Increasing our driving: The road to prosperity?

AASHTO climate reportWe noticed this new report from the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials, entitled “Primer on Transportation and Climate Change.” (H/T to David Crossley of the Gulf Coast Institute.) In it, they say some really terrific things about facing up to the realities of climate change while acknowledging we have to change our behavior in regards to transportation. There are some really fantastic recommendations about doubling transit ridership, reducing highway demand, shifting freight to rail, and even a mention of Growing Cooler, (though not by name.)

They believe we should:

Support the President’s goal to reduce oil consumption 20 percent in 10 years. Double the fuel efficiency of passenger cars and light trucks; Double transit ridership by 2030, and significantly expand the market share of passengers and freight moved by rail; and Increase the percentage of those who car pool, walk, bike, or work at home.

But in between those three items in the summary, a somewhat alarming goal:

Reduce the growth in vehicle miles traveled (VMT)—from 3 trillion in 2006 to 5 trillion, rather than the projected 7 trillion, by 2055.

AASHTO doesn’t think that VMT should flatten out or even decrease per capita. They explain that they want VMT to continue growing — just not quite as rapidly as it has been. Rather, it should grow about 1% per year, basically indexed to our population growth.

The kicker is near the end:

“…AASHTO believes U.S. policies must be balanced in ways which help reduce transportation’s impact on global climate change, but which also sustain VMT growth at the level needed to support a healthy national economy.”

Why should we be pinning our hopes for a healthy economy on driving more? We’re already driving less over the last year, certainly due in part to high gas prices. And that number of 7 trillion miles by 2055 is based on at least one faulty assumption (relatively inexpensive gas) that may look silly when gas is 5, 6 or 10 dollars a gallon.

We are realizing that we can’t build more lanes and drive our way out of congestion, and all those new highways don’t matter a lick if you can’t afford a tank of gas to drive on them. People are voting to raise taxes on themselves to invest in more transit so that they have alternatives to miserable traffic and gas prices.

We’re headed into a very different age. Oil will be expensive, and carbon will likely be constrained at some point (which AASHTO supports). We are entering a future in which people are going to be driving less, not more. So why they think that the opposite trend would be good for Americans’ pocketbooks?

AASHTO is to be commended for many of their recommendations, but with a third of our emissions coming from transportation, we can’t have our cake and eat it too. We can’t drive our way out of the climate crisis — we’ve got to dream a little bigger and slash vehicle miles traveled to get there.