Inability to Find or Afford Housing Increases Driving and Dirty Air Emissions

New Report: Compact Development in Boulder Critical to Meet Climate and Air Pollution Goals

August 8, 2019

Matthew Frommer, Senior Transportation Associate | 908-432-1556


[BOULDER,CO] – Compact development, especially along heavily used transit corridors and around established commercial centers, would provide Boulder with a number of critical environmental benefits, including reduced air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from commuters who travel into Boulder via car.

According to the new report by Colorado-based advocacy groups, CoPIRG Foundation, Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP), and Environment Colorado Research and Policy Center, as well as the national think tank Frontier Group, three out of five jobs in the City of Boulder are held by individuals who live outside of the city. If one-third of those employees were able to move into the city, there would be 6,392 fewer cars on Boulder’s streets during commute times carrying just one person. That would eliminate 81 million miles of driving every year, along with the 33,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution associated with that driving.

“Boulder has been a leader when it comes to tackling climate change and fighting for cleaner, safer air for all of us,” said Danny Katz, CoPIRG Director. “One important step the city will need to take cutting vehicle emissions from the thousands of cars carrying people who work in Boulder every day who can’t find housing here.”

“One of the best tools Boulder has to cut air pollution and tackle climate change is to ensure more people who work in Boulder, live in Boulder in compact, mixed-use areas that allow people to get around by bus, bike and on foot,” said Matt Frommer, Transportation Program Senior Associate with SWEEP.

The new report, Growing Greener: The Environmental Benefits of a Compact and Connected Boulder, reviews dozens of reports on the subject and finds that people drive less and walk, bike and use transit more in compact neighborhoods than in sprawling developments. In the City of Boulder, residents who live in detached single-family homes are nearly twice as likely to drive alone to work as those living in attached multi-family dwellings units, who are more likely to walk, bike or take transit.

The report found that increasing the number of total housing units in Boulder’s most populous neighborhoods in North Boulder, South Boulder, Southeast Boulder, and Gunbarrel by 15 to 30 percent, focusing this growth around existing transit corridors, and pairing it with mixed-use development, could trigger a community-wide modal shift away from car travel and toward the clean and efficient transportation alternatives the city already provides.

“Decades of studies show that compact development is the right choice for the environment,” said Abigail Bradford, policy analyst at Frontier Group. “Compact communities consume less energy, emit fewer greenhouse gases, consume less undeveloped land, reduce regional air and water pollution, lower regional flood risk, and consume less water.”

In 2015, Boulder drafted A Toolkit of Housing Options that could increase housing in the city, but has not implemented most of its suggestions. The groups suggested that Boulder implement the following steps, which include many tools from that report:

  • Re-zone areas to allow for more compact, mixed-use development – which incorporates homes, jobs and recreational opportunities – particularly along transit corridors and near commercial centers;
  • Encourage accessory dwelling units (ADUs), which are additional housing units within existing homes or on the same property, such as basement, attic, above-garage and detached, guest house apartments. Rented ADUs can provide a source of income for households – as well as assistance for aging households;
  • Increase home occupancy limits for unrelated people, which are currently three people in low-density residential areas and four people in medium- to high-density areas;
  • Consider parking maximums instead of parking minimums for homes and businesses and implement the parking principles from the city’s Access Management and Parking Strategy (AMPS); and
  • Raise height limits for buildings in key locations, particularly along transit corridors and near commercial zones to the east of Folsom Street, and allow buildings above 35 feet in height but below 55 feet.

Report can be found here.