Reversing Sprawl/Saving the Planet for the Next Generation [formerly "Time to Recognize the Politics of Suburban Sprawl"]
- On Fri, 28 Nov 2003 07:38:04 -0800 Richard Risemberg
>Sprawl is so ingrained in the American lifestyle of today, it will take a
> "I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every
> an obligation; every possession, a duty."
> John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
monumental effort to even begin to reverse it. But reverse it we must.
The concepts of smart growth can perhaps accommodate the change, but
something is needed to ignite the ground swell of public support for a
less car-dependent society. As the above article posted by Richard aptly
suggests, the political power behind continuing with the status quo -- a
society depended on sprawl for growth (heavy on road building, auto
buying, gasoline buying, real estate buying) -- is immense. It involves
a huge number of the big money and lobbying industries: real estate,
automobile sales, road building, bridge building, oil pumping, oil
shipping, oil refining, gasoline selling, automobile maintenance, AAA,
housing development, cement manufacturing. All these folks lobby the
government to continue feeding the status quo, which is killing us and
the environment that sustains us.
Add to all this the convenience, status and necessity and of having an
automobile at our disposal, and there's no sense denying that we have our
backs up against the wall in determining how to rid ourselves of this
increasingly unhealthy and dangerous dependence on technology.
We are all too familiar with the way urban sprawls wrecks the landscape
and community, and puts a burden on local economic resources. I am
personally more concerned about the increasingly unhealthy consequences
of so much gasoline burning in the U.S., which is not only fueling global
warming of the entire planet, but the ozone and particulates associated
with fossil fuel burning also are now being implicated in causing stroke,
heart attack, cancer and asthma, to say nothing about the deaths to
pedestrians, bicyclists and other car drivers. Enough said (I hope.).
What often gets overlooked is that the benefits of LESS motor vehicle
driving in the U.S. would be huge. They would range from fewer costs
associated with auto, truck and plane crashes; a reduction (or
elimination) of the need to build in more highway capacity and the
corresponding losses in agricultural land, wildlife habitat or other uses
of those lands precluded by laying pavement; reduced air pollution
related illnesses (cancer..); reductions in the costs of wasting time in
traffic congestion; reduced highway maintenance cost; and an overall
improvement in the liveability of cities and rural areas alike. These
benefits are not enough to sell the American public on the need to reduce
their auto usage, because everyone knows that if he or she cuts back on
driving for these reasons, others will not necessarily follow suit,
making the whole situation unfair.
Some say the only way to reduce auto use is to make it more expensive to
drive, by raising the price of gasoline via a huge increase in the gas
tax. Studies show a small increase will have little effect on people's
driving habits, but that a large increase would probably have an effect,
especially on individuals and families having more meager annual incomes.
So the issue of equity would make raising the gas tax even more
Raising the gasoline tax is a "negative approach" to encouraging people
to drive less, meaning they associate the proposal with higher taxes.
While working for Wisconsin's state environmental agency in 1999, I came
up with a proposal that would provide a "positive approach" to encourage
individuals and families to drive less. The plan would have cut the use
of highways in Wisconsin by 25%, sending a large amount of money that
would have been used to build an expanded highway system [$8 billion over
10 years] back to the public instead, in the form of monetary incentives
for people to significantly drive less miles. Signing up for the program
would have been totally voluntary, so the financial rewards would have to
be high enough to make people really want to try to cut back on their
driving to sign up. Annual "rebates" of between $400 and $28,000 would
be given individuals and families who drove under certain threshold
mileage numbers, as logged on the odometers of the vehicles registered to
them. Those who didn't drive at all over a year would receive the
maximum rebate of $2,800 for not contributing to the road capacity or
maintenance cost. The program would be strictly voluntary, and would
require a nominal fee ($30-$50/applicant).
Of course the transportation agency and its partners (road building
industry; politicians, auto industry, AAA) and pro-highway development
politicians were not terribly enthusiastic about this whole idea, to say
the least. They bent the ears of my employer, and I was quickly
reassigned on my job to do other less controversial things than proposing
state government pay people not to drive.
Naturally, the public media caught wind of "the DNR plan" though, to
rebate people for driving less and saw a good story to report. Many
people had a real fun time at my expense, including some of the radio and
TV stations. Others took the proposal more seriously and sort of liked
Anyway, I located the links to the news media articles recently and
though I'd share them here for people's interest. I'm not looking for
sympathy, but I must say that the way my state employer -- who was no
doubt taking orders from the Wisconsin governor at the time (Tommy
Thompson) -- handled the whole thing was rather backhanded and cowardly.
I've probably written enough on this for you to get the general picture.
Needless to say, road building in Wisconsin is still alive and well,
although a recent state audit of the DOT has found that they grossly
underestimate the cost of the 32 highway expansion project they now have
underway. For some reason, this does not surprise me.
Here are the links to the news media articles and the link to the full
proposal, rewritten about a year later. I'm also attaching an email from
EPA global warming people in support of insurance plans that charge less
in premiums for policy owners who drive less miles over the year.
(Similar idea, of course.) Enjoy.
(If these don't connect to the stories, let me know and I'll cut and
paste them and send them that way.)
"It is incumbent on us here today to so act throughout our lives as to
our children a heritage for which we will receive their blessings and not
- Theodore Roosevelt, from a speech he gave in Dickinson, North Dakota,
July 4, 1886
From: EPA Climate Change Govs List [mailto:epagovs@...]
Sent: Friday, November 21, 2003 3:40 PM
Subject: Pay-As-You-Drive Gains Momentum
Pay-As-You-Drive Gains Momentum
Pay-As-You-Drive (PAYD) automobile insurance, in which premiums for a
vehicle are based on how much it is driven, offers a way to reduce costs
motorists while encouraging them to drive less. A number of recent
developments suggest that the concept of PAYD is picking up momentum in
U.S. and other countries.
A number of insurers have begun testing the PAYD concept. Progressive
Insurance, headquartered in Ohio, has tested a PAYD insurance option in
Texas, and the British insurer Norwich Union currently is conducting a
test in Great Britain. UK-based software developer Carlton Business
plans to offer its "Insure per Mile" system to British customers starting
In July 2003, Oregon passed a law creating an incentive program to
encourage insurance companies to test PAYD insurance premiums. Under the
law, insurance companies that offer mileage-based or time-based rating
will be given a $100 tax credit for each vehicle carrying this type of
policy. The law applies only to the tax years between 2005 and 2010, and
establishes a limit of $1 million on the total credits that may be
by all of the insurance companies during that time. Other states,
Georgia and Texas, also have passed laws to enable or encourage insurers
Studies have shown that providing drivers with a financial incentive to
drive less could result in a 10 percent reduction in annual mileage,
to reduced air pollution, fuel use, and greenhouse gas emissions. State
local governments may want to consider PAYD insurance as part of a
toward attainment of air quality standards. EPA has guidance on
incorporating voluntary programs into a State Implementation Plan (SIP)
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