Tuesday, September 11, 2018
Imagine that the US federal government has been pursuing a vigorous program of supporting electric vehicles and electric vehicle infrastructure. And imagine that the head of the US Chamber of Commerce has come out and said that the government needs to do more: that the private sector can provide the vehicles, and if the government commits to the infrastructure end, the country can move toward a zero-emission transportation system. Too much to imagine?
Well, that’s a rough approximation of what’s happening in the UK, where the head of the Confederation of British Industry, Carolyn Fairbairn, has just given a speech urging a bigger government commitment to EVs (link here).
Here’s the nub of the speech: “The transition to zero-emissions is not just about ensuring we build the vehicles – that’s only half the story. The other half is about ensuring demand. Encouraging people to see that their next car must be a zero-emission car and giving them the confidence to move away from a technology that has defined our lives for a century. If people are worried about the car’s driving range, the infrastructure, the cost of installing chargers at home, battery longevity or a host of other possible concerns, then they just won’t make the switch. They’ll stick with what they know. And it’s here that government support goes a long way. Through making vehicles affordable, easing consumers’ range anxiety and joining forces with business to invest in charge-points across our road networks. And governments can help design the zero-emission vehicle eco-system that makes the low emission choice the easy choice and, ultimately, the only choice.”
Pretty straightforward. I hope they have better luck making this happen than we are having!
Thursday, August 9, 2018
The 2018 midterms may turn out to be one of the most consequential elections in American history. A few layers below the big choices will be one that could also have a major long-term impact: carbon pricing is on the ballot in Washington state.
Some time back (here) I wrote about the failure of carbon tax or cap-and-invest legislation to pass in the last sessions of the Oregon and Washington legislatures. The main point of my analysis was that big, controversial legislation is never easy to pass, so failure to get a bill through in a time-restricted session is not necessarily the end of the story.
And in fact in Washington state, the story has a new chapter. The Washington State Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, which unites more than 200 coalition members, including health professionals, businesses, labor unions, faith communities, environmental advocates, and communities of color (website here), didn’t wait for the next legislative session. They put together an initiative campaign to get their own version of carbon pricing on the November ballot – and have succeeded! (story here) The “Protect Washington Act” would levy a fee on the carbon content of fuels – including motor fuels – and electricity and use the revenue to fund clean energy and clean transportation projects. Reflecting the local economy, the bill sets aside funding for clean water and forest projects as well. Finally, the bill would provide funding to help low-income communities and others that might be negatively affected by the transition to clean energy.
Will the initiative pass? I have no idea. Success is certainly not guaranteed, and the fossil fuels industries will no doubt pour money into negative TV ads. I for one will be watching hopefully with at least a small percentage of my attention as I glue myself to my TV and laptop during a long night’s vigil.
Tuesday, July 31, 2018
I say “Gee Whiz” because a lot of the presentations and discussions at NASTO 2018 were all about rapidly evolving transportation technology and what state agencies can do to respond to it. (NASTO is the Northeast Association of State Transportation Officials, which held its annual meeting recently at National Harbor, Maryland.)
Some of the Gee Whiz stuff (of varying degrees of practicality/likelihood):
· Baltimore – Washington maglev trains – Using Japanese technology. 15 minutes DC to Baltimore! (website here)
· JPods – Personal rapid transit system at $10 million per mile. (website here)
· Electric vehicles – Hydro Quebec (blessed with hydroelectric power) investing hugely in Fast Chargers, which they view as “the crux of the matter” and “the determining factor” in spurring the uptake of EVs.
· Automated vehicles – Lots of angst following the Tempe pedestrian death in March, but still advancing rapidly.
· Personal delivery vehicles – Expect sidewalk robots as well as drones!
This is not even to mention Hyperloop (!) (not on the program but the subject of a lot of talk), which Maryland seems to be actively pursuing in partnership with Elon Musk (story here).
State DOTs are struggling, with varying degrees of success, to cope with the onslaught of new tech. My favorite quote of the conference (from Washington State legislation! – here):
“This effort [a study of AVs] is required because robot cars are coming, but robot policy makers are not.”
Special notice goes to OLLI, the automated shuttle, which NASTO goers got to experience on a test ride. We also got to see some of the design lab work at the builder, Local Motors, a cutting edge company called Local Motors (see their website here) which specializes in 3D printing and robotics technology. OLLI is a very promising candidate for “first mile, last mile” shuttle applications and the company plans to be in revenue service at some pilot locations within months. The engineers feel confident that they can overcome fears about automated travel by loading up OLLI with a comprehensive, sophisticated (and expensive) suite of sensors that would not be affordable on personal vehicles. Hope to see them on the road soon!
Tuesday, May 22, 2018
I visited St. Louis recently and rode the Metrolink light rail and found it to be a nice ride. Pros: connects some major activity centers (ballpark, airport, Union Station, Forest Park, Central West End, etc.), connects Missouri and Illinois, comfortable ride. Cons: not a network (they call it two lines but it’s really one line with branches in the Missouri suburbs), some stations (notably Airport Terminal 2) are a longish walk to the actual activity center.
I was also pleased to see the Ballpark Village development (which I wrote about a few years ago) finally beginning Phase Two. Right now, it’s mainly bars and restaurants across the street from Busch Stadium (photo below), but will soon have extensive residential, office, hotel, and additional retail space (website here). St. Louis is definitely another success story in the downtown ballpark revitalization book!
One of the drawbacks of a transit line running mainly on old railroad right-of-way is that it traverses long stretches of semi-desolate industrial zones and rail yards. But this also provides an opportunity for new infill development. In St. Louis, Metrolink is building an infill station called “Cortex” after the expanding high-tech district it will serve (photo below, story here). Another TIGER grant success story!
For literally years now I have been helping the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and local residents fight to preserve the 200-year-old, one-lane Headquarters Road Bridge in rural upper Bucks County, Pennsylvania, which PennDOT insists on demolishing and replacing with a new, longer, wider structure. Why have we not been able to resolve this issue, which looks like a textbook case for applying context sensitive design and collaborative planning? It’s a long story (which has not yet ended).
You can watch my presentation at a recent briefing for press and local elected officials here. The news story from the event is here.Photo below (courtesy of Delaware Riverkeeper Network): yours truly on the left, May van Rossum, the Delware Riverkeeper, on the right.
Friday, May 11, 2018
Electrify America – the initiative born of Volkswagen’s restitution for cheating on car pollution tests – is doing just that: electrifying America.
They have now opened their first “ultra-fast” electric vehicle charger at a shopping center in Chicopee, Massachusetts, just off the Mass Pike. This new charger will be able to charge vehicles at an amazing rate of 20 miles of range per minute (story here). Of course, most EVs aren’t yet ready for that kind of fast charging, but they are on the way too. (For an intro to some of the technical issues involved, see my previous blog posting here.) The Chicopee charger is the first of what will be a network of chargers on key corridors throughout the country (see map below). This is a serious ramping up of EV infrastructure. VW may be atoning for past sins, but we should be very grateful to them for doing a lot of the heavy lifting in electrifying America! And quite a coup for Chicopee too (a town I know well)!
Tuesday, May 1, 2018
Today 14 new electric Proterra E2 Catalyst buses start rolling in the Washington DC Circulator fleet (story here). Since the Circulators are so visible – to visitors and tourists as well as to residents – this could be a real milestone in the electrification of public transportation in this country. We need to make this work.
Yet another cool thing happening in DC! (See my stories on multimodal transportation at the new Wharf development here, dockless bikes and scooters here.)