Sunday, January 25, 2015

Four great new DOT commissioners in the Northeast!

It’s January in an odd-numbered year, so we have the usual turnover of transportation department CEOs.  Both those in the trenches and those involved in transportation more broadly hope for the best but have to deal with what they get.  In the Northeast – fortunately for everyone – the four new commissioners/secretaries recently announced are an outstanding class.
Sue Minter in Vermont (going north to south) has been promoted from deputy secretary and is well known and respected in transportation circles.  Sue has already pulled very tough duty as head of recovery from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Irene, so is ready for anything.  She is committed to climate change adaptation and mitigation and has been active in the multistate Transportation and Climate Initiative.
Stephanie Pollack in Massachusetts – the only one of the four I don’t know personally – is a pleasant surprise for many Bay Staters, who were apprehensive about who a Republican governor might appoint.  She is, in fact, a transit advocate, and an academic (Dukakis Center at Northeastern) who studies equity issues and transit oriented development.
Leslie Richards in Pennsylvania is a local elected official who has been chair of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, one of the country’s best MPOs.  Leslie is a trained planner, a progressive, and steeped in Pennsylvania government and transportation issues.
Pete Rahn in Maryland is another pleasant surprise for those wondering what a Republican governor might do.  Pete has already been head of the DOTs in New Mexico and Missouri and is well respected nationwide for both his technical skills (particularly in performance management) and his diplomatic skills (which he’ll need in a divided government).

This is a great group that promises very effective leadership in the years to come!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Resilience at TRB

Resilience to climate change and extreme weather events continues to grow in importance as a topic among transportation professionals and researchers, as shown in some significant sessions at TRB this year (TRB = annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC).
There was way too much content for me to try to summarize, but I do want to mention a few of the key (for me) takeaways.
First, despite the hostile political environment at the federal level, USDOT is aggressively moving forward to incorporate resilience into its programs and policies.  At TRB, FHWA called particular attention to a new policy document: FHWA Order 5520, “Transportation System Preparedness and Resilience to Climate Change and Extreme Weather Events” (available here).  The new order is more of a codification and explicit statement of current policy than formulation of new policy, but it is very important nonetheless.  FHWA states it is committed to “identify the risks of climate change and extreme weather events to current and planned transportation systems,” to “integrate consideration of climate change and extreme weather event impacts and adaptation into its planning, operations, policies and programs,” and to encourage state DOTs and MPOs to “develop, prioritize, implement and evaluate risk-based and cost-effective strategies to minimize climate and extreme weather risks and protect critical infrastructure using the best available science.”  FHWA officials made clear that a key litmus test for state DOTs will be the newly required “risk-based” asset management plan.  The feds are still “digesting” the results of the 19 pilot studies on resilience that they have funded and gave notice that more climate change products and guidance is on the way. 
Second, several states, either as part of an FHWA pilot project or on their own, have done a lot of work in figuring out some very specific and replicable adaptation strategies.  There is still a lot of information to be vetted and shared, but the sheer amount of work done is impressive.  A lot of progress has been made in figuring out how to integrate resilience into asset management planning, not so much for statewide or metropolitan long-range planning.
Third, resilience work seems to be effective in red states as well as blue states.  It appears that people recognize “extreme weather events” and the need to respond to them, even if the local opinion leaders are saturated in anti-science conspiracy theories. 

TRB itself has created a resilience “section” in its complex committee structure, a sure sign that an issue is officially important!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Electric vehicle notes from TRB

Electric vehicles (and lots of other new technology) continued to draw a lot of interest at TRB this year (for the uninitiated, the Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC is a big deal in the transportation world, bringing thousands of academics and practitioners together to learn about cutting edge research).
Some of my (very simplified) notes from EV session.
·      Based on studying driving habits of battery electric vehicle (BEV) drivers and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), if you want to encourage more electric vehicle miles traveled, support PHEVs, because those drivers use their vehicles for longer trips and generate more electrified miles than BEVs. (Dawn Manley, Sandia National Laboratories)
·      EV drivers in cold and hot climates experience a significant loss in range – as much as 40%.  They also use more energy.  Emissions, however, are more related to the source of electricity (e.g., coal vs. renewables).  (Tugce Yuksel, Carnegie Mellon University)
·      Perceived abundance of public charging infrastructure promotes interest in buying EVs, but readily available home charging is more important.  (John Axsen, Simon Fraser University)
·      Most EV owners charge up at home, but owners who have access to workplace charging will take advantage of it for about a third of their charging.  (John Smart, Idaho National Laboratory)
·      Accessories (mainly HVAC) account for about 25% of EV energy use overall, and especially at low speeds and in cold climates (heat pumps help).  (Steve Zoepf, MIT)
·      EV owners and non-owners have very different perceptions of the prevalence of EVs.  EV owners see EVs and EV infrastructure everywhere.  Many non EV owners don’t think they have ever seen one.  (Jamie Davis, UC Davis)
·      Washington State DOT continues to promote DC fast chargers.  The three west coast states have more than 40% of the fast chargers in the US.  Washington’s governor is expanding the network.  WsDOT believes that fast chargers on the interstate (every 25 to 50 miles between Seattle and Portland) give range confidence to EV buyers.  There are more than 10,000 EVs in the state.  (Tonia Buell WsDOT)
·      The Pennsylvania Turnpike has begun the long awaited installation of chargers (fast chargers and level 2s) at all 17 Turnpike rest areas.

No real common theme here, just continued learning from experience of EVs on the road.