To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Clearing the air


By Jiang Xueqing, June 13, 2013


Clearing the air

 The desire for economic development has resulted in severe air pollution in Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei province, which also affects nearby cities such as Beijing and Tianjin.

 United effort by Beijing and surrounding cities needed to fight pollution, report Jiang Xueqing in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, and Wu Wencong in Beijing.

Before a heavy rainstorm cleared the skies above Beijing on Sunday and delighted people with a rainbow, the city had been shrouded in smog for a week.

Of the 23 air monitoring stations in the city, 14 detected heavily polluted air in the areas surrounding the capital on Saturday, while seven other areas were deemed to be moderately polluted. The monitors also identified PM2.5 - particles up to 2.5 microns in diameter and able to enter the lungs and blood stream - as the primary pollutant.

Studies by a number of academic institutions have found that on average about 25 percent of PM2.5 in Beijing comes from nearby cities. That means regional collaboration to control air pollution is crucially important, said Zhuang Zhidong, deputy director of the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau.
How monitoring works
byJiang Xueqing
Beijing has 35 automatic air quality monitoring stations, including 23 in the city proper and the outer suburbs. The stations monitor major air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and PM2.5 - ultrafine particles measuring 2.5 microns in diameter or smaller.
The stations analyze the pollutants and transfer concentration data to a center that produces a daily report and air quality forecasts. In addition, the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center publishes an air quality index and real-time concentration of major pollutants on its website and micro blog, and also on mobile phones and TV.

The air in Beijing is polluted on roughly half of the 365 days in the year and PM2.5 constitutes the major pollutant on 80 to 90 percent of those days.

Because the launch of the PM2.5 monitoring program was hurried, various levels of government have still not fully completed their preparations, and some technical problems remain, said Zhang Dawei, director of the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center.

For example, different equipment is used in different regions and cities and the methods to monitor PM2.5 vary from place to place. As a result, the figures may show a disparity of 10 to 20 percent and cannot be compared on equal conditions.
"Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province will eventually conduct joint regional prevention and control of air pollution. Currently, they are still performing basic research within the region to identify mutual influences in the three areas," said Bao Jingling, chief engineer of the Tianjin Environmental Protection Bureau.
He said officials in Hebei province and Beijing have signed an agreement on joint pollution control - including measures such as mutual industrial development - and Beijing and Tianjin will soon sign a similar treaty.

Economic differences

Compared with some other regions such as the Yangtze River Delta, where the economies of Shanghai and the provinces of Zhejiang and Jiangsu are comparable in size, collaborative efforts between Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province to control air pollution have been made much more difficult by the huge differences in economic performance, said Zhuang during a media event called A Century of Action for Environmental Journalism in China.

In 2012, the service sector accounted for 76.4 percent of Beijing's gross domestic product of 1.78 trillion yuan ($290 billion). However, in Hebei province, the service sector accounted for just 35.3 percent of GDP of 2.66 trillion yuan, while the industrial sector, including iron and steel, coal, construction materials and petrochemicals, contributed 52.7 percent.

"Different areas are at different stages of development and have different priorities. Because they are not on the same page, it's very difficult to carry out joint regional prevention and control of air pollution," said Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs.

During the process of economic development, Beijing enjoyed a number of advantages that allowed the city to discover low-carbon development paths, such as financial services and the cultural and creative industries. Tianjin and Hebei, which did not have the same advantages but still wanted to keep up with Beijing, elected to grow through energy-intensive industries instead.

To gain a mutual understanding of air pollution, the governments of the three areas must share basic information such as emission levels from the major pollution sources and their compliance with national emission standards every year, said Ma.

The Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs and several nonprofit organizations have pushed for the disclosure of real-time monitoring data of pollution sources by the governments of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei.

"Considering that the three areas are different in terms of their developmental stages, per capita GDP and living standards, they should help each other when working towards the same goal, that of fighting air pollution, by sharing ideas, technology and funds," said Chai Fahe, vice-president of the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences.

"The current difficulties lie in identifying the responsibilities of each municipality and province to provide a fair base for joint control," he said.

Three State-level meetings have been held to discuss the national air pollution action plan, according to Bao. Consensus has been reached on the measures to take, such as intensifying efforts to control fine particulate matter, greater restrictions on the use of coal, and encouraging increased use of clean energy sources. But questions remain about how consumption should be divided among all the provinces and the target levels for the reduction of emissions in each area.

Although the Beijing municipal government decided to cut the city's coal consumption from 23.3 million tons in 2012 to 15 million tons in 2015, it cannot force other cities and provinces to sacrifice their own economic growth to promote cleaner air in the surrounding areas.

The desire for growth and development has prompted a rapid increase in coal consumption in the areas surrounding Beijing; in 2012, Tianjin burned more than 50 million tons of coal, while Hebei province burned more than 280 million tons.
Clearing the air
A woman wears a face mask in Beijing. WU CHANGQING FOR CHINA DAILY
"Fundamental changes will not occur if Beijing is the only one to cut coal consumption," said Zhuang.

To prevent regional collaboration from existing in name only, officials in Beijing have appealed to the State Council to lead the collaborative efforts.

Recently, a State Council deputy secretary led a number of relevant government departments - including the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the Ministry of Finance, the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Transport - in enacting policies for regional collaboration. The official also asked the mayors of Beijing and Tianjin and the governors of Hebei and Shanxi provinces for their thoughts on the problem, according to Zhuang.

Yang Guozhan, deputy secretary-general of Hebei's provincial government, also suggested that a comprehensive central government department should lead the coordination of regional collaboration and formulate specific measures based on the different situations in cities and provinces.

"The choice between economic development and environmental improvement is a dilemma, but we have to strike a balance between the two and resolve to change our economic structure, which relies on excessive consumption of resources and a high level of emissions," said Yang.
He said he hoped the central government would support Hebei, while optimizing the structures of emerging and major industries.

Hard times for Hebei
New targets implemented
by Jiang Xueqing
Sulfur dioxide emissions in China amounted to 21.18 million metric tons in 2012, a fall of 4.52 percent from the previous year, while nitrogen oxide emissions totaled 23.38 million tons, a decline of 2.77 percent, according to a report released by the Ministry of Environmental Protection this month.

In September, the State Council approved the Plan on the Prevention and Control of Air Pollution in Key Regions (2011-15). The plan, which covers 117 cities in 19 provinces, implemented targets to reduce the annual mean concentration of PM10 and sulfur dioxide by 10 percent each, nitrogen dioxide by 7 percent and PM2.5 by 5 percent.

To support the renovation of coal-fired boilers in 15 cities, the central government provided 1.09 billion yuan ($178 million) in subsidies in 2012. The air quality in those cities has improved significantly since the project was launched, according to the report.

Meanwhile, in February 2012 the Ministry of Environmental Protection released revised standards for ambient air quality. The latest standards added several new items, including an annual mean concentration limit and a 24-hour average concentration limit for PM2.5.

In all, 496 national air monitoring sites in 74 cities have released real-time data about six basic pollutants, including PM2.5, ozone and sulfur dioxide, since Jan 1.
Hebei is having a hard time adjusting its economic structure. Iron and steel are the largest industries in the province and as efforts are renewed to eliminate backward production capacity, the province will have to pay a high price for industrial upgrades, the renovation of technology, the relocation of factories and resettlement of workers
For example, by 2017, Shijiazhuang Iron & Steel Co will move from Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei, to Huanghua, a county-level city in the Bohai Bay coastal region. The relocation, plus the technological and equipment upgrades, will cost 30 billion yuan, said Yin Guangping, deputy director of Hebei environmental protection bureau.

Although economic growth has slowed in the province this year, development still remains a top priority. The provincial government has demanded that Shijiazhuang increase its GDP from 450 billion yuan in 2012 to 1,000 billion yuan in 2017. At the same time, the city will also need to control the growth in coal consumption to promote improvements in air quality. In 2012 alone, it burned 61 million tons of coal.

"Under normal conditions, the amount of coal consumed in Shijiazhuang will increase by 4 million tons per year. Even if we were to implement all the energy-saving measures, we will still see an increase of 2 million tons. Restraining this increase in consumption is the most difficult task we face right now," said Jia Dongxu, director of the energy office of Shijiazhuang Reform and Development Commission.

Officials in Hebei are also concerned about ensuring sufficient supplies of natural gas - especially during the winter heating season - once coal-fired power plants have been converted to natural gas.

"While we are making a contribution to the joint regional prevention and control of air pollution, we hope the State Council will support us during the collaborative process. For example, could the central government allocate more natural gas to Hebei province?" said Wang Shaohua, vice-mayor of Shijiazhuang.

Once natural gas replaces coal, the costs of manufacturing and heating will increase significantly. In Shijiazhuang, the price of heating 1 square meter will rise from 22 yuan in 2012 to around 38 yuan, according to estimates from local gas companies. Because the city still lags behind in terms of economic development, Wang called for subsidies and preferential tax policies from the Ministry of Finance.

While the cities and provinces surrounding Beijing have emphasized the challenges they face and the sacrifices they are making to control air pollution, some environmental scientists have noted that they will also benefit from regional collaboration.

"People in Hebei province have the right to economic development, it's just as important as their right to breathe clean air. The province is solving air pollution not just for Beijing, but for itself," said Chai.

During the heavy smog and haze that blanketed large parts of China for weeks in January, many cities in Hebei had much worse air quality than Beijing. Also, cities in the province are always on a list of the top 10 most-polluted cities which is released by the Ministry of Environmental Protection on a monthly basis.

"Rather than saying Beijing needs Hebei's help to maintain good air quality, it's fairer to say that keeping the air clean for the people living in the region, including Tianjin and Hebei province, will require efforts from all sides," said Chai.

Texting hands-free while driving still dangerous, study finds


By Christina Villacorte, June 12, 2013




 Russ Martin of American Automobile Association (AAA), is seen on a monitor in a research vehicle skull cap to the research vehicle during a demonstration in support of their new study on distracted driving in Landover, Md., Tuesday, June 11, 2013.

With Siri on the iPhone and Bluetooth in dashboards, it's a lot easier for drivers to talk or text on their cellphones -- but a study released Wednesday found these hands-free technologies could be even more dangerous than hand-held devices when used on the road.

 The study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety measured drivers' brainwaves while they were multitasking and found they had to cope with a heavier "mental workload" and distractions when using voice-to-text email features compared to talking on a cellphone, whether hand-held or hands-free.

The study found voice-to-text features sometimes caused drivers to have "a kind of tunnel vision" or -- even more problematic -- "inattention blindness," Automobile Club of Southern California senior research associate Steve Bloch said.

With the former, he explained, drivers "see what's right in front of them, but don't see stop signs, traffic lights, people on the side of the road who might enter the road."
With the latter, drivers "don't even see what's right in front of them, because they're so lost in their own thoughts, so cognitively distracted," he added.

Bloch, who did not participate directly in the study, said the notion that hands-free is safer than hand-held is "just not true" and creates "a false sense of security."

But the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers expressed skepticism about the findings.

"We are extremely concerned that it could send a misleading message, since it suggests that hand-held and hands-free devices are equally risky," it said in a statement.

The trade group said the study focused only on the mental distraction posed by using a device, and ignored the visual and manual aspects of hand-held cellphones versus hands-free systems integrated into cars.

With a growing number of automakers allowing smartphones to interface with their vehicles so that drivers can use voice commands to turn on windshield wipers, find the nearest restaurant, send and receive text messages, set appointments, and even post on Facebook, Kelly Browning is worried.

"We need to do only one thing behind the wheel, and that's driving," said the executive direct of Impact Teen Drivers, a Sacramento-based organization created to reduce teens' risk of car crashes, particularly those caused by distractions and inexperience.

"Anything that takes away from that, regardless of whether it's voice activated or not, can be lethal," she warned.

California Highway Patrol public information officer Vince Ramirez urged drivers to refrain from using their cellphones in car. After all, in most cases, it's illegal anyway.

The state banned drivers from making calls with handheld cellphones in 2008, and driving while texting in 2009.

Hands-free texting, however, is permitted as January of this year, unless you're under 18.
"Anybody under 18 is prohibited from using a cellphone or any type of electronic device whatsoever, when driving," Ramirez said.

He added most first offenses for distracted driving result  in a fine of about $150. A second offense could cost about $250.

CHP hands out an average of 36,000 such citations monthly, but that's only a tiny fraction of the number of drivers using cellphones.

According to a recent study by the state Office of Traffic Safety, the percentage of California drivers using cellphones at any one time is 7.5 percent.

That's down from almost 11 percent in 2012; nevertheless, OTS director Christopher Murphy said the number is still too high because any usage of cellphones while driving creates distractions and compromises reaction times.

"Before you start your car, either turn off your cellphone or put it out of reach," he advised. "Change your voice message so that if someone calls you while you're driving, they will know that you will call back when you can.

"And if someone you know -- especially your son or daughter -- is in a car, don't text or call them if it can possibly wait."

Citing data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, AAA said 3,331 people were killed and 387,000 were injured in crashes involving a distracted or inattentive driver in 2011.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood issued guidelines for automakers to reduce the distraction risk posed by electronic devices in their vehicles in April, after a study found cellphone texting, browsing and dialing increased the risk of a crash by three times.

LaHood recommended that drivers take their eyes off the road for only two seconds at a time, and 12 seconds total, to operate in-car communications, entertainment and navigation devices.

He also called for disabling texting, browsing, video-phoning, Web pages and social media unless the vehicle is parked.

The guidelines, however, are voluntary.

In the meantime, BMW's website advertises "ConnectedDrive," a feature that uses Bluetooth to let drivers "conveniently view your appointments, diary entries, information and news on your vehicle display -- all without having to pick up your phone."

"Just concentrate on driving: the text-to-speech function can read out your e-mails, notes, diary entries or text messages via the speakers of your audio system," it continued.

Ford has SYNC, which reads incoming text messages aloud while the vehicle is in motion while GM promises in-vehicle "infotainment" and Iomation, touted as "the ability to find goods and services on the fly, powered by location-based information services."

With a five-fold increase in such infotainment systems expected in new vehicles by 2018, AAA President and CEO Robert Darbelnet called for action.

He said the automotive and electronics industries should limit the use of voice-activated technology to core driving-related activities, such as climate control and windshield wipers; and disabling certain voice-to-text technologies that use social media, email and texting when a vehicle is in motion.

"There is a looming public safety crisis ahead," Darbelnet said. "It's time to consider limiting new and potentially dangerous mental distractions built into cars, particularly with the common public misperception that hands-free means risk-free."

Major Blowback from City Council Members Over Leimert Park Funding Plan


By Damien Newton, June 12, 2013


 Sometimes when things sound too good to be true...

A new Metro Board report released to the public on Monday details where Metro found the $120 million needed to build the Leimert Park Station for the Crenshaw Line, and many people aren’t happy. In fact, Los Angeles City Council Members Paul Koretz and Bill Rosendahl are so unhappy, they introduced a motion yesterday that could force a new showdown over the oddly controversial light rail station. (The full motion is available on our Sribd account and available after the jump.)

The staff report recommends funding the station by moving Measure R funds from the Metro Call for Projects ($62 million), LAX airport connector ($48 million) and Wilshire Bus Only Lanes ($10 million) to pay for the station. The Call for Projects has traditionally been a place where “traffic reduction” projects including local bicycle and pedestrian projects are funded, as well as some less useful projects such as left-hand turn lane widening and other stealth capacity enhancements.

According to City Council staff, the report hit like a lightning bolt. They were never given a heads up from Metro that projects inside their districts could lose a large portion of their Measure R funds.

“I was totally blindsided by this, and we discovered this proposal not by a phone call from Metro but rather by reading the staff report,” writes Bill Rosendahl, the Council Member representing the LAX airport area and a portion of the Wilshire Bus Only Lane Corridor.

“The City of Los Angeles and Metro are here to serve the public and the public is not being served when a unilateral decision is made to deobligate $118 million in City of LA projects without so much as a phone call.  It’s my hope that Metro will step up and open a dialogue with my office and the rest of my Council colleagues so we can reach an agreeable solution.”

Last month, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas announced that funding had been “found” to build a train station in Leimert Park as part of the soon-to-be-constructed Crenshaw Line. The community and many transit advocates rejoiced. Two years earlier, the dream of a Leimert Park Station seemed denied when the Metro Board of Directors surprisingly passed a budget for the project that did not include the station.

For many transit and community advocates, the report raises new questions about whether the new station is worth the trade-off. The harshest condemnation of the report comes from someone who might, at first, seem an unlikely source.

“The Crenshaw Subway Coalition does not support the staff’s proposed financial plan,” writes
Damien Goodmon, the executive director of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition. “It has become clear over the past few weeks that Art Leahy and staff have made several illogical and indefensible decisions that have gotten the project to this point, and the financial plan is just the latest. We do not think our friends in the South Bay or Wilshire bus riders should be forced to compensate for the professional incompetence of Art Leahy and his staff.”

 But not every transit advocate agrees.

“As a champion of Wilshire BRT, I am sorry about the $10 million being taken from it. Ditto $48 million from the Airport Connector,” writes Dana Gabbard, a steering committee member for Southern California Transit Advocates and Streetsblog contributor, speaking only for himself.
“But looking long-term as we create a regional network of rail and BRT, having a station at Leimert Park will have social and economic benefits both for the Crenshaw Community and the overall region.”

Goodmon and Gabbard’s full written statements can be found here.

While Rosendahl is termed out of office in three weeks, he still has one more meeting as Chair of the Transportation Committee and could, theoretically, move this quickly to the City Council floor. He will be replaced on the Council by his Chief of Staff, Mike Bonin, who would presumably be of similar thought on this matter. For the record, Streetsblog has not spoken with Bonin about this issue. Paul Koretz was just re-elected to office.

The Metro Board of Directors is scheduled to vote on the funding plan at their June 27 meeting, the same meeting which marks the end of eight years of Antonio Villaraigosa’s time as a Board Member. Metro spokesperson Mark Littman says the blowback to the report has not changed Metro’s mind about moving ahead with what could be a final vote, assuming the report clears committee.

“Staff still plans on bringing the Crenshaw construction contract action item to the Board this month,” writes Littman. “It includes staff’s recommendation to add $160 million to the project’s contingency budget through various fund transfers. It’s up to the Board to decide if it concurs with the staff recommendation.”

Given the sometimes tumultuous nature of Villaraigosa’s term as member of the Metro Board, it seems somehow fitting that a Metro Board battle marks his true public going-away party.
But, as much fun as it is to speculate on Metro Board politics, it’s important to remember that the issue of whether Leimert Park gets a transit station, as the community demanded and fought over two years for, is a personal one for many people in South L.A.

“It never should have been left out in the first place. It would be like leaving out Little Tokyo or other important cultural neighborhoods,” writes Streetsblog’s community editor, Sahra Sulaiman. “Leimert is the cultural beating heart of the Black community. African-Americans from all over the city come there to connect with others in the community, connect with and celebrate their heritage, find artistic inspiration, experiment in artistic expression, and feel at home. The Black-themed book stores, events, and salons make it a unique sort of Black public square. A visitor to the artwalk or one of the many cultural events there is immediately aware of how much it feels like a genuine community in the way few places in LA really do. Leaving it out says that we don’t place any value on Black culture or its contributions to L.A.’s richness.”
Letter to Eric Garcetti

Posted by Joe Cano on No 710 on Avenue 64 Facebook page, June 12, 2013

Alright folks we are ramping up the effort to get Mayor Garcetti to appoint members to the Metro Board of Directors that are sympathetic to our cause of killing the 710 tunnel through El Sereno. Either copy to an email & send to the addresses below, or print many copies & get as many of your neighbors to sign one letter & send through US mail. We need to flood his office. I personally don't want Gil Cedillo on the Metro Board, he is in favor of this project & has sold out his gente to corporate interests.

Subject: Letter to Eric Garcetti

Mr. Garcetti,

The residents of Northeast Los Angeles in El Sereno would like to welcome you as our new mayor of Los Angeles!

We appreciate the value a local candidate like yourself brings to the city's concerns of education and infrastructure and know the Mayor's office has significant influence with the latter.

We write you today to express our concerns and share the opportunity to reaffirm your campaign promise to residents of the Northeast Los Angeles area, specifically the proposed extension of the 710 Freeway.

As mayor, you are in a unique position to influence projects carried out by the Metro Authority through the four delegates you can appoint to the Board.

Our concerns lie in the recent election of many termed out California state officials to local offices. Recent experience suggests these candidates struggle with understanding local issues and have political ties and obligations that may be counter to the interests of local residents. This is especially acute in recent years regarding transportation projects since local and county level taxes are expected to pay for these projects rather than state bonds.

We also see this as an opportunity to reaffirm your promise by appointing local candidates, who will listen and understand the unique geography and traffic patterns that only local residents of the Los Angeles region can appreciate.

We seek your "SUPPORT" to appoint Metro Board members who are long-term Los Angeles area residents that are experts in transportation and urban planning, will listen to residents who support transit alternatives to the prohibitively expensive 710 Freeway tunnel project -- a project that does not meet your clear directive for efficient and cost effective governance.

Please meet with the lead representatives of the No 710 Action Committee to discuss these concerns at your earliest convenience to ensure the representation on the Metro board reflects the best resources Southern California has to offer.

An El Sereno resident.

You can also email his chief of staff, Ana Guerrero

City Hall Office
200 North Spring Street,
Room 470
Los Angeles, California 90012
Phone: 213-473-7013
Fax: 213-613-0819

Viewpoints – Mark Pisano: California demographic changes demand new way to pay for infrastructure


By Justub Ewers, June 11, 2013



"Unraveled." That's the word Mark Pisano uses to describe his response to the coming collision of California's aging population with its already-strained fiscal situation—a demographic perfect storm that he believes will make funding public projects all but impossible. After a long career battling budgetary headwinds to build the state's public infrastructure system, it is a fate Pisano is determined to help California avoid.

For more than three decades between 1976 and 2007, Pisano served as executive director of the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), a group of local governments from six southern California counties that together make up the nation's largest regional planning agency. Again and again over the years, as Pisano wrestled with plans for building out the transportation, water, and energy systems that serve as the Southern California's economic backbone, he found his organization coming up short on how to fund them.

This perennial shortfall nagged at him. "I was always disconcerted by the fact that all of these plans had huge financial gaps associated with them," Pisano says. In good times or bad, even the most vital infrastructure projects seemed to find themselves looking for funds. Tax revenues didn't cover the project's costs, bond sales only raised so much, and funding gaps were the norm.

A 2011 SCAG study, for example, highlighted more than $176 billion in "high-level" investments necessary to keep the Los Angeles area's transit system up and running—but included a $46 billion funding shortfall, or about 25 percent of the total amount. (As a state, California's infrastructure deficit is pegged at closer to $765 billion, with a funding gap in the hundreds of billions.)

During his tenure, Pisano tried a range of solutions, from experimenting with toll roads to funding rail line expansions with shipping container fees. None of them, he says, was enough: "After beating my head against the wall for 32 years, I'm still asking the same question: How are we going to fund the unfunded mandate and raise more revenues? I just don't see a way to resurrect the system we've used to pay for infrastructure over the last 50-60 years."
Not enough money today, even less tomorrow

For Pisano, though, that's only the beginning of the state's problem. Since leaving SCAG, he became a senior fellow at USC's Price School of Public Policy, where he is researching how the state's changing demographics (its aging population, in particular) will impact California's economic growth—and, by extension, its ability to invest in public facilities, from the state's water systems to its roads and highways.

It is this coming wave of demographic change that has left him, as he puts it, "unraveled." In a new paper, "3-D Infrastructure: Building the Next California," Pisano outlines the fiscal challenge he believes the state is up against—and what he believes must be done to overcome it.

Much of the state's economic growth over the last 30 years, Pisano points out, is the result of a growing labor force—over half of it, in fact. But with California's baby boomers beginning to retire, a process that started in 2011, the state's future workforce is expected to shrink accordingly. Most experts estimate state labor force growth will be 70 percent lower over the next 30 years than it has been in the last three decades.

That has grave implications for the economy, which Pisano believes may end up growing at a rate closer to 2 percent, as a result (instead of its average of 3-3.5 percent). This will mean not just fewer jobs, but a much smaller state budget.

"In California over the next three decades," Pisano writes, "this 'age penalty' will reduce income growth by 20 percent, our expenditures by 13 percent, and the taxes we pay to all levels of government by 34 percent."
The state's challenge: Acting "fundamentally differently"

For vital state projects like public transit and school buildings, in other words, what proved difficult for most of Pisano's career is about to become much more so. With many regions already struggling to pay for public projects—and with the state's general fund likely to fall under increasing stress in the years ahead—California's infrastructure system is about to find itself pinned between a fiscal rock and a demographic hard place.

"It all adds up to one thing: The revenue picture in the future just isn't going to look anything like what we've experienced in the past," says Pisano. "We're just going to have to do things fundamentally differently—both in terms of what we spend and how we finance it."
Initially, Pisano says, he hoped his research was missing something—that his conclusion was wrong for some reason. "This is has so unraveled me that I've spent the last five months reviewing it with experts who do this kind of economic work," says Pisano, who has shared his research with the General Accounting Office in Washington D.C. "They've said 'What you're saying is methodologically correct, your message is plausible, and you'd better get it out.'"

That is exactly what Pisano is now doing—while also introducing a range of potential policy solutions he believes could address the coming fiscal squeeze.

Interestingly, one approach he does not believe is the answer is a new wave of traditional public-private partnerships, where private entities take ownership of public facilities: "Too often, those just become a political nonstarter," says Pisano. "Unions think you're attacking them. The public thinks these private guys are going to come in and rip them off. The reaction is always very negative."
Pisano's approach: What it might look like

Instead, Pisano is proposing a range of alternative approaches— many of which have been outlined in California Forward's principles for a Smart Infrastructure System for California.

Simply put, Pisano believes the solution lies in empowering a range of new regional and local entities with the authority to shake up the state's traditional approach to public financing of infrastructure. Instead of what he calls the "3-C world of infrastructure"—today's centralized system, capital intensive and controlled by hierarchy—he proposes a "3-D model," where public facilities are financed by a system that is "diversified, distributed, and decentralized."

In Pisano's view, out would go today's system of financing public projects through the state general fund or general obligation bonds that are paid back over time with tax revenues—an approach that hasn't produced enough money to pay for projects for decades, and one that will only be more strained in the years ahead.  Out would also go a procurement process that involves agencies to drawing up the specs for their projects and then seeking competitive bids—a system he thinks inhibits creativity in both design and financing.

In their place, Pisano believes the state should pursue a three-pronged approach:
  • Encourage more Public Benefit Corporations: To provide regional forums for all of the stakeholders interested in an infrastructure project, Pisano would like the state to encourage the creation of more Public Benefit Corporations (PBCs). These quasi-public entities can be established by state and local governments, use the tools of the private sector to operate, and then be operated as nonprofits. There is no single model for PBCs, but they share an operating principle: Using partnerships and collaboration across sectors to tap into resources (both private and public) the infrastructure system needs.
One successful example is the Presidio Trust in San Francisco, a federally-operated PBC with multiple objectives—park management and conservation among them—that have allowed the organization to participate in the largest public-private project in the state, the $1 billion renovation of the Presidio Parkway.
"This is not a new notion," says Pisano. "PBCs are just alliances of people to come together under the rubric of public policy to get something done. You can't do this right with existing organizations; they just get locked in stovepipes and silos. Instead, we need the Legislature to give [PBCs] more authority—to set the rules of the game—so there can be more of them."
  • Create a new "risk assessment" board: To ensure the financial risks taken on by Public Benefit Corporations are understood and accounted for, Pisano also proposes creating a new Risk Assessment and Mitigations Board (RAMB) that would assess PBC project proposals. The RAMB's ground rules would be simple: It would only approve projects with clear returns on investments, those that are integrated into the rest of the infrastructure system, and those with a revenue-stream outside the state general fund. The board would be staffed by experts in the financial, insurance, engineering and governance fields capable of accurately identifying risk.
"I've spent a lot of time on this, and risk is where the most difficult issue is going to be," says Pisano. "When you look at business plans and financing instruments, the toughest thing is the calculating the risk of assuming the product and services [a toll road, say] will be purchased. The state can help set up the tools to do make sure this is done right. Right now, that function's not being done anywhere."
  • Empower the state Infrastructure Bank: The state already has one important, established financing instrument for infrastructure projects—a state "I-Bank" that has broad statutory powers to issue revenue bonds, make loans, and provide credit to a wide variety of projects. The I-Bank, housed in the governor's Office of Business & Economic Development, is currently financing some $32 billion worth of projects, but Pisano would like to see its authority—and its portfolio—expanded.
"If we could find a mechanism in the infrastructure bank that could help share the risk of buying revenue bonds, we could create whole new capacities for financing," says Pisano. "But it's not just the infrastructure bank. If we take a whole range of statutes that haven't ever been used to the fullest, find out why they didn't, and start experimenting with them, we're going to find solutions."

For Pisano, who has spent a career grappling with the state's infrastructure challenges, the question is not whether to begin this kind of experimentation, but when.

"We have a situation where we have problems galore—water problems, transportation problems, energy problems. The question becomes: What tools can we give to people who want to solve their problem, be innovative, and just go out and do it," he says. "In my experience, if we create these tools and start turning them into real organizations, you'll create the capacity for people who really want to solve the problem to start trying new approaches. This will be the beginning of a movement."

That movement, in Pisano's view, may just be the only way to put a stop to the state's coming "unraveling."
Opinion: Metro, Don’t Make the Same Mistake Long Beach Transit Did on Electric Buses 


By Brian Addison, June 12, 2013

 Build Your Dream (BYD) buses will be coming to the streets of Long Beach. Will Metro enter contract with them for all of L.A. County?

Last week, Metro postponed a decision to procure 30 zero emission buses. Despite my support for electric transit, I regard the vote with mixed feelings. As much as we want to say, “Green is green, that is all,” that no matter how we go about doing it, increasing zero emissions vehicle usage is a good thing despite the means…
In this case I fear, we’ve all been duped. First in Long Beach and what could very well be Los Angeles if the Metro Board votes the way that its staff is recommending it votes.

This past March, I wrote a diatribe pleading for Long Beach Transit (LBT) to procure more electric buses–and they did. This, in and of itself, was a good thing. I was happy, content, even ecstatic that 10 buses–lacking the false green advertising so egregiously brought forth by CNG advocates–would be winding their way through the streets of Long Beach.

After all, the possibilities of electric buses are unquestionably revolutionary (and I don’t use that term lightly) because of the broader implications involved.

Current public transit perceptions mostly run along the pejorative gamut: they are loud, they are dirty, and they are–this being the worst perception of all, particularly in California–for poor people only. The first two are actually correct: they ARE loud and they DO pollute–so why would anyone in a quiet, middle- to upper-class neighborhood ever want them putting around their homes?

Electric buses alter that perception: they run at a noise level of office conversation, they are (truly) zero emissions, and they hold the capability of being in places that were previously impossible (those aforementioned middle- and upper-class neighborhoods), thereby altering the general conception of what public transit can be.

So far, so good. It makes sense as to why LBT went electric.

But why was this endeavor–along with what could be the same for Metro–so… Anti-American? Both of the transit companies’ staff support China-based company BYD rather than South Carolina-based Proterra (with the LBT Board eventually taking their staff’s recommendation while Metro still awaits the vote). Even beyond their geographic locations, many other egregious differences come to light between the two bus makers–and I’ll get to those in a bit.

I am not one to wave patriotism blindly, but I am one who strongly believes that–particularly given our staggering economy and the world’s overall disinvestment in American technology–investment in progressing American innovation is key, particularly when it comes to sustainable and renewable energy.

One of the best examples is the glaring difference between Germany and the U.S. The former–whose economy between 1998 and 2008 went from a deficit of $5.9 billion to a surplus of $267.1 billion compared to the U.S. deficit of $568.8 billion in 2008–has become arguably the world’s leader in green energies. The Energiewende (roughly translated as the Energy Transformation) revolves around nixing nuclear capability, replacing it with renewable energy and making sure those energies account for 80% of Germany’s energy by 2050, cutting greenhouse-gas emissions by 40% come 2020 and 80% (yes, 80%) by 2050, and getting consumption to drop 20% by 2020 and 50% by 2050. They’ve created a so-called “prosumer” model that provides individual ownership–over 50%–of Germany’s renewable energy capacity, leaving the four giant energy companies to own a meager 6.5%.
In other words, Germany is investing in ITSELF when it comes to sustainable and renewable energies (and, oh the irony, outsiders are investing in it as well).

And here we have two RFPs, both from Southern Californian transit companies requesting more electric buses. Two bus companies make it to the top in each bid: on one hand, we have Proterra, a rather new bus company–80% buy America–that is renovating electric bus technology. They are the only company in the world that produces an all-eletric Altoona-tested bus (Altoona is the federal testing ground where our government sanctions or dismisses a public transit vehicle as safe and sound). They also happen to manufacture the world’s first full-size, 10-minute charge bus (meaning theoretically, depending upon route, 24/7 public transportation becomes possible, something L.A. has been rumored to be discussing).

It vied for the LBT electric bus RFP and lost to BYD, the China-based company that sits on the other hand. This company is now facing Proterra once again and, also once again, is receiving the blessing of a transit company’s staff.

There is a blunt, succinct question that needs to be asked again: Why, given BYD is filled with a multitude of problems?

During a LBT Board meeting back in March of this year, before the Board had officially voted, it was noted that BYD had outright fabricated the fact that it had deployed buses within the U.S. and Europe, particularly to Apple in Cupertino, Hertz in Los Angeles, as well as Madrid and Holland.

Ryan Poppel, an investment partner with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers was adamant in not only his support of Proterra at the meeting, but brought forth scathing accusations regarding the statistics BYD used in order to gain traction on the contract.

“Fundamentally, you are making an investment by executing this project—in that regard, your role is similar to mine,” Poppel had said. “It is with this context that I am confused by the initial recommendation to this board to buy from an unproven company like BYD for this critical project… Specifically, I have confirmation from Apple in Cupertino that denies any purchases or deployments of BYD buses. I can also provide contact information for the Global EV Lead at the Hertz Corporation. They will confirm that they have not, in fact, purchased or deployed any BYD buses.”

Three days after the LBT staff recommendation, Goldman Sachs placed BYD’s parent company as “below expectations,” with shares at “very thing margins” and “poor [second-half of 2012] results.”

Years following its announcement of building headquarters in Los Angeles and Canada, both have ultimately failed to appear.

The Long Beach Post reported that test trial performance analyses of their buses were fabricated extensively.

To add icing to the cake: three people were incinerated to death after one of BYD’s electric vehicle caught on fire in Shenzen.

So as I previously stated, the postponement of Metro’s vote left me with mixed feelings.

On the one hand, it was reminiscent of LBT’s postponement that proved ultimately unnecessary given that–despite overwhelming evidence that BYD lied about its American involvement, stats, and efficiency–they went with BYD anyways.

On the other hand, I am hopeful that perhaps Metro will understand that this is not a case of an-electric-bus-is-an-electric-bus. There are ethics and, just as importantly, there are costs beyond the given dollar sign.

The Metro Board has rescheduled the vote for June 27.

Roads to Rails

 The Streetcar of the Future


 By Eric W. Sanderson, June 10, 2013


 Streetcar tracks awaiting installation, Toronto.

STELLA: He smashed all the lightbulbs with the heel of my slipper.
BLANCHE DUBOIS: And you let him? Didn’t run, didn’t scream?
STELLA: Actually, I was sorta thrilled by it
— Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire (1947)

When we begin to value the land for what it is and build cities worth living in, density develops, and density makes things happen. Some of those happenings are economic, in the sense of improved productivity; others are environmental, in terms of fewer resources consumed. Density also has a lot to offer in terms of our trades of time for space.

Past transportation revolutions have been rooted in land. The railroad companies were encouraged to expand west by massive giveaways of public land; the streetcar operators were given monopolies to encourage their development; and the automobile industry received the greatest gift of all — roads — carved out of the public domain, bought or appropriated from private citizens. Many people and innumerable beasts were hurt in the process, so that other folks could be whisked on their way. Such radical efforts were necessary to make 20th-century transportation feasible, affordable and widespread in America.

A similarly radical approach is required today, but without all the giving and the taking. It’s simple. We just need to decide to make better use of the land we all already own together: the public roads. Our roads today suffer from an identity crisis. We want them to provide thoroughfares for private cars, routes for public transit, spaces for parking, lanes for bicycles, sidewalks for pedestrians, access for people with disabilities, space and light for buildings, drainage for storm water, and even room for trees and flowers! Take a look out your window — the streets are contested territory, trying to be all things for all people.

The suburbs at least did this part right: They were decisive. Streets were for cars, not for bikes or pedestrians or anything else. Sidewalks were to be narrow, ornamental or nonexistent, since it was assumed people would be driving. Public transportation was not a priority, because everyone has a car or two or three. As suburbs expanded, zoning codes mandated off-street parking for houses, offices and mini- and jumbo-malls, which like medieval castles surrounded by moats of asphalt, are best approached on a trusty steed: the motorcar.

Though decisive, these choices were all decisively wrong from the perspective of energy efficiency, national security and long-term economic productivity. Let’s see what we can do to make them right again.

Top: Spadina Streetcar, Toronto.  Bottom: Light rail, bus and streetcar, Portland, Oregon.
A Brief Physics Lesson
In choosing how to use our precious street space, we need to begin with the laws of physics, rules of the universe that explain how and why different kinds of transportation use different amounts of energy. Better streets will move more people and use less energy. Lower-energy forms of transportation will be easier to supply with fuels other than oil; denser cities will require more efficient ways of moving. How much energy and how many people is a matter, at least initially, of physics.

Recall that energy is “that which changes the physical state of a system”; physical state includes your geographic location. In a frictionless vacuum, the energy applied to accelerate an object would be all that is ever needed; once in motion an object would never stop. Sir Isaac Newton showed three and a half centuries ago that the energy of motion — the kinetic energy of an object — is one-half its mass times its velocity squared (½ × m × v²). This means heavier objects require more energy in proportion to their weight; faster objects require four times as much energy to double their speed. Thereby Newton gave us the first two rules to increase transportation energy efficiency:

Rule 1: Be lighter.
Rule 2: Go more slowly.
Note: Rule 2 matters four times as much as Rule 1.
The energy to put a vehicle in motion is lost when we stop at a red light or to let a pedestrian cross. It hasn’t disappeared in a universal sense because energy is always conserved, but for our immediate purposes, it is gone, turned into manifestly less useful heat, vibrations and brake squeal. The amount of energy required to get back up to speed is the same as what was lost, which suggests for efficiency:
Rule 3: Minimize starts and stops.
Note: Rule 3 explains why most cars make better mileage on the highway than in town.
Since we don’t live in a vacuum, moving requires additional energy to overcome friction. Friction for most vehicles comes from two sources. One is rolling resistance from tires scraping along the ground. It is a function of gravity, the vehicle’s mass, tire design and the road surface. Different materials scrape differently: An inflated tire rolls with 6–7 percent less friction than a poorly inflated one, enough to affect your gas mileage; steel wheels running along steel rails, in contrast, roll along with 400 percent less friction than an inflated tire. Since less friction means less wasted energy, we have:
Rule 4: Slide, don’t scrape.
Note: Rule 4 explains why trams are so successful at moving heavy loads.
The other source of friction is air. Air resistance describes how much air gets pushed around as a vehicle moves through it. It is a function of the vehicle’s cross-sectional area, drag coefficient (which measures its aerodynamics) and speed. Think Camaro vs. Lincoln Navigator: The Camaro tries to slip through the air, while the Navigator just busts through. In either case, the air resistance increases with the velocity cubed (½ × ρ × dc × A × v³, where ρ is the density of the air, dc is the drag coefficient, A is the cross-sectional area of the car, and v is velocity or speed), which means that doubling your speed requires eight times more energy, assuming no wind.
Rule 5: Be sleek.
Note: Rule 5 is why racecars and jets are streamlined.
Putting these five rules of physics together, as David MacKay does in his book on sustainable energy, means that the break-even point between rolling resistance and air resistance for heavy, rubber-wheeled vehicles like cars is about 15 miles per hour. Below 15 miles per hour your car’s weight and speed matter most in how much energy it expends. Above 15 miles per hour, shape and, especially, speed matter most. For an average car, energy consumption bends upward more stiffly as speed increases, which is why back in the 1970s, the Nixon administration introduced national speed limits of 55 miles per hour or less. These tradeoffs also present a design problem for automakers: How do you make a car efficient both in town and on the open highway? The answer is, you can’t really. But you can make different choices about how you travel.

Click image to enlarge.

In town, where motion is dominated by low speeds and frequent stops, you can save energy by choosing a mode of transportation that is lighter (Rule #1), rolls with less resistance (Rule #4) and moves less rapidly (Rule #2). Walking, bicycling and in-line skating all suggest themselves, rather than automobiles. Personal modes move a minimum of mass (our bodies plus the bike or skates) at low speeds, with little rolling resistance and smaller cross-sections. Though some of the energy is wasted in the inefficiency of our legs and backs, we don’t mind: We call it exercise. Biking beats out walking for efficiency because the small gain in vehicle mass is more than compensated for by the increased efficiency of the bicycle’s gears and pedals, making biking fast and fun, especially on paths uncluttered by pedestrians or motorcars.

Out of town, where higher speeds are required and stops are less frequent, vehicles make more sense. For fast-moving objects, like cars, energy loss is dominated by drag from pushing the air around. Under these conditions, your vehicle’s weight matters less than its shape, so you can save energy by making your mode more streamlined (Rule #5) and — unhelpfully — by moving less rapidly (Rule #2). Since making better trades of time for space is the point, especially over longer distances, the least you can do is split the energy use. More heads per cross-sectional area, like on a train, dramatically lowers the per-capita energy expenditure. The very best way to improve the fuel efficiency of your car is also the easiest way: Share with someone else.

Car pools are the only practical way to make up for the notorious inefficiency of internal combustion engines. Although it’s been over 120 years since Benz sold his first motorwagen, automobile energy efficiencies remain stuck in the 18–25 percent range, not so different from you riding your bike. (Both you and your V6 are turning carbon-based chemical energy into motion.) Cars weigh more than people, so on a per-passenger basis, their energy efficiency drops even more. Consider that if you weigh 200 pounds and drive a run-of-the-mill 3,000-pound car, then your weight is just 6.25 percent of the total mass moved. If the energy to move you is consumed at 20 percent efficiency, then only 1.25 percent of all of the energy in all of the gasoline in your car is used to move you down the road. Energy loss accelerates as you do. Electric motors for electric vehicles do a better job. Electrical engines typically obtain 80–95 percent efficiencies, because they are lighter and because electromagnetism skips the explosions and attendant hot gases, noise and vibrations of combustion. But there’s a catch. Electric motors need a constant supply of electrons to turn the wheel. Those electrons come from either a power cord connected to a power source, which is sending them in real time, as in streetcars, or they supply them on-board using a rechargeable battery. As Edison and Planté discovered in the nineteenth century, batteries are heavy because of the metals (like lead) required to hold the charge. Conventional lead-acid batteries add to the weight of the vehicle, which requires more energy to move because it’s heavier, which requires a larger battery, which adds to the weight, etc. This ugly feedback loop leads to rapidly diminishing returns, and explains why, a century after Edison and Ford gave it a go, we are still struggling to make a speedy, long-distance, affordable electric car (though we will consider a few modern takes on the Electrobat below). The physical truth is a pound of gasoline holds 350 times more energy than a pound of lead soaked in sulfuric acid. (Lithium-ion batteries, the ones in your laptop, do better — gasoline:lithium-ion, 118:1 — but are more expensive.)

SUVs zooming down the expressway at 70 miles per hour break every rule of energy efficiency, but manage to do what they do by relying on the remarkable energy density of their fuel. Aircraft, heavier and airborne, are even more dependent. Thus, if we value the ability to fly across the country, or to another continent, we might want to save our energy-rich oil for air travel. Back on the ground, we need to find a better way to trade time for space. [1]

Click image to enlarge.

A Better Car
A curious fact about cars is that most of them are designed to carry more than one person. At maximum occupancy (four to eight people per vehicle), modern cars are actually reasonable in terms of their energy expenditure: They use only 300–500 percent as much energy per person per mile as someone walking or bicycling, but go on average a lot faster. As we all know from counting heads during the morning commute, most trips in personal motor vehicles are taken by lonesome drivers. Add some carpooling trips and family errands, and the overall average vehicle occupancy for personal automobiles in America works out to 1.59 passengers per trip (in 2009).

At this kind of occupancy, a car’s energy efficiency, never great, collapses: A solo driver in a Ford Focus uses 600 percent more energy per person per mile than a pedestrian; a Camaro spends 1,000 percent as much. Thus, if you are going to drive, please share.

Hybrid cars are more energy efficient by making the best of a bad situation: They have two power trains, one electric and one internal combustion. They use a battery to start the car and run at low speeds; at higher speeds where more energy is required, or when the battery is drained, the gasoline engine takes over. Most hybrids also have regenerative braking that recaptures about 20 percent of the energy of slowing and stopping and shunts it back to the battery. (Gas cars can’t have this feature because brakes can’t regenerate gasoline, just electricity.) Despite the extra pounds required by the extra machinery and battery, hybrid cars are typically twice as energy efficient as internal-combustion-only automobiles of the same model. The problem with hybrids, beyond their purchase price, is that they still require gas as their sole energy source. Though more efficient, they are just a lighter version of oil’s chains.

Better automotive energy efficiency can be obtained from a plug-in hybrid. As late as the summer of 2012, there was only one such vehicle for sale in the United States: the Chevy Volt, though others were in the works. Plug-in hybrids are truer “hybrids” in the sense that they can use energy from electricity or from gasoline, but can get by on just one or the other. The Volt also deploys regenerative braking to save energy, and though its range is only 35 miles on electricity, that’s enough to push its energy consumption per mile to only 1.5 times as much as a person walking at maximum occupancy (four passengers per Volt), and only five times a person walking at usual occupancy. Not bad, considering the Chevy Volt weighs in at almost two tons.

Click image to enlarge.

The most energy-efficient automobiles are, not surprisingly, electric. True electric cars eschew gasoline entirely and instead receive all their energy from a power plant or a wind farm stored in a battery and delivered via a plug. The most efficient electric car on the market in 2012 was the Nissan Leaf, which at full passenger capacity is actually more energy efficient than a person walking (!), and only three times more energy-consuming per person than biking. The Leaf is the latest in a small collection of electric cars sold by Ford, General Motors and various foreign vendors over the last twenty years. Probably the best known American electric car was General Motors’ EV1, the first and only one to carry the GM nameplate, which developed a small, incredibly devoted following in California at the turn of the 21st century. When GM canceled the three thousand leases on the EV1 in 2003, insisting all its owners return them, and then crushed the cars in the desert or disabled them for museum objects, stunned customers complained, picketed and made a movie: Who Killed the Electric Car?

It turns out that many agents contributed to the demise of the EV1, not the least of which was the electric car’s old nemesis: the rechargeable battery. The EV1 originally had a range of about 60 miles on a charge; battery upgrades, using nickel-hydride batteries, like the rechargeable ones in a toy car, eventually pushed the range up to 160 miles, but also upped the cost considerably. The 2012 Nissan Leaf has 48 lithium-ion battery modules, which weighs 660 pounds, affording the Leaf about a 100-mile range between charges.

Batteries, lest we forget, also need to be charged. Fast charging requires a dedicated charging station at high voltage (240 V; the usual household voltage is 110 V). Buying a Leaf doesn’t include the purchase and installation of a garage-mounted charger for rejuvenation at home. Communal charging stations, the equivalent of gas stations, are doable, of course; we had plenty of them in electric truck garages of the 1920s. Perhaps they could be deployed again in take-out, drop-in battery exchanges such as the ones imagined back on Broad Street in 1895, if manufacturers adopted consistent standards for battery shape, size and connection.

There is another automotive solution, though, suggested by the problems of the Leaf, which is to give up on range and speed expectations based on gasoline, and instead design electric cars that work well on their own terms, in town, at lower speeds. Mrs. Ford by all accounts was very happy with her electric car, which in fact was an early prototype of what we would call today a “neighborhood electric vehicle” (NEV), a kind of souped-up golf cart. These smaller, slower vehicles have conventional lead-acid batteries and an electric motor, they charge at a standard household outlet and can speed very happily up to 25 miles per hour while carrying 1,000 or more pounds of cargo. You have probably seen them zipping about in a gated community or amusement park. The police, the military and zookeepers use them, too. The government does not allow NEVs to play with gas cars on fast-moving boulevards or highways, restricting them to streets where the speed limit is under 35 miles per hour. (35 is not bad; it’s the limit of many city streets.) Chrysler has a division that sells six models of NEVs under the brand name GEM for $8,000–$12,000 each, doors extra. [2]

Click image to enlarge.

A Better Streetcar
I wish electric cars, small or large, could elegantly sweep in and replace gasoline cars and solve all our problems with a wave of the technological wand, but I can’t see how it happens without a major breakthrough in automotive battery technology, which has eluded us for a century or more. The fact is that the only forms of powered transportation that give the kind of per-person bang-for-the-microwave-minute that we need are shared modes of transportation, particularly ones on rails: trains, light rail and the streetcar.

Streetcars are the closest we know to the ideal motorized transportation. They roll with low resistance on steel wheels on steel rails, driven by efficient electric motors attached to the grid via overhead wires or underground cables, deploying regenerative braking for stopping. And they carry tens to a hundred passengers at a time, which gives more heads per cross-sectional area, thus dramatically dropping per-capita energy use. At full occupancy, streetcars best rival walking and biking in energy efficiency. Compared to a bus, they are more energy efficient, have more leg room, offer better views and are more genteel; they are also more fun. Who doesn’t like to ride a streetcar? Once they are laid down, the rails reflect a tangible, significant investment in the city, something a bus stop can never hope to do. Some people don’t like the overhead lines, but those can be buried so as not to interfere with the view of the phone and power lines that parallel so many American roadsides.

If streetcars ran on streets where they were the only vehicle, we could make them lighter, streamlined and more stylish. They could also go faster because there would be no unpredictable cars to cross them. 21st-century streetcars can be designed for contemporary times, to reflect a community’s sense of itself. New York’s can be sleek and elegant, Seattle’s innovative and green. In Los Angeles streetcars can have sun roofs and surfboard racks. They could all provide free wifi, vending machines and cup holders.

How viable is a nation of streetcar riders? Try this out: Sometimes I play a game with my son to pass the time while we wait for the bus. We count the cars going by and say: “One – two – three – four – five – streetcar!” We count to five because five cars use about the same amount of energy as one streetcar. On some residential suburban streets, you might need to wait ten minutes to get to five cars, but on City Island Avenue, our main thoroughfare, we could have a streetcar every other minute for most of the day for the same amount of energy we already lavish on cars. On busier city streets, they’d come in a constant stream. And whereas five cars might move five to eight people, each streetcar could handle 70 sitting or 100 standing.

Try it next time you are stuck in traffic; if you can count four cars in addition to your own, then imagine yourself relaxing in a spacious, stylish streetcar, with a small number of your fellow citizens, quietly being transported by chauffeur toward your destination through clean, unpolluted air, unhindered by congestion, able to read the paper, text your friend and admire the view. It could happen. It might be sorta thrilling: A streetcar to desire.

Here’s the plan. [3]

 Roads to Rails
For short distances, it’s clear we should do everything humanly possible to make walking and bicycling the preferred modes of transportation for as many people as possible. Currently, 49 percent of trips are already three miles or less, and 70 percent of them are taken by car, which suggests a huge potential. The ingredients are fairly simple: Pedestrians and bicycles need their own separate, pleasant spaces for movement — sidewalks and improved bicycle paths — and people need their everyday destinations within reach, whether they are for work, shopping or school. Better, denser towns and cities designed for people are the means to the end of making walking and bicycling the cheapest, healthiest, fastest way to go for some 189 billion trips per year.

Walking and related modes, however, are not ideal when the weather is unpleasant or when we need to travel farther than a few miles. They also don’t work for the very old, the very young and the disabled, who need modes compatible with how they move; and businesses, emergency crews and others need ways to move objects heavier than a person can conveniently carry. To obtain better trades of time for space, we still need vehicles powered by engines to apply greater energy than our bodies can. Small fleets of NEVs can help, streaming people and goods down to that paragon of motor propulsion: the streetcar.

When imagining the streetcar revolution, don’t rely on your experience of public transit today, with long unpredictable waits, dingy subway tunnels and motorbus diesel fumes. Instead, imagine what every city once had — lots and lots of streetcars running all the time (one for every five of today’s cars) along every big street. Your wait won’t be long, and it won’t be uncertain, because thanks to GPS, wireless technologies, smartphone applications, countdown clocks and a glance down the avenue you will know exactly when the next streetcar will arrive to whisk you away. As the transportation planner Jarrett Walker writes: Frequency is freedom.

Streetcars, NEVs, your bicycle and your legs are the distributed beginnings of a new transportation network, reaching into New Town districts across America and bringing people to light rail trains running along major thoroughfares. Light rails are close cousins of the subway and elevated railway, except they run on the ground. They are heavier and faster than streetcars, able to race cars at 60–80 miles per hour. In the future, these local trains will shuttle between nearby cities, delivering people to high-speed rail systems that go cross-state, and eventually cross-country.

America already has a world-class freight rail system, moving 1.7 billion tons of goods each year. Today freight railways connect to trucks for the final delivery; in the future, they will connect to streetcars, and in the cities, the old subway tunnels. Subterranean movements will be set aside for inanimate things, rather than for people. At night specially designed flatbed streetcars will pull up to businesses or neighborhood receiving stations, the post offices of the future. Curb cutouts with loops of side track will provide lading sites out of the main flow. Small containers of standard size, and designed to fit within the large containers used by the shipping industry, will travel by rail and NEV. In the morning NEVs and folks with hand trucks will make deliveries to your door.

Instead of asking the car to do every transportation job for us, as we do today, transportation will be sorted by task. We will choose modes that work better and more efficiently for different distances and prioritize investment according to a formula that prefers human power over railways and railways over cars.

Many people think American railroads are a thing of the past, and while it is true that passenger rail fell on hard times during the late 20th century, the U.S. freight rail system moves 1.7 billion ton-miles of freight (as of 2011), including nearly all of the fossil fuels that power the nation's over 4,800 coal-burning power plants. If the Interstate Highway System were converted to the Interstate Railway System, then we could have fast and furious (and energy-efficient) passenger trains, too. Current rail system: 110,772 miles; current Interstate Highway System: 47,013 miles. Click image to enlarge.

We make this happen by committing roads to rails, literally. Dedicating road space to rails resolves two problems simultaneously. First the roads turn out to be an excellent place to build railways at lower cost. The budgets of most rail projects today are based on an assumption that automobile traffic will continue ad infinitum. For streetcars, sharing the roads with cars necessitates extra staff to steer and see, extra weight for safety, limited choices about alignment (the technical term for where the rails will go), and extra expenses for switching and signaling. These problems are exacerbated for light rail and high speed (trans-region) rail systems that must have dedicated space to operate; they literally have nowhere to go in today’s world because all our land is already given over to established public and private uses. (I shake my fist at you, John Locke!) What remains of the rail lines of the nation are mostly already spoken for by the freight industry (mixing freight trains and passenger trains is not recommended — different speeds, different agendas). As a result, the budgets for current railway plans, like the beleaguered high-speed rail plan for California, are swollen with funds to purchase right-of-ways and construct tunnels, overpasses, elevated lines and other extraordinarily expensive acts of engineering necessary to find a route without disturbing the dominant car.

Making the counter-assumption of no cars provides extraordinary relief — now there is lots of space and reduced costs. Roadways are already engineered for transport, with bridges and tunnels in place. The electricity is already there in the power lines paralleling many roads. Dedicating roads to rail means that capital costs drop dramatically because land acquisition and grading expenses evaporate; it also means eventually we need less land dedicated to mechanized transportation, so we have more room for sidewalks, bike paths, parks and garden cafés. Instead of dedicating a third of our city space to transportation, perhaps we can get by with only a quarter or a fifth, meaning that broad swaths of city land could become available for other uses. Think what we can do with all those parking lots!

Deploying railways down Main Street provides a second great advantage: It competes with the cars that remain. As streetcars on streetcar-only streets become more prevalent, they will force cars into a smaller number of crowded car-only streets. As congestion worsens for automobiles, and fuel costs rise, and free parking — and then all parking — vanishes, more people will see the wisdom of giving up on cars entirely and join the rest of the nation walking, biking and on the rails. You can still get to work and your trip will be faster and more pleasant. Driving will persist in rural areas, where work necessitates infrequent trips over long distances, and on a recreational basis. (I’m particularly fond of the drive over the magnificent Million-Dollar Highway in Colorado.) Driving will become a hobby, not a burden.

Click image to enlarge.

Do you hear that jingling in your pocket? That’s the 20 percent of your income now freed to be deployed elsewhere in the economy. Some of it will go back to transportation, but spent on an as-needed basis. Rather than writing out the insurance, registration and car payments in lump sums each year, regardless of how much you drive, now you pay only when you ride. (Businesspeople call this process replacing fixed costs with variable ones.) Or we could establish a system where everyone makes a down payment — say, 50 percent of what we used to pay — and then all local transportation is free. You show a badge stating that you are a resident of New Oldtown, USA, and climb on board. Exchange privileges give you free access in other towns, too.

To get the process started, we need to redirect funds from roads to rails. In 2008 government at all levels (local, state and federal) spent a collective $182 billion of taxpayers’ cash on capital and operating expenses related to roads and highways; the same year, we spent another $51 billion on transit projects. That’s three dollars for cars for every one dollar for passenger trains and buses. Reversing this ratio would have enormous immediate effects on shared transportation in America without costing taxpayers a cent more than we are already paying.

Construction costs for new streetcar systems in the U.S. over the last decade have run between $2 million and $20 million per track-mile. (Streetcars have grown in popularity over the last decade; as of summer 2012, at least 35 cities had streetcar or light rail lines.) If we assumed that we could achieve the lower end of this range through economies of scale and by building rails on roads without having to deal with car traffic, then a $150 billion investment could buy 75,000 track-miles. If we assume track density and alignments so that everyone lived within a quarter-mile of a streetcar line, then those 75,000 track-miles could serve 18,750 square miles of urban area. If those towns and cities were inhabited at a density of 5000 people per square mile, encouraged to move there by New Town districts, home-to-work rebates and the new system of gate duties on fossil fuels, then those streetcars could serve 94 million people. If in a burst of enthusiasm and economic growth, the residential density pushed up to 10,000 people per square mile (remember that’s only one-seventh of Manhattan density), then 188 million people could ride those streetcars, or 60 percent of the American populace.

In other words, scratches on the back of an envelope suggest that after only a few years’ worth of spending the money we already spend on roads, everyone in the country could have access to a streetcar, assuming that they inhabited happier, healthier, moderately denser locales than where most people currently live. [4]

Transportation in a democracy needn’t be complicated, but it does need to be clever. Here is what not to do: (a) Do not give away the land to railroad companies that then exploit the public; (b) Do not give monopoly access to companies and then limit the fares, thus ruining the companies; (c) Do not provide free roads and subsidies for cheap oil, damaging the economy, national security, and the environment; and please (d) Do not let the government run transportation companies, because then everyone loses. Here is a better way: (e) Let the government own and manage the public infrastructure in the public interest; let companies run the railways to make a profit and serve the people, subject to market competition; and let the citizens ride the rails to success, while speaking politely and specifically about necessary improvements. Click image to enlarge.

What Happened?
I know what you are thinking: If streetcars are so great, why didn’t they succeed the first time around? And don’t we need to know why they disappeared if we ever hope to rebuild them? It’s like a beautiful forest eerily silent because all the animals have been hunted to extinction: We must understand why the forest is empty to fill it again. I don’t think the answer to why the streetcar expired is as simple as some commentators have indicated — that there was a great conspiracy to replace it with automobiles, and that was that (though some unsavory things did happen). Rather, the answer lies in the uneasy institutional relationships surrounding land, transportation and money during the time of the first great streetcar blossoming at the turn of the last century.

The trouble started because city governments thought it was clever to give monopolies to the streetcar companies. In the heyday of the Standard Oil trust and the Selden patent, monopoly was considered good practice in transportation. Granting local, long-term exclusive franchises induced companies to make large upfront investments in infrastructure (the railways and the rolling stock), relieving the government of those costs. In return companies would recoup their expenses plus profits indefinitely through a captive ridership and real estate development.

To limit the monopoly power, however, local governments controlled the fare. At first, both sides agreed that five cents a ride was a fair deal. In the deflationary environment of the late 19th century, when the real value of every nickel was spiraling upward, each fare paid represented accelerating profits for the companies. For a time, they and their real estate subsidiaries made money hand over fist; a list of the richest men in America of 1900 included municipal transit magnates Peter A. B. Widener, Thomas Fortune Ryan and Nicholas F. Brady.

We don’t speak of Widener, Ryan and Brady in the same reverential tones we do of the Rockefellers, Fords and Carnegies because the streetcar kings’ glory days faded fast. Inflation, labor strikes, World War I and competition from electric and motor vehicles overtook the streetcar. Owners wanted to raise fares to keep up their lines, but government, subject to public pressure, refused. (New York Mayor James “Jimmy” Walker became famous by beating back a fare increase in 1928, for example.) Unionization was on the rise, demanding a greater proportion of profits, and during World War I, the War Labor Board instituted mandatory pay raises for railway workers, including on the streetcar lines, to compensate for wartime inflation.

With no way to raise revenues to cover their costs and with development along the lines already peaking, the companies had to make cuts to stay afloat, which meant deferring investment and reducing service. Even though ridership continued to increase through the 1920s, the trams and trolleys crowded with passengers were beginning to fall apart. Meanwhile, the automobile companies — producing vehicles that were newer, faster and affordable, if relatively energy inefficient — had all the capital they needed. After 1931, the Texas Railroad Commission and interstate commerce legislation ensured everyone paid consistent, low prices for gas.

Gas and rubber rationing at home during World War II extended the streetcar’s era for a few more years, but by midcentury, when General Motors, Firestone and Standard Oil of California cobbled together their racket to replace the last streetcars with buses and then close the bus lines, the streetcar industry was economically crippled, the victim of deferred maintenance, high costs and subsidized competition; the GM conspiracy was just the coup de grâce.

Top: Removal of streetcar track, 3rd Avenue, Seattle, 1943. [Photo via Seattle Municipal Archives] Bottom: Concrete pour for new streetcar track, Jackson Street at 2nd Avenue, Seattle, 2013. [Photo by Gordon Werner]

Shared transportation in America is still haunted by the demise of the streetcar and its aftermath. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, government realized it had made a terrible mistake in its handling of the streetcar lines, and responded by making another terrible mistake: It took over transit. With a young president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, in the White House in 1960, northeast politicians like Richardson Dilworth, mayor of Pennsylvania, and Senator Harrison “Pete” Williams of New Jersey, despairing of ever reversing the flight to the suburbs, saw an opportunity to win federal support to at least bring people back downtown for shopping. Thus began a subsidy war pitting us against us. With one hand, the government subsidized transit as a way of encouraging urban renewal, while with the other hand, it rolled out pavement for cars on a continental scale to help people flee town. In the epic battle of cars vs. transit, in the age of cheap oil, free roads and low-density sprawl, transit couldn’t win, no matter how big the subsidies. And many people questioned why we were writing checks for both in the first place. They still do. Like a gardener who planted two seeds that are now competing with each other to the detriment of both, we have to choose which will survive. One already seems to be failing. [5]
What Business Does Best
Resolving the problems of public transportation means reforming the relationships between government, business and the passenger once again. This time, we have to be realistic about the strengths and interests of each and play to them. Government owns the roads and looks out for the general welfare, for people today and in the future. Business is good at making a profit given a fair and competitive market with clear rules. Passengers know where they need to go and how much money they have.

Here’s what I think we should do. Let’s imagine that the government makes long-term investments in the necessary infrastructure for streetcar and other local rail systems. The public, via our self-instituted government, will own the tracks, signals and maintenance yards and manage them in the public interest on the public land. The people will then rent out the rail lines to private companies to provide transportation services. The companies bring their knowledge of efficiency and the ability to flex and innovate; they also bring their own rolling stock and labor agreements. Passengers get a better bargain as a result.

Every few years, municipalities put out bids for contracts of limited duration, for example, three years. Short-term concession agreements ensure that companies are under the gun to provide excellent service, or the municipality will seek a different vendor next round. Companies are relieved of the capital costs of the rails and the real estate buys that have been the traditional argument for the necessity of long-term arrangements. The public runs the contracts on essentially a nonprofit basis, only asking for rent based on what is necessary to maintain the infrastructure, insure the rails and keep up with inflation; no subsidies are involved, but no profits either to support other aspects of government. Contracts express the public interest: minimum levels of service, coordination across lines, bracketed fares, non-discrimination, electronic notifications and bonuses for on-time service records and minimal passenger complaints. Within those bounds, companies are free to deploy service as they see best, including adding service to enhance profits. They can run more trolleys to accommodate the morning commute or the rush to the ball game.

In some cases, in coordination with the local authorities, companies might collect fares up front on an annual basis from residents, and then everyone could ride for free, with exchange privileges across connecting lines, facilitated by the same technologies that credit card companies use. Private service providers invest profits in advertising, better rolling stock and transit-oriented development (e.g., shopping centers, housing stock) near the value-added transportation corridors, thus enhancing the market and bringing additional private funds into the towns and cities growing around them. New jobs will be created directly in service industries (steering and maintaining streetcars, local freight delivery, track maintenance), in manufacturing supply chains for streetcar construction, and through agglomeration economies generated by connected American neighborhoods, towns and cities.

Detail of Market St. Railway Mural, San Francisco. [Mural by Mona Caron]
Once the streetcar is rooted within communities, then we will have the basis for a high-speed rail network between cities, not before. When streetcars and light rail systems bring people to the periphery, then high-speed rails can develop along the existing highway systems to connect cities across the vast expanses between. (In the meanwhile, temporary garages on the edge of town can store the cars reserved for rural travel.) Over time we transform long-distance travel from cars and trucks to trains, so that the Interstate Highway System morphs into the Interstate Railway System, with the federal government owning, maintaining and coordinating regional rails, and private companies instead of government-owned corporations (like the hapless Amtrak), providing the service. Gate duties alter the economies of fuel and land, and higher functioning American towns and cities facilitate walking, biking and public transport. The goal is to make American travel affordable, pleasurable, sustainable and easy, a system to last for centuries, not just until the oil or the money runs out.

There is one final benefit to turning transportation over to the smooth whirr of electric motors: Those motors will use electricity. To produce it, we could continue to burn the black fossil fuel MacKays [6] or build more radioactive nuclear power plants — or we can see the roads to rails program as a welcome opportunity to get our MacKays from warmer, breezier, brighter sources: the gifts of earth, wind and the fire in the sky. [7]

Editors’ Note

“Roads to Rails” is excerpted from Terra Nova: The New World After Oil, Cars, and Suburbs, by Eric W. Sanderson, published this month by Abrams. It appears here with the permission of the author and publisher.

Notes, Sources and Elaborations

1. Notes on “A Brief Physics Lesson”

Later in life

Sir Isaac Newton haunts this article. A younger contemporary of John Locke, Newton made major contributions in mathematics, optics, astronomy and mechanics, mostly from a brief, productive 18-month period. Later in life he was Master of the Mint, where he controlled the British money supply, and by fixing an exchange rate between silver and gold in 1717 put the United Kingdom effectively on the gold standard, which the Brits would adhere to until the horrors of World War I forced them off in 1914. David Berlinski, Newton’s Gift: How Sir Isaac Newton Unlocked the System of the World (New York: Free Press, 2012), provides a readable biography; Edward Dolnick,The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World (New York: Harper, 2011), describes his world.

The strange notion that an object in motion will stay in motion perpetually in a vacuum is a restatement of Newton’s First Law of Motion. What a motor does is apply a force; Newton’s Second Law of Motion says that the acceleration of an object is proportional to the force applied and inversely proportional to the object’s mass, which follows from the conservation of momentum and applies to light as well as matter. Although energy was not understood while Newton was alive, the discovery of conservation of energy in the early nineteenth century was entirely compatible with the foundations he had laid two centuries before.

My simplistic description of the physics of vehicles follows David MacKay’s lucid account in Sustainable Energy — Without the Hot Air (UK: UIT Cambridge, 2009), which you can read online or by purchasing his book; see in particular Chapter 3 and Technical Chapter A. You can also read more in Kyle Forinash, Foundations of Environmental Physics (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2010), or any standard undergraduate physics textbook.

The force of friction on a wheeled vehicle depends on the coefficient of rolling resistance. James D. MacIsaac and Dr. W. Riley Garrott provide details on how rolling resistance changes with changing tire pressure in Preliminary Findings of the Effect of Tire Inflation Pressure on the Peak and Slide Coefficients of Friction (Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2002). Well-inflated car tires not only save gas, they are safer to drive on; see Transportation Research Board, Tires and Passenger Vehicle Fuel Economy: Informing Consumers, Improving Performance (Washington, DC: National Research Council, 2006). Typical coefficients of rolling resistance for automobile tires vary from 0.0098 to 0.0138; steel wheels on steel rails have coefficients of 0.0015–0.0035; see Erik Lindgreen and Spencer Sorenson, Driving Resistance from Railroad Trains (Lyngby, Denmark: Technical Univ. of Denmark, 2005). Train cars on a level track have such small amounts of rolling resistance that they sometimes roll down the tracks on a windy day, even though they might weigh 30 tons or more. Did you know the study of friction, wear, and lubrication is called tribology? For more, see tribologists Ulf Olofsson and Roger Lewis, “Tribology of the Wheel–Rail Contact,” in Simon Iwnicki, Ed., Handbook of Railway Vehicle Dynamics (Milton Park, UK: Taylor and Francis, 2006),121–141.

The U.S. Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency have collaborated on a useful website called fueleconomy.gov, where you can check out the fuel mileage for different car models in city, highway, and combined driving, back to the 1987 model year; they also have a nifty figure showing where the energy goes when you drive your car — yet another reminder that it is not information that is wanting.
Forinash writes of electric motors: “The limits to efficiency of [electric] motors and generators due to the second law of thermodynamics are exceedingly small. An ideal motor with no friction or other loss can have a theoretical efficiency of more than 99% and real electric motors have been built with efficiencies close to this limit. ... For real electric motors there are mechanical friction losses and resistance. ... Well designed lowhorsepower (<1,000 W) motors typically have efficiencies of about 80%, and larger motors (> 95 kW) have efficiencies as high as 95%” (p. 123). The Nissan Leaf’s motor consumes 80 kW; and the Chevy Volt’s consumes 110 kW, according to their respective websites.

Vaclav Smil, Energy in Nature and Society: General Energetics of Complex Systems (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007), makes a big deal over the amount of energy different fuels can contain, as do I. Unfortunately some misguided apologists for the fossil fuel industry use this data to argue that we can’t replace the car ever (cf. Robert Bryce, “The Real Problem with Renewables,” Forbes, May 11, 2010), but that’s not to say we can’t have something else (e.g. streetcars) instead. Smil provides some fun energetic comparisons: The energy of a flea hopping (1 x 10-7 J) to the annual global interception of solar energy (5.5 x 1024 J); the power of ephemeral phenomena, from a hummingbird’s flight (7.0 x 10-1 W) to a magnitude 9 earthquake (1.6 x 1015 W); and the efficiency of common energy conversions, from some ecosystems that manage only a paltry 1–2 percent, to a large electric generator with efficiencies of 98–99 percent.

The search for more energy-dense batteries has been underway for a century now. See reviews of the 21st-century state of play by Eckhard Karden, “Energy Storage Devices for Future Hybrid Electric Vehicles,” Journal of Power Sources, 168.1 (2007): 2–11, and A.K. Shukla, et al., “An Appraisal of Electric Automobile Power Sources,” Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews
, 5.2 (2001): 137–55. Don’t hold your breath.
2. Notes on “A Better Car”

Vehicle occupancies can be found in Adella Santos, et al., Summary of Travel Trends: 2009 National Household Travel Survey (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, 2011), based on calculations from the National Household Travel Survey. Occupancy varies by trip type: commuters average 1.13 people per trip, shoppers and errand-makers 1.78 and 1.84 people per trip, respectively, and socialities, 2.20 people per trip. Alan E. Pisarski, Commuting in America III (Washington DC: Transportation Research Board, 2006), shows that commuting alone varies dramatically between different American cities, from a low of 56.3 percent of trips in New York to a high of 84.2 percent in Detroit in 2000. With streetcars for the commute of the future, no one will have to travel alone.

I calculated energy consumptions per person per mile at usual and maximum occupancy for different modes of transportation. Walking, biking and skating energy consumption were drawn from FitWatch. Automobile fuel consumptions were calculated for combined driving fuel efficiencies reported in fueleconomy.gov for the various models indicated; curb weights and maximum occupancies are from manufacturer websites. Usual vehicle occupancies for different automobile types were derived from averages calculated from the 2009 National Household Travel Survey. Public transportation energy consumption and usual occupancy for the various transit lines indicated were calculated from the 2009 National Transit Database. Maximum occupancies for transit modes were estimated from transit authority websites or estimates from similar lines when I couldn’t find the exact numbers. MTA subway occupancy is based on 200 passenger capacity for a 10-car train. The Staten Island Ferry maximum capacity is for the “Molinari” Class ferries. Vehicle weights for trains are car weights, not including the locomotive. Fuel consumption rates for the Boeing 737 and 747 aircraft were deduced from the graphs provided in Boeing documents, and are estimated for trip distances of 3,000 and 3,400 nautical miles, respectively. Aircraft usual occupancies are based on the maximum occupancies multiplied by the average passenger load factor for 2010 (U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Daniel Sperling and Deborah Gordon, “Advanced Passenger Transport Technologies,” Annual Review of Environment and Resources 33 (2008): 63–84, provide an entertaining review of the recent developments of electric, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and fuel cell cars. David B. Sandalow, ed., Plug-In Electric Vehicles: What Role for Washington? (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2009), and colleagues make the case for plug-in hybrids; though wonkish, this book brings together some of the best thinking on how to generate an electric vehicle revolution; many of their recipes could be applied to streetcars and NEVs as well, where the physical challenges aren’t so daunting. My issue with writers like Sandalow and Sperling is their fundamental, undeniable, unshakeable (it would seem) assumption that personal automobiles are the only way. It’s a bit like the Catholic Church in 1517. Be careful who is knocking at your door!

A note on fuel cell vehicles: Jeremy Rifkin, The Hydrogen Economy (New York: Tarcher, 2003), gives an impassioned appeal for the hydrogen economy based on fuel cell technology for cars; however there are numerous debilitating technical problems, which, it seems, may keep chemical engineers busy for some decades (see Rakesh Agrawal, et al., “Hydrogen Economy — An Opportunity for Chemical Engineers?”, AIChE Journal 51.6 (2005): 1582–89), the most important of which may be the small size of hydrogen gas molecules (literally just two protons), which means hydrogen is difficult to bottle up. Hydrogen fuel cells also are carriers of energy since hydrogen gas does not exist in any quantities in nature (it’s too reactive to stay around long). So hydrogen gas as a fuel needs to be produced from another fuel, which might be renewable or might be a fossil fuel; either way each energy transition costs energy, which means, for now fuel cells are just another version of the Siren song, albeit a bubbly, explosive leitmotif.
Who Killed the Electric Car? was made by Chris Paine (Sony Pictures, 2006). More details about the Nissan Leaf are available from the Nissan website, including costs of charging; costs estimated for the battery follow comments Nissan executives made to the Wall Street Journal and other outlets — see Josie Garthwaite, “Nissan: LEAF, Like Other Electric Cars, Will Lose Money at First,” GigaOM, May 17, 2010,  and Eric Loveday, “WSJ: Nissan Leaf Profitable by Year Three; Battery Cost Closer to $18,000,” Autoblog, May 15, 2010.

Learn more about neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs) in Sam Abuelsamid, “What Is a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV)?”, Autoblog, February 6, 2009.  J. Francfort and M. Carroll, Field Operations Program: Neighborhood Electric Vehicle Fleet Use? (Idaho Falls, ID: Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, 2001), describe operational characteristics of NEV fleets, and Roberta Brayer, et al., Guidelines for the Establishment of a Model Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV) Fleet (Idaho Falls, ID: Idaho National Laboratory, 2006), describe guidelines for deploying NEV fleets in the future, based on studies done by the Idaho National Laboratory. Brayer and colleagues write: “NEVS are designed to meet most light-duty applications, such as people movers and light utility use. NEVs are significantly faster than golf carts, which typically have top speeds of 12 to 15 mph. Typical NEV payload capabilities range from 600 pounds to 1,000 pounds (including passengers). When the batteries are functioning properly, a fully functional range is typically around 30 miles for each full charge in mild climates. In cold climates, the range can be reduced by as much as half. Options are available, such as fast charging, that allow the range to be extended to over 100 miles per day by opportunity charging in 20 to 30-minute increments throughout the day.” A. Moawad, et al., Light-Duty Vehicle Fuel Consumption Displacement Potential up to 2045 (Argonne, IL: Argonne National Laboratory, 2011), share a similar vision of smaller, lighter, more efficient vehicles in America through 2045 and back it up with simulation of over two thousand different vehicle types. For a beautiful vision of what is possible for these kinds of vehicles, see William J. Mitchell, et al., Reinventing the Automobile: Personal Urban Mobility for the 21st Century (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010).
3. Notes on “A Better Streetcar”

For the good news about streetcars, see Gloria Ohland and Shelley Poticha, eds., Street Smart: Streetcars and Cities in the Twenty-first Century, 2nd ed (Oakland, CA: Reconnecting America, 2009). Edson L. Tennyson, Impact on Transit Patronage of Cessation or Inauguration of Rail Service (Washington, DC: Transportation Research Board, 1998), makes the case for streetcars over buses; for more fun and less reverence, see The Infrastructurist, “36 Reasons Streetcars Are Better Than,“ June 3, 2010 (via Internet Archive). A lot of writing about streetcars is nostalgic (e.g., John W. Diers and Aaron Isaacs, Twin Cities by Trolley: The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minneapolis, MN: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2007) or dismissive (e.g., David W. Jones, Mass Motorization and Mass Transit: An American History and Policy Analysis, Bloomington, IN: Indiana Univ. Press, 2010), but we have more than enough experience with streetcars to know what a lovely, efficient, cost-effective solution they are for urban transportation, which is why they have seen a renaissance, in spite of auto-dominated streets. In 2009, the United States had 74 urban/suburban railway systems in operation (commuter rail, heavy rail, light rail, including streetcars, cable car and trolleybus). They collectively provided 4.5 billion rides covering 30.3 billion passenger-miles in 2009. What streetcars really need, though, is streetcar-only streets. One sign of the potential for streetcars is the success of bus rapid transit (BRT), which is essentially running buses like trains, but without rails. I like streetcars better for reasons described in the text, but in a pinch will go with BRT, too. See Robert Cervero, The Transit Metropolis (Washington, DC: Island Press, 1994), and Annie Weinstock, et al., Recapturing Global Leadership in Bus Rapid Transit: A Survey of Select U.S. Cities (New York: Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, 2011), for more.

The streetcar counting game depends on the amount of energy required per vehicle-mile for cars vs. streetcars. For example, one Seattle Streetcar trundling down the street in 2009 used 7.98 kWh/ vehicle-mile, which is equivalent to the energy used by 3.95 Ford F-150 pickups traveling the same mile, 5.99 Honda Accord LXs, or 10.93 Toyota Priuses. The actual streetcar-to-car count in your traffic depends on its vehicle composition; five is approximately what I see on City Island in the mornings, where there seems a proclivity toward pickup trucks and SUVs even though the Bronx is a long way from the countryside and rarely sees lasting snow any more.

Of course you could play the same game on a per-passenger basis, in which case at average occupancy, 1.29 streetcar passengers could go by for the same amount of energy as every Prius passenger, 2.19 streetcar passengers for every Accord passenger, and 3.74 streetcar-straphangers for every pickup truck rider. That is a potential 29 percent, 119 percent, and 274 percent improvement in energy efficiency of streetcars over those personal motor vehicle types, respectively.

According to the historical census from the U.S. Bureau of the Census (1975; Series Q264-273), the apex of streetcar development in America was 1917, when the streetcar network extended over 44,835 miles of track servicing 32,548 miles of streetcar line (some lines had multiple tracks.) According to William Mott Steuart, Street and Electric Railways, 1902 (Washington, DC: U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1905), in 1902 there were 813 street railway companies serving 4,774,211,904 fare-paying passengers with 1,144,430,426 carmiles traveled (Steuart, Table 7). Although one might suspect Steuart’s precision, the numbers are impressive considering the national population in 1902 was only 79,163,000, or just 26 percent of the 2010 American population, which means in 1902, the average person took 60 streetcar rides. Forty-three of 48 states plus the District of Columbia had streetcar service that year, not only in 33 large cities with population of 25,000–100,000 people, but also in 46 towns with population less than 25,000.
4. Notes on “Roads to Rails”

Many works extol the advantages of walking, bicycling and other forms of personal mobility: see Robert Hurst, The Art of Urban Cycling: Lessons from the Street (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot, 2004), David Byrne, Bicycle Diaries (New York: Viking, 2009), and Jeff Mapes, Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists Are Changing American Cities (Corvallis, OR: Oregon State Univ. Press, 2009), on bicycling, the most energetically efficient form of personal transportation ever invented; Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking (New York: Penguin, 2001), on walking; and Katie Alvord, Divorce Your Car!: Ending the Love Affair with the Automobile (Gabriola Island, BC: New Society, 2000), and Chris Balish, How to Live Well Without Owning a Car: Save Money, Breathe Easier, and Get More Mileage Out of Life (Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press, 2006), on getting out of your car. The number of short trips less than three miles is from analysis of the 2009 National Household Travel Survey. The current rail system, including freight trains, is described in Freight in America: A New National Picture (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation, 2006); Association of American Railroads, Railroad Facts 2010; and Surface Freight Transportation: A Comparison of the Costs of Road, Rail, and Waterways Freight Shipments That Are Not Passed on to Consumers, Report to the Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures, Committee on Ways and Means, House of Representatives (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Accounting Office, 2011). Read Jarrett Walker’s sage advice in Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2011).

Transportation planners use the concept of “level of service” (LOS) to determine transportation capacities. Streets can move more people but pay the price in delays, congestion, and pollution. To estimate maximum capacities, I used statistics on LOS-D, which is not good, but not the worse it could be. Sidewalks with LOS-D levels can accommodate 900 persons per hour per foot of width; cars move 11,000 vehicles per day per lane at the same LOS. See U.S. Federal Highway Administration, Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation, 2009).

Richard Gilbert and Anthony Perl, Transport Revolutions: Moving People and Freight Without Oil (Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers, 2010), provide a detailed analysis of the space and energy uses of freight and personal transportation compared to other modes. They conclude, as I do, that grid-connected electric rail is the most flexible and efficient way to move us and our stuff. Their perspective is more global than mine; in particular, see their analysis for China. Highly recommended. Also see J. H. Crawford, Carfree Cities
(Utrecht, The Netherlands: International Books, 2002).

To read the detailed difficulties of the California High-Speed Rail Plan see the newly released Revised 2012 Business Plan. For some academic viewpoints on the current debate over high-speed rail, see Andrew Ryder, “High Speed Rail,” Journal of Transport Geography 22 (2012): 303–05; Bradley W. Lane, “ On the Utility and Challenges of High-Speed Rail in the United States,” Journal of Transport Geography 22 (2012): 282–84; Adib Kanafani, et al., “The Economics of Speed — Assessing the Performance of High Speed Rail in Intermodal Transportation,” Procedia — Social and Behavioral Sciences 43 (2012): 692–708; and Javier Campos and Ginés de Rus, “Some Stylized Facts about High-Speed Rail: A Review of HSR Experiences around the World,” Transport Policy, 16 (2009): 19–28.

Transportation funding is summarized by the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics (2012). Construction costs for streetcars are from Ohland and Poticha (op cit.).
5. Notes on “What Happened?”

For more on empty forests, read Kent H. Redford, “The Empty Forest,” BioScience 42.6 (1992): 412–22.

Although I disagree with his interpretation that the streetcar’s decline was inevitable or that they are forever gone, Jones (op cit.) nicely lays out the statistics, documenting the rise and fall of the street railways. See Scott L. Bottles, Los Angeles and the Automobile: The Making of the Modern City (Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California Press, 1991), and John Anderson Miller, Fares, Please! A Popular History of Trolleys, Horse-Cars, Street-Cars, Buses, Elevateds, and Subways (New York: D. Appleton Century, 1941). The list of streetcar magnates is from Kevin Phillips, Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich (New York: Broadway, 2003). Senator Williams is perhaps more famous for his conviction for bribery and conspiracy in the “Abdul scam” or Abscam case of the late 1970s, wherein Federal Bureau of Investigations personnel disguised as a wealthy Middle Eastern sheik offered bribes to a number of U.S. politicians, including gullible Pete.

In 1962, President Kennedy called on Congress to approve federal capital assistance for mass transportation, saying “To conserve and enhance values in existing urban areas is essential. But at least as important are steps to promote economic efficiency and livability in areas of future development. Our national welfare therefore requires the provision of good urban transportation, with the properly balanced use of private vehicles and modern mass transport to help shape as well as serve urban growth.” In 1964, the Urban Mass Transportation Act passed and was signed by President Lyndon Johnson. This act required coordinated planning between mass transit and personal transport in all urban areas with more than fifty thousand people, and opened up the first federal funding sources for public transportation. For a detailed account of the “golden age” of urban transportation planning, see Michael N. Danielson, Federal-Metropolitan Politics and the Commuter Crisis New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1965.

6. Note on MacKays

To measure the flow of energy in time, I like the suggestion of David MacKay to use kilowatt-hours per day. In Sustainable Energy — Without the Hot Air, MacKay shows in a straightforward, no-nonsense way the physics of different forms of energy generation and consumption. As MacKay writes, one kWh per day is “a nice human-sized unit,” since most personal household devices use energy at that scale. For example, one 40-watt bulb left on for 24 hours would use almost 1 kWh per day; your 1000-watt microwave left running continuously day and night would use 24 kWh per day. One kWh per day is also roughly equivalent to the amount of work you or a human servant can do in a day. MacKay’s book is so clear and his contributions are so important that I propose we name a new unit of energy after him: the MacKay, equivalent to 1 kWh per day.
7. Notes on “What Business Does Best”

The current financing model for transit is ripe with the problems of public managers, subject to the ballot box, trying to run a transportation company. Consider the case of New York City Transit, managed by the Metropolitan Transportation Agency (MTA), by far the country’s largest and best-used transit agency. Approximately one-third of all public transit trips made in the country each day are made on vehicles owned and operated by the MTA; a city the size of Seattle rides on the subway each night, and yet even with a massive customer base in the country’s densest city, the New York subway and buses haven’t been able to break even. The problem is not the energy costs, which in 2010 were less than 5 percent of the operating budget (a mere $131 million), or even depreciation of the rolling stock, switches and rails, estimated at $1.29 billion (or 15 percent of the budget); the problem is the labor costs, which are 70 percent of the budget ($5.76 billion including postemployment pensions and other costs paid to former transit workers). Similar high labor costs plague transit systems from Chicago to Denver to San Francisco. See Ken Gwilliam, “A Review of Issues in Transit Economics,” Research in Transportation Economics 23.1 (2008): 4–22, and the National Transit Database. For more on the MTA, see Tri-State Transportation Campaign, “Transportation 101: What’s Up with the MTA?”, and then try to decipher the MTA’s own budget numbers available online.

To put these big numbers in perspective, consider them on a per-fare basis. To break even without government support, each of the 2.31 billion paying passengers on New York City Transit in 2009 would need to pay a full fare of $2.50 just to cover the costs of the people driving the trains, staffing the tollbooths, running the back office, and on retirement from the system. A fare of $3.60 would cover all operating costs. However current fares are $2.25 per ride, and after various discounts and reduced price schemes, the average fare paid plummets to only $1.50 per rider actually received by the system, which leaves a several billion dollar hole each year in the MTA budget — a gap currently plugged by dedicated taxes on property, mortgage recording, business licenses in a seven-county region around New York City, and the proceeds from the RFK Bridge connecting Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx.

Meanwhile the longest commutes in the nation? Not stuck in traffic in Los Angeles. Not trapped on the highways around Atlanta. The longest commutes are for the poor straphangers in Queens County and Bronx County, New York, for whom public transportation is the right choice economically, patriotically and environmentally, but which returns them long, slow, packed rides, based on schedules enforced by labor union rules and lack of investment in street-level infrastructure. See John McCormick and Tim Jones,New York City Area Has Among Longest U.S. Commutes, Census Estimates Show,” Bloomberg News, Dec. 14, 2010, for overview, and Brian McKenzie and Melanie Rapino, Commuting in the United States: 2009 (Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau, 2011), for details. The entire story is remarkable, unsustainable, and in need of change.