Monday, July 19, 2010

A Town Recovers from Oil Dependence, Part 4

This is #29 in a series of blog posts about recovering from the Gulf oil spill and from oil dependency overall. The first introduces the series.

In posts over the last few days, I’ve written of several changes in a town that’s taking steps to recover from oil dependence. Bit by bit, small efforts that individuals are pursuing to become more free of petroleum and cars (the heaviest oil consumers) are adding up to a bigger shift. Here’s what has happened in our town so far:
  • A cyclist started a bicycle repair program for youth, adding bicycles to the town fleet and getting more teens to cycle.
  • The repair program created a town-wide bicycle sharing project making it easier for yet more folks to bicycle.
  • Another cyclist started a bicycle delivery service which, with cargo bikes, can deliver up to a few hundred pounds of goods at a time.
  • Higher visibility of bikes has inspired more businesses to add bike racks.
  • A concerned parent and teacher got the school district to join Safe Routes to School.
  • Local schools took part in Walk to School Day.
  • Walking School Buses have formed to help kids walk safely to school on a regular basis.
  • Local Girl Scouts drafted a map of safe walking, cycling and transit routes for kids.
  • By participating in Park(ing) Day and using Street Reclaiming tips, a neighborhood group turned a few parking spaces into mini-parks.
  • With help from America Walks, concerned citizens started a walking advocacy group which has launched campaigns to assess the town's walkability and to get drivers to slow down.
  • One worker at a major business with a big but overcrowded parking lot convinced management of the benefits of starting a telecommuting program, which was joined by about a third of the company’s employees.
  • Another worker at the same company started a biodiesel vanpooling program.
  • Seeing the increased use of biodiesel for this program, a service station in town added a biodiesel pump, which encouraged more residents to use this alternative fuel.
  • With growth in telecommuting and vanpooling, the company was able to sell off part of its parking lot to a developer who built a solar apartment complex.
  • Company employees moved in to the solar apartments and started walking to work.
  • A carsharing business was established in town.
These cascading changes have begun with citizen and small business initiative, but now, with more people walking, cycling, telecommuting and sharing transportation, the town government has been inspired to do more. Here are some of the actions they take:

  • As they see the growth of cycling in town, they designate bike routes with painting and signage and also fund new bike paths.
  • After seeing the success of local vanpooling, they expand their transit system with biodiesel buses and collaborate with the school district to convert school buses to biodiesel as well.
  • They add a free electric trolley running a route in the downtown area similar to the low-fare electric buses in Santa Barbara.
  • They add bike racks to all buses in the system.
  • In response to requests from citizens groups, they increase traffic calming measures on neighborhood streets, using bollards, roundabouts, road diets, and other techniques that slow traffic and encourage walking and cycling.
  • They vote to increase parking fees but gives exceptions to carshare cars and vehicles not powered by petroleum.
  • They vote in a zoning plan to encourage mixed use zoning and higher densities near transit stops.
  • They approve plans to convert the town’s strip malls into village-like neighborhoods, turning some retail space into apartments and ripping up parking lots for parks, more homes, schools and libraries.
  • They enact an urban growth boundary to keep the town compact – which saves money on infrastructure such as sewers and streets and also saves energy.
  • They vote in a building code that requires energy efficiency measures in new construction, in remodels, and at time of sale for existing homes.
  • They start closing central streets in town one night a week for a community market selling local goods and farm produce; this proves so popular that ultimately it becomes a permanent car-free area.

All these changes give people many more options for getting around town without using cars and gasoline, reducing the overall amount of petroleum used in this town. All the measures I've listed here are based on programs that have been carried out successfully in towns around the U.S. and the world.

In a similar scenario I wrote for Divorce Your Car! I calculated that changes like the ones above could allow the vehicle fleet to be reduced to one-tenth what it is now – and in a manner that still met everyone’s travel needs. If such a reduced vehicle fleet can then be powered by alternatives to petroleum – a much more realistic prospect if we’re not trying to keep hundreds of millions of cars on the road – we can go a long way toward recovering from petroleum dependence.

As we watch the latest news from the Gulf of Mexico, where today oil is leaking from a seafloor damaged by deepwater drilling and experts have estimated that years will be needed for recovery from the spill disaster, it should be clear that this is a direction we need to go.

Thanks to for the photo of school kids crossing the street. All other photos were taken by me.


  1. I love this, Kate! I am going to forward this link to my brother-in-law who used to live in Davis, CA and had a bike taxi service...

  2. Thank you! A bike taxi service is another terrific idea that could have been included in this scenario -- Davis would be a good place for one, too. Kudos to your brother-in-law!