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Transportation, the Built Environment and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Developing Cities

04/06/2010 4:00 PM 3"270
Chris Zegras, Ford Career Development Assistant Professor of Transportation and Urban Planning, MIT

Description: It seems that income and travel are inextricably linked. As communities gain wealth and prosperity, their travel footprint increases. While this relationship affords benefits to those in developed nations, it is not scalable. Global population is projected to increase by nearly 2 billion people by 2030. If this newly added population drove just 3,000 kilometers a year, they would emit more tonnes of C02 annually, more than all the countries of Latin America emit today. "The world simply cannot afford to add another Latin America", says Chris Zegras.

Zegras observes that fundamentally, people do not desire travel . they wish to have accessibility. Travel is a derived demand, prompted by our activities. If we could make better use of telecommunications, or, if our cities were more compact, perhaps we would find less need for vehicle trips. This is not a new concept for Americans. Nearly 100 years ago, planners envisioned "garden cities" where urban space could be better designed to promote community and neighborhood.

Zegras and his students are modeling the trajectory of travel and growth in the developing world" primarily Asia and South America. In Santiago, Chile there has been a large growth of the middle class, accompanied, not surprisingly by an increase in automobile ownership. However, vehicle ownership and rising income are only part of the explanation. The research has noted that distance to the Central Business District, and proximity to Santiago's Metro system are also important factors. Neither urban density nor income entirely explains the picture of travel behavior.

In Jinan, China the research team has compared travel in four distinctly different types of neighborhoods, and conducted a survey with 9 areas and 300 households per district. Counter intuitively, the data shows vehicle trips are more prevalent in higher density. These are new style developments consisting of very tall residential superblocks. In fact, looking at total energy consumption, the superblocks use more mega joules of energy than households in more traditional or older Chinese neighborhoods.

At the end of the day, Zegras notes that there is a complex, and perhaps reflexive mechanism between the built environment and travel. The built environment may simply not provide enough accessibility to get us to a different standard, and behaviorally, people may cling to their implicit "travel time budgets". If they are able to reduce their daily travel on the one hand, might they then accumulate the savings, so to speak, and take one longer, leisure trip at month"end on an airplane? Measuring the carbon footprint of transportation within the built environment is difficult and there is "leakage". If we save in one area, we might spend in another.

About the Speaker(s): Chris Zegras teaches graduate"level courses in urban transportation planning, statistics, and land use"transportation planning in the Department of Urban Studies at MIT, where he has also co"taught urban design and planning studios and Practica in Beijing, Santiago de Chile, and Mexico City. He currently serves as the MIT Lead for the MIT"Portugal Program Transportation Systems Focus Area. He is also a member of the Campus Energy Task Force of the MIT Energy Initiative.

Zegras previously worked as a Research Associate at MIT's Laboratory for Energy & the Environment. He also spent 6 years with the International Institute for Energy Conservation (IIEC) in Washington, DC and Santiago de Chile. He has consulted widely on transportation, land development, environment, and finance, including for the International Energy Agency, the Government of Peru, the World Bank, the U.S., Canadian, and German overseas development agencies, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

Zegras holds a BA in Economics and Spanish from Tufts University, and the Master in City Planning, the Master of Science in Transportation, and the Ph.D. in Urban and Regional Planning from MIT

Host(s): School of Engineering, Transportation@MIT

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