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City survey reveals Los Altos is still a car town


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Those quick school drop-offs, errands and grocery store runs by car may seem trivial, but the miles add up fast. So fast, in fact, that a survey conducted by the Los Altos Environmental Commission reports that it’s possible for the average resident to drive nearly 2,500 miles per year within city boundaries – enough miles to complete a trip to Atlanta.

According to data gathered from Los Altos households on resource use and transportation habits in a pair of Climate Action Plan surveys last year, on-road transportation represents approximately 50 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Participants in the survey reported a typical daily commute of 10-15 miles. Commuting accounted for 40 percent of all miles driven, or approximately 141 miles per week per driver – a drop in the bucket for the 12 percent of survey respondents with daily commutes of more than 50 miles. At 50 percent, total transportation emissions in Los Altos hover far above levels produced by residential energy use (32 percent) and commercial energy use (11 percent).

Local residents listed alternate transportation modes in the survey. Nearly 37 percent walk or bike to work multiple times a week. Although local residents use alternate transportation more than most Americans – the Federal Highway Administration estimates that 12.5 percent of people walk or bike daily – cars remain the vehicle of choice for many households in Los Altos.

During a presentation of the survey results at a GreenTown Los Altos meeting Jan. 9, Environmental Commission Chairman Don Bray said the findings would help the city focus its greenhouse gas reduction efforts. Improving local and regional bike routes and intracity bus services, creating more community workspaces and installing Wi-Fi downtown to encourage telecommuting were mentioned as ways the city could decrease transportation emissions. The survey revealed that nearly two-thirds of residents telecommute at least one to two times per month, but only 22 percent telecommute often or every day.

Additional survey results showed that the top 20 percent of households by size used 36 percent of all electricity, and that pools, spas and air conditioning significantly increased power consumption. Energy use was significantly lower in households with solar photovoltaic systems – the city estimates that 6 percent of residences have such systems in place.

The Los Altos Environmental Commission conducted the Climate Action Plan surveys in collaboration with city staff and PMC Consultants to determine practical ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels, as required under California Assembly Bill 32. The law, enacted in 1996, sets 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals and creates market mechanisms, including a cap-and-trade program.

According to a summary of the surveys, 83 residents participated in the resource-use survey on home electricity, gas and water consumption, and 117 participated in the transportation survey on local transport, destinations and air travel.

For more information, visit losaltosenvironment.org or greentownlosaltos.org.

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