Tag Archives: transportation

200,000 annual deaths from air pollution in the U.S.

A 2013 study estimated the number of annual premature deaths due to air pollution in the U.S. at about 200,000. That’s kind of a shocking number considering it is more than deaths from other preventable causes like car accidents and suicides. An interesting (not in a good way) finding is that road transportation causes more deaths (~53,000/yr) from air pollution than from crashes. On the other hand, it means you can kill two birds with one stone when you institute policies and technologies that reduce vehicle emissions, driving, or both. Of course, a shift to electric cars just shifts the emissions to power plants in the short term, but that means many fewer centralized sources of emissions, which might be easier to deal with. A shift to more muscle-powered transportation in our cities is a huge win in terms of health (less violent death and injuries, less death from dirty air, more exercise in all that clean fresh air, probably better mental health), and a win in terms of land use and vibrancy and getting to know one another in our cities.

Air pollution and early deaths in the United States. Part I: Quantifying the impact of major sectors in 2005

Combustion emissions adversely impact air quality and human health. A multiscale air quality model is applied to assess the health impacts of major emissions sectors in United States. Emissions are classified according to six different sources: electric power generation, industry, commercial and residential sources, road transportation, marine transportation and rail transportation. Epidemiological evidence is used to relate long-term population exposure to sector-induced changes in the concentrations of PM2.5 and ozone to incidences of premature death. Total combustion emissions in the U.S. account for about 200,000 (90% CI: 90,000–362,000) premature deaths per year in the U.S. due to changes in PM2.5 concentrations, and about 10,000 (90% CI: −1000 to 21,000) deaths due to changes in ozone concentrations. The largest contributors for both pollutant-related mortalities are road transportation, causing ∼53,000 (90% CI: 24,000–95,000) PM2.5-related deaths and ∼5000 (90% CI: −900 to 11,000) ozone-related early deaths per year, and power generation, causing ∼52,000 (90% CI: 23,000–94,000) PM2.5-related and ∼2000 (90% CI: −300 to 4000) ozone-related premature mortalities per year. Industrial emissions contribute to ∼41,000 (90% CI: 18,000–74,000) early deaths from PM2.5 and ∼2000 (90% CI: 0–4000) early deaths from ozone. The results are indicative of the extent to which policy measures could be undertaken in order to mitigate the impact of specific emissions from different sectors — in particular black carbon emissions from road transportation and sulfur dioxide emissions from power generation.

July 2017 in Review

Most frightening stories:

Most hopeful stories:

  • A new cancer treatment genetically modifies a patient’s own immune system to attack cancer cells.
  • Shareholders of big fossil fuel companies are starting to force some action on climate change business risk disclosure.
  • Richard Florida offers five ideas for solving poverty and what is wrong with cities: taxing land based on its improved value, massive investment in public transportation and public education, ending the mortgage interest tax deduction, and guaranteed minimum income.

Most interesting stories, that were not particularly frightening or hopeful, or perhaps were a mixture of both:

  • Technology is marching on, whether or not the economy and human species are. The new thing with satellites is to have lots of small, cheap ones instead of a few big, expensive ones. Even if the coal industry were to make a comeback, today’s coal jobs are going to data analysts, remote control machine operators, mechanical and electrical engineers, not guys underground with pickaxes and headlamps. But the coal can be produced with a lot less human effort (i.e. jobs) than it used to be. Iris scans like in Minority Report are now a thing.
  • Ecologists have some new ideas for measuring resilience of ecosystems. Technologists have some wild ideas to have robots directly counteract the effects of humans on ecosystems. I like ideas – how do I get a (well-compensated) job where I can just sit around and think up ideas?
  • Isaac Asimov says truly creative people (1) are weird and (2) generally work alone.

Some combination of the Trump news, the things I see every day on the streets of Philadelphia, and events affecting friends and family led me to question this month whether the United States is really a society in decline. Actually, I don’t question that, I think the answer is yes. But the more important question is whether it is a temporary or permanent decline, and what it means for the rest of the globe. I am leaning slightly toward permanent, but maybe I will feel better next month, we’ll see. Maybe I need to get out of this country for a little while. Last time I did that I felt that the social glue holding Americans together is actually pretty strong compared to most other places, even if our government and its approach to other governments have become largely dysfunctional. We need to get through the next couple years without a nuclear detonation, hope the current vacuum of leadership leads some quality leaders to emerge, and hope things have nowhere to go but up. There, I talked myself off the ledge!

 

Volvo

According to Fast Company, Volvo is planning a move to 100% hybrid and electric cars.

Between 2019 and 2021, Volvo will launch five 100% electric cars–three Volvo models and two under Polestar, its premium brand. The rest of its new models will be either hybrid plug-ins or hybrids that generate power from braking.

The company is moving towards electrification more quickly than it initially thought was possible. In 2015, when Volvo first announced a plan for electrification, the company’s senior vice president of research and development said that the Volvo would focus on hybrids and that it would take time for fully electric cars to be viable.

But battery costs have plunged, falling almost 80% between 2010 and 2016, and are likely to fall further. Charging infrastructure is spreading. New regulations, like an EU law that limits CO2 emissions for cars, and France’s newly announced phase-out of internal combustion engines by 2040, mean that traditional technology has to change. And customer demand is increasing.

Electric cars don’t solve all the problems cars cause of course, such as urban sprawl, pedestrian deaths, obesity, and wasted time. But they solve the air pollution problem (locally, at least, and regionally if there is also a shift to cleaner power plants) and the problem of producing, refining, transporting and storing large quantities of toxic and carcinogenic gasoline and diesel fuel.

who is left behind by automobile-dependent urban design?

I like this list from Todd Litman on Planetizen of the groups of people who are left behind (quite literally, left at home or waiting for buses and taxis or friends or relatives that might never come) by car-dependent urban form.

Non-Automobile Travel Demands

  • Youths 10-20 (10-30% of population).
  • Seniors who do not or should not drive (5-15%).
  • Adults unable to drive due to disability (3-5%).
  • Lower income households burdened by vehicle expenses (15-30%).
  • Law-abiding drinkers.
  • Community visitors who lack a vehicle or driver’s license.
  • People who want to walk or bike for enjoyment and health.
  • Drivers who want to avoid chauffeuring burdens.
  • Residents who want to reduce traffic and parking congestion, accidents and pollution emissions.

I like this list because it is crystal clear that there is not any one political orientation, ethnic group, or income level disproportionately burdened. It is a large swath of the population cutting across all these groups. Reducing all the hidden subsidies and incentives to remain car dependent would not be a reduction of freedom for the population, as some self-styled “conservatives” would have us believe. It would be an increase in the options and lifestyle choices available to all of us.

The only thing I would change on this list is to start youths at age 0. Plenty of young families where I live (a very-walkable, somewhat-bikable-for-the-brave community with dirty-slow-but-reliable-public-transportation) put children in daycare by age 1, and almost all put them in preschool by age 3 or 4 because there is no public preschool provided. Then, starting at age 5, many people choose not to send their children to the public school within walking distance of their home because they believe a public, charter, or private school farther from home will provide a better education and give them advantages in life.

One more overlooked factor is that state law provides no flexibility on car seats and booster seats for children when using taxis or ride hailing services, or when driving on low speed urban streets vs. highways, or flexibility on helmet laws when safe protected bike infrastructure is available. (Mostly) well-intentioned politicians from car-dependent areas of the state pass these laws without considering the non-car-dependent portion of the population they serve.

June 2017 in Review

Most frightening stories:

  • The Onion shared this uncharacteristically unfunny observation: “MYTH: There is nothing mankind can do to prevent climate change. FACT: There is nothing mankind will do to prevent climate change”. It’s not funny because it’s probably true.
  • Water-related hazards including flood, drought, and disease have significant effects on economic growth.
  • There were 910 deaths from drug overdose in Philadelphia last year. Interestingly, I started writing a post thinking I might compare that to car accidents, and ended up concluding that the lack of a functioning health care system might be our #1 problem in the U.S.

Most hopeful stories:

Most interesting stories, that were not particularly frightening or hopeful, or perhaps were a mixture of both:

  • Tile is a sort of wireless keychain that can help you find your keys, wallet, and those other pesky things you are always misplacing (or your significant other is moving, but won’t admit it).
  • Fleur de lawn” is a mix of perennial rye, hard fescue, micro clover, yarrow, Achillea millefolium, sweet alyssum, Lobularia maritima, baby blue eyes, Nemophila menziesi, English daisy, Bellis perennis, and O’Connor’s strawberry clover, Trifolium fragiferum.
  • Traditional car companies are actually leading the pack in self-driving car development, by some measures.

Lyft v. parking

I seem to be on a safe streets, anti-car roll this week so I’ll keep rolling. This article quotes a Lyft spokesman and drivers about how people are using ride sharing services to avoid having to deal with parking.

“They say, ‘I can’t afford to park down there,’” Gregory Goodman said. “And if they end up parking down there they end up with a $75 ticket.”

Lyft Philly GM Andrew Woolf confirmed that a significant portion of Lyft’s business comes from people who don’t want to park their cars. This has become a trend for commuters elsewhere, too, so much so that office landlords in New Jersey are beginning to offer Lyft and Uber subsidies.

Much of the time, these trips to avoid parking are to the airport or SEPTA stations, but Lyft is used for far more routine parking jobs.

I think this is slightly missing the point. The point of transportation is to get where you need to go, when you need to go there, at a reasonable financial price. People in relatively compact cities have always had more options in this regard than everyone else – walking, biking, public transportation, and taxis. On any given day, someone may decide one of these options is cheaper and/or more convenient than driving and parking their private vehicle. Others are going to decide that having a private vehicle is no longer worth the trouble (count me in this camp, since 2004). But Uber and Lyft are game changing because they are a much better option in many cases than these older options, and in less dense communities they are providing the first viable alternative to private vehicles that people have ever had access to. So people are making their choices.

Like I said, I haven’t owned a private vehicle since 2004. But I used to rent cars and use share cars (the kind you sign out and drive yourself) frequently, but lately I hardly ever do either of these things. I take Uber and Lyft instead. Here in Philadelphia, our public transportation agency is set to raise fares yet again to a minimum of $2.50, and they need to be careful because Uber Pool and the Lyft equivalent (I forget what it’s called) are going to be competitive for some rides. So it could be the beginnings of a public transportation death spiral. What they need to do, of course, is adopt the Uber Pool type technology to public transportation, and offer flexible routes and timing. All is not quite perfect in corporate Uber land, of course, and public transportation agencies could actually take advantage of this if they are smart and flexible enough. But I wouldn’t put my money on that.

There is still an irony when we talk about parking. Gradually, fewer private cars will mean less parking demand and less competition for the parking spaces we have already built, or that we will continue to build through misguided policies in some places. That will mean less angst about parking and actually provide some counter-incentive to giving up your private vehicle, so at some point it will settle into some kind of equilibrium, at least until the next technological disruption or in a few progressive places that realize they can use all that land for something better than parking.

May 2017 in Review

Most frightening stories:

  • The public today is more complacent about nuclear weapons than they were in the 1980s, even though the risk is arguably greater and leaders seem to be more ignorant and reckless.
  • The NSA is trying “to identify laboratories and/or individuals who may be involved in nefarious use of genetic research”.
  • We hit 410 ppm at Mauna Loa.

Most hopeful stories:

Most interesting stories, that were not particularly frightening or hopeful, or perhaps were a mixture of both:

  • Some experts think the idea of national sovereignty itself is now in doubt.
  • Taser wants to record everything the police do, everywhere, all the time, and use artificial intelligence to make sense of the data.
  • The sex robots are here.

electric cars about to boom

According to Bloomberg, electric cars are set for a big boom by 2020 and could lead to a peak and decline in oil demand sometime in the 2020s.

Electric cars are coming fast — and that’s not just the opinion of carmakers anymore. Total SA, one of the world’s biggest oil producers, is now saying EVs may constitute almost a third of new-car sales by the end of the next decade.

The surge in battery powered vehicles will cause demand for oil-based fuels to peak in the 2030s, Total Chief Energy Economist Joel Couse said at Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s conference in New York on Tuesday. EVs will make up 15 percent to 30 percent of new vehicles by 2030, after which fuel “demand will flatten out,” Couse said. “Maybe even decline…”

“By 2020 there will be over 120 different models of EV across the spectrum,” said Michael Liebreich, founder of Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “These are great cars. They will make the internal combustion equivalent look old fashioned.”

April 2017 in Review

Most frightening stories:

Most hopeful stories:

Most interesting stories, that were not particularly frightening or hopeful, or perhaps were a mixture of both:

  • I first heard of David Fleming, who wrote a “dictionary” that provides “deft and original analysis of how our present market-based economy is destroying the very foundations―ecological, economic, and cultural― on which it depends, and his core focus: a compelling, grounded vision for a cohesive society that might weather the consequences.”
  • Judges are relying on algorithms to inform probation, parole, and sentencing decisions.
  • I finished reading Rainbow’s End, a fantastic Vernor Vinge novel about augmented reality in the near future, among other things.