Germany doesn’t have a single goal to improve the pedestrian experience on its streets — it has seven. That’s right: Germany not only has a comprehensive National Walking Plan — something American street-safety advocates only dream of — but its transportation leaders are holding themselves accountable to seven distinct benchmarks for measuring how their policies affect the safety and comfort of people on foot.
Seriously, just check out this infographic, which spells out exactly how walkable Germans want their cities to become by 2030:
It’s a shocking contrast to the American approach to pedestrian policy and goal setting. The Federal Highway Administration doesn’t even have national pedestrian-fatality-reduction goals; its last safety plan focuses, instead, on such non-quantifiable targets as “Motivate drivers to look for and stop for pedestrians” and the maddening “motivate pedestrians to use crosswalks and designated-crossing locations.”
That’s perfectly in keeping with America’s broader approach to roadway safety. Last week, U.S. delegates only reluctantly agreed to an international pledge to reduce total roadway fatalities by 50 percent in 10 years, giving the excuse that “not all” nations had agreed to the target before the pledge was drafted. (Read: They didn’t think halving road deaths was realistic, even as city after city eliminates them.)
Germany signed the 50 percent pledge, which makes its pedestrian–only safety goals even more impressive. Deutschlanders are pledging to reduce non-driver/cyclist fatalities by at least 20 percent by 2030; they’re also requiring states to set aggressive cycling-fatality-reduction targets as part of a National Cycling Plan.
But the push doesn’t just stop at safety. The Germans also aim to make walking more attractive and convenient by shortening the average pedestrian trip to under 5 miles, increasing accessibility for disabled people, and reducing car use.
That’s a night-and-day difference from U.S. pedestrian policies, which focus almost exclusively on increasing safety through modest gains in pedestrian infrastructure — and don’t address the question of whether walking is comfortable and attractive.
But as a decade of rising American pedestrian-fatality stats has shown, adding meager amounts of pedestrian infrastructure to otherwise completely car-focused streetscapes in hopes of saving lives doesn’t even work. “This supply-side oriented approach has not delivered the expected benefits [in the realm of pedestrian safety,]” German consultancy group GIZ said in a report about its country’s pedestrian policy. “Induced traffic has been created and roads continue to exhibit unacceptable levels of congestion, greenhouse-gas emissions and other externalities. For this reason, the traditional approach is nowadays regarded as obsolete.”
That’s a very German way of saying that the traditional — read: American — style of cars-first, pedestrians-later transportation planning totally sucks. There’s a better way, and it’s called the Avoid, Shift, Improve model, or ASI.
Rather than simply focusing on pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, an ASI approach demands that cities, states and even nations think more holistically about saving lives on their streets. The “avoid” column — which refers to policies designed to reduce the necessity of long trips usually taken by car — is especially under-discussed in American transportation policy, because, of course, it falls outside the realm of traditional transportation planning. The ASI model insists, however, that leaders think broadly about housing, commercial development, and creating complete neighborhoods in which people don’t need to drive to the grocery store or their kids’ school, because essential services are right next door.
Here’s another look at the ASI approach that even more concisely illustrates why Americans need to stop treating pedestrian safety as just an infrastructure problem, and start thinking bigger.
It’s refreshing to see a transportation plan that doesn’t start with cars, and instead positions private motor vehicles exactly where they should be in our road hierarchy: as the mode of last resort. If America wants to do better by its pedestrians, we should open up our minds, set many ambitious goals to make sustainable transportation better, and — just maybe — start thinking like the Germans.
Last week, we explored the emerging idea that the Vision Zero approach to ending roadway fatalities is missing a pillar: policies that directly reduce car travel on our roads — and not just by providing drivers optional transportation alternatives. Today, we’re laying out the tools some cities are already using to subtract motor vehicles from their streets — and a few they might consider putting into practice in tandem with increases to sustainable transportation.
1. Toll roads
Let’s start with the most prevalent car-reducing mechanism on American streets: the humble toll box. After all, who hasn’t paid a few bucks to drive on the turnpike now and then? Expanding toll roads into our cities is a simple and effective way to make drivers think twice about hopping behind the wheel when a greener transportation option is available — and help bring the real costs of our auto-centric road network into better alignment with what drivers pay to use it. (Reminder: they only pay about 51 percent of road spending now.)
Yes, putting tolls on roads disproportionately burdens poor drivers. But so does every other way we fund roads — and toll roads may be one of the only ways to collect the revenue we need to build lower-income residents a sustainable alternative to driving, which would save everyone money in the long run.
2. Congestion pricing
Tolling highly traveled roads is a great first step — but tolling roads more when there’s the high demand to drive on them is even better. Congestion pricing, otherwise known as “variable demand pricing,” is an innovative way to get drivers to pay the actual cost of the asphalt they use, and encourages them to skip a clogged commute in a single occupancy vehicle if they can.
New York City is poised to become the first in the U.S. to try congestion pricing (if the feds ever let Gotham out of environmental review purgatory). If you’re a resident of the Empire State, it might be a good moment to call U.S. DOT Secretary Elaine Chao and urge her to get this project off the ground — so the rest of the country can learn from NY’s bold step.
3. Surge pricing for parking
Variable demand pricing isn’t just for roadways. Jacking up the price of parking when there’s more demand for spaces can be a simple way to discourage unnecessary car trips — and if you’ve ever taken the bus to a major league baseball game so you don’t have to pay extortionate lot fees to park near the stadium, you already know this works.
Why shouldn’t your city get a share of the profits when there’s big demand for parking? It should — and we should invest every penny of that money into alternative transportation that doesn’t require parking at all.
4. Increase gas prices
There’s a well-documented relationship between increases in gas prices and decreases in driving — and unfortunately, the opposite is true, too. And though it’s hard to influence oil prices directly, the U.S. is long overdue to increase its federal gas tax, which hasn’t been raised since 1993. Ending oil company subsidies probably couldn’t hurt, either.
No matter how you slice it, studies show that a 10-percent increase in gasoline prices results in between 2.2 and 6 percent decreases in pedestrian deaths. A few extra cents at the pump is a small price to pay to save lives.
5. Vehicle-miles-traveled taxes
What might be even better than increasing gas taxes is to get rid of them altogether and replace them with something better. After all, when your road network gets more funding from a fuel inefficient vehicle than a hybrid or an electric car, you give lawmakers a perverse incentive not to clean up the vehicle fleet. Wouldn’t it be better if our transportation system rewarded people who drove less — and simply scaled down our road spending as car-focused roads empty out and revenue drops?
It’s called a “vehicle miles traveled” tax, or a “pay-by-mile” tax, and it gets assessed at the end of the year based on a mileage reader on your car. Oregon is already piloting it. Maybe your state should be next.
6. Distance-based vehicle insurance
Another simple way to reward drivers for skipping the occasional ride is to cut their insurance rates every time they leave the whip in the garage. It makes a ton of sense for insurance companies, too: a car you leave at home, after all, is literally never going to be found at fault in a crash that triggers an expensive pay-out.
There are already pay-per-mile insurers out there — this isn’t #SponCon, but we’ve heard pretty good things about Metromile. Every major insurance company should add the option for customers to save by engaging in the safest driving behavior of all: leaving their car at home.
7. Car-free streets
Before anyone starts clutching his or her pearls: #BanCars doesn’t have to mean #BanCarsEverywhereForeverRightNow. And recent experiments in closing sections of the city to private vehicles have already saved lives in New York and San Francisco.
The thing about car bans is that American cities have a ton of them already — even if they don’t think of them that way. The Seattle neighborhood group Queen Anne Greenways had a great Twitter thread the other day about the many car-free spaces Americans already embrace, from indoor shopping malls to school campuses to Disney World. Banning cars on strategic stretches can be a surprisingly pain-free way to show skeptical drivers how much easier it is to get around when you don’t prioritize auto travel over everything else — even if that seems like a paradox to them today.
8. License plate lotteries
This is more extreme but it isn’t science fiction. In Beijing, private vehicle ownership is actually capped by a vehicle permit lottery, which limits how many new cars can legally be sold and put on the road. Residents have just a one-in-2,000 chance of winning the lottery, which happens bimonthly; if you don’t win, your transportation needs will still be covered, thanks to the city’s excellent public transit network.
The Chinese government is not exactly forthcoming with their roadway stats, but one report indicates that Beijing’s roadway mortality rates decreased 34 percent between 2014 and 2016. The license lottery has been in effect since 2011, so it’s a pretty good guess that reducing cars on the road had something to do with that astonishing dip.
9. Road space rationing
Again: not sci-fi. In dozens of major global metros, the solution to keeping cars off the road is elegant: they only allow drivers to take their vehicles out on specified times or days.
Here’s how it typically works: every day, drivers whose license plates end with certain numbers are banned from using the roadways outright, or they’re limited to driving during non-peak hours, or only outside of highly congested downtowns. Drivers who violate the ban get ticketed; drivers who don’t get to enjoy less congested streets on their designated driving days; sustainable transportation users, meanwhile, get to move freely along streets with fewer dangerous vehicles threatening their lives.
It’s a complicated system that requires a lot of communication, especially when cities adjust their rations dynamically, as some do. But still: isn’t all that bureaucracy worth it if we can save even a single life?
10. Cold, hard cash
Hey, we collectively subsidize driving in all kinds of ways, from free parking to debt-fueled car infrastructure to government grants to oil companies and auto manufacturers. Is it really so outrageous to give a cyclist or a bus passenger a few bucks a month, simply for choosing a mode that doesn’t cost carry outrageous costs to society?
Individual companies already pay employees for not taking advantage of their at-work parking benefit; Todd Litman has some compelling research that suggests these programs saved CEOs money in the long run, compared to what those organizations previously spent on real estate and asphalt maintenance to store their employees’ cars all day. Why shouldn’t members of the public see a benefit for saving departments of transportation dollars when we pick cleaner ways to get around? And more importantly, why should we be so shy about putting a little financial hurt on people who insist on driving, even if we provide them a financial incentive not to?
[Editor’s note: This isn’t an exhaustive list of VMT-reducing strategies — and we need even more of them if we want to get dangerous cars off our roads as we build better ways to get around. Add yours to the comments section, or @ us on Twitter.]
Culdesac, the U.S.’s first, from-scratch car-free neighborhood, is coming to Tempe in 2020. If you want to live in this new Arizona neighborhood, you can’t own a car Fast Company BY KRISTIN TOUSSAINT
The car, it’s been said, is king in America. In most places, life is impossible without one. Even in most dense cities, presumably the places where it would be easiest to live without a car, municipal codes often include requirements for a certain number of parking spots per person for any new building. But a new neighborhood in Tempe, Arizona, will be an outlier, by fully prioritizing people over vehicles. If you want to live there, you have to agree to not have your own personal automobile.
Culdesac Tempe, a 1,000-person development set to open fall 2020, bills itself as the “world’s first post-car real estate developer.” Founders Ryan Johnson and Jeff Berens say they want to provide people the option of living a car-free lifestyle. The mixed-use Culdesac Tempe neighborhood is a $140 million project, capitalized by traditional real estate investors, and will include a dog park, restaurants, market hall, grocery store, and gym, with access to a light rail that connects to downtown Tempe, the airport, and Arizona State University.
But don’t worry, they understand the car remains vital: Though residents will be banned from owning or parking a car onsite per their lease, the Culdesac Tempe neighborhood will still be accessible for emergency vehicles, service vehicles (like if you need a couch delivered), and ride-shares, which will have designated pickup and drop-off locations around the perimeter. There will also be a small fleet of car-share vehicles (a partner has not yet been named) that will be available as a transportation option for residents when they want to go beyond where the neighborhood’s light rail can take them.
Parking lots won’t be completely extinct in Culdesac Tempe, either. “Because this is a mixed-use neighborhood and it has lots of restaurants, and because most of [nearby] Phoenix will, for the foreseeable future, use cars, we have lots of parking for those purposes. So there’s a small parking lot for restaurant visitors to use, there’s a parking lot for the friends and visitors of the residents to come,” Berens says. “But the feel of the community, it’s as if you’re living in a park, and so there’s no asphalt streets running inside of it. It’s using things like permeable pavers or decomposed granite.”
In cities across the country, on-street and garage parking options occupy a sizeable chunk of real estate; 40% of the land area in Seattle is currently used for parking, and New York City has 12 Central Parks’ worth of on-street spots alone. “Whereas a normal urban development would really have to use a lot of land for parking, by not having to design for cars, space is freed up for things like a park or for bike paths and walkways and retail and other things that people want to have at their front door,” Berens says.
They’re not alone in their vision for car-free living. Traffic has worsened, pollution threatens both our personal health and that of the planet, cars are proving to be a continuing threat to pedestrian and cyclist safety, and research is building on the mental and physical health benefits of public green spaces and the harms of long car commutes, and so more communities are questioning why we’ve been so devoted to the automobile in the first place. A Freiburg, Germany, neighborhood has gone car-free, as have areas of Oslo, Barcelona, Copenhagen, and more. The entire city of Paris banned cars for a day. All of this has served as inspiration (and learning material) for Culdesac, and the company hopes to help pave the way for more municipalities to go car-free (or car-less).
“The history of cities and urban development is very much one of one place pioneering something new and then other places replicating it and making it even better,” says Berens. “We expect what we’re doing in Tempe to set a precedent for a different type of development [and] many cities have already reached out to us about wanting to incorporate some of the things we’re doing in Tempe in other places.”
Culdesac has called this the “first car-free neighborhood from scratch in the United States,” and though Berens concedes that of course those nitpickers who point out that “every neighborhood before the car was invented was built as a car-free neighborhood” are technically correct, the point still stands that since then, the car has dictated urban design. “Recently, transportation has been innovating but real estate hasn’t kept up,” he says. “What we’re doing is harnessing the new innovations in transport to enable a new type of land use that creates more walkability and offers life at your front door.”
This first Culdesac neighborhood will house 1,000 people, and the founders say there’s already an “enormous” amount of demand to live within its car-free borders. Most units are one bedroom, and will be “priced competitively” compared to new apartment buildings in the area. They picked Tempe because both Berens and Johnson are Arizona natives going back generations, but also because the local government has proven to be forward thinking. This marks the country’s first and only agreement, according to Culdesac, between a city and a developer to build a neighborhood community with no residential parking. Culdesac also worked with the fire and police departments, along with city planners, to think about how the neighborhood could be safe and accessible for everyone.
Maricopa County, where Tempe is located, has also been the fastest-growing county in the U.S. for three years running, and the space where Culdesac Tempe will be—which developers officially broke ground on last week—is near the light rail, downtown, and Arizona State, and yet was previously completely undeveloped. To Berens and Johnson, it was a natural place to start, and that blank canvas offered a unique opportunity.
If you’re concerned about how to get around a place like Tempe that reaches sweltering, 100-plus degrees in summer without the comforts of a car (and its air conditioning), the Culdesac founders say there’s nothing to worry about. They factored in location-specific considerations like temperature when designing the neighborhood, and that means Culdesac Tempe’s “connective courtyard design” allows for cross-ventilation and plenty of shaded space for those walking around. Though cities tend to be hotter due to the urban heat island effect from buildings and pavement absorbing sunlight, more green space in this new neighborhood means almost twice as much shade coverage than the local standard, and those courtyards can also act like public spaces for community events or simply friendly neighborhood interactions.
This is just the beginning for Culdesac, they say. “After this, we want to build another one and a bigger one, that might be 10 times as big,” says Johnson. “The advantages of using mobility to impact how we build, they compound at scale, and so there’s more that we can do to make an even better neighborhood as we build bigger.” In Culdesac Tempe, residents will be able to walk from end to end in a few minutes, but with a bigger neighborhood, there are more ways innovation transportation options can be integrated.
“Ultimately our goal is to build the first car-free city in the United States,” says Berens, but whether that’s from scratch isn’t yet clear, since he notes each project will be informed by its local context. “The goal is to create a city where everyone can access jobs and amenities without feeling like they need to own a car. Some people may still choose to own a car, but the structure of the city would be set up to enable a car-free lifestyle.”
- The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) last week issued a proposed decision outlining two new pilots that would set the state on the path toward decarbonizing its buildings — which currently contribute a quarter of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.
- The commission is proposing to launch the Building Initiative for Low-Emissions Development (BUILD) program, which would incentivize near-zero emissions technologies in new residential buildings, and the Technology and Equipment for Clean Heating (TECH) initiative, which would build out the market for low-emission space and water heaters in new and existing residential buildings.
- The pilots stem from SB 1477, legislation signed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in 2018. The two programs are estimated to cost $200 million over four years.
The CPUC launched its building decarbonization rulemaking in January, 2019, and in addition to implementing the pilot programs, also intends to align its policies with building energy efficiency standards and create a broader framework for building decarbonization policy.
According to SB 1477, California has seen very little growth in near-zero emissions construction practices and clean heating, despite “the favorable economics of achieving deep emissions reductions in new buildings.” The CPUC’s proposed decision would allocate 40% of the total $200 million budget for the BUILD program, and 60% for the TECH initiative. The proposal can be voted on at the commission’s March 26 meeting at the earliest.
As per the CPUC’s proposal, the California Energy Commission would administer the BUILD program, providing incentives to “newly constructed projects that are, at a minimum, all-electric.” Incentives would not be provided to projects that will ultimately require natural gas infrastructure extensions, and would be based on GHG performance models. The program’s budget is $2 million per year for four years.
The agency is proposing that the TECH initiative be implemented by a third-party, which would be selected through a solicitation process conducted by Southern California Edison. The CPUC’s approach to the TECH program allows flexibility and provides the implementer with “a menu of tactics,” the proposed decision says. However, it will include an emphasis on driving upstream and midstream market development, and education and training, rather than directly providing incentives to customers.
Bidders for the TECH program are required to propose technologies that would best meet the program’s goals, with a special emphasis on technologies that are grid-enabled, and would address health, safety and affordability concerns for low-income households.
The CPUC proposed decision does not adopt recommendations from Southern California Gas and other parties to specifically include renewable natural gas and hydrogen in the pilots, since SB 1477 **is not focused on “particularized infrastructure or fuels.”**
The proposal “makes a lot of really smart choices,” according to Michael Colvin, director of California energy at the Environmental Defense Fund.
“We’re very supportive of the overall direction of where the commission is headed with these pilot programs,” especially the emphasis on low-income communities and understanding the financial impact on the gas system, he said.
The American Biogas Council supports building decarbonization, but only allowing buildings that use electricity is “short-sighted,” Patrick Serfass, executive director, told Utility Dive.
“In California, there seems to be a growing interest for 100% electricity solutions, which cuts out the opportunity for renewable gas to play the valuable role it can play,” he said.
When utilities wanted to decarbonize electricity, they didn’t just cut down power lines — they put “better stuff” in them, Serfass said.
“That’s what the gas industry is trying to do as well — we’re trying to put better gas, renewable gas, low-carbon or carbon negative gas to replace fossil gas, and having the choice for different kinds of energy is important all across the country and certainly in California,” he said.
Renewable gas and hydrogen need to be part of the zero-emissions future, Jack Brouwer, director of the National Fuel Cell Research Center and professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of California, Irvine, told Utility Dive. Brouwer is a board member and chair of the renewable hydrogen and energy storage sector action group of the California Hydrogen Business Council.
He supports electrification, heat pumps and battery storage, “but if you put all of those together and you try to get to just 80% of renewables on the grid, you cannot do it,” he said.
He noted that the CPUC also needs to focus on resilience, especially in light of widespread public safety power-shut offs deployed by utilities during the 2019 wildfire season.
“Electrifying everything will not be as resilient as decarbonizing both the electric and gas systems,” he said.
The Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas declined to comment on the proposed decision.