Low Miles Community

Initial Concept, June 2005.  Current update: April 2008


The Low Miles Community (LMC) concept seeks to create and sustain low driving, green communities. 100% of residents in large residential complexes will pledge to reduce vehicle trips by using alternative modes of transportation, such as carpooling, vanpooling, bicycling, walking, telecommuting, or taking transit.  The residents' efforts will be electronically monitored to measure the impact of behavioral changes related to transportation. LMCs will use online groupware technology, social marketing, and neighborhood gatherings to facilitate the evolution of a dual physical/cyber culture within these communities.  This culture will provide positive social reinforcement and place a high value on a green lifestyle not centered on the private automobile. Each community will develop innovative auto-reducing solutions and will share these solutions with other LMCs.  The LMC concept draws upon theories found in: The Tipping Point, eBay's self-supporting communities, The Well, Community Building on the Web, Fostering Sustainable Behavior: an Introduction to Community Based Social Marketing, Textual Poachers, Supporting Communities of Practice: A Survey of Community-Oriented Technologies, The Different Drum, Augmented Social Network, "social entrepreneurship" as defined in How to Change the World, and Tragedy of the Commons. 

LMC behavior change begins with meaningful pledges that are visible/known to the local peer group, changing individual self-perception. Peer pressure further reinforces behavior change and ensures that behavioral norms change permanently.  The use of effective sociological persuasion techniques contrasts with on-line behavior change pledges such as http://www.climateprotect.org/pledge, http://green.yahoo.com/pledge/create, http://mcp.editme.com/makeapledge, and http://www.ospirgstudents.org/action/climate/cascade-climate-pledge. Sociological research has shown that these on-line pledges are soon forgotten and do not lead to lasting behavior change - human behavior change is much more complicated.   

The LMC concept has potential to: a) expand to cover more than one million homes over ten years, b) increase real-estate development profits by reducing parking costs, c) generate about $0.10 per auto mile reduced via "pay for performance" transportation infrastructure reduction (a la Houston), and d) generate Cap And Trade carbon reduction revenue.  

On their own, each ant's behavior is relatively useless, but when swarms of ants come together, the patterns optimize naturally and allow them to accomplish tasks that should be far beyond their reach.  The networks we have built allow us to profitably take a page from the playbook of the ants, with each taking a small chunk of the responsibility. These anthill communities are springing up all over the place, and they are creating a whole new concept of what people are capable of. - Lessons from the Anthill Blog.

You're talking about changing travel behavior in an auto-centric culture. This is very, very hard to achieve. The one thing that does work to change behavior is to create a great community. At eBay, we added meaning to people's lives. Some individuals previously had few friends, but, due to their participation in eBay on-line communities, they developed many friends. The Low Miles Community has to become “real.” It should be very active. People working together should create a community that is rewarding to participate in. At eBay we rely on the goodness in people, and their latent desire to help others. Within the housing development, there should be community activities (potlucks twice per year, etc.) that people can voluntarily attend. The electronic chat board should become a repository of solutions. People will develop expertise and contribute their knowledge and experiences for the common good. At eBay, our communities become self-running. That's important. It's important to start the community with strong leadership, but the training wheels eventually need to come off. At eBay, it's very inexpensive to host thriving communities. Obviously, to make this work, there must be significant benefits granted to real-estate developers to ensure their going along with this community concept.  - Janis Hom, eBay Product Manager

A change in our sense of who we are is just as important.  It’s becoming clearer every day that the roots of climate change lie not just in the technological infrastructure we’ve built to exploit fossil fuels, but in the habits of mind and heart created by that infrastructure. - Bill McKibben, author: The End of Nature.

I would like to see the industry follow a path that leads to a lasting change in how people think about transportation. I am pleased to see the idea of seizing the Tipping Point that exists now in our society (longer commutes, greater commuter frustration, high gasoline and housing prices, a societal interest in being part of a community) being raised by Steve Raney. -  Peggy Hetherington, Traffic Reduction Consultant, Parsons Brinckerhoff.

The detailed proposal


  • Cities21 has partnered with two university research centers that offer unique expertise for this project.  The University of South Florida's Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR - http://www.cutr.usf.edu/ ), is the world's top transportation demand management (TDM - reducing auto trips) research center. In the UK, the University of Surrey's RESOLVE program "is a new and exciting collaboration involving four internationally acclaimed departments: the Centre for Environmental Strategy, the Surrey Energy Economics Centre, the Environmental Psychology Research Group and the Department of Sociology."  RESOLVE emphasizes green behavior change:

    • long term lifestyle change

    • changing identity and self-concept

    • understanding what role can communities and social norms play in negotiating the transition to a sustainable energy economy

    • change brought about through collective action grounded in social processes / people’s identification with place. 

  • In the US, the LMC proposal has been submitted to Google.org, Yahoo's green team, Omidyar Network (social networking portal created by one of eBay's founders), Charles Brewer (a new urbanist real-estate developer who made his fortune by founding and selling an internet service provider), Toll Brothers (one of the top 10 U.S. residential real-estate developers), and Forest City Enterprises (another large U.S. developer).  

  • In the UK, we've attempted to locate two new residential communities near Surrey, to serve as LMC pilots where RESOLVE grad students could live within the community.  We've been in contact with the regional government (GOSE), the national eco-towns program, and the UK Minister for Housing and Planning. 

  • Long-term UK national policy is favorably disposed towards LMCs: "The UK Government’s ‘Community Action 2020 – Together We Can’ that was announced in the Sustainable Development Strategy has the stated aim of re-energizing action in communities across England “to achieve a step change in the delivery of sustainable development…by promoting new and existing opportunities to enable, encourage, engage and exemplify community action to increase sustainability” (HM Government, 2005: 29). This approach highlights community engagement in governance as a central facet of a sustainable society and pinpoints several areas where learning and behavioral change are considered most likely to be effective through the agency of community groups. These include tackling climate change, development of transport projects, improvement of the quality of the local environment, and the promotion of sustainable consumption." - Jackson and Peters