California Shows How Smart Suburbs Can Be Clean Energy Solutions

This week, the California Assembly is poised to pass a bill that will use suburban development to reduce driving time for residents and cut global warming pollution. That’s right, while Congress spent the summer arguing over offshore drilling and other false promises to lower gas prices, California has actually crafted a solution that truly will help commuters save money at the pump. 

How is California—the land of the instant town and 10-lane freeway—going to achieve this? By shifting development away from urban sprawl and toward something called smart growth.

We all know what urban sprawl looks like. But here are some alarming numbers:

  • If sprawling development continues, total miles traveled will increase 50 percent by 2030.
  • That will cancel out the expected reductions in global warming pollution we can achieve through greater fuel efficiency and low-carbon fuels during that same time.

Smart Growth Slashes Your Time in the Car

In contrast, smart growth developments—compact communities built within walking distance of public transit and job and shopping opportunities—dramatically cut down on driving.

  • Residents of smart growth communities drive 20 to 40 percent less than residents of sprawling developments.

California’s groundbreaking bill, SB 375 is an effort to spread these benefits across the state—and help meet the 30 percent global warming reductions required by the state’s 2006 climate law.

Rewards for Developers who Cut Global Warming Pollutions 

Under the bill, the California Air Resources Board would provide each region with targets for reducing emissions. These targets are not compulsory, but there are sweet incentives for meeting the targets:

·    Regions that meet the targets will have an advantage in gaining access to nearly $20 billion in federal, state, and local transportation funds that flow through California each year.

·    Builders in these regions would get credit through the review and permit process if they create smart growth projects that will help reduce global warming pollution

Gas Guzzling Is the New Trans Fat 

The bill is shaped in part by the success of Sacramento’s Blueprint, a growth strategy based on smart growth principles.  Read more in my colleague Kaid Benfield’s blog.

In a Wall Street Journal cover story, one Sacramento developer explained the link between energy and development this way: “I see gas prices making people take the Blueprint seriously,” he says. “It’s kind of like not worrying about fast food till the doctor tells you that you have a bad heart.”