Increase the gasoline tax, institute a mileage fee or neither?

There’s been a lot of contentious debate along with swirling controversy surrounding a tax increase on gasoline. Nationally, the gas tax has been locked in at $0.184 (18.4 cents) per gallon since 1993 and it seems unlikely such will change anytime soon.

The problem with the gas tax going unchanged for that many years is that while the tax itself has remained constant, motor vehicle mileage/fuel economy ratings have been anything but (constant) – vehicles have become much more fuel efficient. And, what this has led to is decreased revenue generated from taxes on petroleum being available for various transportation-related projects, roadway and transit alike.

Also controversial is the idea of a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) fee, or dare I say “tax.” It isn’t so much the fee for miles driven that has caused a stir but how driving will be monitored – my understanding through global-positioning-satellite (GPS) system tracking.

A pilot program is about to launch in Oregon in July. Up to 5,000 volunteer motor vehicle owners are said to be taking part. It has been expressed that a 1.5-cents-per-mile fee ($0.015/mi) is being imposed. Based on a per-capita yearly average of 10,000 miles traveled, the money raised based on that average would amount to $150.00 for the year per driver. If all 5,000 drivers participating each drove 10,000 miles, then the total revenue raised comes to $1.5 million. Whatever capital is raised, all vehicle participants in the program will be contributing, regardless of how efficient vehicles are or what their fuel economy ratings happen to be.

Some aren’t too terribly excited, meanwhile, about the way the mileage will be tracked. For them, this is a privacy issue. It is my understanding that participants can rest assured knowing that the purpose of tracking is not to determine where drivers are driving to but rather to determine how much driving is being done, all done with the goal of raising VMT-generated funds.

As an aside, since the privacy issue has come up, is mileage monitoring by GPS capability even necessary? Well, is it?

It is here that I can’t help but be reminded of Smog Check. In California, smog testing for most motor vehicles is required every two years. Understanding this, it should not be too difficult to determine how many miles have been driven between smog checks. If, for example, a driver over a two-year time period drives 24,000 miles, then that’s a yearly average of 12,000. One of the limitations of using this method of determining distances traveled, is there is no way to know how many of those miles driven are done out of state, if any are. Regarding a proposed VMT scheme, unless the entire country is on board with this type of revenue-generating mechanism, than tracking yearly driving miles through smog-testing services, would not be suitable. (For much more about VMT fees and Oregon’s program, look here).

Moving on, if raising the gas tax or instituting a VMT fee is out of the question, then there are always the standby’s such as using a percentage of sales tax money for transportation needs. Then again, there are always tolling charges (i.e., road-usage charges). These, of course, would apply to road users only.

Regardless of what revenue-generating plan is adopted, there is always discussion – sometimes disagreement – over where monies raised should go.

Obviously existing roads need to be maintained, so there has to be money for that. Some roads could even be dismantled and money needs to be available for that as well. But, without fail, there always seems to be difference of opinion as to what constitutes proper use of funds – where they should go, in other words.

The way I look at it is like this: Just as dollars should go to upkeep to maintain the infrastructure being driven upon, money also should be going to repair the damage caused to the air related to travel. Whether that goes to help raise the fuel-efficiency/economy in the motor vehicle fleet overall, whether it’s put toward programs that entice people to drive less, and/or is used to help cover the costs of health care for all those whose lives have been adversely impacted on account of breathing in unhealthy air, regarding one and all, not only are such funds important but are necessary too.

Valley to miss old fed PM 2.5 standards deadline, highway funds in jeopardy

Lately, there has been no shortage of news concerning air quality in the San Joaquin Valley of California. And, yet, another air-pollution-related news story from the SJV surfaces.

Fireplace_Burning[1]For those unfamiliar, the California Valley region has notoriously bad air. The SJV has this country’s worst fine particulate matter pollution problem – both for daily and annual levels. Fine particulate matter or PM 2.5 (less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) pollution is small enough in size to not just penetrate the lungs but also is capable of entering the bloodstream. Damage caused by this air nemesis includes respiratory and cardiovascular disease including lung cancer and even premature death.

The National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for PM 2.5 are 35 micrograms per cubic meter of air averaged over 24 hours as set by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2006 and 12 micrograms per cubic meter averaged annually as set by the EPA in 2012. Exceeding these thresholds means not meeting the standards. These two standards replaced previous standards of 65 and 15 micrograms per cubic meter of air, respectively, both established in the late 20th century in 1997.

Sadly, the SJV won’t meet even old 1997 standards, and according to a The Fresno Bee “Earth Log” report in order to be in compliance, fine particulate matter pollution in the Valley must be reduced by 5 percent per year, that is, until said standards are met.

Bottom line: Valley air must be cleaned – period. However, should even the old federal standards not be met by the deadline, in this case Dec. 31, 2015 the Valley risks $2.5 billion in federal highway funds being with-held.

You read it right.

I have been over this ground before and, just recently, as a matter of fact. The idea of receiving funding for polluting highways for air compliance is so ill-conceived in my view and here’s why.

Others may disagree, but freezing funding for highways seems right under any circumstance, irrespective of whether PM 2.5 standards are attained or not. If anything, money should be allocated toward getting motorists to cut back on driving, not encouraging more of it, which is exactly what highway expansion does. It’s called “induced demand.”

Diesel particulate filter
Diesel particulate filter

By air quality standards not being met, this should prompt increased funding, not a reason to shut off the funding spigot. Monies could be directed to allow consumers to upgrade to cleaner-running, more fuel-efficient vehicles. This goes by another name; it’s called “incentivization.” Moreover, funds could be provided to public transit agencies to help improve existing bus and rail systems, or investing in enhanced bus or adding newer fixed-guideway mobility options where none had previously existed such as streetcar, lightrail or personal or group rapid transit networks. In fact, bring the transit funding on!

But to dump money into highway infrastructure as a reward for getting SJV air to a state of healthy repair and then after making said roadway improvements all the while expecting the air to stay healthy, tell me: What am I missing?!

Since much of the fine particle pollution comes from the transportation sector, especially in the Valley, it makes sense to increase transportation funding as a means to mitigate it.

That said, I’m completely flummoxed by the current scheme. Transportation decision-makers: What is your thinking here?!

There is much, much more about this situation here.

Lower image above: Dana60Cummins

City makes bold move, cancels July 4th fireworks event

The drought in the western U.S. is definitely making its impact felt. There are people letting their lawns go, lawn watering being done less often. Reservoirs are at historic lows. The danger of fires is extremely high and aquifers are being drained at exceptionally fast rates. I hesitate to use the term “exponential,” but this may well be the case. This is the new reality.

Photo courtesy PDPhoto.org
Photo courtesy PDPhoto.org

With fires presenting a very real danger, the City of Visalia in California’s south central San Joaquin Valley has decided to cancel its annual July 4th fireworks celebration. The air will definitely benefit and Visalians’ lungs will get some relief.

In Visalia making this move, the decision to do so was no doubt a difficult one – bold, even. I’m sure city leaders will have a better idea whether or not it was the correct one after the fact.

Does this break with tradition? You know it! A display of antipatriotic sentiment? If you’re even entertaining such a notion, might I inquire as to what planet you’re from? (Disclosure: I’m being facetious in case you can’t tell).

As I was saying, how I see the city looking at this is from the standpoint of it being an act of playing it safe, preferring to err on the side of caution, not taking unnecessary risks. I would agree. To me, it just makes sense and even more so if air quality is bad then, as it often is.

Looking at air quality records going back several years for July 4th and 5th, consulting the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District’s Real-time Air Advisory Network (RAAN), data shows for Visalia-Church for the 4th in 2011, particulate matter pollution reached a peak of 129 micrograms per cubic meter of air at 11 p.m. Fine particulates did not return to healthy levels until 2 p.m. the following day.

In 2012 on the 4th, particulate levels reached 75 micrograms per cubic meter at 10 p.m. The following year levels reached 88 at 11 p.m. and did not fall into the good range until 10 a.m. the next day. Then in 2014, measurable amounts of fine particulates reached as high as 72 micrograms at 11 p.m., only a slight improvement over 2013.

After all is said and done only Visalia can know if cancelling this year’s fireworks festivities was the correct move, however bold it may be. Visalians may look back on this and be grateful. I know people’s pets there will be. Then again, air quality could be negatively impacted if there are many driving outside city limits to attend fireworks displays elsewhere.

In SJV seeking clean air has it been one step forward, two steps back?

California’s San Joaquin Valley is roughly 24,000 square miles in area. It is hemmed in by mountains on three sides and created is a perfect storm for air pollutants to collect and build. And, here, that pollution will stay until air-cleansing winds and/or rain blow and/or wash it away.

Weather does not by itself create bad air in the Valley. So, to expect the weather to be the be-all, end-all in terms of making air clean is not a particularly realistic approach. That’s why other, more effective means of air-cleaning are necessary.

640px-California's_Central_ValleyWhat doesn’t help matters is widely disseminated information, the context of which in this case is centered around the idea that if certain identified pollutants such as ozone and particulates are not lowered in the atmosphere by a sufficient or designated quantity by a specified date, then federal funding for area highways and highway work, yes, that’s right, federal highway funding will be threatened. What is really threatening, as in being scary, is the idea that the reward for being in air compliance is more money going to support highway building which does nothing to curb polluting motor-vehicle travel, one of the more air-destructive, backward-thinking, tacks to take and on top of all that sets a dangerous precedent.

Different approaches such as instituting punitive measures, depending on extent and duration, in contrast could have an air-remedying effect like the current $29 million yearly air-pollution mitigation fee imposed on Valley motorists and business owners for failing to meet an old one-hour federal ozone health standard or fees that local development interests must pay to offset emissions caused from added sprawl. But, these measures are only effective if more pollution is being reduced than what is being created. Air pollution in the Valley is compounded by the ongoing drought which is now in its fourth year which makes reaching and staying in air compliance that much more difficult.

Meanwhile, the idea behind the state mandate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 percent below that threshold by 2050, how can this be achieved if there is no or limited movement in the area of getting more and more motorists to abandon driving and more-and-more embrace air-friendly and air-friendlier alternatives? Non roadway-based transportation options not only must these be available but must be promoted as well.

One promising alternative in the Valley is just now getting underway – high-speed train travel. Problem is completing Phase 1 of the railway – connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco by way of the San Joaquin Valley – is at best a decade away, though it is a start.

High-speed-rail supporters claim how air quality and travel will be helped and how without a service of this type, additional roadway and airport capacity will be needed in its place in order to sufficiently handle the travel requirements of a growing population. Advocates, moreover, also relate that not only at the local but state level, economies where high-speed rail is to go in will be bolstered. Added to that, there is the promise of the creation of jobs, providing steady work to many who might not have had a job otherwise. Still, others offer, how travel in general, and not just HSR travel, will be made more efficient in places where the fast trains will run.

Most detractors, meanwhile, counter that constructing and operating a line would be too costly. Some say due to what is already available mode-wise, a high-speed rail line just isn’t needed, that it’d be redundant. Add to all this concerns over home (property) displacement associated with this type of construction not to mention the lives disrupted and families uprooted on account of it. The fact of the matter is these direct effects, associated with such projects, cannot be helped. They are part and parcel of the entire building-progress process. As one can see, positions on this vary.

A second approach is one that is technology-based. Through improved technology, there will be emissions reductions. Both approaches may be effective, but making the transition will take time.

One example is greater fuel-efficiency in motor vehicles: cars and light- and heavy-duty trucks. Miles-per-gallon ratings of cars and light-duty trucks is expected to double that of what it is currently by 2025 – that’s a decade away. The same will be true of heavy-duty trucks, which is expected to take effect by 2027. That is one year earlier than the date that California high-speed rail Phase 1 will begin service, a relatively long time in coming about. Add in ultra-low and zero-emissions vehicle use and deployment of non-or lightly-polluting city- and region-based public transportation programs would certainly be of aid in the air-pollution-reduction regard, but there would really have to be a proliferation in use in order to have any significant effect.

So, that leaves emissions-trading strategies, more sustainable-building and waste-reduction efforts, and clean-energy generation to come to the rescue in the more immediate sense.

If the objective and purpose is to make Valley air clean once again, by continuing established and entrenched, business-as-usual practices, well, to be blunt, doing things the same way that they’ve been done and expecting different results, one response here applies more than any other: “Good luck with that!”

Air-quality improvement San Joaquin Valley style, even if it means going back one step to double-step ahead, well, by any measure, forward progress would still be made which is better than none at all or backtracking.

So, what do you say?!

Hint: “Forward march” will suffice just fine! And, this need not be limited to the San Joaquin Valley, either.

High temperature, high pressure, high ozone and clear skies. Yikes!!

On Thurs., Jun. 18th, posted on the Air Quality Matters blog was: “High temperature, high pressure, high ozone and clear skies? Yes!

With a title like that, it would seem that the air condition that existed in Fresno on Sun., Jun. 14th, was favorable when, in fact, it wasn’t. So, it could very well be that that post title was misleading. One adage more than any other comes to mind: A book cannot always be judged by its cover. Ah, but another: “Looks can be deceiving,” comes to mind here too.

True, area skies were clear. But another thing needs to made clear here: Clear skies alone do not always tell a person all that they need to know. Unfortunately, ozone was in area air that day at both moderately unhealthy and unhealthy levels. And, smog, often associated with ozone, it, on the other hand, was noticeably missing.

So, ozone, what is it, exactly?

Ozone (O3) is formed from the combination of hydrocarbons (HC) with oxides of nitrogen (NOx) in the presence of sunlight. It is naturally occurring in the stratosphere and is otherwise known as stratospheric ozone. But, on the Earth’s surface and close to it, what is often referred to as “ground-level ozone” or “tropospheric ozone,” this is the non-naturally occurring ozone – the unhealthy type that is damaging to lung tissue when breathed in.

It isn’t just this. Ozone as a corrosive gas is invisible. It can’t be seen by the naked eye, in other words.

Also important to know about O3 is that it appears to be unhealthy at even low concentrations. This is no doubt the reason for change being sought by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to revise the 8-hour National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for both primary and secondary ozone from its current 75 parts per billion (ppb) of air concentration standard (set in 2008) to between 70 and 65 ppb.

From “Process of setting new smog standards shouldn’t be like pulling teeth” there is this:

“Remember: Anything over the 75 ppb threshold corresponds to an Air Quality Index (AQI) of 101 which means ‘unhealthy for sensitive individuals’ (or groups) or worse – either unhealthy for everyone (at best) or hazardous (at worst). With a new standard adopted this would more than likely mean the AQI would need to be adjusted to reflect the change.”

And, also from that same article, so noted is that “A final ruling is expected by October later this year.”

The lesson here is that ozone is something that needs to be paid careful attention as what cannot be seen – ozone in this case – can most assuredly be harmful. It is important to take heed.

High temperature, high pressure, high ozone and clear skies? Yes!

Every now and then, something comes along in life that can’t be explained – easily; that keeps us guessing and/or has us asking questions.

It just so happens that on Sunday, Jun. 14th, local skies were surprisingly, uncharacteristically clear, for this area for this time of year, anyway – not what one would expect. Keep in mind there was no wind, no rain in the forecast and temperatures that day got close to the century mark if not above that.

DSCN0406 (340x255)That combination – no wind or rain and high temperature – is typically a recipe for smog – yes, the unsightly, unpleasant and unhealthy air nemesis that s-m-o-g is. According to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District via its RAAN (Real-time Air Advisory Network) provision (accessible here), ozone, for at least part of the day, was in the unhealthy-for-sensitive-groups range. So, what could have accounted for skies being as clear as they were?

Jun. 14, 2015 being a Sunday, the probability is high that the area’s motor vehicle activity is reduced compared to what typically is the case on weekdays and perhaps because of this the triggers necessary for visible smog to form in the atmosphere just didn’t exist. The triggers being referred to here are smog-forming chemicals and substances and conditions like volatile organic compounds and particulates in the presence of sunlight. Yes, the sun was shining that day and abundantly. So, maybe, just maybe, due to decreased motor vehicle activity the right conditions or combination of elements just wasn’t there for smog to appear and hence skies were clear.

Yet, at the same time according to RAAN data for Central Fresno for Jun. 14th at 11:00 a.m. the ozone reading was 59 parts per billion (ppb) of air – this is borderline good/moderate. Meantime, at the noon hour, the ozone concentration reached 65 ppb, by 5 p.m. ozone levels were 77 ppb, topping out at 78 ppb just two hours later. High ozone readings, these are.

The 77 and 78 ppb readings correspond with air quality that is unhealthy for sensitive groups. See detailed data here.

For the time being, this is going to be one of those unsolved mysteries. Despite this deficit, the clear-air condition had to be a welcome one. A rare event if ever there were one. Indeed.

For more on unexplained phenomena, see “Air in America: A world of contrasts and contradictions.” That post’s last sentence is quite fitting here and definitely bears repeating.

“Any way you look at it, air in America, it’s nothing if it isn’t colorful and interesting and imperceptible if not puzzling all at the same time.”

‘Dump the Pump Day’ offers chance to forgo the car commute completely

“Driving” as we know it, at one time, did not even exist. Then things changed, dramatically. Driving has for a long time been a part of mainstream American culture and society. The practice has become widespread, so much so, in fact, that per-citizen driving totaled approximately 9,487 miles in 2014 on average and, all together last year, we added more than 3.016 trillion miles to our autos’ odometers.

The upside to just this very thing is that vehicles’ fuel-economy ratings have actually improved some. It is now close to 25 miles per gallon on average. This being the case means that the average car is consuming roughly 380 gallons of gasoline and diesel yearly.

But, just as there is an upside there is also a drawback. For each gallon of gasoline burned, approximately 20 pounds of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. And, this is for carbon dioxide only and does not take into consideration the damage to the air caused by benzene, carbon monoxide, fine and ultra-fine particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, sulfur dioxide, sulfur oxide, volatile organic compound and other pollutant releases that internal-combustion engines are known to emit.

So, why not give it and your vehicle a rest at least for a day and use public transit instead? Exactly the intent behind the American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) “National Dump the Pump Day” which this year is on Jun. 18th.

“In communities of all sizes across the nation, people will be dumping the pump on June 18, said APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy,” reported the APTA in the “10th Annual National Dump the Pump Day Is Tomorrow! – Dump the Pump. Ride Public Transit.press release. “‘This year, 176 public transit systems are promoting National Dump the Pump Day in a variety ways to thank current riders and welcome new riders.’

“APTA first started National Dump the Pump Day in June 2006 when gas prices had reached $3 per gallon and the public demand for public transportation was growing in response to high gas prices. According to the June 10 2015 Transit Savings Report, on the average, an individual in a two-person household can save $9,530 a year when he or she downsizes by one car and takes public transit instead. ”

At any rate, as a result of this one day, by taking part, this could even help members of the transiting public find a working formula whereby money can be saved, air can be spared and everyday mobility needs can be satisfactorily met.

“Sponsored by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), this national public awareness day encourages people to change their travel behavior and switch from driving a car to riding a bus or train. Not only does riding public transportation help an individual save money, but it helps grow a community, and improves the environment,” the APTA added.

NewOrleansHUDRedStreetcarRiverfrontCanal[1]…Just some of the many benefits of using public transportation.

Review: ‘Cooling It! No Hair Shirt Solutions to Global Warming’

Hybrid_Power_System[1]

Cooling It! No Hair Shirt Solutions to Global Warming, by Gar. W. Lipow is a roadmap showing us the way to become a more energy efficient nation and how relying on renewables-production processes like sun, wind, wave and tide (as opposed to dependence on fossil fuels) can not only help pave the way toward greater energy efficiencies being realized, but in so doing will not only enable us to effectively undo those effects caused from climate-damaging greenhouse gases but other impacts too such as air, water and soil degradation, mainly. These impacts, each and every one, are a result of a host of causes, inputs or triggers.

In his book’s Introduction, Lipow emphasizes that through renewable means of energy generation this could result in far, far lower amounts of energy being consumed and that, in turn, could be accomplished by spending but a bit more money than what was currently being spent on energy at the time of the book’s publication date (2004), given the understanding that energy produced by renewable means was more expensive than that which was produced non-renewably – using fossil fuels. In other words, with renewably produced energy versus generating such in a non-renewable manner, the consumption dollar could go a lot farther.

If this is true, now as then, the $64 million question becomes: why are we not doing this? Lipow argues the reasons are structural, political, social and institutional.

Thoughts on:

  • Waste

Inseparable from life is waste, obviously – the two go hand in hand. And, with all waste there are costs to be paid in terms of it being reduced, reused, recycled, as well as regarding its collection, management, stockpiling (storing) and treating. What we’re talking about here is energy, human and materials waste, principally, all aspects of which need addressing, that is, in effectively mitigating such – keeping it under control, in other words. The author stresses manufactured goods can be made to be longer-lasting without adding much more expense to the manufacturing process. Goods with mechanical workings, not only can these be made more efficient, but, so, too can the processes utilized in manufacturing goods be made more efficient. On the manufacturing and purchasing sides, much should be done to not only enable more materials to be recyclable, but, so, too should component parts be recyclable, all in an effort to extend product/component life. And, when it comes to manufacturing, if any discarded material from all that is disposed of during said processes can be used by other manufacturers this would cut down on the amount of material entering the waste stream.

  • Energy production

Back to the production and consumption of energy, the author weighs in equally on the environmental impacts of electricity generated from both renewable and non-renewable sources alike. The good news is that when compared with energy generation produced non-renewably, the impacts to the environment from geothermal, solar, tide, wave and wind, are significantly lower than those resulting from energy produced via fossil-fuel burning processes.

Lipow further observes that in producing one unit of electricity from fossil-fuel generation sources such as that of burning coal in a coal-fired power plant, as a result of said fuel being ignited, almost three units of this non-renewable fossil fuel is expended during the burning portion of the process. (It is unnecessarily wasteful in my view). Viewed conversely, what this means is that approximately two-thirds of the energy involved in the electricity-production process from fossil-fuel sources is going up in smoke, contributing to global warming from the introduction of increased amounts of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere. Add to this that only 30 percent of U.S.-produced electricity as of 2000 was generated cleanly – wind-, solar-, geothermal- and wave- or tide-produced – and the remainder – 70 percent – is as a result of fuel-burning, whether the fuel is wood, oil, coal, agricultural waste, what-have-you. No need for number crunching here, Lipow does all that and then some – he’s gone the extra mile, if you like. And, that includes cost analyses and comparisons of different types of energy generation and distribution systems.

  • Infrastructure

That being just about the half of it, the Cooling It! writer also covers all types of infrastructure; building, cooling, electrical power-generation and distribution, heating, refrigeration, transportation, you name it. In all departments, chapters, really, no stone seems left unturned here. No point missed. To say Lipow covers the “whole nine yards” in his thorough and detailed discussion is no exaggeration.

Review wrap-up: summation

My sense is that the main obstacles for full onboard acceptance and implementation of many of or all of the methods, principles, techniques that Lipow describes go beyond the political, social, structural and institutional. Progress momentum along these lines being what it is invariably is due to an ignorance or unfamiliarity with those techniques, principles and methods and exactly where this book can help answer that call.

Although somewhat dated, Cooling It! in my opinion is every bit as relevant today as it was when released – perhaps even more so.

For more on Cooling It! No Hair Shirt Solutions to Global Warming go here.

Image above: U.S. Department of Energy

It’s about time (and speed): U.S.’s first fast, air-friendly train started

Construction on California’s much-anticipated high-speed rail project gets underway on Tuesday, Jun. 16, 2015 the official launching point being on an elevated bridge spanning the Fresno River, Raymond Road and California State Route 145 in Madera County. This comes more than five months after the project officially broke ground during a rail-signing ceremony on Jan. 6th in downtown Fresno. A main reason for major construction not moving forward sooner was due to an apparent lack of a sufficient number of land parcels and/or property being acquired. But, now that construction is commencing, as for the waiting-for-construction-to-begin phase, well, that part appears to now be history. Meanwhile, related preliminary demolition and acquisition work had been ongoing.

Currently planned is major building work to be carried out using the most modern and environmentally friendly construction equipment available. That equipment is said to be some of the cleanest-operating, anywhere.

Then there is the matter of operations. In the post: “California high-speed rail looks to renewable resources for electricity supply,” stated is: “Considering the scope of the state project, the supply of electricity needed to power trains will be enormous. On the plus side in one sense is that full build-out of the statewide electrified rail network is not projected before 2033 which should allow more than enough time to beef up energy infrastructure to meet demand. More good news is that the trains, through their dynamic- or regenerative-braking-process capabilities will themselves in essence be electricity generators or power supplies. The energy produced from the regenerative braking process from say a braking train going downgrade, can be transferred to another train operating on level track or as well to another going upgrade or this electricity can even be fed to line- or wayside electricity storage systems for use at a later point in time.”

Besides all that, and maybe most importantly of all, the electricity needed to power all trains will be from 100 percent renewable sources. What other major transportation infrastructure project, mile-for-mile, has the same advantage in the environmental-sustainability sense that California high-speed rail has?

An expected fast train offshoot is attendant or corollary real estate development cropping up around stations. This idea was explored in “Will California’s second-tier HSR cities reap big-city rewards sans certain big-city headaches?” and then later in “Revisited: Will California’s second-tier HSR cities reap big-city rewards sans certain big-city headaches?

In regard to the former and relatedly, here is an excerpt: “So, in the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) news release ‘High-speed rail study finds that remote cities benefit from connection to global hubs,’ provided is added perspective.

“Article author Alison Hewitt in this article opens with this thought: ‘Bullet trains fuel real-estate booms, improve quality of life and create other unintended consequences by sharply reducing commute times from smaller cities to large megacities, economists from UCLA and China’s Tsinghua University observed in a new study in China. A similar dynamic, they said, could play out as California builds its own high-speed rail system.’”

What the project promises when Phase 1 of the system is complete is direct, express, non-stop passenger train travel between California’s two biggest metropolitan regions – Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area – in under three hours. And, the soonest that is expected to happen is in 2028.

On the other hand, the infrastructure project, the state’s largest to date, still faces several challenges. There is remaining land still to be had to make way for the right-of-way. There are lawsuits pending. It is uncertain where the money to cover the entire $68.4 billion cost is going to come from. And, unknown as well at this time is when the project’s Phase 2 – the southern connection linking Los Angeles to San Diego and the northern link tying Merced to Sacramento – will be completed.

That all said, there is a lot more to this grand transportation endeavor than merely offering travelers a viable and competitive alternative to air, roadway and even conventional passenger train travel – which, it will. Who knows?! High-speed passenger rail travel in America might just become the conventional means of railway travel. That’s in the future, though.

Here is what is known for sure. California high-speed rail has been a long-time coming and it – at least groundwork-wise, anyway – is here at long last.

This high-speed rail system, the first such system to commence construction in the Americas, could be the start of something big, not just in the Golden State, but in the nation. Others like the planned Dallas-to-Houston Texas Central Railway, the Minneapolis-St. Paul-to-Rochester, Minnesota Zip Rail and the Las Vegas, Nevada-to-Southern California XpressWest (formerly the DesertXpress) appear at this stage also to be gaining speed and none-too-fast.

train-2-kandel

Driving growth outpacing population growth: A treacherous road ahead?

As of 2014, total U.S. population was 318.9 million, 18.9 million more people than what there were in late 2006 when domestic population reached the 300 million person mark. This breaks down to an average growth rate of 2.3625 million people per year, or a 0.7875 percent per-year growth. What the number doesn’t tell us, however, is how many births there were, nor does it reveal the number of deaths, only the growth rate overall.

Percent population growth being what it is, between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2014, comparatively, the percent per-capita average VMT growth was 0.9 while total percent growth in VMT overall was 1.658, VMT in the aggregate rising from 2.966 to 3.016 trillion.

So, what this is saying is from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2014 the rate of growth of both per-capita and total VMT outpaced the rate of growth of population; the ratio of average per-capita VMT growth to average annual population growth being roughly 1.14 to 1, while the ratio of average aggregate VMT growth over the year to the average annual rise in population being almost 2.11 to 1.

So, imagine if the number of driving miles clocked off – both in the aggregate and per-capita – dropped back to a percentage comparable to percent-population growth. Even better, what if motor vehicle miles driven retreated by the same proportion, equal in magnitude to that of the current increase? This would certainly have implications for improved air quality – no question. But, alas, such is not the reality.

In “America’s air: In a state of unhealthy repair?,” I referenced a study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the study’s findings was such that the “total American air-pollution-related premature death rate” every year was about 200,000, and in citing information from a related MIT news release, I wrote: “‘Emissions from road transportation are the most significant contributor, causing 53,000 premature deaths,MUTCD_W8-5.svg[1] followed closely by power generation, with 52,000.’”

If this is indeed the case, what this means is that of all early U.S. deaths attributable to air pollution, 26.5 percent are transportation-associated or in some way has a transportation connection. That’s too high.

That the economy has mostly rebounded from the 2007-2009 period now known as the “Great Recession,” suffering a meltdown of sorts and total U.S. unemployment has eased to somewhere around 5.5 percent, on the flipside is that more driving – doubtless a sign of an improving economy and population increase – and air pollution and the early mortality and morbidity just from transportation-related causes alone, means the economic improvement has come with a cost. The per-person cost: 6 million dollars. Not good.

As with the “6 million dollars” reference, this too from: “Air: It is what it is and what it is, is not good”:

“In ‘Landmark California program could have huge emissions-reductions impact,’ in referencing a Cambridge Systematics, Inc.-prepared study in July 2009 for the Moving Cooler Steering Committee called: Moving Cooler: An Analysis of Transportation Strategies for Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions, I wrote: ‘Among effective strategies identified to mitigate deficiencies directly linked to the production of greenhouse gas and other emissions are: improve both motor vehicle and fuel efficiency, decrease the production of carbon coming from ignited fuels, reduce the number of vehicle travel miles and improve the transportation network.’”

Those answers, though as seemingly straightforward as they are, one can’t help but feel that these strategies are slow in coming MUTCD_R3-27.svg[1]which would make such fewer and farther between.