April 10, 2006
Hitting the Sweet Spot
Here's a cool graph from the Puget Sound Regional Council that illustrates the "sweet-spot" for highway speeds. Apparently, traffic throughput is maximized at about 1,800-2,000 cars per highway lane (the horizontal axis) when vehicles are moving somewhere between 40 and 50 miles per hour (the vertical axis).
As the graph shows, when speeds are lower than that, or higher than that, then highways aren't operating as efficiently as they might.
So it would seem (to me at least) that a key ingredient in reducing demand for new highways is to keep traffic on existing roads flowing at somewhere between 40 and 50 miles an hour, even at times of peak demand. How to do that? Metered on-ramps help; so would tolling the most congested highways.
Rage Against the (Hybrid) Machine
Some California drivers are getting all steamed up that they have to share the carpool lanes with single-occupant hybrids, like the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic, under a new state program. Some of the complaints, of course, should be taken with a grain of salt. Said one fumer in an online discussion group: "These [drivers] barely go 65 mph and allow no one to pass them on the right... Talk about road rage!" It's hard to feel much sympathy for someone whining about not being able to exceed the speed limit.
But I do think there's reason to be concerned that extra hybrids in the HOV lanes may be slowing down carpools & buses. From the LA Times article:
"There's not enough excess capacity to absorb the hybrids," said James Moore, director of USC's transportation engineering program. "I think the foreseeable outcome here is that the congestion advantage we traditionally attribute to [carpool] lanes will disappear."
Promoting hybrids could help save fuel. But there's plenty of reason to believe that -- looking at overall efficiency of road transport -- filling the HOV lanes with hybrids could do more harm than good. Seems to me that California was smart in limiting the number of hybrids allowed in the carpool lanes, and studying the effects before proceeding.
Sturgeon's General Warning
Sounds as though salmon aren't the only Columbia River fish in trouble:
A team of researchers that examined 174 sturgeon caught by commercial and tribal fishermen found male and immature females tricked by chemicals into thinking they are full of estrogen, a female hormone with feminizing effects. Male fish tainted with a cocktail of compounds including mercury and a byproduct of the banned pesticide DDT showed depressed testosterone levels, which could keep them from maturing enough to spawn.
A few sturgeon even had bizarre combinations of male and female sexual organs. [Emphasis added.]
All I have to say to that is: eewww. If that doesn't serve as a wakeup call about gender-bending pollutants, I'm not sure what will.
April 07, 2006
Say It Ain't So, Joe
I picked up a copy of the March issue of Seattle Magazine the other day, and happened across an article (print only, I'm afraid) by the estimable Joe Follansbee. The article claims that Seattle suffers from an inferiority complex: whenever Seattle residents compare their home town with Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, BC, they always decide that Seattle comes up short. Follansbee argues that Seattle should just learn to love itself just as it is, rather than falling victim to sibling rivalry.
Interesting enough idea. But there's one thing that sticks in my craw: in trying to puncture the reputation of neighboring cities, Follansbee claims that Portland has an unusally low number of children, compared with its neighboring metropolises:
Portland's downtown Pearl District, hailed as the embodiment of "smart growth"...had only three more children living there in 2000 than in 1990, according to demographers. What's "smart" about a city without children?
Do we [i.e., Seattle] want to be like Portland, childless and..."proper"?
Enough already! This factoid--that Portland is devoid of tykes--is simply false. It doesn't even pass the 5 minute Google test; that is, it takes less than five minutes of web searching to see that it doesn't hold water. And yet, it's a theme I hear again and again in discussions of Portland and smart growth generally.
It's high time to roast this chestnut.
Parking Paradigm Shift?
Editor’s note: This post was contributed by Todd Litman, author of “Parking Management Best Practices," and founder and executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute. For more information see his free summary report (pdf), Parking Management: Strategies, Evaluation and Planning.
A great example of the maxim “no free lunch” is the common struggle over parking. Motorists often assume that parking should be abundant and free at nearly every destination, and any deviation from this is considered a problem that must be solved by developers (who are forced to construct ever larger parking facilities when building or upgrading buildings) and governments (who are forced to provide subsidized public parking).
But—as noted in these three recent Planetizen op-eds (and previously in this blog), none of this parking is really free. We all pay double through higher rents, higher prices, higher taxes, increased traffic problems and sprawl. These practices are also inequitable since they force non-drivers to subsidize parking costs, reduce travel options for non-drivers, and reduce housing affordability.
The good news is that a fundamental shift in parking planning is gaining momentum. Communities and planners are beginning to adopt the “no free lunch” approach to parking. They’re developing policies and programs—called parking management--that use parking resources more efficiently. And they’re reaping benefits ranging from more-vibrant downtowns to more-affordable housing to a greater variety of transit options.
Here are some examples of successful programs.
April 06, 2006
As if global warming weren't bad enough: as this Oregonian story points out, rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are not only heating the climate, they're making seawater more acidic -- which in turn "could wreak profound changes on the diversity and productivity of oceans."
It's an interesting bit of scientific detective work. Some types of ocean plankton are apparently very sensitive to pH: their shells can't form when the water grows too acidic. The oceans have been absorbing a lot of the CO2 that's been emitted by fossil fuel burning, and higher levels of dissolved CO2 have raised the ocean's acidity by 30 percent in the last century or so. The result: the plankton are getting squeezed out, especially from the cool northern Pacific waters that absorb the most CO2. Scientists predict that if CO2 levels continue to rise, the higher acidity could eliminate these plankton, along with shelled sea creatures such as the sea urchin, from polar waters sometime in the next century.
This sort of thing is as fascinating as it is disturbing -- and it should serve as a reminder that, in subtle and often unpredictable ways, our fossil fuel consumption may wind up fraying the earth's ecosystems over the coming century just as much as pollution and habitat loss did in the previous one.
April 05, 2006
What to make of this news from the Eugene, OR Register-Guard?
In a report that's sure to be controversial, CNW Marketing Research of Bandon concludes... that, even though hybrid cars use less fuel, they require more energy - and are therefore worse for the environment - than conventional cars because their design and manufacture are more complex and the costs of disposal or recycling are higher for their batteries, electric motors and other specialized components. [Emphasis added.]
Hybrids use more energy than regular cars? Is this real, or just pro-SUV propaganda?
Now, just to be clear, I haven't reviewed the study myself. But the online materials that's CNW's made publicly available seem serious & fair-minded -- not like a cheap hit-job on hybrids, but rather a sober analysis that reaches some unexpected and counterintuitive conclusions.
That said, I think there's very good reason not to take the study too seriously. Not yet -- and not until the authors can answer some tough questions about what their study implies.
One Mile from Home
The kids have long-since outgrown the thing. But since we decided to experiment in car-less living, we’ve resurrected it to haul groceries, library books, and (recently) a broken vacuum cleaner.
The Burley’s range is only as far as you want to push it. And for my family, that limit seems to be about one mile. Less than a mile is a comfortable walk; more is a burden. (To extend the range, we can fit the Burley to a bicycle—on which, more another day.)
A one-mile perimeter, therefore, defines this car-less family’s pedestrian travel zone—call it our “walkshed.” Fortunately, because we chose to live in a compact community, our walkshed turns out to be well stocked.
We can stroll to scores of shops and services—248 to be precise. I know because I counted. You can, too, in less than 60 seconds. I’ll tell you how in a moment.
A Frank Look at Chinook
For those of you following the lamentable state of the Klamath River fisheries, there's a first-rate op-ed in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer by Billy Frank Jr., chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. He writes:
We expect the PFMC to take the only action it can to protect the salmon: reduce harvest. After all, cutting harvest has been the major response to declining salmon runs for the past 20 years. We accept that burden year after year with the hope that some day habitat -- the Big H -- will be addressed with the same conviction that we have shown in reducing harvests.
We are not in this mess because of harvest. Our harvest management process works.
The upshot, as you can probably guess, is that the only way to ensure the salmon will persist in the Northwest is to address the thorny and issues that degrade salmon habitat. Without suitable habitat the salmon runs dry up and fishermen bear the economic brunt of decisions that were made literally and figuratively upstream from them. A fair approach would take a hard look at irrigation, dams, development, and all the other contentious problems that affect salmon habitat--"the big H." Or as Frank puts it:
Salmon recovery begins and ends with the Big H.
April 04, 2006
California Rolls its Own Kyoto?
I don't know much about this, really, but the headline alone seems pretty auspicious:
Apparently, advisors to Governor Schwarzenegger--with the backing of California legislators--just came out with a 1,300 page report that details more than 50 strategies for reducing the state's climate-warming emissions. Included among the strategies is a CO2 cap-and-trade system, similar to the European Union's carbon market.
It's hard to overstate how huge a step that would be: without a hard cap, any individual steps to reduce emissions might be offset by increases somewhere else in the state. Plus, tradeable credits help ensure that the least expensive greenhouse gas reductions come first--which is the smartest way to sequence those kinds of investments, since the early steps wind up saving money in short order, which in turn helps finance deeper cuts later on. Of course, if neighboring states don't follow suit, some major CO2 emissions -- particularly for generating electricity -- may just be pushed into a state with no such caps. Still, it's a start.
This is still just a proposal, obviously -- there's a lot of work left to be done before any of it becomes reality. But it's definitely good news.