Success driving less

By Michael Brenneis 

Driving less is one of the keys to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, and to reducing the number of deaths and serious injuries on our roads. Most states have seen an increase in per capita vehicle miles traveled over the last 25 years. There are exceptions, however, where political action, multimodal investment, or the development of compact neighborhoods acted to pull VMT numbers down, says a new report by the Frontier Group. 

Washington State’s 1991 law, aimed at reducing single occupant commuting trips, required employers meeting certain conditions to provide demand management options such as shuttles, vanpooling, or transit and carpool subsidies. Other measures included parking cash-outs, preferential space for high-occupancy vehicles, and bike parking—or the option of remote work. 

In Seattle, driving alone to work continues to decline. A focus on expanding regional transit and running buses farther and more frequently has brought residents into closer proximity to transit service. Protected bike lanes and additional walking amenities have made travelers more comfortable shifting some trips away from driving. 

Minneapolis has upped its investment in bicycling routes over the last quarter century, resulting in higher biking and walking rates along routes separated from drivers. New multi-family residences have brought people closer to the places they need to go, and implementing light rail and bus-rapid-transit has facilitated more car-light living, says the report. 

Just driving less, however, is not a recipe for safer roads. As we learned during the pandemic, reducing traffic without making physical changes opens space for reckless drivers to increase their speed. We are seeing evidence that, while pedestrian crashes continue to increase in number in many places, the severity of those crashes is increasing at a faster rate. 

Several European cities have implemented solutions that both reduce driving and improve safety. A new editorial in the Journal of Transport & Health points to several examples. 

Ghent, Belgium, dropped its road fatalities by 35% after reducing driving trips in the center city—49% of which turned out to be drivers passing through on their way to somewhere else. 

Oslo, Norway, reached its goal of zero pedestrian or cyclist deaths in 2019 after removing all regular street parking and closing the city center to through traffic. 

Since 2010 Pontevedra, Spain, has reported no traffic-related deaths after removing much of its central city traffic, and improving public spaces and other destinations outside of the central city. 

 “Change is possible” says the Frontier Group report.  

Photo Credit: David Wilson via Flickr, unmodified. License