Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for September 27th, 2007

Transit uses most effective at reducing ghg emissions

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  • Home weatherizing and adjusting the thermostat for heating and cooling saves 2,847 pounds of carbon per year. Transit use saves almost twice the carbon.
  • Replacing five incandescent bulbs to lower wattage compact fluorescent lamps saves 445 pounds of CO2 per year. Transit use saves more than ten times the CO2.
  • Replacing an older refrigerator freezer with a high efficient one saves 335 pounds of CO2 per year. Taking public transportation saves more than fourteen times the carbon.

These figures come from an APTA Press Release today: APTA is pushing for transit to take centre stage in a (much needed) US climate strategy.

It is timely given what is happening here at present to have this kind of information. It is also instructive when advocates for other strategies – such as technological changes and alternative fuels – seem to have grabbed all the limelight up to now. For those of use who keep up with these things, none of this is news, but it is important to keep on banging away at it, otherwise the proponents of hydrogen cars and helium dirigibles and groundsource heat pumps driven by run of the river hydro are going to continue to hog the limelight.

Buses are not groundbreaking technology. Bus lanes are going to be controversial because people like Linda Meinhardt will always make a song and dance about delivery trucks. But in terms of the very pressing needs we currently face – and have been facing for most of my adult life in one form or another – buses are still one of the cheapest and most effective ways of proving better transit for more people. This will enable them to give up their second cars and save 30% of their household’s carbon emissions, as well as improve their own health, and that of their community and their own wallet. (How many wins is that?) And yes, electric trams and trains too, but that is going to take a bit longer and we could use the buses now!

And we cannot afford to wait much longer to get started on this strategy. The sea level will be rising faster as there is less polar ice and less glaciation. The process is already accelerating and the Chinese show no signs at all of wanting to cut the growth of their carbon footprint. Richmond, Delta and Pitt Meadows could be fond memories soon. I mean, I am sorry as hell about those low lying islands all around the globe that are going too – but, let’s face it, their fate has been clear for some time and that did not seem to move anyone in power here very much. Same as the penguins and polar bears. Good pictures, sure. But not much effect on SUV sales, on the whole.

And haven’t we all done those three things at the top of the page already, to try and stop our hydro bills from going up even faster than they are?

Written by Stephen Rees

September 27, 2007 at 3:43 pm

Can more road space reduce more congestion growth?

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That is the way that the Texas Transportation Institute puts the question in its latest report comparing congestion across US cities.

You can read the way they answer the question in this excerpt but I am going to copy the whole of the conclusion

The analysis shows that changes in roadway supply have an effect on the change in delay. Additional roadways reduce the rate of increase in the amount of time it takes travelers to make congested period trips. In general, as the lane-mile “deficit” gets smaller, meaning that urban areas come closer to matching capacity growth and travel growth, the travel time increase is smaller. It appears that the growth in facilities has to be at a rate slightly greater than travel growth in order to maintain constant travel times, if additional roads are the only solution used to address mobility concerns. It is clear that adding roadway at about the same rate as traffic grows will slow the growth of congestion.

It is equally clear, however, that only five of the 85 intensively studied urban areas were able to accomplish that rate. There must be a broader set of solutions applied to the problem, as well as more of each solution than has been implemented in the past, if more areas are to move into the “maintaining conditions or making progress on mobility” category.

Analyses that only examine comparisons such as travel growth vs. delay change or roadway growth vs. delay change are missing the point. The only comparison relevant to the question of road, traffic volume and congestion growth is the relationship between all three factors. Comparisons of only two of these elements will provide misleading answers.

And you thought I was long winded! They are being careful, and they only talk about “slowing the rate of growth” – as though congestion getting worse is inevitable. Moreover it only deals with the transportation aspects of the problem and as we all know (or should do) transportation and land use are two sides of the same coin – and just studying one of them as though it has no effect on the other is pretty bloody silly. BUT it does put the lie to what Kevin Falcon has been saying. No one has managed to cure congestion by building roads. The only thing that a few cities have managed to do by building roads frantically is to keep up with the growth of congestion – so it doesn’t get any better but it gets worse more slowly.

There is also a logical fallacy here. All the TTI has done is look at what has been done in a lot of US cities. It does not actually tell you very much about what can be done, other than point to the failure of road building on its own as a solution. It also does not look at any other indicators of liveability other than traffic congestion – and I would venture to suggest that we need to be more concerned about a lot of other things – like the quality of life or the environment or the effectiveness of other spending programs that could have used the money that otherwise gets wasted on ineffective highway expansions.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 27, 2007 at 2:41 pm


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The following is the text of a Press Release from the NDP. It marks a very significant departure for NDP policy and is the first such party statement to reject the government’s current plans for transport in this region (but the rumour mill suggests that might change when Gordo gets to the same podium tomorrow!) Later in a media scrum Ms. James confirmed the NDP opposes the twinning of the Port Mann Bridge and expansion of Highway 1 by saying the project is ” the wrong plan, the wrong bridge” and “we need transit first”.

VANCOUVER – In her annual address to the Union of B.C. Municipalities, New Democrat Leader Carole James today called on the Campbell government to stop stalling on solutions for gridlock and immediately invest in transit.

“Gordon Campbell wants to wait until a new bridge is finished seven or eight years from now before doing anything about traffic congestion. Commuters are sick and tired of sitting in traffic jams, and they need immediate action. That means a serious investment in transit,” said James.

James called on Campbell to immediately fund and begin work on the Evergreen Line and start planning a new transit line up the Fraser Valley to serve B.C.’s fastest growing communities, noting that half of British Columbians live in the Greater Vancouver Regional District on both sides of the Fraser River.

“If we really want address the traffic congestion that drives commuters crazy, and if we want to do so while reducing the greenhouse gases that are ruining our planet, then transit has to be our first priority,” said James.

“We need to be looking to the future for solutions, not the past. The B.C. Liberals want to spend billions of infrastructure dollars on yesterday’s solution to tomorrow’s problem.”

James noted that public transportation has suffered under the Campbell Liberals.

“Gordon Campbell has the wrong priorities. At a time when we should be investing in public transit, a lack of provincial government investment is making it increasingly difficult for communities like Surrey to provide basic transit service. Meanwhile, fares are soaring, making transit even less affordable for working families,” said James.

James called for the purchase of additional buses and SkyTrain cars, and the establishment of more transit routes.

“The Campbell government can’t even get around to building the Evergreen line on the north side of the Fraser, and they have no plans for Rapid Transit or light rail for the Valley,” said James.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 27, 2007 at 1:52 pm