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cars and trucks contribute to smog in this report
Sprawl Harms Our Health
Vehicles and Smog
Public Transit vs. Highways
A Vision for the Future
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clearing the air with transit spending

Sprawl Report 2001
A Vision for the Future

A number of communities around the country have used public transportation investments to manage their air quality problems. The federal government is even getting into the act with programs like "Commuter Choice." By using successful examples as models and working together, we can achieve dramatic reductions in air pollution-and dramatic increases in public health. The following communities provide examples of successful approaches to reduce car and truck pollution.

Portland, Oregon
Reducing Traffic and Parking Spaces With Land Use Changes and Public Transportation

A citizen-led revolt in the 1970s led to a decision to reject a new highway (the Mt. Hood Freeway) and, instead, turn to land-use changes and public transit options to meet increasing travel needs. Efforts to defeat a "bypass" project in the 1980s and 1990s helped Portland build upon its smart growth principles through the LUTRAQ program (making the Land Use, Transportation and Air Quality connection). LUTRAQ represented a revolutionary new approach to the land-use/transportation connection. The citizen groups involved in the project managed to demonstrate that their land-use alternative to building a new bypass would actually generate 10 percent less in congestion levels and a dramatic decrease in car and truck miles traveled.(44)

Now Portland is a model of smart development and community livability - all without new highways or increased parking spaces. In fact, Portland emphasizes transit, bicycle and pedestrian access ahead of parking downtown. However, residents should not feel a parking "pinch," as most new development zones are placed near existing or future transit stations. The city's transportation plans specifically state that growth in access to these areas is expected to be met through transit, walking and bicycling.

The ability to limit parking and reduce the amount people drive is due in large part to the city's MAX system, a 33-mile light rail system that connects downtown Portland with outlying areas. Bus routes feed in to the light rail system. Combined, bus and transit ridership has grown 12 straight years, with more than 265,300 rides per day in fiscal year 2000. Transit ridership increased 51 percent between 1990 and 1999, while the number of miles people drove increased only 39 percent, making it one of the only regions in the country where transit growth outpaced growth in vehicle miles driven. Perhaps that explains why Portland's air quality has consistently improved over the past nine years, plunging from 11 days of code orange or worse in 1990 to only two in 1999.(45) In addition, NOx and VOC emissions from automobiles alone decreased dramatically from 1985 to 1999, from 7,982 to 5,391 tons of NOx and from 10,626 to 5,135 tons of VOCs, a more than 50 percent reduction in 14 years.

TRAX, Salt Lake City

Grand Opening: Salt Lake City's TRAX system has achieved a daily ridership of nearly 20,000 since it opened in December 1999. More then 40 percent are new to transit.

Salt Lake City, Utah
Improving Air Quality, Reducing Congestion, and Providing Choice

Even today, communities can turn to transit as a viable option for improving air quality and reducing congestion. Fifteen years after Portland began construction on the MAX system, Salt Lake City is seeing equal success with its TRAX system. TRAX has achieved an impressive daily ridership of nearly 20,000 (41 percent are new to transit) since it opened in December of 1999. But the benefits are not felt only by transit riders. Businesses in the downtown are thriving. On Main Street, old buildings now house new businesses. A parking lot is now a community center with an ice-skating rink, amphitheater for concerts, and space for events and celebrations. Residents and visitors enjoy walkable streets with plants and street clocks.

Unfortunately, the gains that have been made under TRAX and related smart growth efforts may be destroyed if a proposed 125-mile freeway called the Legacy Highway is built. The highway would ensure sprawling development to the west of the metropolitan area. Smart-growth advocates in the region have promoted a LUTRAQ-type analysis of land-use/transportation choices that includes building on the success of TRAX by creating a robust regional transit system. Citizens of the Salt Lake region appear to be ready for more transit-in the last elections they approved a sales tax increase designated for transit, and have embraced TRAX with open arms.

Smog in Dallas

On a Clear Day: The air in Dallas is still polluted, though it has improved in recent years. The city's DART system has doubled ridership since 1996 and moves 30,000 passengers per day. In August 2000, voters in the 13-city service area approved a long-term funding program that will expand DART's reach.

Dallas, Texas
Reducing Congestion, Improving Productivity and Providing Choice

In August 2000, voters in the 13 cities that make up the service area of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit system (DART) approved a long-term funding program that will build upon DART's existing 20-mile light rail system. This long-term approach is starting with new services to outlying areas that are expected to generate a total of almost 45,000 daily riders. In addition to those extensions, DART hopes to build light rail to Dallas-Fort Worth International airport eight years sooner-in 2010 rather than 2018. The expansion program calls for improved bus services and more high occupancy vehicle lanes.

More than 1,500 bus route miles augment the light-rail system, and the entire system moves about 300,000 people a day across a 700-square-mile service area. This upward trend represents a nearly doubling of ridership since 1996, when the system opened. One of the ways that DART manages these impressive numbers is through innovative approaches such as the convenient employeE-Pass, a low-cost transit pass employers can buy for every employee. Depending on the participating company location and profile, each employeE-Pass costs employers as little as $49 a year, and it allows the employee to ride public transit every day, all year long.(46) While Dallas still has a long way to go to improve its air quality, the area has already seen a reduction in pollution.(47) DART is proving that clean, safe transportation, intelligently planned and professionally executed, is a popular alternative to traffic jams and parking hassles, and can reduce pollution as well.

Chicago, Ill. and Campaige Place, Las Vegas
Connections for Community Ownership - Revitalizing Neighborhoods and Helping Businesses Thrive

Adopting smart land use and transportation practices reduces congestion and improves public health. These approaches can also serve to strengthen and revitalize traditionally poor and minority communities.

Connections for Community Ownership, run by the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago, provides business opportunities for minority entrepreneurs and strengthens the commercial districts around transit stops in 14 redeveloping Chicago neighborhoods. Connections acts as an intermediary to link franchisers, minority entrepreneurs and communities with transit-oriented development plans and finance providers, specifically a group of banks and foundations who have set up a subordinated debt fund. By bringing these four interested parties to the table and utilizing the "hidden assets" of inner cities, Connections seeks to boost redevelopment of neighborhood shopping districts while supporting transit use.

Campaige Place, in Las Vegas, seeks to provide assistance to low-income individuals by placing affordable housing right in the core of downtown. The 320 units, designed for individuals making between $9,000 and $18,000 annually, are located in a stylish, secure and well-designed building that is conveniently located near jobs and shops. Residents will be able to walk or take nearby public transportation to work, hence eliminating the need to drive. In serving both low-income residents and smart growth principles, Las Vegas has created a win-win initiative.(48)

Milwaukee, Wis.
Making the Right Decision to Revitalize Neighborhoods and Enhance Quality of Life

In several areas of the country, improvements have been made in the areas of land-use planning. Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist has been a leader in reusing land for people rather than building more highways. In his recent book, The Wealth of Cities, he wrote, "Only in America do we pave our cities with highways." Norquist and other city leaders are working to remove the Park East Freeway, and restore the area to homes and shops, including the new Harley Davidson Museum.(49)

Commuter Choice Leadership Initiative
Improving Productivity, Worker Satisfaction and Quality of Life

The Commuter Choice program promotes employer-provided commuting benefits by giving recognition, resources, tools and information to employers that meet a national standard of excellence in the commuting benefits they offer their employees. Initially, the EPA and federal Department of Transportation worked with a core group of employers (including Intel, Disney, Kaiser Permanente and the City of Fort Worth) to develop the criteria for the national standard of excellence. To date, more than 70 employers have joined the partnership with more than 120,000 employees enjoying commuting benefits that meet the national standard of excellence. The Commuter Choice Leadership Initiative provides incentives for changing the standard American commuting pattern-driving alone to work. The benefits that accrue-especially reduced traffic congestion, improved air quality and reduced fuel consumption-will enhance quality of life in communities across the nation.(50)

Benefits of Public Transportation Spending

Clean transportation choices and quality public transit offer many benefits beyond cleaner air to a community. Some of the benefits of public transportation spending include:

  • Improves air quality
  • Helps downtown businesses thrive
  • Reduces traffic congestion
  • Protects open space and farmland
  • Revitalizes neighborhoods
  • Reduces health care costs
  • Improves productivity and satisfaction of workers
  • Enhances quality of life
  • Meets demand for transportation choices
  • Clearing the Air: Transportation Decisions to Protect Our Health and Communities

    Air pollution not only harms our environment by inhibiting plant growth, it also threatens public health with diseases like asthma. Unfortunately, this problem is not going away. Despite the fact that cars are getting somewhat cleaner, smog has actually increased in a number of regions in the past 10 years(51) as the number of miles Americans travel in their cars has increased dramatically.

    We know that providing people transportation choices helps clear the air, yet some forecast that by the year 2020, the number of miles driven will triple from 1 trillion miles in 1970 to more than 3 trillion miles. In December 2000, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) projected a 7 to 10 percent increase in the highway construction market.(52) No matter how clean cars and the fuels they use become, air pollution threatens to increase if people drive more and more.

    But there are choices; we as a society do not have to live with air pollution. Our transportation and land-use choices are directly related to our air pollution problems. How we choose to spend on highways or public transportation will have grave impacts for our future. Fortunately, in the coming years we have an opportunity to make the choices necessary to achieve real reductions in air pollution.

    The timing could not be better for promoting less-polluting choices. According to the American Public Transportation Association, America's traveling public is increasingly turning to public transportation. For the second quarter of 2001, the nation's public transportation systems have recorded a 2.9 percent increase in ridership over the same period in 2000. This quarterly increase in ridership builds on last year's year-end total of 9.4 billion trips, the highest peak in annual ridership in more than 40 years. In the past five years, ridership has increased by 21 percent.(53) Clearly, the public is ready to use public transportation-it is up to state and local governments to provide these options.

    How can transportation decisions at all levels help meet these goals? By:

    Federal and State Government

    • Increasing the amount of money set aside for public transportation.

    • Reducing the amount of money set aside for road and other car-oriented projects.

    • Working to equalize funding for highways and clean public transportation projects.

    • Promoting and supporting planning at the regional and statewide level that combines transportation and land use planning.

    • Funding innovative incentive-based programs for encouraging alternative transportation use, such as tax credits.

    • Supporting public involvement in the transportation and land use planning process.


    • Combine trips when you are running errands.

    • Walk, bike, use public transit where available, or carpool to work.

    • Live near your work and near public transportation.

    • Demand more public transportation choices in your community.

    • Talk to decision-makers about the need for increased investments in public transit.

    By better balancing transportation spending between roads and less-polluting public transit, like high speed rail and clean buses, we can reduce the number of miles people have to drive, provide Americans more transportation choices and better reflect America's priorities on clean air, good health and enhanced quality of life.

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