Friday, October 12, 2018

New climate report: What we need to do to stave off disaster


So the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has published a new report (here) focusing on what sounds like a very technical question, but one that turns out to be very important.  The issue is what the difference would be in letting the world warm by 2°C over pre-industrial times (the most widely shared goal) as opposed to 1.5°C (a more aggressive target) and what are the policy “pathways” that would get us to one target or another.  It turns out that that half a degree extra means a whole lot of bad things happening by the end of this century.  Unfortunately, holding global warming to 1.5°C will be much more difficult than holding it to 2°C.  In the words of the press release:  “The report finds that limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require ‘rapid and far-reaching’ transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050.”
With respect to transportation, the report discusses strategies for achieving this target for the various modes.  The conclusion: “Deep emissions reductions in the transport sector would be achieved by several means…Since there is no silver bullet for this deep decarbonisation, every possible measure would be required to meet this stringent emissions outcome.”  In other words, the “all of the above” strategy.
The report doesn’t really break any new ground on transportation issues.  What it does do is underscore the urgency of action.  My own takeaway is that we should concentrate on those areas that we know how to advance – notably phasing out internal combustion engines for light duty vehicles.
The report has so far had limited impact – certainly in the U.S.  (One commentator noted: “You may have not seen the IPCC climate change report because the mainstream-media focus quickly shifted to the fight between Donald Trump and Taylor Swift.”)  I think part of the problem is that the report itself is not only highly technical, but is poorly written.  (The “Summary for Policymakers” would fail the attention span test of any policymaker I have ever worked with!)  Hopefully, however, the report will percolate through climate change and transportation professionals and push us a few steps forward toward the urgent action we need to take.



Thursday, October 4, 2018

DVRPC long-range plan video tells the story


Anyone who’s ever been responsible for a long-range transportation plan (been there, done that, no t-shirt) will appreciate the difficulty of gaining stakeholder and public involvement and ensuring that the “message” of the plan is communicated back through those stakeholders and (to at least some extent) the broader public.  Communication is vital to effectiveness.
One of the agencies that does this best is the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, the MPO for the greater Philadelphia area (full disclosure: I am a long-time partner of DVRPC, wearing various hats, and currently serve on the Futures Group). 
I recommend you watch their new 5-minute video (here), which does a great job of telling the story of the region’s long-range plan in a simple narrative with vivid images.  Note particularly how the video involves key local elected officials, agency heads, and stakeholders as storytellers, often speaking to the parts of the story that are most salient to their constituencies or expertise (e.g., PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards speaks to funding challenges, including the future of the gas tax; Montgomery county commission chair Valerie Arkoosh, who is a doctor by profession, speaks to healthy communities; Camden mayor Frank Moran, whose city has a major poverty problem, speaks to the need for inclusive economic development). 
Well done, DVRPC.
Oh, the other challenge for long-range planners:  now that the 2045 long-range plan is in the can, it’s time to start working on 2050!


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Pondering the future of public transportation


For anyone pondering, mulling over, arguing about, or otherwise using mental capacity on the future of public transportation – and many people are – you should take a look at the recent special edition of the Journal of Public Transportation (available here), which is devoted to the topic.
As you might expect from a compendium like this, some contributions are more pertinent and incisive than others.  I’ll just mention a few highlights I find interesting:
Carol Schweiger explains the concept of “MaaS” – Mobility as a Service – and argues that we should redefine public transportation in terms of mobility rather than modes.
My old friend and colleague Jerry Lutin offers some very practical answers to how transit can adapt to and benefit from the development of autonomous operation technology, including:
·      Collision avoidance and emergency braking,
·      Steering and lane keeping,
·      Bus platooning,
·      Improved service to disable passengers,
·      Precision docking for buses, and
·      Autonomous BRT as an alternative to LRT.
Jill Hough and Ali Rahim Taleqani, in a paper on rural transit no less, go deep into the future, where no transit planner has gone before: flying cars (Jetsons!), teleportation (Star Trek!), and hologram telecommuting (maybe more near term, but I have to say: Isaac Asimov!)
Jarrett Walker is – as always – insightful and thought-provoking.   His essay, “To Predict with Confidence, Plan for Freedom,” bears careful reading.  My supercondensed version of his thesis is that transit planners should worry less about predicting future ridership trends – which is an unproductive task at best – and think more about urban form and the geometry of urban transportation.  I find his notion of mobility as freedom especially compelling.  If you find his arguments fascinating, as I do, you should check out his website, perhaps starting with a lecture/presentation video from Santa Cruz, CA (here).
All in all, plenty to ponder!


Monday, September 24, 2018

Hydrogen Fuel Cell trains now in revenue service in Germany

Decarbonizing rail transportation is a challenge.  Electrification is very expensive.  Batteries don’t have enough oomph to move heavy trains.  And the current fossil fuel – diesel – is relatively cheap and efficient.  One proposed solution is the use of hydrogen fuel cells.  And the good news is that real hydrogen fuel cell trains are now in actual revenue service in Germany!
The manufacturer Alstom has provided two prototype train sets to a transportation authority in the state of Lower Saxony in Germany.  These are multiple-unit trains sets used in regional, commuter operations.  They promise to be efficient, very quiet, zero emission, and hopefully economically viable.  (See the story in Engadget here, International Railway Journal here.)
Good luck, Alstom – this could be a big step forward!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

UK Business Chief advocates vigorous EV program


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

Carbon on the ballot in Washington State


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

NASTO Notes 2018: Gee Whiz!


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

Another day, another city, another ballpark, another metro


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!






My favorite bridge and I

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

First Ultra-Fast DC Charger opens in Chicopee Mass.


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

Electric buses rolling in DC!


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.)



Monday, April 30, 2018

Dockless in Georgetown!


Having recently written about multimodal transportation in Washington, DC (here) and dockless bikes and scooters (here), I have to provide an update about where the Venn diagram overlaps!
On a recent walk through Georgetown, I noticed a large number of dockless bikes, scooters, and electric bikes, both in motion and parked (see photos below) in this popular shopping and tourist destination.  The District government has just extended its trial “Dockless Demonstration Program” which permits 7 companies to provide limited service.  The trial program was extended after the District and the providers were unable to reach an agreement about how a permanent program might be regulated (Washington Post story here, Greater Greater Washington here).
As suggested in my previous story, stay tuned for more developments!






David Billington RIP


I was saddened to learn of the passing of David Billington, engineering professor emeritus at Princeton (story here).  David was an outstanding scholar and teacher and a real gentleman.  He was best known for his efforts to encourage the infusion of aesthetic sensibility into structural engineering design, which derived from his work on Swiss designers.  He hated what he called “GI bridges” and believed that a piece of long-lived infrastructure such as a bridge should reflect and enrich its natural environment and cultural context.  If the subject sounds dry, note that David was one of the most popular lecturers at Princeton and presented his views with humor and grace.  If you never thought you would enjoy a lecture on bridge design, please take a look at this lecture at MIT (here).
How much influence did David have?  Hard to say.  There is still a lot of ugly design out there.  Thanks to Jack Lettiere, then president of AASHTO (American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials), he gave a lecture at that organization’s 2005 convention, which hopefully started some ripples.  And certainly there are some iconic new bridges such as the Swiss-designed Zakim Bridge in Boston, which David references in the MIT lecture.  I believe his thinking is still very valuable and I think it will still have an impact well into the future.  I know it has influenced me (see poster on my office wall).



Wednesday, April 25, 2018

San Diego Trolley rolling along


On a recent visit to San Diego I was pleased to see the Trolley doing well – appearing to be well maintained, running smoothly, and clearly popular.  It’s still only a small piece of the transportation picture in a very auto-dominated metro area, but it provides a key mobility alternative, especially for access to a vibrant, revitalized downtown.  A ride to the ballpark on the Green Line was smooth, well-utilized (but not crowded), and delivered us to the heart of the entertainment district, a block from the stadium.  (Quite a contrast to the ride to Fenway Park on that other Green Line, rocking and rolling along the old tracks in a jam-packed antique car!)
Happily, construction is underway on an 11-mile extension of the Trolley north to the University City area (San Diego’s “second downtown”) near the University of California at San Diego (project information here).  Hopefully a connection to the airport will follow soon. 
Also encouraging is a recent report (here) that notes the largely unexploited potential for transit-oriented development at current station sites.  I hope that bears fruit!



Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Days of (Lime Bike) Rage


Dockless bikes and scooters are now quite the rage – and stirring up some rage! – in various cities.  They can be very convenient for the user, but maybe not so convenient for someone whose driveway or doorstep is blocked by a dropped bike.  Cities where this phenomenon has exploded are awash with angry debates about how to manage it (see background piece in the New York Times here), although apparently Lime Bikes were not actually tossed into the Mississippi River in St. Louis (here).  (FYI, Lime Bike is the best known and probably biggest provider at this time.)
On a recent visit to San Diego I was able to get an impression of how the issue is developing in that city (see below: Lime Bike at the beach, “no parking” at the ballpark).
How will this kerfuffle play out?  Hard to say, but it’s exciting to see that the appetite for innovative mobility is strong!