Government Steering Americans Toward a Tele-Work, Tele-Shop, Mass-Transit Future

By Susan Jones | March 15, 2013 | 12:33pm EDT

(AP Photo)

( - The Obama administration envisions a "low-carbon, low-petroleum" future where Americans tele-work, tele-shop, walk, bike and use carpools or mass transit if they must leave the neighborhood at all.

A study released Friday by the U.S. Department of Energy says the U.S. has the potential to reduce petroleum use and pollution in the transportation sector by more than 80 percent by 2050. In other words, gasoline-powered cars may go the way of the dinosaur, and many Americans may end up living in planned, mixed-use, "walkable" neighborhoods, built along mass transit lines.

The study -- titled Transportation Energy Futures -- offers "an inclusive approach," including increased fuel economy for all types of vehicles; reduced use of transportation by car; and the expanded use of low-carbon fuels, such as biofuels, electricity, and hydrogen.

Under a section called "Transportation Demand," the report sees opportunities to save energy "through community development and built environment strategies."

To the government, this means "smart growth."

Higher densities (more people living in the same area in smaller homes), a mix of uses (shopping and other services) and walkable neighborhoods contribute to lower vehicle travel and energy use, the report says.

And to encourage "effective land use," the report calls for expanded federal efforts to influence development through funding decisions.

The government already is steering us in this direction: "Planning initiatives in many regions and communities throughout the country have been directed at changing land use in order to reduce transportation energy use, decrease emissions, and achieve related benefits," the report says.

The report spells out specific "federal policy options" to encourage smart growth and discourage driving, as follows:

-- Funding directly targeted at efficient growth, including monies for integrated planning, transportation infrastructure, and other projects and activities, awarded based on criteria intended to shape growth patterns in desired ways;

-- Tax policy that may influence land development;

-- Regulations that apply to federal agencies, states, and/or local communities, such as requirements to consider land use effects in transportation funding decisions;

-- Technical and planning assistance to states, regional planning agencies, and local communities, (e.g.,through the publication of resource documents, tool kits, case studies and models, or the hosting of peer exchanges);

-- Marketing and outreach campaigns providing information directly to the general public.

The report states that while most authority for regulating land use resides with local governments, federal policy has indirectly had a major influence on urban development, through transportation investment (especially the Interstate Highway System) and housing and urban development policy (e.g., mortgage financing and subdivision regulation).

MRC Store