Air Quality Awareness Week – 2016 (3): A retrospective, prospective

An entire week’s worth of air recognition – that’s what Air Quality Awareness Week boils down to – albeit a five-day week. How will I recognize this time to spare the air? Let me count the ways.

320px-Cal-Poly-Dexter-Lawn[1]Way no. 1: I pledge to not drive unless required.

Way no. 2: I pledge to spend as little time using the computer as possible. It also means using battery power as power-supply power when the computer is in use.

Way no. 3: I pledge to keep lights turned off if there is no need for such. If lights are needed, then only those fixtures equipped with compact fluorescent lights or fluorescent light tubes will be used.

Way no. 4: I pledge to perform work of a manual nature if any around-the-house-work outside needs doing. If power tools and equipment are called for, then only those operating using rechargeable batteries will be employed.

And, in keeping Way no. 4 in mind, this is what today’s retrospective comma prospective discussion is about.

At home outdoors

Using my own yard as an example, if nothing needs attention, I will wait until such time that it does before doing what needs to be done in the yard-work department. Simple, right? To put things in context, you should know that today’s high temperature is forecast to be 88 degrees (I doubt the temp. will get this high) and the air quality is supposed to be in the moderate range – an Air Quality Index also in the 80’s (what is forecast for Fresno County).

Forecast for Thursday and/or Friday are showers, which means afterwards, air quality here should be much improved and temperatures should be lower. As such, any yard work needed, I firmly believe, can wait till then. To me, it just makes sense to do yard work this way.

In fact, this routine – and my preference for doing yard work this way – will be maintained throughout the entire warm-weather season. Why? It is due to the propensity for the San Joaquin Valley in California at this time of the year to form ozone.

Human_respiratory_system-NIH[1] (340x226)Ozone precursors like oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the presence of sunlight and heat (which in the Valley is typically in abundant supply now through September into October) combine to form ozone – what many refer to as smog. This gas is corrosive on the lungs and can trigger asthma attacks and can lead to more serious and/or debilitating lung conditions and diseases. So, applying some common-sense practices related to this, well, this seems wise.

Moreover, if the concentration of ozone in the area is such that an air pollution alert is issued, then perhaps foregoing all outdoor activities completely should be the order of the day, for sensitive individuals especially, these being the elderly, children and people with existing lung and respiratory conditions.

Other applied ideas could be in terms of limiting the amount of time the motor vehicle engine idles (if of the internal-combustion type) when first starting the car in preparation for leaving for work or in heading to the market for shopping, for example.

Looking forward, in your neck of the woods this week might be the time to plant trees that will eventually grow tall enough to shade the home from the summer sun and this could cut down on or help lower future energy bills.

What is more, trees can help with absorbing carbon dioxide from the air – maybe not much in the grand scheme of things, but every little bit helps. And, still, another idea might be to limit outdoor exercise to the early mornings or evenings where there is less opportunity and likelihood for the formation of ozone, particularly in places that are prone to ozone’s presence. In fact, it may be what the doctor orders.

Furthermore, an on-the-yard composting operation could mean less matter going to landfills and that could mean less in the way of landfill-produced methane gas or the opportunity for the creation of such could be less. All of which has implications for improved air quality.

Being air-quality smart, especially during Air Quality Awareness Week, could anything be more right?!

Up next (Part 4), air quality awareness at work; that is, in the workplace.

Upper image above: Gregg Erickson

Lower image above: U.S. National Institutes of Health: Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

Air Quality Awareness Week – 2016 (2): A retrospective, prospective

It’s what’s inside that counts

In this epoch of climate change (global warming) awareness, one of the constructs associated with this phenomenon, is “carbon footprint,” and what this means or how it relates on an individual or per-person level.

As this relates to Air Quality Awareness Week – 2016, some may want to know how they can reduce carbon footprint size inside the living space.

Hot water heater
Hot water heater

From the “Earth Day – 2016: Ideas for a healthier EarthAir Quality Matters Apr. 1, 2016 blogpost, I offered: “Secondly, keeping lights off when not needed, can save on electricity by placing less demand on the electric grid and that means lower energy costs. The same is true regarding appliances and electronic devices like computers, for example. By turning these off when not in use, this can do much to reduce energy use. Meanwhile, replacing incandescent with fluorescent lighting or either incandescent or fluorescent with light-emitting-diode lamps, such should prove to be less of a load on the electric grid, and that should translate into energy costs being lower.”

This is just scratching the surface. Gar Lipow, in his book, Cooling It! No Hair Shirt Solutions to Global Warming really delves deep into this area. Provided in this detailed accounting is a wealth of smart solutions that can help people reduce their watt-hours of electricity consumption. Moreover, as to what Lipow covers, it’s all good and if many of the “solutions” this author presents were adopted universally, I cannot help but think of how much more of a positive impact this would have on the quality of air.

Another good resource which I have referred to from time to time is: “30 Simple Energy Things You Can Do To Save The Earth,” from The Earth Works Group, Distributed by Pacific Gas and Electric Company.

Inside the apartment insulation application
Inside the apartment insulation application

Of course, not all 30 “things,” if followed through on, are going to directly result in air-quality improvement, but a good many do, such as setting thermostats at sensible levels; neither too cold during summers nor too hot during colder times of the year. Another is making the home more energy efficient and one way to do this is with improvements made regarding interior, exterior and even attic insulation. These and more useful tips are covered within this guide’s covers.

And, the two above-described books are but two resources. There are others.

Now, as to what the future of home carbon-footprint reduction may hold, there is no telling what is in store. But, it is interesting to think about the possibilities.

I think of my own kitchen that has a built-in exhaust fan located over the cooking surfaces of the stove. Imagine if one were to step away from the stove say, in answering a phone, while food in a frying pan, for instance, on top of one of the stove’s heating elements gets too, too hot and produces enough smoke as a result. Meanwhile, placed inside the exhaust fan is a built-in smoke detector provision which, if triggered, would automatically shut off the stove’s heating element in question thus preventing what is in said frying pan from reaching the flash point and therefore eliminating the threat of fire. This day is no doubt on the way. No question a capability of this type would doubtless be extremely practical and handy in a situation where someone has lost consciousness due to a medical crisis while the stove just happened to be on. What other kinds of air-savings techniques are just around corner?

This covers the home’s inside. Part 3 goes outdoors at home.

Air Quality Awareness Week – 2016: A retrospective, prospective

The_Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17[1]Well, May 2 through May 6 marks Air Quality Awareness Week – 2016. I thought this would be the perfect time air-quality matters-wise, to look back, look ahead.

To refresh some reader memories or to inform those who have no prior knowledge of the “Earth Day – 2016: Ideas for a healthier Earth,” Air Quality Matters posting, provided were “ideas” to help in reducing pollutant emissions: 1) while out-and-about when engaged in travel; 2) indoors; 3) around- the home; and finally 4) at work on the job.

Out-and-about and on-the-go

To repeat from the Apr. 1, 2016 Air Quality Matters Earth Day post, I wrote: “Walking and biking instead of driving is an air-pollution-free way to travel. If one does choose to drive, then selecting an automobility device that puts out lower or no emissions, can do much and go far to protect the air we humans breathe. If none of these suits one’s fancy, by taking public transit – especially, the modes that don’t pollute – in so doing, this will go a long ways toward keeping harmful air-polluting emissions in check.”

With this in mind, I am devoting this first Air Quality Awareness Week – 2016 entry to none other than transportation.

I can think of a no better introduction than a public transportation discussion. As it applies and here in the states, I’ve done my best to keep my finger on the transit pulse. At the same time, I can’t help but wonder what the future has in store for this area. Lately, I’ve been doing considerable research and writing on what the prospects might be. There has been so much written on this realm as of late.

The big attention-grabber, in case you have not already guessed is the hypothesis Hyperloop. Granted, development has come quite a ways and there is work under way to build an actual working prototype, one each in El Segundo and Quay Valley (southern Kings County), both in California, but will light at the end of the tunnel ever been seen regarding a functioning full-scale Hyperloop example, model, prototype?

Image courtesy of:
Image courtesy of:

Meanwhile, other efforts not just in the Golden State but elsewhere too include CyberTran, SkyTran™ and VECTORR™ each in various stages of development. I have written about the three of these in my book: “The Departure Track: Railways of Tomorrow,” released in 2013. What all of these have going for them, environmentally sustainability speaking, is that all make use of designs that effectively release no pollutant emissions.

Turning attention elsewhere, in the public transit department, there are many practical examples soon to come online – too many to include a list here, and these comprise both road- and rail-based offerings. An excellent source to consult to learn where significant progress is being made is The Transport Politic, the blog of transportation planner Yonah Freemark.

So, what’s left? Active and automotive transportation. Active includes walking and biking, both pretty much self-explanatory.

On the road, meanwhile, the greatest promise is held in zero-emissions vehicles (ZEVs) and partial zero-emissions vehicles (PZEVs) and others. A great source to learn about the trends in domestic sales of these is the Electric Drive Transportation Association site.

Oh, and I would just like to add that there are new developments regarding the pending VW recall action. Preliminarily, agreement has been reached between the courts and Volkswagen. Spelled out is what course that remediation/mitigation will likely take. A final decision is expected in June. You may read much, much more about this here.

Tampa Int’l. Airport people mover
Tampa Int’l. Airport people mover

I’d be remiss if I did not provide or identify a source for U.S. public transit ridership (usage) in 2015. A worthy source for this information is from the American Public Transportation Association here.

Finally, the same APTA group has only a few days ago released a statement related to public transit as a “green industry.” That press statement can be viewed here.

The next “Air Quality Awareness Week – 2016: A retrospective, prospective” entries (2 and 3) will have to do with spare-the-air practices in- and outside the home, respectively.

Stay tuned.

Top image above: NASA

Bottom image above: Copyright James G. Howes, 2009 (used with permission)

Steam cleaning: Loco conversions enough to get some fired up; others hot under the collar

I now have in my possession – courtesy of a friend who has recently moved and could not take with him all that he had owned – about a half-dozen books and roughly four times as many magazines, in one way or another all having to with railroading, thus adding to my library of such.

Needless to say, I have thus far read through several. And, one of the magazines (Locomotive 2010) had a passage in one of the included articles (“Passage of time: Rio Grande 5371 was the last of a breed”) that struck a chord, the thought here being: “Will 5371 be the sole example preserved for future generations?”

What is special about this particular diesel locomotive (a General Motors, Electro-Motive Division model SD40T-2 which, in this case, just so happens to wear Denver & Rio Grande Western railroad colors and sport the 5371 number), is its built-in air-intake provision which enabled the model to better perform in walled-in spaces like tunnels with their typically limited air and/or air-circulation characteristics, compared to locos without such provisions built in, hence their earning the “tunnel motor” qualifier. The diesel, incidentally, sits among the collection of railway equipment housed at the Ogden Railroad Museum in Utah having taken up residence there since Aug. 2009, according to Mike Danneman, the article’s author.

Triple Crossing, Richmond, Virginia
Triple Crossing, Richmond, Virginia

The preservation, restoration and operation of representative examples of many historical, special, unusual, unique, etc. locomotives is a common practice the world over, no question. In fact, pulled behind some of the preserved, restored and operating locos at a few operating museums and tourist pikes are passenger cars on or inside which I have ridden. On rare occasion, I have been invited up into the locomotive cab and, in one case I even got to operate the loco itself.

Meanwhile, in yet another issue of Locomotive, this time for year 2007, in the “Editor’s Notebook” section, Editor Greg McDonnell wrote: “Locomotive emissions standards – smoke abatement laws by another name – are again a hot ticket. Again, they’re helping to spark a new revolution in locomotive technology.” Again, another one of those thoughts that hits home.

Here it is, almost May 2016, and if I remember correctly, all purchases of new diesel locomotives, I think as of the end of 2015, had to meet Tier 4 emissions standards – for operation inside America’s borders. What this means, if true, is that locomotive builders such as General Electric and Progress Rail Services, for example, have been hard at work creating products that meet (or exceed) these latest of requirements. That’s great news!

One thought leading to another, now I can’t help but think of all the progress air-quality related-wise that has been made in the area of locomotive technology development.

This may come as a shock and the statement I am about to make may raise a few hackles, and that statement is that for all the progress that’s been made, I can’t help but believe that some of that success, yes, success, is being countervailed, at least to some extent, by the allowance of the operation of steam locomotives across the continent. With rare exception, these fire-eating, smoke-belching contraptions are so notoriously damaging on air that it is any wonder that they are even allowed to operate at all. I’d really be surprised to find at my mentioning this if I haven’t at least ruffled a few feathers.

So, the question becomes: If the builders turning out the most fuel-efficient, cleanest-burning diesel locomotives in the land are complying with standards which are helping improve the quality of air, not to mention saving the railroads that use them a considerable sum of money over the long haul and therefore helping the railroad companies’ bottom lines, why is there not a similar set of air-compliant qualifications that these steam locomotive operators be likewise held to?


If the Grand Canyon Railway, with the conversion of one of its steam locomotives that now enables it to burn waste vegetable oil (WVO) compared to what this particular iron horse once combusted (be it coal or other fossil fuel) and thereby allowing this one steam locomotive to burn far, far cleaner, if GCR can do it (and, presumably, as a result of the conversion made, not only is the company able to benefit, but communities along the railroad’s path), so too should others running similar operations do likewise (that is, have steam locomotives on their pikes undergo like conversions)! What’s smart is smart and this smells smart to me.

Earth Day Extra! Next-level greenhouse taps sun’s rays for crop/energy production

Hydroponic growing technique
Hydroponic growing technique

The greenhouse. It derives its name not from the color of paint adorning exterior surfaces, but, rather, from the activity taking place within, in this case, that activity being the growing of plants, the representative crops themselves mostly verdantly attired.

Inside the greenhouse, seeds are sown and new plantings take root, all of it done in preparation for future transplantation on the farm, out in the field, as it were.

So, wouldn’t you know it?! That greenhouse which for eons (just an expression) has served as a plant-growing facilitator, can now also be used to enable electricity production. That’s right. Now these can be employed as energy generators, making them truly multipurpose in nature.

“Last summer, Fremont, California-based Solaria, a provider of solar module technologies, and Soliculture, provider of greenhouse integrated photovoltaics (GIPV) for commercial greenhouse growers, secured a strategic collaboration for PV agriculture applications,” explained Gary Pullano, Vegetable Growers News Associate Editor in the March 2016 issue.

In the cover story “Powered up: Greenhouse system yields crops/electricity,” Pullano went on to state: “Solaria is supplying its cell processing technology for use with Soliculture’s luminescent solar concentrator technology. The new modules are able to generate electricity in an altered light spectrum optimized for plant growth.”

It was revealed in the Vegetable Growers News article in question as well that the very “first commercial trial” of such a photovoltaic (solar) panel in a greenhouse roof (not to be confused with on-the-rooftop solar panel installation) application, took place on a portion of one of the Watsonville, California-located Kitayama Brothers Farms’ greenhouses.

“This product answers the unique needs of farmers and their businesses for a material that has neutral effects on plants but that also generates enough power to make it economically compelling. Now greenhouse growers have a major incentive to incorporating building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) into their agriculture projects,” Solaria declared in a company press release.

Meanwhile, continued Pullano, “Information supplied by Soliculture said positive effects from use of the product has ranged from early crop maturation, disease resistance and longer production time. Electricity generated by the panels could offset the electricity needs of the greenhouse and other electrically sensitive equipment, like coolers, pumps and supplemental light.”

Solaria Business Development Director Carley Corrado, cited by Pullano in the article in question, talked up solar panels’ relative low costs and how through in-greenhouse-roof placement, the panels can provide a payback relatively quickly, that is, compared to the typical or common or usual photovoltaic cell application/installation.

Interesting also that the panels in this then (July 28, 2015) newest of approaches do double duty as a crop-growing encourager and electricity generator in an agricultural setting, no less, with the added benefit of cleaner air to boot.

A greenhouse that not only serves as a platform under which one is able to raise crops, but one also that seconds as a generator that facilitates in the production of watts.

Who would’ve thought?!

Image at top: NASA/Kennedy Space Center

California’s ‘bad-air’ cities rank among nation’s worst, lung association finds

SMOG_-_NARA_-_542581.tif[1]In the American Lung Association’s (ALA) annual rankings of worst cities for annual fine particulate matter (PM 2.5 – particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter in size) pollution, fine particulate matter pollution over a 24-hour period and ozone pollution, it is cities in California that have consistently topped the list. And, this year is no different.

Furthermore, in its prepared “2016 ‘State of the Air’ Report Finds More than Half of Americans Live with Unhealthful Levels of Air Pollution” statement, the ALA writes: “The annual, national air quality ‘report card’ found that 166 million Americans live with unhealthful levels of air pollution, putting them at risk for premature death and other serious health effects like lung cancer, asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage, and developmental and reproductive harm.” The 166 million affected Americans, amounts to 52.1 percent of the nation’s population.

Adding insult to injury, the lung association relates, “According to this year’s 17th annual report, short-term spikes in particle pollution have gotten worse since the 2015 report, including in the city with the worst particle pollution problem, Bakersfield, Calif. For multiple cities that suffered spikes in particle pollution during this period, many of these spikes were directly linked to weather patterns like drought or to events like wildfires, which are likely to increase because of climate change.”

Not all news was bad, though. As evidence, the lung association proclaimed that there was some air improvement.

“… [T]he best progress came in reducing year-round levels of particle pollution, with 16 cities reaching their lowest levels ever, and one other improving over the period covered by the 2015 report (2011-2013). Year-round particle pollution levels have dropped thanks to the cleanup of coal-fired power plants and the retirement of old, dirty diesel engines,” the ALA emphasized.

Meanwhile, additional California cities finding themselves among the top 10 spots in the annual PM 2.5 pollution list include: Visalia-Porterville-Hanford (2), Fresno-Madera (3), Los Angeles-Long Beach (4), El Centro (5) and Modesto-Merced and San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, both clusters of cities in the sixth worst position.

For 24-hour (short-term) fine PM, it was Bakersfield filling the top spot, with Fresno-Madera (2), Visalia-Porterville-Hanford (3), Modesto-Merced (4), San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland (8) and Los Angeles-Long Beach (9).

Rounding out the list were the most ozone-polluted Golden State cities of: Los Angeles-Long Beach (1), Bakersfield (2), Visalia-Porterville-Hanford (3), Fresno-Madera (4), Sacramento-Roseville (6) and Modesto-Merced (7).

According to the ALA the 2016 “State of the Air” report reflects data collected between years 2012 and 2014.

For more on 2016 “State of the Air” report findings and for more information, look here.


Top image: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Air pollution impacting marine health and how!

For all who read/visit the Air Quality Matters blog regularly (and this may as well apply to infrequent site visitors too), it could very well be that you’re familiar with the posts on this site devoted to the aspect of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, the potential effect this may have on warming – its global warming potential (GWP), in other words, and how this all may inter-relate.

To provide a bit of background, I have researched this area of scientific study rather extensively. Numerous times in related postings I have presented information on how the CO2 (carbon dioxide) gas present in the atmosphere at its current concentration of an approximate average 400 parts per million parts of air, has – and is having – a devastating, negative effect on sea water and on much of the life contained within. At this point, some may be thinking or even expressing out loud: “Wait a minute: How can this be?!” or “Did I really read what I thought I just read?!”

kandel-ship-1Through much scientific observation and study, it has been determined conclusively that there is a percentage of CO2 in the air, through the process known as “transference,” that enters the oceans. According to information in PBS’s NOVA documentary “Lethal Seas” (the show aired on the Public Broadcasting System network on May 13, 2015), the amount of CO2 absorbed by the oceans currently stands at about 25 percent.

Meanwhile, it was further stated that initially this was seen as being beneficial from the standpoint that whatever CO2 was entering major bodies of water like the planet’s oceans, that CO2 gas that would have been in the air was now no longer there. What oceans are doing, in effect, is behaving like sponges, absorbing the excess or extra carbon dioxide the air isn’t soaking up. The amount of carbon dioxide entering the oceans daily is staggering! In real numbers, roughly 30 million metric tons per day, according to Mark Green of Saint Joseph’s College, a scientific authority providing expert comment in the documentary.

FFS_Table_bottom[1]Again, as brought out in “Lethal Seas,” on account of this air-to-ocean, carbon dioxide transference, ocean pH levels are decreasing, all of which means there is a corresponding increase in marine acidity. In fact, average acidity in the oceans is rising at roughly five percent every 10 years. And, this acidity rise is having a detrimental impact on the life within, particularly that which exists at the bottom of the sea-based food web, the crustaceans, in other words, this in addition to coral reefs where affected.

So, what is it exactly about the increasing CO2 that is causing a substantial lowering of ocean pH and hence advancing ocean acidification at the rate it is?

What the scientific community has discovered or maybe more accurately uncovered, is that the carbon dioxide dissolving in the ocean is reacting with ocean water (H2O) to form what is known as carbonic acid. Said carbonic acid, meanwhile, as I understand it, interferes with proper exterior shell development in the so-affected crustacean population. Without a properly developed outer layer of protection, the crustaceans in question then become vulnerable with their very survival threatened.

LittleNeck_clams_USDA96c1862[1]The damage being thus, this is having quite an impact, especially on societies and civilizations that rely on said waters for sustenance as well as on those whose livelihoods depend on a flourishing, thriving, healthy aquatic ecosystem. If life on the lower rung of the sea-based food-web ladder succumbs as a result of this kind of destruction, then it could be said that this could have a ripple effect on life that this life supports and sustains.

The accelerated rise in marine CO2 might possibly be too much to bear and not allow such affected sea-life to adapt and thus recover.

In the final analysis, when I watched the “Lethal Seas” documentary in full (it’s about 53 minutes in length), one of the conclusions I have reached is thus: Anyone who thinks that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant and at current air concentrations isn’t harmful to the environment, they need to watch this NOVA episode themselves. “Lethal Seas” is an eye-opener and thought-provoker to the say the least.

For more on this matter, see: “Earth Day 2014: ‘Conserve’ is the word” here.

Middle image above: Yumi Yasutake, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Lower image above: United States Department of Agriculture

The autonomous automobile’s future: Does it even have one?

Read an interesting article (Apr. 8, 2016) by a writer who believes self-driving cars aren’t needed and explains in no uncertain terms why that is. Written by award-winning writer Rebecca Solnit, it was The Guardian newspaper that featured the said (op-ed) article.

Aside from what Solnit covered, I, personally, wonder if the concept will ever catch on. Meanwhile, the article’s author had absolutely no qualms about pointing out that computers can fail and be hacked into and she doesn’t see computers ever responding in a way that humans can and do when it comes to how we interact with our environment. Put somewhat differently, computers will never be human.

Furthermore, the autonomous automobile, as with any automobile, is still an automobile. A car is a car is a car, in other words. Moreover, if the expectation exists that self-driving cars will make roadway travel any less crowded, Solnit doesn’t think so.

Think of the op-ed’s full title (and long subtitle) “We don’t need self-driving cars – we need to ditch our vehicles entirely: The driverless revolution may seem convenient, but public transportation means we can already skip driving. Not only is it better for the planet – it also keeps us out of traffic jams,” in the context that with driverless cars roaming the streets, both more traffic and more congestion will result.

Want to know how?! Solnit explains it thus: There is the expectation that Americans will be driving seven percent more miles than what were driven in 2007 by 2017, according to a report in Grist, which Solnit, in her article, just so happens to have made reference to. In 2007, Americans drove a collective cumulative 3.031124 trillion miles. Point taken as, in 2015, American drivers logged a grand total of 3.148 trillion miles behind the wheel – a record.

Solnit reasons also that with autonomous vehicles at people’s disposal and plying the roads, this will provide yet another opportunity for people to “automobile” it more. (I am careful not to use the word “drive” here as it relates to our “riding” in autonomous vehicles as people won’t in fact be driving; that’s the thinking, anyway). Beyond that there are associated greenhouse gas emissions. The part of that emitted from transportation, as Solnit points out, is a healthy 27 percent. (“Healthy” may not be the best choice of words, but I believe you get the picture). Eighteen percent of that – or two parts in three – is car-attributed. Adding more vehicles – self-driving or otherwise – to the existing traffic mix will cause a further greenhouse-gas-emissions rise, unless, of course, these vehicles are pollution-free.

The advantages autonomous automobility has to offer potentially could be enormous, the implications could be far-reaching. Even so, as I see it Solnit is by no means or measure ready to take the self-driving plunge as she feels there are more efficient and smarter and better and, no doubt, healthier ways of moving about the planet and that includes automatically and non-automatically alike.

What I would like to add is that I think there is this false notion that driverless cars, by virtue of the premise that riding the roads “hands-free,” automatically means that the road-traveling experience will be better than even the best of such user experiences possible today. Already, about three-fourths of roadway commutes are done in vehicles that are occupied by only one person – the motorist.

As far as my exiting this conversation, I will leave with a couple of questions: 1) What are the odds of this changing in any appreciable way or that congestion will be far less or a thing of the past simply because automobility’s operating platform may be evolving – and plainly and simply – into what’s being billed and hailed as “driverless”?, and 2) If it ever does, what are the chances people who choose to embrace this method of movement and opt to travel this way will demand that these vehicles not pollute such that there will be a significant difference made?

Oh, and speaking of questions, want to know what Solnit’s take on this issue as well as additional others related to the idea of hands-free road-riding? The answer: you needn’t look any farther than the aforementioned The Guardian op-ed with the full and long title. Incidentally, and speaking of which, I don’t believe that the title and subtitle could be any more to the point.

Tampa Int’l. Airport people mover
Tampa Int’l. Airport automated people mover

Image above: © by James G. Howes, 2009 (used with permission).

Related to sales of flooring with unsafe CH2O levels, national chain fined $2.5m

The California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board (ARB) on Mar. 22, 2016 announced in a press statement that the national “[h]ardwood flooring retailer Lumber Liquidators Inc. has paid the California Air Resources Board (ARB) $2.5 million to settle ARB claims that Lumber Liquidators sold, supplied, or offered for sale in California wood products that ARB testing showed exceeded state formaldehyde limits, and that Lumber Liquidators failed to take reasonable prudent precautions to ensure those products met such limits designed to protect public health.

“During inspections at Lumber Liquidators’ stores in California between September 2013 and May 2015 ARB staff obtained boxes of laminate flooring samples for testing that were labeled as compliant. According to a signed settlement agreement between ARB and Lumber Liquidators, ARB notified the company of its testing showing that some of these samples showed exceedances of state formaldehyde limits and alleging that the company failed to take reasonable prudent precautions to ensure that laminate flooring sold in California contained composite wood products that complied with the formaldehyde emissions standards set forth in California’s Airborne Toxic Control Measure (ATCM) for composite wood products,” the ARB in the press statement continued.

When it comes to electrical equipment and electronic appliances and tools made available for in-the-home use, when such are used properly (that is, in accordance with said products’ manufacturer-supplied operating instructions), consumers have an expectation that such won’t present an undue danger (in this case, that undue danger being an electrical shock or electrocution hazard), so, should it be any different regarding any product made available to consumers to improve the home, composite laminate flooring included? One would think not. This almost goes without saying.

As it relates to wood-product composites specifically, the ARB in the press statement adds: “Under ARB’s regulation, composite wood products must be independently certified as complying with the state standard for formaldehyde,” further adding that, “[c]ompanies that make finished products are required to label the products as having been made with certified compliant composite wood products, to keep records to verify that they have purchased compliant products, and to inform distributors and retailers that their flooring is compliant with California’s regulations.”

So, how can consumers be assured that the type of situation whereby flooring containing formaldehyde (CH2O) at unsafe levels as determined through air-regulator-approved testing procedures and processes will not be repeated?

As it pertains to Lumber Liquidators specifically, the ARB related, “… Lumber Liquidators has developed, and agreed to implement, a ‘Fabricator Laminate Evaluation and Audit Program’ and a ‘Composite Core Testing Research Program,’ requiring the company to conduct regular audits of existing and new suppliers and to randomly test composite core samples in accordance with ARB’s standard operating procedure for preparing finished goods samples for testing.”


Image above: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Products Laboratory

American land-based traffic and travel profile – 2015

360px-CBX_Parkchester_6_jeh[1]It just so happens I heard on one network T.V. news broadcast (most likely last year at the beginning of December) that during the end of 2015 for the holiday season that 100 million Americans – almost one-in-three U.S. citizens – were expected to be traveling. At the time it was estimated that between Dec. 18 and the first of the New Year, 91.3 million Americans would take to the roads, 5.3 million to the skies, the difference, or 3.4 million, traveling via various other means. Of course, some overlapping of mode use is to be expected here. And, that’s just for the end-of-year travel picture.

With the nation’s unemployment rate weighing in at somewhere around 5 percent at 2015’s close, this should suggest an economy much recovered from that of the height of the Great Recession when the percentage of those unemployed reached into the double digits.

Over the entire 2015 year, that driving in America hit an all-time record high of 3.148 trillion cumulative miles, this is what one would expect during times of economic stability. Expected also is a rise in transit ridership over that in 2014, but, admittedly, this did not happen.

TRE@FWITC[1]The American Public Transportation Association reported, “Americans took 10.6 billion trips on public transportation in 2015, the third highest annual ridership in ten years, according to a report released today by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). Compared to public transit ridership in 2014, there was a small overall decline among all modes of 1.3 percent.” The presumption here is that “all modes” in this particular instance refers to “all transit modes.”

“In 2015 the average price of a gallon of gasoline was $2.52, which was 92 cents (26.7%) lower than in 2014. … Research conducted by APTA shows that on the average, every 10 percent decrease in gas prices leads to a 1.8 percent decrease in public transportation ridership,” the APTA acknowledged.

Possibly contributing to transit ridership decline also were increased fares, according to the APTA in its Mar. 31, 2016 “Americans Took 10.6 Billion Trips on Public Transportation in 2015” press release.

Highway highlights

The big news story in 2015 was the expiration of the then present transportation bill, replaced by a long-term transportation-funding allocation in the amount of $305 billion, the bulk of it or $266 billion to be designated for bridges and roads over a period lasting six years in all. (See: “U.S. driving rebounds and what could be best going forward”).

Additionally, new light has been shed recently on motor vehicle fuel economy.

In “U.S. driving popular way back when, even more so now,” highlighted is real-world-driving average-vehicle-mileage ratings. In 2014, an average motor vehicle fuel economy rating of 24.3 miles per gallon was attained, reaching a zenith of 25.8 mpg that year in August. This fell to 25.2 mpg by Jan. and Feb. 2016, according to Bill Vlasic in a New York Times article.

Strictly from an air-quality-savings standpoint, compounding this issue is a point Vlasic raised in the Times story and that is that fewer and fewer zero-emissions and partial zero-emissions (hybrid) vehicles, comparatively speaking, are being purchased; these are the ones putting out the lowest or no emissions. Meanwhile, the Electric Drive Transportation Association has made available on its Web site sales numbers (data) regarding Hybrid-Electric Vehicles (HEVs), Plug-in Hybrid-Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) and Extended Range Electric Vehicles (EREVs), as well as Battery-Electric Vehicles (BEVs) here.

Coming attractions?

Besides the normal fare, it appears as though attractions, concepts, designs like Hyperloop and self-driving automobiles are on the way. It is important to note, however, that these prototypical approaches right now are little more than “experiments,” despite their gaining in popularity what with the tremendous media hype they’ve received.

What is ready for prime time, on the other hand, is magnetically levitated transport (maglev, for short); its day definitely here.

The two maglev systems outside Asia right now in the proposal/planning or building phases are the approximate 50-miles-in-length, proposed Baltimore-Washington, D.C., high-speed maglev and a second, low-speed version due to connect two public Sunshine State places (Orlando International Airport/International Drive and the Orange County Convention Center) on elevated infrastructure eight miles long, in progress, that is, barring a work-stoppage order. Its builder is Georgia-based American Maglev Technologies.

On the high-speed rail front, these are common in Asia and Europe. Even Africa has one – Gautrain.  But, as a mainstream transportation platform in the U.S., such has yet to take a foothold.

320px-FLV_California_train[1]Already under construction is the California high-speed-rail project (800 miles in all, to connect San Francisco, Los Angeles and Anaheim with San Diego and Sacramento). Meanwhile, a higher-speed (in the 110-125 miles-per-hour range) railway endeavor, this time in Florida, is the in-the-works Miami-to-Orlando, Brightline, known formerly as All Aboard Florida.

Beyond this, as of late there has been considerable momentum building in group rapid transit (GRT)/personal rapid transit (PRT) people-mover systems employed for airport use, mainly.

What next year’s traffic and travel profile reveals is anyone’s guess. One can always hope that progress made will be much.

Middle image above: W. R. Howell, Jr.