Thursday, November 8, 2007

Watch that Wedge Jacking Up the Freeway

Why after all these years do some people in the fight still not get it. They always say they do but they keep proving they don't. Yes I'm talking about the enviros. The reason you build rail is to change land use patterns. The best way to reduce GHGs is to create dense walkable neighborhoods which is what developers create around rail.

The reason I bring this up is that the head of the NRDC came and spoke at Rail~Volution and mentioned that BRT as a mode was better for the environment than light rail from an energy standpoint. WHAT? I could feel the collective annoyance of the audience when he said this. This is the same point that the anti-rail crowd has been trying to jam down people's throats, the idea that because of coal fired power plants light rail is dirty. Well we know this is BS, (proven here too) but it also misses the point. Transit is a part of the solution but so is its integration with and promotion of land use and other modes such as bikes and walking. Buses just serve existing land use but do not change the paradigm along the high capacity spine of a transit network. (Note that I don't believe light rail is best for every situation and bus networks are important feeders). When you add this paradigm shift in, the decision to invest in rail transit creates drastic reductions in emissions.

Everyone should see CNT's map of Chicago CO2 gases per capita. It shows that where there is good transit and good land use, reductions in emissions occur on a per capita basis. This is due to the fact that when you give people options, they don't drive as much reducing GHGs. They might bike or walk and these modes also need infrastructure improvements also to complete the modal network effect. This is why the whole argument that electric cars are going to solve everything drives me crazy. Even with electric cars you get the same wasteful land use patterns which are incredibly energy intensive.

So while consultants to the Sierra Club and NRDC get it, there are still too many people in those organizations and in congress focusing mostly on technology for automobiles and BRT without dealing with the combination of two things that create the most efficient reductions in GHGs, buildings and transport. There are some that are starting to get it. But in order to do it, we need to change our infrastructure priorities to modes which promote the change, not just serve it. Don't get me wrong, buses are necessary, but don't tell me that BRT as a single mode is better than light rail for GHG emission reductions.

But now after the Seattle election we have an even bigger problem. The people in the roads faction know that the enviros split the vote and are going to exploit it. Already there have been articles touting the separation between the light rail supporters and the environmental community however wrong their assessments are on why there was a separation. The CSM article pushes the meme that the enviros were divided because of the transit portion, and not because of all the roads that caused problems. It seems that we have a breach in the wall and need to fill it.

S0 the environmental community in Seattle might have just created a new talking point for the opposition. So even if there aren't any GHG generating roads in new elections, you can guaranty that this "transit doesn't help climate change" talking point is going to come out of the mouthes of road warriors who would love to use this as a wedge issue in order to protect the road status quo.


Anonymous said...

One (or several) items that the highway apologists fail to take into account include the fact that much rail itself takes up far less land and runs on a permeable bed of gravel, rather than pavement, which promotes stormwater runoff and concentration of toxics including brake dust and of course road salt. Who pays for this? We do, for the contamination of the groundwater, the flashy water regime, and the engineered stormwater management features required by the car infrastructure (and yes that includes electric and alt-fuel vehicles).

I see natural areas doing a lot better next to 100+ year old railroad beds than they are doing next to the salt-soaked highways.

Furthermore, being a rail commuter from time to time here in the Chicago region, snow and ice events scarcely give Metra and the El commuter and rapid rail transit a hiccup, while creating colossal gridlock on the highways. The only salt use on the railroads is in the parking lots and the boarding platforms.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

Thats interesting, i had never thought of the salt issue. But i'm sure that areas around freeways, specifically in cities with a lot of snowfall would have serious issues with land being reverted to farming near freeways.

that lightning bolt was mine said...

That article from the Christian Science Monitor is really disappointing- they normally have a pretty solid level of reporting on the substance of issues.

"In one of the nation's greenest cities, a mass transit proposal has green voters divided."

No facts are provide to support this assertion. Was it really the mass transit proposal that divided Green voters and led them to defeat the transit and road-funding measure this week, or was it that combining Highway-building and Mass Transit proved a bitter pill for both those who support and those who oppose expanding transportation choices in the Emerald City?

And don't get me started on Susie Homemaker, one of those "enviornmentalists" who delude themselves into thinking driving a hybrid-engine SUV fifty miles a day to and from work is somehow environmentally friendly.

Chris M said...

The argument that light rail would be more "dirty" than buses in the Seattle wouldn't fly since most of our electricity comes from hydro-electric dams

kenf said...

A whole lot of people who should know better just don't want to change their lifestyle. The automobile has represented freedom to the hippy/liberal folks since the 60s. And they really don't want to give up this so called freedom.

With apologies to Upton Sinclair: It is difficult to get a person to understand something when their
lifestyle depends on their not understanding it.