When Electric Isn't Good Enough



“There is a persistent belief, among both state officials and the public, that clean cars and clean fuels alone can achieve California’s climate goals, but this is fundamentally untrue,” he says. “Even if we have 100 percent zero-emission vehicles and 75 percent renewable energy production by 2050—both ambitious goals—we still need a 15 percent reduction of VMT beyond what current regional plans project to achieve.”


Part of the problem is the transitory and unstable nature of employment now. I think of the Douglas aircraft workers in Lakewood (see the great book Holy Land by D.J. Waldie), whose homes were built close to the plants; similarly, Flint, Michigan and GM. These places offered lifetime employment, so there were few who left. Now, when the duration of most jobs can be measured in months or 1-2 years, it’s nearly impossible to site workers close to their employment – sadly, because that is where I think you could gather up millions of vehicle miles.


Interesting data but it doesn’t tell a complete story because some long commutes happen in places with robust public transportation and others happen in places without that.

But all of the long commutes happen in places with somewhat higher population density.

So it would seem to require a different approach to urban life if we want to reduce most VMTs. I wonder how difficult it would be to convince a town to zone most new construction as live/work space. And I wonder how long it would take for new building of such spaces to alter a town enough to impact total VMTs.

It may be that we’re simply stuck with long commutes in many urban areas. And because of this, we just need to find the least harmful way to carry out those commutes. High density public transportation would seem like the obvious answer to me (trains and subways).