Monday, February 23, 2009

The Role of Transportation in a Sustainable Future

The Role of Transportation in a Sustainable Future
The scientific community believes that greenhouse gases emissions, especially carbon dioxide, needs to be reduced by 50 to 80 percent by 2050 to stabilize the climate and avert economic and environmental cataclysm (IPCC, 2007). Transportation is responsible for about one-third of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States; passenger automobiles and light trucks alone contribute 21 percent. The built environment, transportation plus the building sector, accounts for more than half of the nation’s emissions. Increasing fuel efficiency and decreasing the carbon content of fuels can reduce vehicles’ greenhouse gas emissions, but the emissions reductions from technological fixes will be overtaken by the continuing growth in vehicle miles traveled (VMT). It’s clear that in order to reach our climate goals, we will have to reverse the upward trend in vehicle miles traveled.
A new culture of innovation is needed in transportation within our communities, as traditional solutions alone will not suffice. The suburban development patterns that have been aided by outdated policies must be changed to encourage better choices and more effective integration of land use, transit, cycling, and walking. Effective transit has the potential to serve our communities as we saw this summer as people found transit as an alternative to the high prices of gas. Yet public transit, carpooling, biking, and walking are unattractive in many cities because of the built environment we have created in the past forty years. In order to improve our communities and reduce carbon emissions, we have to find a way to improve public transit thereby changing the way our communities travel.
Is ITE and the Transit Community Prepared to Address this Issue?
The tools that ITE has been developing are starting to address these issues. The Context Sensitive Solutions Handbook is an example of a document that can be used to improve our communities given the realities of today’s challenges. The soon to be released Signal Timing Manual describes the importance of establishing policies prior to changing traffic signals and encourages the consideration of all modes. The use of these tools however lags because the dialogue within engineering circles remains largely focused on the old paradigm and the transportation policies of 1960s. We continue to consider moving cars as opposed to people in our communities, we favor single land uses as opposed to mixed ones, and we use tools that only consider automobiles as opposed to all users.
The Trip Generation and Parking Generation Manual are two documents that exacerbate the auto-dominated design of our communities and their use by many engineers fails to address the modes that are most important to our future. The Trip Generation Manual has a section on shared trips that considers multi-purpose trips within a single mixed-use development, but this is still very automobile focused and barely mentions transit. Further, concurrency requirements imposed in some jurisdictions limit development based on the projected capacity of available infrastructure, including roadway capacity. For example, developers might be required to pay for roadway expansion if a project is projected to increase traffic when road Level-of-Service degrades from C to D (Litman, 2005). This action discourages infill development and fosters dispersed, automobile-dependent sprawl. Revised concurrency requirements take into account the reduced per capita traffic generation, shorter trips and improved travel options in urban areas, and so allow more infill development (Wallace, January 2005).
Alternatives to concurrency models include use of a multimodal level of service concept or accepting congestion in exchange for transit improvements. If congestion increases, people change destinations, routes, travel time and modes to avoid delays. The competitiveness between travel alternatives has a significant effect on the use of various alternatives: For the alternatives that are inferior, travelers will choose the most attractive travel alternatives. The actual number of motorists who shift from driving to transit may be relatively small, just a few percent of total travelers on the corridor, but that is enough to reduce roadway congestion delays.
We must develop resources that address the new direction our communities will need to address the issue of climate change. Resources and handbooks are not enough to address the issue and may not be as important as steps that are necessary to result in a culture shift within the engineering community. This culture shift would be based on new values and a vision for the future. A vision which replaces the mindset that traffic delays must be mitigated, but rather seen as an opportunity to apply new techniques to improve transit, thereby helping transform travel behavior in the future.
Workshops to Cultivate Cooperation between Transit and Engineering
To meet these needs, the Institute of Transportation Engineers is excited about the opportunity to host five workshops to discuss model actions to shift our industry’s focus toward more sustainable transportation solutions. To attract discretionary riders (travelers who have the option of driving), public transit must be fast, comfortable, convenient and affordable. Engineers have an important role to helping transit agencies achieve this goal. A brief comparison of light rail transit and mixed flow bus service indicate the deep divide in investment and quality of transit. Light rail transit provides a travel time advantage that tends to attract discretionary riders. When transit is faster than driving, a portion of travelers shift mode until the congestion declines to the point that transit is no longer faster).
Transportation problems can be viewed as individual problems with technical solutions or opportunities to affect behavior. Traffic and parking congestion require building more roads and parking facilities, but these solutions improve the competitiveness of auto traffic as it compares to transit or non-motorized traffic options. To make the change our communities need, we need to focus on moving people and goods rather than vehicles. In dense cities, transit saves valuable space and energy compared to private automobiles and must be improved to maintain our mobility. Cities must also invest in bicycling and walking to further increase the opportunities for people to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Transportation systems are a critical element of a strong economy, but can also contribute directly to building community and enhancing quality of life. As engineers, we have a responsibility to act as stewards of the natural environment, undertaking to help our communities make sustainable choices with regard to personal movement and consumption.

Other worthwhile facts to communicate the message:
According to the American Public Transportation Association, public transportation reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 6.9 million metrics tons annually, yet only 2 percent of the trips taken in the U.S are via this mode.
Eighty-two per cent of Manhattan residents travel to work by public transit, by bicycle, or on foot.Transit accounts for only 2 percent of passenger miles traveled in the U.S.
A study published in the City Journal stated that in almost every metropolitan area, carbon emissions are significantly lower for people who live in central cities than for people who live in suburbs (Glaeser, 2009, Winter). It goes on to suggest that land-use regulations bind most tightly in the places (existing cities) where environmental concerns should lead us to have the most growth.
An average U.S. urban dweller uses 24 times more energy annually for private transport as a Chinese urban resident, and around five times as much as a resident of a European city of equal economic prosperity. (Kenworthy, 2004)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Blumenauer addresses WTS Meeting in Portland

The link above outlines some of what Earl described at the WTS meeting yesterday. I have some detailed notes that I will place here, but I didn't want to lose this link, because his speech echoed what is written in this response.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Garmin GPS Unit

I got a Garmin 305 Edge for a gift and it has been fun tracking my cycling activities on the weekends. The Garmin software that comes with the unit is proprietary in nature, but of course there is something on the web that gives you the ability to convert to a more useful format. GPS Visualizer is the name of the folks (see link above) and my first few rides are at the following link:

Boulder Bikes!

This week I visited Boulder and came back thinking about the community and how progressive they are. I have always been excited about how we shape our communities. Downtown Boulder is a very walkable scale, but it quickly changes as you leave the center core. One thing is for sure, after reviewing their Bike Summit document (see link above), they are talking the talk and judging from their facilities, they are producing a community that is seeking to be one of the best in the country.

I wrote the following article for, it would be great if accept it.

Comparisons to Portland
As a City that just went Platinum shortly after Portland, it is remarkable that while many similarities exist between the cities, Boulder used a distinctly different path to get there. Boulder’s emphasis for physical infrastructure has been on off-street paths associated with flood control and connecting the community by using wider sidewalks for connections on busier suburban streets.

The City and County have been opportunistic in how they’ve built up the system. This approach has been inspired by people open to trying new things in a community that has been willing to experiment. I knew I was in a special place when the hotel I checked into offered bicycles for loan to visit nearby homes for sale. Pedal to Properties is behind the program and maintains nearly 40 bikes for visitors to use whether or not they’re looking to relocate.

Boulder also is lucky to have great events dedicate to cycling. Whether it be programs in the schools to those that develop commuters, they’re best known for their Walk and Bike Month which is celebrated throughout June, with a Bike to Work Day held on the last Wednesday in June. The event is presented by GO Boulder and is produced by Community Cycles. Begun in 1977, Boulder's annual celebration of biking is believed to be one of the oldest in the United States.

I visited with Boulder staff fresh off their first Winter Bike Day that was held to “encourage local commuters to give winter biking a try and to celebrate those who cycle all year long”.

The People Make it Happen

Boulder is a great community because it is made up of good people and great places. CU Boulder is just one of the institutions that helps attract enlightened minds and develops a well-educated community that is passionately devoted to making sure Boulder maintains its position as one of the greenest cities in America.

Marni Ratzel, the City’s Bike Coordinator described that the City maintains 381 miles of bike lane that includes on-street, contraflow bike lanes, and bikable shoulders. This includes over 100 miles of off-street paths, which represents a unique network for a City of Boulder’s size.

Marni and Cris Jones hosted me on a bicycle tour last year and I was impressed with the efforts the City took to keep the off-street paths clear of snow and other hazards for cyclists.

The Engineering Details

Marni, Cris, and others also make sure that City staff are focused on the details associated with making the community work. City design policies focus on good signage to warn motorists of cycling facilities and physical design elements such as speed tables in the path of turning vehicles, in the right turn lanes.

Boulder has also experimented with blue markings on the pavement designed to raise awareness of vehicle-bicycle interactions.

One of my observations during a recent trip to Boulder was the number of cyclists travelling on the left side of the road. While the path widths allow for two-way operation, it creates conflicts that present new challenges for engineers and planners. The City is keenly aware of these challenges as they consider our first cycletrack design.

Boulder is a model city for creating a community that is conscious of the importance of cycling infrastructure and how significant a role it can play in creating a great place. Similar to Portland, the success of the community will continue to rely on the people that have inspired others through innovative ideas such as a Winter Bike to Work Day.