Friday, May 30

What's my region's footprint?

There is a proliferation of websites set up to help individual households calculate their carbon footprints, but there hasn't been much consistent data collected to help metropolitan areas assess their own carbon emissions. The Brookings Institute has released a report to do just that: rank metro areas by their carbon output. As a Washington think-tank, the Brookings people have their eyes on federal policy, but this information could also be useful to regional leaders who want some idea of how they are doing. Maybe it could even spark some healthy competition.

Some of the factors are simply out of human control. Cities located in climates that require heavy cooling or heating have a distinct disadvantage, and some cities, particularly in the West, are better suited for cleaner energy sources, such as hydroelectric power, than others in the East that rely on coal. But there are clear ways that cities can better themselves.

Wait for it ...

"Density, concentration of development, and rail transit all tend to be higher in metro areas with small per capita footprints. Much of what appears as regional variation may be attributed to these spatial factors.

Dense metro areas such as New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco stand out for having the smallest transportation and residential footprints. Alternatively, low-density metro areas such as Nashville and Oklahoma City predominate in the 10 largest per capita metro emitters."

Another thought from the paper worth pursing is that federal transportation policy ought to be characterized by "modal neutrality." Far too often local efforts to promote transit-oriented development are hampered by federal policies that are aimed in the opposite direction. Ryan Advent reports that the federal budget allocated to rails in 2007 was a mere $1.3 billion, compared to the $31 billion allocated to highway spending. On top of this, regulations are often more rigid and burdensome for transit than they are for highways. This can have a profound impact on land use decisions, which are, at least in theory, supposed to be under the purview of the local community. A one-size-fits all policy doesn't fit cities very well.

No comments: