America can't slash global warming pollution without reducing emissions from vehicles. And we won't be able to reduce emissions from vehicles if we continue to house our growing population in sprawling developments in which you need to drive a half-mile just to buy a quart of milk - developments that also consume vast amounts of forests and farms across the country.
Maryland is among the states whose natural environment is most threatened by sprawling development and with the most to lose from global warming. More than 3 percent of the state's land area was converted to development since 1997 (according to our 2009 report, Not So Smart), and sea-level rise threatens to submerge tens of thousands of acres of low-lying land if current global emission trends continue.
Our latest report, Building Maryland's Future, estimates the impact of one solution that can address both of these problems: transit-oriented development.
Simply put, transit-oriented developments (TODs, for short) are compact communities with a mix of commercial and residential uses that are built in the vicinity of transit stations and encourage the use of transit, walking and biking to accomplish daily tasks. TOD is increasingly common across the country, and is especially taking hold in the Washington, D.C., metro region, where D.C. itself is experiencing a building boom and neighboring Arlington County, Virginia, has experienced dramatic growth along the D.C. Metro subway's Orange line.
Building Maryland's Future shows that implementing TOD on a wide scale across Maryland can significantly reduce global warming pollution from vehicles, while averting the loss of natural land that results from sprawling development.
Now, while the real estate market is cool, is exactly the time to be laying the groundwork for an expansion of TOD, specifically by following through on proposed transit expansions (Maryland has a fairly aggressive program on the drawing board), by adjusting planning and zoning laws to encourage TOD, and by beginning to forge partnerships between transit agencies and local jurisdictions to ensure that, when development does restart, it happens in a way that is friendly to the climate and which reduces the pressure to develop in natural areas.