel,” he writes.

70 percent of that daily oil consumption goes directly into our transportation system to get us and our goods from point A to point B each day.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We’ll be using oil to one degree or another for years to come, but wouldn’t it make sense to promote the things we can do to use less of the stuff? What can we change about our land use and transportation systems to help lower that astronomically high 70 percent figure?

Kaid Benfield at NRDC had a terrific post up this morning summarizing a new study in the Journal of the American Planning Association that looks at how our land use affects how we get around and how smarter and more efficient land use will help cut down on our oil use. Kaid has done an impeccable job summing up the complex study:

What they found: location matters most when it comes to land use, driving and the environment.

…The clear implication is that, to enable lifestyles with reduced driving, oil consumption and associated emissions, environmentalists should continue to stress opportunities for revitalization and redevelopment in centrally located neighborhoods.  As Ewing and Cervero put it:  ‘Almost any development in a central location is likely to generate less automobile travel than the best-designed, compact, mixed-use development in a remote location.

Encouraging growth in our town and city cores and discouraging sprawling growth way out at the edges means less automobile travel. Fewer miles in cars each day means less oil use. Less oil use means….you see where this is going, right?

Yes, having access to transit and encouraging walkability are also things we need to do. Now. But this study shows that even a place that is centrally located where residents still drive generates less driving than locations out on the edge. This sort of conclusion has been borne out before, notably in a study of Portland that found that drivers drove 20 percent less each day than people in comparable metros due to investments in transit and encouraging land use within the city’s core, and with Atlanta’s Atlantic Station where, though lacking a centrally located rail transit stop, its residents still drive up to 2/3 less than their fellow Atlantans.

Read the full post from Kaid here. And share it with your friends.