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US Secretary of Transportation Says Reducing Vehicle Miles Traveled Necessary for Substantive CO2 Reduction from Transportation

In recent testimony before the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said that substantive reductions in carbon emissions from transportation will require policies and programs that reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT).

Enhancing system efficiency, increasing fuel efficiency and introducing low carbon fuels such as biodiesel, ethanol, electricity, and hydrogen are important steps to reducing transportation related greenhouse gas emissions, but these measures cannot stand alone. Even if vehicle fuel efficiency were to reach 55 mpg by 2030, we would still see only modest decreases in transportation CO2 emissions without a decrease in vehicle miles traveled (VMT).

Addressing VMT growth plays a key role in decreasing transportation related GHG emissions and should be included in overall efforts to prevent climate change. One way to achieve significant reductions in VMT is to develop more livable communities.

—Secretary LaHood

Secretary LaHood outlined several steps that could be taken to spur the development of more livable communities and reduce VMT:

  • Provide more transportation choices in more communities across the country. Single occupancy vehicles should be only one of many transportation options available to Americans to reach their destinations. Walking, bicycling, light rail and buses can be made available in more places.

  • Promote development of housing in close proximity to transit. In addition to reducing VMT and greenhouse gas emissions from cars driven by commuters, such planning would have the added benefits of decreasing transportation costs for families and reducing traffic congestion.

  • Promote mixed-use development, which incorporates residential and commercial buildings, allowing individuals the choice to walk, drive a shorter distance or easily use public transportation to reach their destination. Residents should have the option to live in an area with services and goods that are easily accessible. In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, this would also reduce travel times involved in driving to and from grocery and department stores, medical service providers or even entertainment centers such as movie theaters.

Community planning and multi-modal transportation could benefit smaller towns and rural areas as well, La Hood said.


Nick Lyons

I am encouraged--at long last, a smarter transportation policy. Auto-centric land use patterns (e.g. sprawl) have had a huge impact on our carbon footprint, not to mention the social impacts.


Some people can telecommute at least one day per week. They can work from an office in their home and use computer networks. This would reduce miles traveled to and from work across the nation, saving fuel and reducing congestion on the highways.


La Hood has the right goal - but the wrong approach to acceptance. Anyone living in the top ten North American cities will tell you the rush hour commutes are ridiculous. The first enterprise to offer a comfortable, fast, convenient alternatives will gain acceptance. A single auto-guided freeway lane (fancy HOV lane) with guaranteed travel times will be over-subscribed immediately. The technology to build this is off the shelf.

Employer subsidized car pools and buses should also get more "air time." Pedestrian and bike travel will fail utterly until a comprehensive program of safety rules is put in place. This includes upgrading of traffic and safety regulations to provide cyclists and pedestrians with protection equal to that provided by vehicles. Doubtful that any community/municipality except maybe the Bay Area would consider this.


A few more thousand mid-speed commuter electric trains + electrified city and suburbs buses + a good high speed electric intercity train network would help to reduce the number of private cars-vehicles on the street and roads.

Of course, this cannot be done overnight, but a concerted 10-15 year agressive plan could do it while creating needed jobs, reducing air pollution and oil imports.


These are some good ideas for alternatives, but really the most effective approach to reducing miles traveled is with an increased fuel tax. There needs to be economic incentive for (most) commuters to choose an alternative to driving.

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