Summary

Recent research indicates that Americans with access to diverse travel choices—including reliable public transportation and options to walk or bike to daily destinations—spend considerably less money on transportation. The average transit rider, for example, consumes half as much gasoline as a person without transit service, according to the American Public Transportation Association. Depending on where they live, U.S. households now spend from under two percent to more than 16 percent of their income on gasoline alone, according to the Oil Price Information Service. Availability of transportation options is a key factor behind this variability.

Market research data suggests that more Americans are seeking to live in compact, mixed-use neighborhoods where opportunities to reduce transportation costs are more abundant. A new online tool, WalkScore.com, helps renters and homebuyers identify and compare “walkable” neighborhoods. An analysis of the 40 most populous U.S. cities and 2,500 neighborhoods, including Capitol Hill, will be released July 17.

Record-breaking gas prices are triggering major transportation shifts. Automobile travel decreased more than two percent in the first four months of this year, the largest drop in 50 years, while public transportation ridership in the first quarter of 2008 rose three percent over 2007, with some transit systems reporting increases greater than ten percent. Bicycle commuting has also been increasing, according to the League of American Bicyclists. Transit systems are being squeezed, however, by rising costs, due to increased service demand and fuel prices, while agencies are working to better serve transit and non-motorized uses through “complete streets” policies and related measures.

On July 17, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) hosted a briefing on federal transportation policy options to reduce the impact of rising gas prices on consumers and U.S. dependence on oil. The briefing focused on the potential fuel savings of policy initiatives being considered by Congress, including the Saving Energy Through Public Transportation Act (H.R.6052) recently passed by the House of Representatives, the Safe and Complete Streets Act (H.R.5951), and the pending Transportation and Housing Choices for Gas Price Relief Act (H.R.6495). Federal, state, and local policies may limit the availability of transportation choices that would help Americans save money on gasoline.

  • Projects currently exist that prove the benefits of development that allows for transportation options. These benefits include lower household expenditures on gasoline, less traffic congestion, healthier lifestyles, and a more coherent pattern of growth.
  • Local, state, and federal laws and regulations often inhibit the creation of development that doesn't fit into the "drivable suburban" paradigm. These barriers include the distribution of public funds for projects and rigid zoning policies.
  • Public demand for walkable communities is growing, but supply has not kept pace.
  • The mortgage industry collapse will have an impact on how we grow. The worst effects will likely be to real estate on the fringes of communities, while units in dense developments near public transportation will be more likely to hold value.
  • It is much cheaper to build walkable urban infrastructure than drivable suburban on a per square foot basis.
  • People should have access to a variety of transportation options including walking, bicycling, and transit. "Complete Streets" redevelopment can allow for safe access for all users without significant changes in infrastructure. Such projects have shown a reduction in automobile speeding, crashes, and volume; higher pedestrian and bicycle volumes; and increased overall user satisfaction.
  • Policy should encourage rather than discourage walkable urban development.
  • Transit infrastructure can spur private development.

Speaker Slides