The simple fact is that America’s love affair with the automobile has a whole lot to do with making us not only the largest producer of greenhouse gases but also the largest per capita producer of greenhouse gases in the world. [China’s race to become the second largest producer of greenhouse gases is fueled in no small part by the fact that it is becoming the largest market for personal automobiles in the world. With prosperity in China comes a desire for the freedom of a personal automobile.]

The most interesting thing about the Kerry-Boxer Bill, the current Senate version of climate change legislation, is not so much its cap and trade provision as what it proposes to do with the revenue generated by the sale of carbon emission allowances. One of those uses is to fund metropolitan planning efforts to make it more possible to avoid use of the automobile, and to make other forms of transportation in metropolitan areas more attractive.

Most U.S. metropolitan areas have developed since World War II based on a model of dependence on the single occupant automobile. Suburbs have been sprawled across the landscape, and as large lots have become the norm, large areas have been built where transit simply isn’t realistic. People won’t walk more than so far to the bus stop. A significant part of the transportation focus of the Kerry-Boxer Bill is on encouraging metropolitan areas to plan towards a less auto-dependent future. One of the uses of money generated by sale of carbon emission allowances is to provide grants to support metropolitan area planning for:

  • efforts to increase public transportation ridership, including through service improvements, capacity expansions, and access enhancement;
  • efforts to increase walking, bicycling, and other forms of nonmotorized transportation;
  • implementation of zoning and other land use regulations and plans to support infill, transit-oriented development, redevelopment, or mixed use development;
  • travel demand management programs (including carpool, vanpool, or car-share projects), transportation pricing measures, parking policies, and programs to promote telecommuting, flexible work schedules, and satellite work centers;
  • surface transportation system operation improvements, including intelligent transportation systems or other operational improvements to reduce congestion and improve system management;
  • intercity passenger rail improvements;
  • intercity bus improvements;
  • freight rail improvements;
  • use of materials or equipment associated with the construction or maintenance of transportation projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions;
  • public facilities for supplying electricity to electric or plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles; or
  • any other effort that demonstrates progress in reducing transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions.

What will the impact of all that planning be? Cynics will make the case that it will provide a lot of jobs for planners. The reality is that our post-World War II suburbs will be dependent upon the single occupant automobile for a long time. And planning alone is not enough. It takes serious money to create more frequent bus service, bike lanes throughout our cities, to implement travel demand management programs, to improve intercity passenger rail and bus systems, and to deploy a plug-in network to make electric cars truly viable. But then, if cap and trade actually happens and carbon emission allowances have to be purchased, there will be some money available. The only chance of actually meeting the aggressive carbon emission reduction targets that almost all climate change legislation assumes is required is if the money raised by putting a price on carbon goes to fund the infrastructure that allows American metropolitan areas to continue to move people and goods without depending on the carbon.