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March 30, 2011

We Need Transportation Choices

Ford_Escape_Hybrid The President's speech today on energy security (transcript) hit some key points when it comes to reducing the amount of oil or new cars and trucks guzzle. His Administration has made great progress on that front. The President noted that fuel efficiency standards for new vehicles stagnated for decades - there is a lot of ground to make up. 

But he's made a good start by ramping up vehicle fuel efficiency to 35.5 miles per gallon - that will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of new vehicles sold between 2012 and 2016. The President has a huge opportunity to set a truly transformative direction by aiming for 60 mpg for vehicles sold in 2025.  It is America's renewable resource of innovation that must be tapped and we must aim high, not low.

President Obama also noted another important opportunity - his Administration can create more choices:

We've also made historic investments in high-speed rail and mass transit, because part of making our transportation sector cleaner and more efficient involves offering Americans - urban, suburban, and rural - the choice to be mobile without having to get in a car and pay for gas.

The President's commitment to offering Americans more transportation choices is critical - from rail and transit to safe walking and biking. Without increasing our cBikehoices we cannot tackle or addiction to oil. And, we cannot ignore the cost of traffic and congestion or the benefits of well designed communities that offer safe walking and biking and transit.  

These choices would also vastly decrease traffic congestion, which is not only a headache for those stuck in it - it also wastes oil, time, and dollars. Traffic congestion in 2009:

  • Cost $115 billion
  • Guzzled 3.9 billion gallons
  • Costs the average commuter caught in it $808 worth of gasoline
  • Cost the average commuter 34 hours. 

And with a recovering economy, traffic congestion could get worse as more people head back to work.  But, according to CEOs for Cities, some cities are better protected from the drain of high gas prices because of both how they are designed to put people closer to where the need to be and because of transit. 

As reported in USA Today, the following cities are most insulated from spiking prices at the pump - which means their citizens get to keep more dollars in their pockets to spend in the city rather than sending them overseas to pay for oil.

Gas While we tend to think of driving trips as commutes to work, the CEOs for Cities assessment notes that many of our trips out of the house aren't to work, but rather to all the other places we go - such as a trip to the grocery store or the mall.

Imagine the oil and money savings if more Americans instead had the option to walk or bike or take transit for these trips. Even decreasing the length of one's commute can have a tremendous effect:

"Decreasing driving by just one mile per person per day in the nation's 51 largest metro areas would save $29 billion."

We can achieve the President's oil savings goals and then some - clean cars, electric vehicles, standards for trucks matched with driving less because we have transportation choices is the key.

-- Ann Mesnikoff, Director of the Sierra Club Green Transportation Campaign

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