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Electrification and a modal shift — both are needed

The Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP) is a non-profit group that works all around the world — everywhere from Jakarta to Rio de Janeiro — to design and implement both transport solutions and policies that help to make our cities more livable, equitable, and sustainable. If you’re interested in learning more about the kind of work that they do, you can download a copy of their latest annual report, here.

Most recently, the group published a report called, “The Compact City Scenario – Electrified.” In it they argue that two things need to happen together if we are to move humanity toward net-zero carbon emissions and reduce global warming to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. One, we need to fully electrify our transport (which I think is fairly obvious at this point). And two, we need a modal shift.

To be even clearer, ITDP argues that both of these things need to happen at the same time in order to successfully hit our targets. Full electrification of our transport without any sort of modal shift isn’t going to cut it, and the same is true for a modal shift without electrification.

Why all of this is important is because electrification is in many ways just a technical problem. We need electric vehicles, we need batteries, and we need the infrastructure in place to charge these vehicles. Among other things, this has meant building new charging stations, retrofitting existing buildings, and encouraging/requiring new buildings to make provisions for a future with predominantly electric vehicles.

But for the most part, EVs allow us to continue living the way that we have already been living. Just instead of pumping gas, we now plug in our cars at the end of the day. On the other hand, encouraging a modal shift is a fairly significant behavioral change. Though we know that one of the most effective ways to encourage less driving is to build more compact cities.

This means changing the way we live. Changing the way we get around. And accepting more intense forms of development in our own backyards. It is fundamentally linked to land use planning and so it is going to be much harder to achieve. But if you agree with the above report, we won’t be able to meet our sustainability goals without it.


  1. Are you electrifying your buildings as well? Do you see a market shift there?

    In the US are seeing more and more cities and states look to require electrification of new buildings (aka banning gas hook ups). I’m down in Texas and we push it on all of our projects but cooking is always the hardest sell – both to custom home owners and to developers. Much of our staff has made the switch to induction and we all love it and are true believers, but especially with spec projects it is hard to convince a developer that the 40 units they are putting on the market won’t be disadvantaged by not having gas ranges.


  2. Pingback: Toward more multi-family housing – BRANDON DONNELLY

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