Tuesday, December 1, 2015
Fun piece in the Guardian (here) with a quiz on identifying world metro systems by their shape alone. Although fun, it’s also a useful exercise. If you’ve never looked at a transit system map as a system only – without background geography – it can be very revealing of the functions that that system serves. Some are very compact and dense, providing maximum mobility in the city center. Others are “leggy,” with long lines serving suburban commuters but few central connections. Still others are combos of these two approaches. (The comparisons on the maps in the Guardian piece are a little misleading in that they don’t show suburban rail, light rail, etc. that help to complete a system.)
My view: for full mobility you need to do the full combo in some form or other.
Can you identify the metro system below?
Wednesday, November 11, 2015
Tuesday, November 3, 2015
The eleven Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states have done a lot to promote the proliferation of electric vehicles but – according to a new study – it’s not nearly enough to get where we need to be to combat climate change. The new report, produced jointly by the Conservation Law Foundation, the Sierra Club, and the Acadia Foundation (available here), urges these states to do much more and to “act boldly” to rapidly accelerate EV adoption. EVs present a “clear pathway to meet climate goals,” but the numbers of plug-in vehicles on the road just aren’t growing fast enough.
The authors recommend 9 steps that government can take to speed up the process, which can be briefly summarized as:
1. Use high-level task forces or commissions to focus leadership,
2. Provide consumer incentives,
3. Make EVs more accessible to low-income people,
4. Promote consumer-friendly charging stations,
5. Encourage utilities to incorporate EVs into a modernized grid,
6. Lead by example through fleet EV adoption,
7. Encourage manufacturers to do a better job of design and marketing,
8. Encourage auto dealers to do a better job of marketing, and
9. Promote public education.
All of these steps are pretty straightforward and are being implemented to some extent in most of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. What is often lacking, in my opinion, is a sense of urgency.
Curiously, the report does not make a specific recommendation for pursuing regional partnerships to promote EV adoption. This is, in fact, one area where the region is a leader. The Transportation and Climate Initiative, a collaborative effort of the transportation, environment, and energy agencies of the eleven states (plus DC), has been hard at work for five years, sharing best practices and producing educational and outreach materials. (Full disclosure: I helped facilitate the startup of TCI.)
I would also like to have seen more discussion on some of the difficult issues surrounding public charging stations, including what role they should play in an overall “electric” roadway network. Nothing is said concerning the role of “fast” chargers on interstate highways, which in my opinion is a key component of the network. They do suggest addressing the prevailing incompatibility of charging technologies by “encouraging” interoperability, although I would recommend a much tougher line from government.
All in all, this is a very useful and timely report. With the Paris conference looming, hopefully US policy makers will soon receive a new impetus for grappling with climate change. I believe that what we need to do in the transportation sphere is to electrify the system, and promoting rapid adoption of EVs is the first big step to getting there. The CLF/Sierra Club/Acadia report provides a good policy guide to taking that step.
Sunday, November 1, 2015
Jamie Fox has just ended his second tour of duty as New Jersey Commissioner of Transportation, and it didn’t work out the way he – and many of us – had hoped. The short version is that Fox – a very partisan Democrat – came back to NJDOT under a Republican governor to try to put together a bipartisan transportation funding bill. Aaaaaand it didn’t happen. The odds were always against him. Most New Jersey Republicans have caught the anti-tax fever (or maybe the anti-getting-primaried-from-the-right fever) and of course the governor still has presidential aspirations, which overshadows every policy decision. But still, this would have been a good time to raise the gas tax and reauthorize the state’s Transportation Trust Fund: gas prices are well below $2.00 a gallon, the Trust Fund is out of money, the needs are staggering, a lot of popular projects could be put out the door at good prices, and Jamie Fox has as much talent at legislative magic as anyone. But it didn’t happen.
Jamie Fox is a brave man who took on a daunting challenge simply because he thought it was the right thing to do. He wasn’t able to slay the dragon, but he deserves our thanks for giving it a try.
Monday, October 26, 2015
Bernie Sanders may have drawn some chuckles for suggesting the US use Denmark as a model, but the fact is that the Danes get a lot right. Sure, it’s a much smaller and in many ways less complex country, but Denmark – like much of Europe – is way ahead of us on many measures of societal and political progress.
A case in point is climate change adaptation on the roadway network. The Denmark Roads Directorate has set out a clear policy direction in a Strategy for Adapting to Climate Change document (available here). The main impact they anticipate from climate change is increased rainfall, leading to increased flooding events on the highway. The planned response is straightforward:
· Better manage flooding when it occurs, through rapid response, information, detours, etc.,
· Improve the roads where incidents have occurred, and
· Prevent future problems where possible, using the best available science to “climate proof” roads where it makes sense to do so.
This is really straightforward stuff, as it should be for an organization that owns and operates a highway network. The Danish approach has proven so popular that the Danes are leading an effort among all the EU highway agencies to develop a standard climate change adaptation strategy.
AASHTO are you listening?
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
So Canada has a new young, charismatic, JFK-style prime minister. It will be fun watching the transition to a new Liberal government. But what has this got to do with US transportation policy?
The Liberal platform has a bold plan for stimulating the economy while advancing policy goals. The idea is to pump large amounts of money into infrastructure and human services ($5 Billion for each in the first year), financed by higher taxes on the rich (shocking!) and deficit spending (even more shocking!). The infrastructure piece appears to be mainly transportation, although the plan is not very detailed at this point. If successful, the plan will get the economy revved up while putting valuable public assets on the ground at relatively cheap prices. It will be – in effect – a very large Stimulus package.
If the plan is implemented (and given the solid Liberal majority in Parliament it should be) it could provide a valuable model for the US. Will it be successful? Time will tell. We know – despite the folk tales told in some circles – that the US Stimulus at the beginning of the Great Recession was a huge success, rescuing much of the economy will producing lasting benefits at bargain prices. The Canadians have apparently not yet convinced themselves – as Americans have apparently convinced ourselves – that they are too poor, too old, too tired, too depressed, or whatever, to make bold plans to engage the 21st Century. I wish them success!
Monday, October 19, 2015
The poor Washington Metro system has gotten such a bad rap lately (here for instance) that I hate to pile on, but on a recent visit to DC I couldn’t help but notice how hard it is to find the entrance to a station you’re not familiar with. Partly I think this is just lack of maintenance (as in the following photo) and partly it’s a matter of an overall design scheme that is “tasteful” and “muted.” “Garish” isn’t what you want in our nation’s capital, but how about more pedestrian trailblazer signs?
In the long run, Metro needs more money for maintenance (who doesn’t?). Also, to maximize its long-term value, the Metro system (in my minority-of-probably-one opinion) should double its inside-the-beltway network.
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Veterans of transportation conferences would probably rate most of them as useful, some of them as important, and only a few rare ones as game-changers. The recent Transportation Research Board conference on transportation resilience (officially the First International Conference on Surface Transportation System Resilience to Climate Change and Extreme Weather Events, website here) rates as a game-changer in my mind. A key group of about 250 academics and practitioners presented and discussed the latest findings in this critical area and demonstrated a remarkable level of agreement on the current state of knowledge and practice, pressing issues, and next steps. The progress being made in grappling with these complex and urgent problems was heartening, especially when we are so often subjected to the discouraging spectacle of climate change denying, anti-science politicians holding high office.
I won’t attempt to summarize everything that happened at the conference, but I will discuss three takeaways that seem important to me.
1. Plan for failure
Planning FOR failure doesn’t mean planning TO fail. It means that no matter how well you design and build your system, there is every likelihood that some flood, fire, hurricane, avalanche, or plague of locusts will knock some pieces of it out of service at some point in time – and possibly sooner rather than later. Instead of hoping or pretending that that won’t happen, the new thinking is that you should anticipate that it WILL happen and plan for it. Planning FOR failure means that you have strategies in place to make your systems more robust in order to minimize failure, to respond to failures with rapid recovery actions, and to keep your system going even when bad things happen. A great example presented at the conference is New Jersey Transit’s TRANSITGRID. Superstorm Sandy knocked out the power to NJ Transit’s rail system for days, contributing to the virtual shutdown of the state. Now NJ Transit is preparing to build an independent “microgrid” - a separate, robust power generating system that will be able to supply power to the core rail system, maintenance yards, and bus depots and keep trains and buses moving, even when the regional grid goes down.
2. Making your system more resilient may not be as expensive as you feared
A lot of scary things can and will happen in the coming decades, but one piece of good news is that advances in science, engineering, and planning mean that the cost of “defending” your infrastructure may be manageable. Two examples from presentations at the conference:
· A comprehensive study of 135 culverts in northwest Connecticut, which used both flooding predictions and field engineering assessments, found only a handful of culverts with a high need of replacement.
· A very detailed study of future flooding possibilities in the Big Dig tunnel system in Boston found only a few likely entry points for water that need upgraded protection.
The increasingly sophisticated scientific and engineering tools are being linked up with new and improved planning tools – dynamic learning, collaborative planning, risk management, robust decision making, etc. – to make smarter investments possible.
3. Communications and collaboration on transportation resilience issues is strong and growing
For a subject area that is new and that overlaps a lot of very different fields and interests, it is encouraging to see increasingly robust communications and collaboration between and among scientists, engineers, practitioners, and policy makers. There was much talk at the conference on the importance of “boundary” organizations – groups that translate needs and resources between academics and practitioners. Emblematic of this growing trend is the fact that TRB itself has established a new “section” – a group of topically focused committees – to concentrate on resilience. This sort of collaboration is the meat and potatoes of TRB, and the agreement to concentrate resources on resilience will have significant consequences for years to come. At a smaller level, the ICNet group is modeling pathbreaking collaborative techniques. ICNet is a loose group of about 75 academics and practitioners in New England that works on resilience questions right at the mine face of practical concerns. There is also growing collaboration crossing governmental boundaries. FHWA has demonstrated a very smart approach to resilience by funding pilot projects and sharing the results, rather than prematurely attempting to impose national policies. The Transportation and Climate Initiative – now 5 years old – continues to promote collaborative climate change work among the transportation, energy, and environment agencies in the Northeast. And in Europe, the 29-nation organization of highway agencies will soon move toward adoption of a uniform framework for highway resilience strategy.
I hope, as I’m sure many of the conferees do, that this session will be the start of a series of equally productive sessions. My congratulations to FHWA, TRB, and the whole conference staff for a great success.
Thursday, August 6, 2015
The Guardian has a fascinating story (here) on Boris Johnson (mayor of London) and the politics of bus design in that city. And by politics of bus design I don’t mean esoteric infighting among consultants, vendors, bureaucrats, and engineers over issues that only transportation wonks care about. I mean real politics: politicians arguing over issues in an effort to win elections. Boris Johnson, as the story relates, got heavily involved in advocating a particular bus design (the New Routemaster, or “Boris Bus”) in his last election campaign.
I’m not really in a position to argue the pros and cons of the Boris Bus. My main reaction to this story is to marvel and envy a situation in which local politicians feel they need to get deeply involved in public transportation issues to connect with the electorate. Oh, and the New Routemaster really is pretty cool looking (my photo from April).
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
FHWA has just published a major new report on electric vehicles and the future which should become a major resource for transportation policy makers. Entitled “Feasibility and Implications of Electric Vehicle (EV) Deployment and Infrastructure Development” (available here), the report lays out eight “credible” scenarios for future deployment of electric vehicles and pursues all the implications of those scenarios. This is important, because we really can’t predict with any certainity what the market penetration of EVs will be in 10 – let alone 50 – years. What we can do is try to reason out what the likeliest outcomes are so we can better prepare for them.
For the record, I was a member of the consultant team that prepared this report so I am – not surprisingly – an enthusiastic supporter of the work done and the conclusions reached.
This is a big report (190 pages plus an extensive executive summary) covering a lot of ground, so I won’t attempt to summarize it. What I will do is suggest what to me are some key takeaways:
· For the foreseeable future we will need to cope with three incompatible standards for fast chargers (ugh),
· Although most charging will happen at home, charging options away from home and work will be critical in encouraging the spread of pure battery (nonhybrid) EVs,
· Proliferation of EVs will have a modest impact on loss of gas tax revenues, especially compared to the loss of revenues attributable to greatly improved gas mileage of standard vehicles (EV revenue loss is still a real political issue, however),
· Better wayfinding signage (including an indication of “level” of charging) would be helpful,
· The quantified “energy security benefit” of EVs could be more than $1,000 by 2025,
· More than 80% of the U.S. population lives in areas where driving an EV produces significant GHG reductions over the average gas vehicle,
The report suggests three policy “pathways” that transportation agencies can pursue:
· Market Response: “catching up to the PEV market activity so that transportation agencies do not become an impediment to the advancement of the technologies,”
· Market Support: a “more active effort… to deliberately keep pace with the deployment of vehicles and charging stations,” and
· Market Acceleration: actively promoting the spread of EVs.
(Count me as a Market Accelerator. I believe vigorous and focused government action now can get us to or beyond a tipping point for electrifying the transportation system, which I think is the key to sustainability for the next few decades.)
Should transportation agencies actively support implementing a network of fast chargers along the Interstate system? Based on demand alone, the report says no. However, there are strong (I think persuasive) arguments for promoting development on an intercity network:
· “Reducing range anxiety to hasten the market transition between early adopters and the early majority, thereby accelerating PEV adoption,
· Improving the practicality of BEVs, and therefore their market share, advancing both climate change and energy conservation goals,
· Reducing the need for households to own a “backup” ICE vehicle, which is likely to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) overall, and
· Demonstrating the commitment of federal and state governments to vehicle electrification.”
Congratulations to FHWA for undertaking some real strategic planning about how to cope with the future of electric vehicles. I’m confident the work will pay off in the future.
Friday, June 12, 2015
This month marks the 5th birthday of the Transportation and Climate Initiative, an extraordinary collaboration of the transportation, environment, and energy agencies of the 11 northeastern states and DC. TCI (with staff support from the Georgetown Climate Center) works on all sorts of issues in the transportation and climate change arena, including finding practical ways to facilitate greater proliferation of electric vehicles in the region (for more, see their website here).
I have something of a “paternal” interest in the group, having served as one of the founding facilitators, and was happy to celebrate with members of the group during the NASTO (Northeast Association of State Transportation Officials) annual meeting in Wilmington, DE. Wilmington was the right place for the 5-year update session, as the group was founded the last time NASTO met there in 2010.
What I have always found most encouraging about the group is the way it came together. The group was not founded as a result of a new federal law or regulations, or of a lawsuit, or of direction from the governors. It was founded because a diverse, multidisciplinary group of agency heads from an entire region of the country decided that transportation and climate change issues were pressing and important and that they should sit down as a group and try to figure out ways to deal with them. At a time in our political history when cooperation and effective action seem elusive, TCI is a cause for optimism.
Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Those of us who live and work in the post-Sandy Northeastern U. S. are painfully aware of the bad things that happen when salty seawater floods transportation infrastructure. And unfortunately the future portends both significant sea level rise and an increase in extreme weather events. Fortunately, lots of clever people are working hard to evaluate the vulnerability of key infrastructure and what to do about it.
So, how bad would it be if Boston’s Big Dig tunnel system (which carries I-93 under downtown) was flooded? Very bad. Even if one element of the system were knocked out, it could shut down a lot of central Boston, the Interstate highway system, and possibly some subway lines, making a transportation mess at just the time you would need maximum recovery (and potentially evacuation) capacity.
So a new study led by Ellen Douglas of UMass Boston, assessing the Big Dig’s vulnerability, is very timely. The study team inventoried assets (tunnels, vents, buildings, etc.), undertook sophisticated hydrodynamic modeling (including both hurricanes and Nor’easters), and developed statistical probabilities for flooding at hundreds of locations. The verdict?
The good news is that most of the Big Dig’s facilities have only a small chance of being flooded, and that is likely only in the most extreme events.
The bad news is that the most vulnerable facilities are actually the portal ramps that take traffic from surface level to the tunnels and vice versa. Even so, it appears to be a solvable problem. The “fix” for portal vulnerability is probably floodgates, which is likely to cost in the tens of millions of dollars rather than hundreds of millions. And these can probably be designed and built over time.
Congratulations to the study team (the results are in a webinar slide show, which should be available soon on the ICNet website at http://theicnet.org/). The takeaway for the rest of us, I think, is that key infrastructure elements in exposed locations are all going to need detailed, site-specific analysis. If these are done right, they can save us from at least some of the ravages of future Sandys.
Wednesday, May 6, 2015
I have been an advocate for some time of state DOTs exploiting their considerable property holdings on highway right-of-way to address climate change through carbon sequestration (some of my earlier thoughts here).
Now comes a new study from TRB (Transportation Research Board) that takes another (limited) step forward on this topic. Entitled “Guidebook for Designing and Managing Rights-of-Way for Carbon Sequestration and Biomass Generation,” (available here) the study has, as the title suggests, a very limited focus. The conclusion is pessimistic as to the chances of DOTs reaping financial rewards with sequestration and biomass projects: “While it is technically feasible to grow a variety of vegetation types along roadsides that could serve either the bioenergy or carbon offset markets, given current market conditions and the operational constraints of the ROW, the practical opportunity to implement such activities is limited.”
But really, is making money what we’re after here? The report forward makes it clear that the narrow research problem statement was the product of circumstances prevalent several years ago. I hope that the findings don’t discourage state DOTs from pursuing a more vigorous exploitation of the ROW for sequestration purposes. And indeed, the report offers a very practical analysis both of opportunities DOTs have on the ROW and the management issues (safety for instance) that they will need to address. So this report is definitely another step forward.
Carbon sequestration is just one of a number of important uses for the roadside that need further exploration. Another key use is renewable energy generation. Both the roadside (and in the future the pavement itself) should be generating power for highway lighting, signage, and electronics. I envision the resilient, sustainable highway of the future as self-powering.
Friday, May 1, 2015
I had a chance recently to spend a few days in Paris, with many trips on the Metro. I’m not nearly as familiar with the Metro as I am with the London Underground (musings from my recent London excursion here), so I was eager to spend some time on it.
On the negative side, the Metro is looking distinctly rundown, especially in comparison with London. It seems to work very well, but it’s looking a bit shabby. The system is undergoing an upgrade, so one hopes that improvements will happen quickly. The Number 1 Line (serving many of the tourist destinations) has already been upgraded and shows well. Trains are modern (automated!) and stations are bright and clean. Platform gates open only as train doors open, providing a safer environment. Train announcements (much like London’s) are recorded and clear – even for those of us whose French is minimal.
Most of the other lines definitely could use refurbishment. Trains and platforms are generally clean, but worn looking. Announcements vary from mumbled, slangy French to (more commonly) nothing. Although a few people have passes, most use paper tickets.
On the positive side, the whole system (based on a brief exposure) seems to work smoothly and efficiently, carrying huge numbers of people. Headways are very short. We never waited more than three minutes for the next train.
The best part – for me – is that the Metro forms a genuine rapid transit grid for the entire city. Almost no part of Paris proper is more than a few blocks from a Metro stop, with many interconnections to other lines. (This is in stark contrast with US cities, which are characterized by limited number of lines, mostly good for travel into and out of the CBD only. Even London falls well short of the density and interconnectivity of Paris.) The dense Paris rapid transit grid does not, however, extend very far into the poorer outer suburbs, a social and political problem, as well as a transportation one, which the French are grappling with now.
With all its pluses (and a few minuses which are being worked on), the Paris Metro is fun and useful to ride – especially because wherever the system takes you, you’re still in Paris. And Paris, as they say, is never a bad idea.
Thursday, April 23, 2015
Having had occasion to use the London Underground for the first time in a while, I was happy to see it looking good! Trains and stations were generally clean, and the service is obviously well used (trains ranging from mostly full to crowded).
One of the nicest features? The station announcements on the trains were uniform, clear and loud enough to understand, and informative!
London is bursting with high-quality development, and the tube stations are obviously real development hubs.
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
There’s lots to consider on Earth Day: lots of progress in some areas, lots of problems in other areas, lots of potential solutions, lots of roadblocks to solutions.
I’ll just mention one potential solution (to multiple problems), part of my usual refrain: Electrify the transportation system!
Converting the surface transportation network to electric power won’t fix every problem, but it’s hard to see how the big problems can be fixed without it. It moves us toward a lower carbon footprint (if we simultaneously promote cleaner electricity generation), energy independence, cleaner air, and long-term sustainability.
There are many things we can do to advance electrification, but here’s one initiative I like. Paris has some big time, big city air pollution issues (see a recent story here). One of the steps they have taken toward cleaner urban transportation is “Autolib’ Paris,” which bills itself as “the full electric car-sharing service for Paris” (their website here). Sure looks to me like an idea worth pursuing!
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
National Journal has a new article on this topic (link here) that offers a pervasively pessimistic appraisal of the chances for high-speed (or otherwise superior) long-distance rail service in this country.
Having just returned from riding some great trains in England and France (the following photo of French countryside was taken from a Eurostar Channel Tunnel train – 2 ½ hours from London to Paris) it’s hard not to feel discouraged in the U.S. Our national fumbling around on intercity rail policy is really just a piece with our fumbling around with any sort of policy that requires some type of national purpose or direction – not that that’s encouraging. I think we’ll get their some day – hopefully with more dispatch than the Silver Star.
Monday, March 23, 2015
State DOTs are slowly beginning to address climate change resilience (AKA adaptation) in their statewide long-range transportation plans. Why does that matter? Yes, I know today’s flood/fire/storm demands urgent attention and total focus. But what about all of the floods/fires/storms ahead? Long-range planning can easily be overlooked but really needs to get serious attention if we are to succeed in mastering these challenges.
So it’s important that California’s new draft long-range transportation plan (California Transportation Plan 2040, available here) takes on this challenge pretty directly. Perhaps that’s not so surprising in a state prone to sea level rise, drought, wildfires, tropical storms, and mudslides – not to mention avalanches and volcanic eruptions!
California has been a leader in adopting policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and is now set to become a leader in finding ways to protect the state and its transportation system from the ravages of sea level rise and extreme weather events.
The plan makes a direct link between climate change and extreme weather events (some states are bashful about this) and between mitigation efforts (cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions) and resilience efforts (ensuring that reliable transportation routes are available despite extreme weather events and sea level rise). Climate change – and especially sea level rise – poses “a serious threat to California’s infrastructure.” The prescription is clear: “Incorporate system impacts from climate change, risk, and vulnerability assessments into collaborative and proactive planning, design, construction, operations, and maintenance to provide affected agencies and freight partners with the ability to adapt and recover from rising sea levels.”
Some steps the plan puts forward:
· Use science: “Use available sea-level-rise tools to prioritize and mitigate impacts to the multimodal system.”
· Recognize uncertainties, which “create huge challenges for transportation managers who need to ensure that reliable transportation routes are available.”
· Connect with land use planning: “Improve links between land use planning and climate adaptation planning by using tools such as the previous California Regional Blueprint Programs…to better integrate adaptation strategies into regional plans.”
There is still a lot to be figured out about how to incorporate climate change resiliency into long-range transportation plans, but California has helped to move us forward.
Thursday, March 12, 2015
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has a terrific new installation of a Thomas Hart Benton mural, painted in 1930, called “America Today.” If you’re a Benton fan (and I am), it’s terrific stuff. Among the images of a nation in transition is this great “snapshot” of passengers on the subway in New York. (We took the subway to the Met….and encountered an apparently mentally ill person in our car. Wonder what they did with those folks in 1930?)
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
My friends at Greener by Design have posted a new video (here) explaining what microgrids are and why they are important.
(The flipchart explanation of microgrids: small-scale electric grids that can keep functioning, using smaller power plants and renewables, when the bigger electric grid is out of service due to natural or manmade disaster.)
New Jersey, and of course Hoboken in particular, are very sensitive to this issue in a post-Sandy world. Microgrids are an obviously good idea, but more technically complicated than you might think.
What do microgrids have to do with transportation? Well, first of all, a continuing supply of electricity means you can get gasoline from gas stations, which need power for their pumps. You can also power your electric vehicle, which is even better.
And – if you have a decently planned town or neighborhood – you can walk or bike (or drive) to a corner store or convenience store and other services, most of which can’t function very well without power for lighting and refrigeration.
As I frequently comment, we do a much better job of transportation planning at the regional and corridor level than we do at the local level. We need to do more “microgrid” planning for transportation resilience too!