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Reduce Municipal Energy Use for Transportation

Local Action Overview (Transportation)

New York's transportation sector accounts for nearly 40 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to worsening climate change, current transportation practices send billions of dollars out of the state's economy each year to pay for imported petroleum fuels, while vehicle air pollution contributes to asthma and other cardiorespiratory conditions here at home.

So reducing New York's transportation emissions is a win for New York's economy and public health, as well as a win for the earth's climate.

Every gallon of gasoline burned by a vehicle releases 22 pounds of the heat-trapping greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

This section of the Climate Smart Communities Guide for Local Action includes information and resources to help New York communities reduce fuel use and transportation-related emissions. Typical areas for local action are summarized on this page; each topic links to related sections of a page with how-to information.

Links Leaving DEC's Website (at right) access recent resources that communities may find helpful for improving local transportation:

  • NYS ClimAID Report - Includes data and recommendations to support development of climate change adaptation strategies for transportation and other sectors.
  • NYS Climate Action Plan Interim Report - Examines how all sectors of the economy can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change.
  • Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) - This collaboration of 12 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states is developing cutting-edge information, projects and policy recommendations to promote a clean energy economy and reduce transportation emissions.
  • Green Leadership in Transportation Environmental Sustainability (GreenLITES) Program - NYS Department of Transportation recognizes transportation project designs, operations and maintenance practices that incorporate a high level of environmental sustainability.
  • NYSDOT Smart Planning - NYS Department of Transportations' policy program has gathered resources for municipalities wishing to achieve Smart Growth through integrating land-use and transportation planning with sustainable development. This program offers the essential tools for communities to provide connected transportation networks and multiple transportation options, such as bicycling, walking and transit.

Reduce GHG Emissions from Fleet Vehicles

To minimize the amount of petroleum-based fuel burned in municipal vehicles, local governments can:

  • Incorporate alternative-fuel (low carbon-intensity) vehicles or low-emission vehicles into municipal fleets;
  • Establish minimum fuel-efficiency standards for new vehicles purchased;
  • Improve vehicle-maintenance practices;
  • Encourage vehicle-sharing among municipal departments;
  • Establish an early retirement program for inefficient vehicles;
  • Right-size vehicles for their use.
A photo of a new diesel-electric hybrid sanitation truck
A new diesel-electric hybrid sanitation truck in the
Westchester County City of New Rochelle.
(Photo courtesy of City of New Rochelle)

To ensure implementation of green fleets, it is best if the legislative body passes a resolution, or the Mayor or Supervisor issues an executive order. Examples of resolutions and executive orders are available for municipalities to use.

Policy and technical information is available to help municipal staff determine which vehicles and practices will accomplish the desired saving. Individuals and organizations can join the New York State Clean Cities Sharing Network to access technical, policy, and program information about alternative fuel vehicles.

Help Employees to Drive Less

Vehicle miles logged by local government employees add to the community's greenhouse gas contribution, and also cost employees increasing amounts of money as fuel prices rise.

Opportunities for local governments to reduce fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions resulting from employee commuting include:

  • Encouraging ride sharing or car sharing;
  • Providing a tax benefit or financial incentive through parking programs to employees who carpool or use mass transit;
  • Offering alternative work schedules that eliminate some driving.

Transportation Demand Management

Transportation demand management strategies influence travel behavior (how, when and where people travel) to reduce vehicle-miles traveled and to minimize congestion. Transportation demand management can be implemented as a comprehensive program to combine policy options and coordinate travel within local government operations.

By promoting rideshare programs, developing carpool maps, instituting alternative work schedules, setting up employee parking programs that encourage the use of public transit and exploring car-sharing options, New York's communities can show leadership in managing transportation demand and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Reduce Emissions by Optimizing Traffic Signal Timing

Traffic signals are another means to smooth traffic flow. Optimizing traffic signals decreases idling and eases bottlenecks, so that vehicles consume less fuel and emit less greenhouse gas. When vehicles keep moving, air quality improves, while traffic congestion and aggressive driving behavior diminish.

Several national groups have documented benefits from traffic signal optimization:

  • The Federal Highway Administration (FHA) estimates that 75 percent of all traffic signals in the U.S. could benefit from traffic-signal optimization, and that each dollar spent optimizing signal timing could save (on average) 15 to 20 gallons of fuel.
  • Nationwide, the National Transportation Operations Coalition estimates that traffic signal timing could save 17 billion gallons of motor fuel per year.
  • The Institute of Transportation Engineers reports documented benefits from comprehensive signal re-timing programs of 7 to 13 percent reduction in overall travel time, 15 to 37 percent reduction in delay and 6 to 9 percent fuel savings.

Modernizing signal equipment is one of many options for local governments wishing to design and fund traffic signal optimization. Sometimes, neighboring jurisdictions can get significant improvements by cooperatively adjusting signal timing.

Establish an Anti-idling Campaign

Vehicle idling wastes fuel, damages engines, and results in excess greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. A gasoline vehicle idling for one hour consumes one gallon of fuel and emits 22 lbs of CO2. For most automobiles idling for more than ten seconds uses more fuel than turning off and restarting.

A sign to warn drivers to refrain from idling
Sign outside of the DEC Albany office reminds
drivers that idling is illegal. (DEC Photo)

Many people allow engines to idle because they believe that turning them off and on will damage the vehicles. On the contrary, studies have shown that frequent restarting has little effect on the mechanics of an automobile, while incomplete combustion during excessive idling can damage engine and exhaust components.

Local governments play a key role in reducing vehicle idling.

  • Anti-idling policies for municipal vehicles save fuel and greenhouse gas emissions, and set an example for citizens.
  • Local anti-idling laws actively discourage idling, and help to raise public awareness of the harmful effects of this practice.
  • Local public education programs can alert the public to the effects of idling.

More about Reduce Municipal Energy Use for Transportation: