Bikes and walking + transit = lower greenhouse gas emissions

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I thought that posting the above chart would be a nice way to begin Bike Week. As the chart neatly shows, taking transit can be an effective way to reduce greenhouse gases — especially those who bike or walk to and from light rail stations. It makes sense: no fossil fuels are needed to power your legs.

The chart is from Metro’s  First Mile/Last Mile Strategic Plan that was adopted by the Metro Board of Directors in April.

Greenhouse gases, of course, are the primary agents for climate change. As the amount of carbon dioxide and other gases from the burning of fossil fuels increases in our atmosphere, the planet is growing warmer. Here’s a good explanation of the basics from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The reduction of important topic given how much climate change has been in the news lately. The White House released a report last week on the ongoing impacts in the United States from climate change, including warmer temperatures, increased rains and flooding in some areas, drought in others and more intense wildfires and tree die-offs due to insects. The report followed one by the United Nations released in March that found the same phenomenon on a global level.

The state of California, too, agrees there are impacts and we’re already seeing them:

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There are some important caveats when it comes to figuring out greenhouse gas emissions from transit. One involves how a project is built. It helps to have a green construction policy to help curtail pollution from trucks and other heavy equipment (and Metro does have such a policy). Even more important: the number of people riding a train or bus. The more people riding, the more efficient buses and trains are. (See this Duke University study comparing passenger per mile emissions from a bus getting 2.33 mpg versus a car that gets 25 mpg).

Metro’s numbers are based on a study looking at the Gold Line and Orange Line published in the academic journal Environmental Research Letters in 2013 by researchers from UCLA, Arizona State University and UC Berkeley. The Federal Transit Administration in 2010 also published a useful guide to comparing greenhouse gas emissions from cars and public transit. The FTA’s work shows that heavy rail transit (typically subways such as Metro’s Red/Purple Line that use bigger, heavier trains) are even more efficient than buses and light rail, due in part to heavier ridership.

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Transportation headlines, Tuesday, May 6

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Here are two plans for an airport people mover (Curbed LA)

The Curbed post is based on tweets from L.A. Times transportation reporter Laura Nelson, who attended the Los Angeles World Airports Board meeting (if you’re not following Laura on Twitter, you should be). As Laura’s tweets show, it appears that LAWA is looking at two alternatives for getting an automated people mover into the terminal area and neither would be a loop.

As many of you know, Metro’s Airport Metro Connector study is also underway and Metro is working with LAX to identify the best way to connect the Crenshaw/LAX Line with the airport’s people mover and the location for a possible connection between light rail and a people mover. There are several possibilities, including a connection at the Crenshaw/LAX Line’s Aviation/Century station or the new transportation hub proposed by the airport that is west of the Crenshaw/LAX Line. Metro staff are expected to give their latest report to the Metro Board of Directors in June.

The L.A. Airspace blog by Brian Sumers that is published by the Los Angeles News Group also has an item on the LAWA Board discussion, as well as the full LAWA report with visuals on everything that is on the table including the people mover, future roadway changes and a consolidated rental car facility.

WeHo to consider efforts to lure a Metro line stop (WEHOville) 

The city of West Hollywood is considering hiring a lobbyist to help secure a Metro Rail line that would stop in West Hollywood. As CurbedLA notes, the timing is obvious as Metro considers pursuing a possible ballot measure in 2016 to raise money to accelerate the construction of transportation projects or perhaps secure funding for projects beyond the Measure R expenditure list.

The Purple Line Extension project did study a subway segment running from Hollywood through WeHo to Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. With funding limited, the Metro Board decided to pursue a subway alignment mostly under Wilshire Boulevard to Westwood that performed better in terms of expected ridership. A northward extension of the Crenshaw/LAX Line is in Metro’s long-range plan as an unfunded project and some activists have proposed that line run all the way to WeHo, Hollywood or both. Metro has not yet drawn up any firm plans for such a project.

Meanwhile, two Los Angeles City Council members — Joe Buscaino and Tom LaBonge — are urging that a light rail line be built that that connects Wilmington and San Pedro to the Blue Line, perhaps via the Harbor Subdivision right-of-way that is owned by Metro, according to Build Los Angeles. That project has been talked up by Move LA, the activist group urging Metro to pursue a “Measure R 2″ in 2016.

The bigger story here — and it’s a good one, reporters — is that with the possibility that Metro will go to the ballot in 2016, many cities and other stakeholders across the region are starting to push for their projects to be included. There is certainly no shortage of projects that have been talked about for years that are not funded. Look at the funded and unfunded list in Metro’s long-range plan (pages 30 and 31). The interesting part, of course, is that the Metro Board has not made any decision yet whether to go forward with a measure, nor do we know what the Board may even pursue or whether there would be any money for projects outside Measure R.

Climate change study finds U.S. is already widely affected (New York Times) 

A wide range of scientists overseen by the federal government developed the report, including representatives from two oil companies. Here’s the first graph:

The effects of human-induced climate change are being felt in every corner of the United States, scientists reported Tuesday, with water growing scarcer in dry regions, torrential rains increasing in wet regions, heat waves becoming more common and more severe, wildfires growing worse, and forests dying under assault from heat-loving insects. [snip]

And, more notably, here are the last two graphs — which perhaps are two of the most important graphs in the story:

Historically, the United States — with its large cars, large houses and high per capita consumption of energy — was responsible for more emissions than any other country. Lately, China has become the largest emitter over all, though its emissions per person are still far below those of the United States.

The report pointed out that while the country as a whole still has no comprehensive climate legislation, many states and cities have begun to take steps to limit emissions and to adapt to climatic changes that can no longer be avoided. But the report found that these efforts are inadequate compared with the magnitude of the problems that are coming.

Of course, you don’t have to wait around for the government to do something if this is an issue you care about. Walking and biking are emissions free! And taking transit has been shown as a way to reduce your carbon footprint when compared to driving alone or even with passengers. Please see this UCLA study on how the Gold Line and Orange Line both produce fewer greenhouse gases in the near- and far-term than driving, especially driving alone.

The Federal Transit Administration also published this report in 2010 on public transit’s role in how the country responds to climate change. To quote the report: “National level data show significant greenhouse gas emission savings by use of public transportation, which offers a low emissions alternative to driving.” And a graphic from the report:

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Did Metro build a perpetual motion machine (Streetsblog L.A.) 

And on the subject of clean energy….this is a critical look at the MACE project that we posted about recently. The $600,000 test project aimed to determine if energy could be captured by placing a wind turbine in a Red Line tunnel. The idea is that wind from a passing train would turn the turbine and then create energy.

Experts interviewed by Roger Rudick on Streetsblog, however, are dubious. They say that passing trains likely meet resistance from the new turbine and thus must use more power to maintain their speed — meaning that any energy captured is canceled out by the extra energy needed to push trains down the track.

According to the test, the wind turbine could capture $6,000 in energy annually. Streetsblog says a turbine that could be switched on and off may perform better but that Metro may reap more energy by regenerative braking similar to what hybrid cars use (and this is something Metro is pursuing).

Good article and I encourage you to read. I think the question really comes down to whether the wind turbine is something worth pursuing and whether it can be improved to the point where it’s economically useful.

Transportation headlines, Day of Earth, April 22

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Happy Earth Day! Photo: NASA.gov.

Happy Earth Day! Photo: NASA.gov.

Linking the Los Angeles airport (New York Times)

The NYT takes a look at Metro’s Airport Metro Connector project, which seeks to connect the LAX terminals to Metro Rail via a people mover or light rail. The featured photo shows the junction where a Green Line spur was supposed to turn north toward the airport — a spur, as you know, that was never built.

Excerpt:

But just how the connection is made is where the politics lie.

There are two options drawing the most consideration. One is an underground rail line that would offer more direct access to the airport, at a cost of about $2 billion more, but it would do little to ease airport congestion. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, or Metro, board has placed the proposal on the back burner.

The other option, backed by Mayor Garcetti, is centered on what Mr. Bonin, the councilman, describes as building a new front door to the airport, about a mile and a half away. Ideally, it would be not only a transit hub, but also a place where cars could be parked and luggage checked before passengers took an automated people mover that circulated through the nine terminals.

“The people mover scenario makes the most sense,” said Juan Matute, the associate director of U.C.L.A.’s Institute of Transportation Studies. “There’s a lot of land available to build a world-class arrival center. Then from there, running a people mover will allow a higher capacity of people to enter the airport.”

The article concludes with a note of skepticism anything will happen. I’m not so sure — in my time here it seems there is currently more interest than ever in getting something done and certainly having the Crenshaw/LAX Line under construction is part of that. The big unanswered question, as with most projects, involves funding, namely will there be funds available to build some of the more expensive options.

Riding transit is the best way to celebrate Earth Day (Huffington Post)

The president of a transit workers union — in partnership with the Sierra Club, btw — offers a collection of statistics demonstrating that transit is more sustainable than driving alone. Obviously he has skin in the game, but federal and academic studies back him up. Here’s a page from a 2010 Federal Transit Administration report:

PublicTransportationsRoleInRespondingToClimateChange2010

Here’s how the media is getting the whole cities & millennials story wrong (Grist)  

Bed Adler writes that the New York Times and other similar media are over-stating the migration of millennials back to cities from the ‘burbs — and the media is under-stating the reason why young sprouts are coming back to cities. It’s not entirely for art and culture, says Grist. It’s for ease of transportation that cities provide.

Interesting issue and I tend to agree with Ben. I’m writing this today from Cincinnati, Ohio (family business), where gentrification of downtown’s Over the Rhine area is underway, including a new streetcar line that is under construction. I grew up here and the number of old buildings that have been rehabbed is very noticeable and it’s hard not to interpret the gentrification as a direct response to the relentless march of sprawl and suburbs to the north. Cincinnati and Dayton were once two distinct metro areas. No more as their ‘burbs have merged.

Of course, many of us equate the ‘burbs with driving and cities with other transportation choices. But it’s not quite that easy. Almost all of the rehabbed buildings of Over the Rhine included parking and those lots were filled with some pretty pricey vehicles, Range Rovers included. I suppose the counter-argument is that city life probably reduces the need for all vehicles — including the fuel hogs — to be used.

Gentrification in Cincinnati includes parking. Photo by Steve Hymon.

Gentrification in downtown Cincinnati includes parking. Photo by Steve Hymon.

 

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, March 32

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Some awesomeness from the Toronto Transit Commission from last April 1.

Why raise Metro fares when giving away free parking? (LA Streetsblog) 

Joe Linton argues that according to his back-of-the-napkin calculations Metro is squandering $3.5 million in a year in potential revenues if it charged $3 for parking at its lots. As he notes, most parking at Metro lots is currently free. Of course, $3.5 million doesn’t cover the projected budget shortfalls that Metro is projecting and using to justify the fare increases (the shortfalls begin at $36 million in FY 2016 and then rise).

Still, revenue is revenue. There are certainly Metro lots where parking is tight and I think one key public policy question is whether free parking is an incentive to get people out of their cars and onto transit. That said, another important piece of context: most lots were built and opened at a time when gas was far cheaper than now. Thoughts, readers?

Cobalts were seen as lemons from the start (New York Times) 

The evidence grows that General Motors knew there were serious — and potentially deadly — problems with the Cobalt as far back as 2005 when consumers were demanding their money back. The company has already linked an ignition issue with 13 deaths. The chief of General Motors will tell Congress today that she doesn’t know why the carmaker didn’t publicly announce the safety defect with the cars until recently. The answer is pretty obvious: there must have been an internal culture at G.M. in which telling the truth and delivering bad news to customers was seen as less important than covering one’s own backside. There’s nothing on the GM home page, btw, except for some boasting of the craftmanship of the Escalade SUV. The two-wheel drive version of that SUV gets 17 mpg in case you’re interested.

Panel’s warning on climate risk: worst is yet to come (New York Times) 

The latest report from the U.N. is perhaps its bleakest yet. Excerpt:

The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group that periodically summarizes climate science, concluded that ice caps are melting, sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, water supplies are coming under stress, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, coral reefs are dying, and fish and many other creatures are migrating toward the poles or in some cases going extinct.

The oceans are rising at a pace that threatens coastal communities and are becoming more acidic as they absorb some of the carbon dioxide given off by cars and power plants, which is killing some creatures or stunting their growth, the report found.

Organic matter frozen in Arctic soils since before civilization began is now melting, allowing it to decay into greenhouse gases that will cause further warming, the scientists said. And the worst is yet to come, the scientists said in the second of three reports that are expected to carry considerable weight next year as nations try to agree on a new global climate treaty.

The report focuses in particular on resource shortages — especially food and water — that may accompany climate change. Such shortages, says the UN, will likely exacerbate political instability in places where millions could go hungry or thirsty.

Although transit is certainly not a panacea for climate change, studies have found that transit is a more efficient way of moving people around when it comes to using electricity and fossil fuels — especially when compared to driving alone.

Transportation headlines, Wednesday, February 12

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How to pass time on the train (Imgur) 

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By turning people in Ewoks if you’re Twitter user October Jones. And Spiderman. And Waldo. Check out the entire series at the link above.

LADOT announces first demonstration of mobile ticketing in Southern California (LADOT news release)

Riders on DASH and Commuter Express buses will be able to purchase fares — including single rides — directly from their mobile phones with the new app made by GlobeSherpa. The demonstration program is scheduled to begin this summer.

Metrolink to Bob Hope Airport gains steam (Santa Clarita Signal)

A station on the Antelope Valley Line broke ground last year and heavy construction is expected to start “within the next few months,” according to the Signal. The new platform is expected to make its service debut next year, with buses shuttling rail passengers to the airport terminals.

The end of snow? (New York Times) 

A good look at the impact of climate change on alpine sports, specifically skiing. Excerpt:

The planet has warmed 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1800s, and as a result, snow is melting. In the last 47 years, a million square miles of spring snow cover has disappeared from the Northern Hemisphere. Europe has lost half of its Alpine glacial ice since the 1850s, and if climate change is not reined in, two-thirds of European ski resorts will be likely to close by 2100.

The same could happen in the United States, where in the Northeast, more than half of the 103 ski resorts may no longer be viable in 30 years because of warmer winters. As far for the Western part of the country, it will lose an estimated 25 to 100 percent of its snowpack by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are not curtailed — reducing the snowpack in Park City, Utah, to zero and relegating skiing to the top quarter of Ajax Mountain in Aspen.

The facts are straightforward: The planet is getting hotter. Snow melts above 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The Alps are warming two to three times faster than the worldwide average, possibly because of global circulation patterns. Since 1970, the rate of winter warming per decade in the United States has been triple the rate of the previous 75 years, with the strongest trends in the Northern regions of the country. Nine of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000, and this winter is already looking to be one of the driest on record — with California at just 12 percent of its average snowpack in January, and the Pacific Northwest at around 50 percent.

A storm this weekend brought three to five feet of snow to Mammoth Mountain and the resorts at Lake Tahoe, all of which had been lacking snow big-time. It was a reprieve of sorts, as President’s Day is usually one of the busiest ski weekends of the year.

Concerned about climate change? You can help reduce your carbon footprint by walking, biking, taking transit, using less electricity at home and encouraging your local utility to use more renewable sources of power, in particular solar and wind.

Here’s a look at Half Dome at 7:51 a.m. thanks to one of Yosemite’s webcams:

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Ice blankets south as thousands lose power (New York Times)

About 2,200 canceled flights at Atlanta’s airport thus far, the most in recent memory, says a spokesperson. A rough winter continues in the Eastern U.S., while the Western U.S. is still dealing with drought, even with recent snow in the Sierra and Rockies.

 

Transportation headlines, Monday, January 13

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Photos by Steve Hymon.

Photos by Steve Hymon.

ART OF TRANSIT: Those are the abutments to the former Pacific Electric streetcar bridge over the Los Angeles River, just south of the Hyperion Bridge. I took a walk along the river on Saturday afternoon and also finally saw one of the river’s infamous fish — in this case, a carp being caught by a cormorant (click to see larger). Don’t see that everyday!

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NFL pays to advertise on New York MetroCards (Village Voice)

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The New York MTA is working to retire their MetroCard fare cards that are used on the subway. In the meantime, the NFL paid 25 cents to 45 cents per card for one million commemorative Super Bowl cards to be printed and distributed through ticket machines — meaning the MTA received $250,000 to $450,000.

The Super Bowl is being played at the Meadowlands in New Jersey on Feb. 2. My pre-season pick was Bengals over 49ers. I’ve since amended to 49ers over Patriots.

U.S. energy related CO2 emissions expected to be two percent higher in 2012 (U.S. Energy Information Administration)

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Keep in mind the headline is keyed to energy consumption and the increase in 2013 is tied to more use of coal power to generate electricity. Check out this chart to see where California ranks in terms of energy consumption compared to other states — we’re 47th, owing to the state’s often mild weather.

Also, if you’re concerned about climate change and lowering your own carbon footprint, taking transit can help. Click here for more info.

Maybe sprawl doesn’t cause obesity after all (The Atlantic Cities) 

It’s been fashionable in both research and media circles for the past decade to write that sprawl causes obesity. Too much driving in the ‘burbs leads to less walking and exercise and people gain weight as a result.

A new MIT study says that idea, along with food deserts in urban areas (i.e. areas with few good food choices) probably have little to do with obesity and that there’s just not enough information out there to draw any kind of good conclusions. As the study points out, lifetime expectancies have increased throughout the age of motorization and that a little extra walking or stair-climbing as a result of better urban design probably won’t supply enough exercise to impact the weight of most people.

I seem to recall writing one of those trendy “the-‘burbs-are-making-you-fat” stories in my former life as a newspaper reporter. Perhaps a little more skepticism was in order, eh?

This Audi can predict when a parking space will open up (Wired) 

The computer in the new car can tap into data generated by cities that have embedded sensors in parking spots (Los Angeles and San Francisco have some). The data is available via smart phone, but Audi has figured out how to display it on a car’s NAV system screen. Supporters say it’s an environmentally-friendly way to cut down on endless circling/driving/polluting while trying to find parking. I say it’s yet another way to distract drivers.

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, November 5

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ART OF TRANSIT: You don't see too many AMC Pacers around anymore; I saw this one parked on a local street with an ad in the window offering it for film shoots. Smart! I took the photo with my iPhone and used Snapseed's Retrolux feature to make it look like something shot in the 1970s.

ART OF TRANSIT: You don’t see too many AMC Pacers around anymore; the car debuted in 1975 and was popular for a few years. I saw this one parked on a local street with an ad in the window offering it for film shoots. Smart! I took the photo with my iPhone and used Snapseed’s Retrolux feature to make it look like something shot on cheap film in the 1970s.

And speaking of 1975, and because the week is already feeling long, here’s Linda Ronstadt with a song that climbed the charts early that year:

7th Street bike lane update (LADOT Bike Blog) 

A test spin on the new portion of the 7th Street bike lane in DTLA. Photo: LADOT Bike Blog.

A test spin on the new portion of the 7th Street bike lane in DTLA. Photo: LADOT Bike Blog.

The new bike lanes on busy 7th Street in downtown Los Angeles between Figueroa and Main street have been painted and signage is going up. I’m guessing the new lanes will be useful for cyclists coming and going from the busy 7th/Metro Center station that serves the Red, Purple, Blue and Expo lines.

Not really related: Brooke Shields dressed as a New York CitiBike for Halloween.

Councilman Huizar: downtown Los Angeles streetcar moving forward despite cost controversy (KPCC)

At a community meeting last night, Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar and streetcar officials said that recent city cost estimates were a worst case scenario and better numbers should be available by year’s end. They said the cost of the streetcar line would likely be between $153 million and $162 million — more than the $125 million originally touted and less than the $300 million number used by the city if utility relocations are extensive. As we’ve mentioned here before, this project will live-or-die depending on how much money the federal government is willing to spend.

Is it too late to prepare for climate change? (New Yorker) 

A new United Nations report leaked over the weekend; the report, relying on previously published scientific reports, lists the ongoing and likely impacts of climate change. Excerpt from the New Yorker’s excellent Elizabeth Kolbert:

Promoting “preparedness” is doubtless a good idea. As the executive order notes, climate impacts—which include, but are not limited to, heat waves, heavier downpours, and an increase in the number and intensity of wildfires—are “already affecting communities, natural resources, ecosystems, economies, and public health across the Nation.” However, one of the dangers of this enterprise is that it tends to presuppose, in a Boy Scout-ish sort of way, that “preparedness” is possible.

As we merrily roll along, radically altering the planet, we are, as the leaked I.P.C.C. report makes clear, increasingly in danger of committing ourselves to outcomes that will simply overwhelm societies’ ability to adapt. Certainly they will overwhelm the abilities of frogs and trees and birds to adapt. Thus, any genuine “preparedness” strategy must include averting those eventualities for which preparation is impossible. This is not something that the President can do by executive order, but it’s something he ought to be pursuing with every other tool. As Obama himself put it in a speech this past spring, “Those of us in positions of responsibility, we’ll need to be less concerned with the judgment of special interests and well-connected donors, and more concerned with the judgment of posterity. Because you and your children, and your children’s children, will have to live with the consequences of our decisions.

For those interested in reducing their carbon footprint, please consider taking transit instead of driving alone or biking or walking. More on that subject is on the Federal Transit Administration’s website, including this document. On The Source: New UCLA study finds Gold Line and Orange Line produce less smog and greenhouse gas emissions in near- and far-term.

Related: President Obama on Friday issued an Executive Order on increasing preparations for climate change. As part of that, the President created a new task force that includes Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and California Gov. Jerry Brown. The 26-member task force will be looking to improve cooperation between the federal government and communities when it comes to preparing for and mitigating against climate change impacts.

Los Angeles: neighborhood stereotypes (Mapurbane) 

Perhaps not the most politically correct map of all time. I like how Venice has been redubbed “weird people” and Malibu as “expensive traffic accidents.”

Portland’s multi-modal nexus, with a giant bike valet (Streetfilms) 

Wow! I visited the neighborhood in 2009 when it was still emerging and pretty quiet. Looks like it’s getting better and better.