Vehicle-exhaust checking: It’s a good thing – or is it?

California’s first ever car-exhaust measuring program became effective in 1984. And, it’s no wonder. Southern California experienced its first major smog episode in 1943. Not knowing what was initially to blame a butadiene plant was shut down. Even with the plant closing the smog persisted. It became apparent that it was motor vehicles that were primarily responsible for the smog problem. Consequently, efforts were put in place as a means of controlling polluting smog.

Returning to my home state of Maryland after graduating from college in 1976, I purchased my very first motor vehicle. It was a Capri, with manual transmission. (There is a point to all of this). It was a pretty good car from what I recall, but after driving back to California, the car was involved in an accident and that was that. In need of another car, I found a used one in San Luis Obispo where I was staying at the time. You will understand if I don’t mention the brand or model, but this bruiser (the car) had seen much better days. The day I test drove it, the car performed quite satisfactorily, or so I thought. The model year of the car was 1969. Now, had a smog evaluation been required during the summer of ’77, I have no doubt that this particular automobile would have failed – unquestionably. So, even with engine tuned and the timing set appropriately, what naturally looked to be a good buy, in the end, a lemon, this turned out to be.

Within a few months’ time all kinds of problems started to develop. These were not problems that a brand new engine or a brand new auto with a brand new engine couldn’t solve. Long story short, that’s exactly what I did – I traded up in 1979.

Now as to the point of this experience, it is this: Sans a thorough automobile exhaust evaluation, the previous owner was able to sell the car. That shouldn’t happen now. In a like circumstance today, if a motor vehicle is a model 1976 or newer, if the vehicle is to change hands, the owner, before selling to another person, is required to have said vehicle smog certified – it’s the law. If the vehicle passes smog testing, then a transfer of title is permitted to take place. If, on the other hand, the motor vehicle in question fails a smog certification, it is up to the vehicle’s owner to make any and all repairs at their own expense to ensure the automatic mobility device meets spec. This is a safeguard that has been put in place to protect both the buyer and seller and, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing.

Meanwhile, in “California Smog Check Program gets upgrade with ‘STAR’,” I pointed out the difference between what is known as “Smog Check” and what is known as “STAR.” “STAR” testing is required on registered vehicles in state that are privately owned for model years 1999 and older (with the exception of vehicles 1975 and older) while “Smog Check” testing is required of registered motor vehicles in state that are privately owned for model years 2000 and newer. Smog testing in either case, providing specs are met, is every two years. At least, this is the way I understand things.

So, I ask the questions: Are “Smog Check” and “STAR” effective programs? Are both programs needed? Is the money that is generated through these two efforts doing enough to make a difference to significantly reduce pollutant emissions coming from the transportation sector in California? Really, that last question to me is what matters most, for if these programs truly are effective, then the state should be seeing substantial improvement regarding motor-vehicle-emissions reduction. If not, then it could be time for an altogether different approach.

Your thoughts on this?

Hydrogen_vehicle[1]

Our precious air: Why must it be mistreated so?

I know people who either suffer of have suffered at one time or another, unfortunately, from air pollution’s effects. One has asthma; the other twice had sinus infections, this person’s diagnosing physician expressing the cause, at least in the first instance, anyway, was more than likely on account of polluted air. I never spoke with the examining doctor. I only know what the information the person I know relayed to me. I just took their word for it. It seemed probable considering both sinus infections occurred during times when the air was heavy with pollution.

Los Angeles basin smog
Los Angeles basin smog

As for the asthma sufferer, well, this person has lived in two different locales having vastly different air quality conditions. According to what I was told, in the location with poor air quality (the San Joaquin Valley), the asthmatic, in this case had to rely on a number of symptom relievers which included an inhaler plus a number of other prescribed medications to help make symptoms less severe. When residing in the area with markedly cleaner air (this time in the central coast region), on the other hand, this particular individual said that they had few if any symptoms at all related to asthma and, in fact, for this person when flare-ups did occur, it was during the time of the year when there was a considerable amount of pollen in the air. The lesson here is that regarding air quality, our bodies and our senses, at least the sense of sight – and perhaps smell – can tell us much, that is, if we just pay attention.

When I regularly traveled between California’s San Joaquin Valley and either the San Francisco Bay Area (Fremont) or the South Coast Air Basin (Long Beach) for a time, I witnessed with my own two eyes on many an occasion changes in the quality of the air in going from one area to another. I could see the pollution in both leaving the Valley via the rear- and side-view car mirrors and in returning straight out the car’s front window. Sad, so sad indeed.

What is more, I distinctly recall people telling me that in traveling by car southbound on Interstate 5 and in their descents of the south side of the Grapevine (between the San Joaquin Valley and the Los Angeles basin) and on their approaches into southern California, they said they felt a burning sensation in their eyes. To me, as strange as this sounds being that these folks were from the Valley where pollution is also highly problematic and, although I have never had this experience myself, I must remember that not everyone exposed to polluted air is affected by such in identical ways.

That said, the biggest and perhaps best lesson we can, if not should, take away from this is that the effect polluted air can have on our bodies, whether it be a burning sensation in the eyes, an uncomfortable feeling in the chest when breathing polluted air in or experiencing debilitating asthma effects and even regarding what our eyes detect when it comes to pollution’s presence – think smog (seeing, after all, is believing), is that our senses and symptoms don’t lie and we should be paying attention. But, more so than that, we should be making every attempt at mitigating pollution at the source or, at least, trying to significantly lessen its impact.

As I’ve said in the past, it’s not like we: 1) don’t know it’s there; and 2) don’t understand how the stuff got there or what its effect is on human health. We do, on all three counts.

Similar to viewing pollution directly out of the car’s front window or indirectly in the rear- and side-view mirrors, that more can be done about pollution in our air, but isn’t, well, that too is so sad. So sad indeed.

Image above: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Biological pest control: Controlling pests without causing pollution

In growing food, farmers and homeowners alike often must contend with pesky pest infestations that can present challenges in terms of control. Whether down on the farm, in the community garden or in the yards of homes on the range, pest management techniques can run the gamut, everything from aerial crop-dusting and ground spraying of commercial chemical treatments to insecticides and rodent traps.

Not all pest management practices the same

Inside the 21,000 square-foot greenhouse housing the hydroponics operation of SLO Grown Produce located in Arroyo Grande, California, crop/plant infestations are kept in check using a number of biological methods.

Hydroponic growing technique
Hydroponic growing technique

The leaves of cucumbers, eggplants, peppers, tomatoes as well as five basil varieties are the target of the damaging aphid species. To control these, a number of bio-control methods are employed. Among those effective control solutions is parasitization.

One kind of parasitization involves the use of a type of wasp which lays eggs, the larvae of which eat the plant-attacking aphids. In the video production: “SLO County Farmers Market Special Presentation, Hydroponic Farming, Featuring SLO Grown Produce, Arroyo Grande, California,”1 SLO Grown Produce principal Philip Langston explains: “The little wasp lays its eggs in the aphid and then the developing wasp lives inside the aphid and then hatches out and leaves the aphid killing the aphid in the process.” Predatory insects, meanwhile, such as lady bugs and midges feed on aphids. Ladybug larvae, emphasizes Langston, “will eat their weight in aphid a day. They are just incredible eating machines!” (For more on SLO Grown Produce’s hydroponics growing and biological pest control, go here).

In a different location, but also in California, this time in the grape growing and wine making region of Napa Valley, winegrape grower Chris Thorpe deals with problems created by vine mealybugs which can be a real nuisance. To fight these, Thorpe takes a proactive approach on his Adastra Vineyards operation relying on lady bugs and mealybug destroyers (another predatory insect) to keep the mealybugs at bay. But, at the Adastra Vineyards site, the mealybugs have help of their own. They’ve formed a symbiotic relationship with Argentine ants, which actually shield the mealybugs from their natural adversaries.

In the Feb. 2010 Fruit Growers News (FGN) article, “Northern California vineyard reaches for the stars,” Thorpe was quoted as saying: “‘We try to reduce the ant populations with organic poison,’ he said.”2 This effective method saves from having to rely on harmful chemical defenses. (For more on Adastra Vineyards, go here).

Meanwhile, on the Mokichi Okada Association (MOA) International-Fresno farm in California’s Central Valley, besides making use of the ladybug to control insect pests, MOA-Fresno also uses frogs.3 (For more on MOA-Fresno, go here).

And, on one other Central Valley-based farm, T&D Willey Farms in Madera County, it is more of the same. Principal Tom Willey states: “‘We are doing a better job on pest and disease control,’ Tom said. ‘We have fewer critical responses we have to make; we try to stay ahead of the curve. We do a lot of releases of beneficial insects.’”4 (For more on T&D Willey Farms go here).

For each of these growers, it’s all about controlling pests naturally, that is, without harming the environment and what’s in it, except for the crop/plant invasive pests, that is. And, the growers in question probably rest a whole lot easier knowing that this is the case.

Notes

  1. “SLO County Farmers Market Special Presentation, Hydroponic Farming, Featuring SLO Grown Produce, Arroyo Grande, California,” a Gong About Video production.
  2. Alan Kandel, “Northern California vineyard reaches for the stars,” Fruit Growers News (FGN), Feb. 2010, p. 46.
  3. Alan Kandel, “Five-acre California farm offers numerous crops,” The Vegetable Growers News, Sept. 2008, p. 25.
  4. Alan Kandel, “California grower favors organic practices,” Vegetable Growers News (VGN), Jan. 2009, pp. 16 & 17.

Image above: NASA/Kennedy Space Center

Slowing GHG-emissions rise and the point again is what?

LA_smog_masksThe consensus among scientists worldwide is: to stave off the most extreme effects of climate change, which is expected to occur near the 21st century’s end if the worst-case scenario plays out, the rise in global mean temperature cannot exceed 2 degrees Celsius. This is my understanding of the situation, at least. I mean, isn’t this the basis for all of the previous climate change conferences held at different times and in various parts of the world and the upcoming United Nations Climate Conference to be held in December this year in Paris, France?

When any effort is undertaken to reduce or slow atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions rise, aren’t we talking about inhibiting growth in the amount of pollutant emissions in our air – I mean, isn’t what this is really all about?

Well, think about it. The increase of carbon dioxide in the air for example since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution circa 1760 is chiefly coupled to the burning of fossil fuels which, is itself an air-polluting process. It would be difficult to have one without having the other, in other words. So the question on the table then should be: If this is the case and if according to the World Health Organization this very same pollution is estimated to cause the early deaths of 8 million people per year worldwide, should not the primary focus of mitigating, controlling efforts be two-pronged, that is to say reducing the amount of destructive and unhealthful pollution in the air as well as slow global mean temperature rise and maybe even work toward reversing it? At this point I would expect to get a reaction or perhaps rebuttal from the climate change denier crowd. I’d be surprised if I didn’t.

320px-FLV_California_train[1]Now where was I, oh yeah, the reason I am asking should be pretty obvious. In California, state mandate requires atmospheric GHG to be lowered to 1990 levels by 2020 and to 80 percent below that threshold by 2050. Part of the way this is being achieved is through the state’s cap-and-trade program. The way cap-and-trade works is polluting operations like oil and gas production could for instance obtain through purchase, emissions credits from concerns that pollute less that, let’s say, are most efficient or successful at reducing harmful emissions. Meanwhile, the proceeds generated from the sale of those credits would be, for example, directed to programs that, in fact, cut GHG, such as in money being provided for rebates for state residents to put toward the purchase of more fuel-efficient, cleaner-burning, higher-mileage motor vehicles and high-speed rail, to name two.

Maybe I’m just behind the times and maybe all the energy expended to stop global temperature rise, reverse it and get GHG in check really is dual purpose.

If it is not, shouldn’t it be? I think so.

Minnesota mostly meeting federal air standards; room for improvement still

Mention Minnesota and maybe one thinks of Vikings, of Twins, but of corrosive, lung-searing air? Yep, that’s there too!

In fact, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) in the news release: “New report puts numbers on air pollution’s effect on public health in the Twin Cities,” acknowledged this.

According to information brought forward in the release, the Minneapolis-St. Paul region in 2008 saw 400 hospitalized, 600 treated in the emergency room and that around 2,000 had died, these resulting partly from air pollution’s effects, a new report noted.

“The report, ‘Life and Breath: How Air Pollution in the Twin Cities Affects Public Health’ is being jointly released today the Minnesota Department of Health and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency,” MPCA in the release explained. “The report analyzed MPCA air quality data and health data from the MDH to estimate the effects of air pollution on health outcomes for people living in the seven-county metro area. Scientists used baseline data from 2008 to estimate health impacts of air pollution. The report used data from 2008 because that was the most recent data available which allowed for linking of air pollution levels and health outcomes.”

Minnesota air meets current federal standards, mostly. But, according to the MPCA, meeting national standards doesn’t necessarily mean the air there is always safe to breathe.

Air pollution at moderate and even low levels can lead to serious illness and premature death, the MPCA found. Of the entire population of the Twin Cities region (encompassing seven counties in all), estimates are that in 2008, around two to five percent of hospital or emergency room admissions for problems of the heart and lung, and approximately six to 13 percent of deaths were air-pollution related. MPCA pointed out that these patients’ conditions were exacerbated from both ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter pollution.

“The report found little difference in average air pollution levels across ZIP codes,” MPCA in the release reported. “The report does not address the exposure of a particular individual, nor does it address health impacts related to higher or lower exposures within ZIP codes or variations over time. People in ZIP codes with more people of color and residents in poverty show more public health effects from air pollution, primarily because these populations already have higher rates of heart and lung conditions. They experience more hospitalizations, emergency-room visits for asthma, and death related to air pollution.”

Meanwhile, 2014 data indicates that since 2008 there has been air quality improvement. What is not however, known, is if corresponding improvement in health outcomes has occurred.

“The report is available on a new multiagency website called BeAirAwareMN.org, designed to provide information on air quality and how people can better help protect their health and the environment,” MPCA in the release related.

Notes

Department of corrections: In a previous version of this post, the following text appeared: “Of the entire population of the Twin Cities region (encompassing seven counties in all), estimates are that in 2008, approximately six to 13 percent of hospital or emergency room admissions were air-pollution related.” The text in question has since been revised.

Valley’s dirty air mostly a mobile-sources issue; ergo, fix transpo first

There isn’t a reader who reads this blog regularly who does not now know that the San Joaquin Valley of California is this nation’s most air-polluted trouble spot – irrespective of whether such had prior knowledge of this or not – a pollution trouble spot even more so than Los Angeles in the south state which was itself once this country’s epicenter for air pollution. Air pollution worse in the Valley than in Los Angeles? Really? Yes, really! I’ll get to the specifics on this in a moment.

640px-California's_Central_ValleyNow think about this for a moment. Leaders at the local air district have been telling the Valley citizenry for years how mobile sources are responsible for the bulk of the Valley’s air-pollution problem – I’ve read where pollution in this region from mobile sources is as much as 80 percent. It doesn’t help that geography, topography and meteorology can as well be blamed for bad air being trapped in California’s mid-section, often for days and sometimes weeks if not months at a time. In getting air here to a state of healthier repair it is going to take serious help (read: “work” – hard work and lots of it)!

How Valley moves

Just yesterday, I learned by reading an article in The Fresno Bee that not only has driving increased (at least in Fresno and Tulare counties, anyway), but so too has roadway capacity in the form of more miles of roads and highways being added, while public transit use has fallen off, in Fresno County, that is.

In fact, in Fresno County alone, miles driven went from 19.3 million miles per day to 23 million from 2000 to 2013, a rise of 19 percent. Meanwhile, road miles during this same time went from 6,987 to 7,167.

The story is little different in Tulare County, a neighboring county to Fresno’s south. There, vehicle miles traveled jumped from 8.9 million to 9.9 million, or an increase of 10.8 percent. Add to this that the average time it took drivers in Tulare County to commute to work one way was 21.1 minutes in 2013. Though public transit use rose by just one-tenth of a percentage point, miles of Tulare County roadway went from 4,728 in 2000 to 4,906 in 2013.

Many residing here won’t see this as a problem as commuting to work one way on average consumes just 20.5 minutes. Many as well won’t see the downturn in workers commuting by public transit as any big deal. They might if congestion was an issue. But, alas, it’s not. This, however, does not change the fact that free-flowing traffic existing today might become congested or gridlocked traffic tomorrow considering the San Joaquin Valley is expected to grow in population from its current 4 million to as many as 9-to-12 million by 2050, that’s two-and-a-quarter to 3 times as much. If roadway lane mileage doesn’t keep pace, what then?

Then there is what’s called: “induced demand.” That is, as extra roadway capacity is added, the number of vehicle miles traveled also goes up. And, when travel increases, especially if the majority of that travel is in gasoline-fueled motor vehicles, well, guess what: the concentration of pollution in the air also jumps. Transit could lessen some of the impact. But the reality that transit-bus commuting in this area has dropped from 1.7 percent to just 1.1 percent doesn’t bode well. It may be time to consider something other than roadway-based transit bus service as an effective solution. It may be time to look at light rail.

SJV the nation’s air pollution hot spot

Those who would believe that the South Coast Air Basin is the epicenter for polluted air in the United States would be wrong. The basin includes all of Orange County, and the non-desert portions of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

320px-Los_Angeles_Basin_JPLLandsat[1]Covering an area in size no smaller than 30,000 square miles, housing no fewer than 17 million people, the South Coast air basin does have its share of pollution. But, air-pollution-wise, the San Joaquin Valley, at around 24,000 square miles in area with its approximately 4 million residents is the dirty air king. Region versus region, per-San-Joaquin-Valley-square-mile, an average 166 and two-thirds people reside while an average 566 and two-thirds persons per square mile live in the South Coast air basin – that’s 400 more people per square mile.

What this tells me is that per given area, the South Coast region has a far higher concentration of people whereas the San Joaquin Valley, with far fewer people, has a far higher concentration of air pollution per person. Despite this, the concentration of pollution in the air, South Coast compared to San Joaquin Valley, isn’t that much different. And, in effect, what this means is that if the Valley had a population similar to that of the South Coast region, the concentration of pollution in the air would be considerably higher. Alternatively, without air-cleansing Pacific Ocean breezes to help filter area air in the Southland, that location would no doubt be this country’s worst place for dirty air.

Lower image above: NASA

California poised to hit 2020 carbon emissions target. Will other places do as California is doing?

In the last post, emphasized was how without across-the-board agreement come December at the climate-change conference in Paris, France, the likelihood that the world will be on a path to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to generally agreed-upon levels (the presumed consequences of not doing so being the earth reaching what is tantamount to the proverbial global warming point of no return – the tipping point), is slim to none. So, it remains to be seen what comes of the gathering there in December, roughly six months away.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S. and out west, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) in a Jun. 30, 2015 news release reports the state is on track to meet its greenhouse-gas-emissions-reduction goal of bringing GHGs in the air to the level they were in 1990 by 2020.

“The Air Resources Board today released the latest edition of the state’s Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventory, which shows that emissions fell by 1.5 million metric tons in 2013 compared with the previous year even while the economy grew at 2.0 percent, a rate greater than the national average,” reported ARB.

Diesel-smoke[1]“After rising during the 2000s, the state’s overall greenhouse gas emissions fell in 2008 as a result of the recession. The decline leveled off from 2009 to 2011 and increased by 2 percent in 2012, due in part to the closure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and a drop in hydropower generation. The drop in hydropower has now been completely replaced by in-state wind and solar power. The 2013 inventory shows a decline of 1.5 million metric tons in emissions compared with 2012.”

ARB went on to report that the industrial and energy sectors experienced a slight improvement. Per-capita GHGs improved as well. The transportation sector went the other way, backsliding some. ARB notes that the primary source of the rise in transportation GHG was due to increased diesel truck use.

The distribution of produced GHG emissions among the various sectors is as follows:

  • Transportation – 37%
  • Industrial – 23%
  • Electricity generation (In State) – 11%
  • Electricity generation (Imports) – 9%
  • Agriculture – 8%
  • Residential – 7%
  • Commercial – 5%
  • Not Specified – <1%

(Source: “California Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventory – 2015 Edition,” California Air Resources Board, http://www.arb.ca.gov/cc/inventory/data/data.htm).

The GHG emissions breakdown most prevalent to least prevalent is as follows:

  • Carbon dioxide (CO2) – 84%
  • Methane (CH4) – 9%
  • HGWP (High Global Warming Potential) emissions – 4%
  • Nitrous oxide (N2O) – 3%

(Source: “California Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventory – 2015 Edition,” California Air Resources Board, http://www.arb.ca.gov/cc/inventory/data/data.htm).

“California has developed an integrated set of programs to meet the greenhouse gas reduction goals of AB 32 [California Assembly Bill 32: the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006],” explained ARB in the release. “The primary programs are the Renewable Portfolio Standard, the Advanced Clean Cars program, the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, and the Cap-and-Trade program. Reductions also result from numerous energy efficiency and conservation programs.”

Added ARB: “California has also joined with a growing list of states and provinces from around the world in a first-of-its-kind agreement to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius. To date, 14 states have signed the so-called ‘Under 2 MOU,’ which provides a template for the world’s nations to follow as work continues toward an international agreement at this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.”

Notes

Department of corrections: Under “The GHG emissions breakdown most prevalent to least prevalent is as follows:” section above, N2O was identified as Nitrogen dioxide. The article has since been updated and includes text revision.

How the road-congestion crisis can be thoroughly, prudently and properly resolved – 3

Turn on any national network T.V. news broadcast and it’d be truly difficult to go an entire half-hour segment without there being at least some mention of the drought in the western U.S., now in its fourth year – a direct consequence of global warming? And, that brings this discussion to the next and final point.

Only by curbing driving can the effects of global warming be dealt with effectively – not: ?

The_Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17[1]Global warming (GW) is frequently a topic of heated debate and by heated, I mean contentious. In fact, there are whole works, treatises devoted to the subject, both pro and con. The main points of contention are first: whether GW is real; and second: if GW is real, is it, first and foremost, the result of human influence? The first precludes the second if it is believed that GW is not real. Only recently does there appear to be greater support with respect to conditions 1 and 2 – that global warming is real and that human activity is a primary influence of a warming Earth.

Without global warming being proven conclusively, then any claim that anthropogenic factors are behind what is driving world temperature rise, has no meaning. Therefore, evidence must be there to back up the declaration that Earth is warming and human activity is to blame.

Accepting the notion that proof does exist (there are many still who dismiss this notion completely), there must be consensus reached regarding whether or not such poses a very real threat. “The Road More Traveled – Why the Congestion Crisis Matters More Than You Think, and What We Can Do About It” authors Ted Balaker and Sam Staley see the solution as more an economic than an environmental one. In other words, a far strengthened economy will better equip the world’s peoples – rich and poor alike – to better deal with global warming’s effects than if time, energy and money were invested in efforts aimed at trying to normalize temperatures and lower the amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, one of those efforts, of course, being a reduction in driving activity. This is the message that I perceive the authors in question to be espousing in this instance, based, of course, on my understanding of my reading.

The problem as I see it is this: If carbon dioxide or the rise in CO2 in the atmosphere is not perceived to be an imminent danger (I believe no one thinks that this is the case presently), then it is going to be an uphill climb (which it is already proving to be) in getting all the nations of the world to universally adopt a climate-change or global-warming accord. We will have a better idea come this December if in Paris, France a climate treaty is signed and agreed upon by the interested representatives of countries in attendance at the conference.

If a formal treaty materializes, then this means nations will have to begin the difficult job of putting mitigating plans into effect to ultimately return CO2 and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to agreed-upon levels. Barring that outcome, I feel that all nations will individually as opposed to collectively have to decide if they are going to continue to work toward substantive CO2 and GHG emissions reductions.

Even if countries decide to pursue emissions reductions independent of what other nations decide to do, or, are doing, timelines for achieving a particular objective will, of course, be left up to said nations to decide what those timelines will be – a haphazard approach at best. Let’s hope a formal treaty is signed; one with teeth especially.

This concludes this series.

Image above: NASA

How the road-congestion crisis can be thoroughly, prudently and properly resolved – 2

Toward the end of installment 1, I observed how if public transit passenger counts are “healthy,” this can be a pretty effective means of helping lower the amount of pollution in the air, or something to that effect. News for the uninitiated: Even if internal-combustion-engine-powered motor-vehicle use was significantly scaled back as a way to make air more breathable, it will take more than that alone to return it to a healthy state. Which leads to the next idea.

Only by curbing driving will air pollution be curtailed – not: true

It is true driving can lead to worsening air. Key point: Even if driving were to be barred completely, the air can still be harmed. Abandoning driving – don’t you think that is a bit extreme?

So, apparently, do Balaker and Staley in their book “The Road More Traveled – Why the Congestion Crisis Matters More Than You Think, and What We Can Do About It.” They believe at the heart of the problem is a subset of all motor vehicles, those that are putting out the majority of harmful emissions among all those traversing America’s roadways. They, in fact, posit that five percent of the so-called “gross-polluting vehicles” are contributing half of all hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide emissions coming from the road-based transportation sector.

So, the question becomes how best to go about reducing on-road emissions – specifically six pollutants – to acceptable levels coming from this “gross-polluting” group. What the writers seem to be saying, if I understand correctly what I read, is to work to get that sector of motor vehicle transport taken care of first, and by that I mean get those vehicles off of the road.

That makes sense.

Hydrogen_vehicle[1]At the same time, the authors in question appear to be placing little value on strategies like public transit as an effective means of cutting road-centric-produced airborne emissions. Moreover, these two assert that, in general, over the decades – I presume mainly from 1960 on – that urban air quality has improved and much of that improvement has been as a result of stricter regulations imposed by air regulatory concerns like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and cars that have become cleaner over time. Think emissions-free and hybrid vehicles.

At any rate, indications are, they believe, more improvement in this regard is, well, to be a bit cliché, coming down the road.

From personal experience, I can tell you that if roadway travel were all it could be, there would not be all the fervor that there is over futuristic concepts like Hyperloop and rail-based inventions like VECTORR™, skyTran™ and CyberTran, those last three I profiled in my book “The Departure Track: Railways of Tomorrow,” released in Dec. 2013. Balaker and Staley did, as a matter of fact, offer that if there were something better to come along people would gravitate freely to that better something.

Suffice it to say in 2006 (“The Road More Traveled” copyright date), Hyperloop and others at that time may have been little more than ideas pencil-sketched on the backs of napkins or envelopes. Some of these designs are already in the testing phase; some close to commercialization, and this being the case, these could very well be that better something.

Next up, the third in the series.

How the road-congestion crisis can be thoroughly, prudently and properly resolved

It has been nearly a decade since authors Ted Balaker and Sam Staley released to the world their treatise “The Road More Traveled – Why the Congestion Crisis Matters More Than You Think, and What We Can Do About It.” In “The Road More Traveled,” there is much I did and did not agree with. Ten years on, I would like to get a sense of what in this team’s book is holding true today and what if anything the authors contended they didn’t get just quite right. Rather than devote time, energy and space to try to summarize all that the authors put forth, I focus on parts having to do with certain “myths” that the duo covered and whether what they offered as rebuttal then is today accurate, somewhat correct or entirely off base. This is the basis of what this three-part series is about.

Series introduction

Perpetual motion is the antithesis of absolute immobility and vice versa, pure and simple. Countervailing forces – congestion/gridlock (c/g) plus delay caused on account of c/g – if severe enough can incite angst, frustration, even surrender as in it is easier to completely avoid a problem, confrontation, unpleasant situation, than to deal with such head-on, or, it can prompt and facilitate change.

360px-CBX_Parkchester_6_jeh[1]That said, reducing or totally eliminating congestion/gridlock and its consequent delay by determining and instituting the appropriate fixes to resolve the crisis; by locating the right leaders and backers (in and of itself a daunting-enough task); by finding and then allocating the financial resources to get the job done right in committing to and winning the fight, are each and all way easier said than done – trust me on this. Complicating matters even more is in deciding how best to do all of the above and an inability to reach consensus will make the job that much more difficult. Still, to not try at all is to give in to failure. For additional perspective, see the paragraph just above.

It is helpful to remember that climate change, global warming and carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases were not exactly the hot-button topics when Balaker and Staley introduced the world to their “The Road More Traveled” book in 2006 that they are today. “Peak car,” as it has come to be called, reached a zenith in 2004, just two years earlier. And, items like the Great Recession, the housing-bubble burst, and the tanked economy were, at that time, terms not yet part of Americans’ everyday lexicon.

Now to the myths.

Car congestion can’t be reduced with public transportation: false

The authors seem to embrace the notion that public transit cannot alleviate congested traffic or is at least not a very substantive means of doing such on a large scale and simply can’t compare to other, what the two book writers in question see as methods that are more effective. The duo then offer supporting data to back that position, like arguing that public transit use by American workers between 1960 and 2000 had been on the decline pointing out that in spite of a seven-fold increase in transit spending since the ‘60s, ridership among workers fell off by a percentage of more than six-in-ten, and as recently as 2006, transit use (I’m assuming by workers) is south of five-in-one-hundred.

While likely true, I am not swayed by such data nor am I bombarded by T.V. ads promoting public transit usage the way I am with advertising exploiting the automobile. In fact, in many auto T.V.-promo spots, how many times have I seen cars featured racing down open, uncongested roads – in this case sans any other vehicles in frame? Presented in this light, it gives one the impression that in owning an automobile one also owns the roads that one drives upon no matter the location. I mean, let’s get real here. After viewing one of those commercials, congestion is probably the last thing on the viewer’s mind at that point. No congestion, at all? We all know that isn’t true.

Something else to consider here is what role suburbanization plays in transit usage. The authors and I agree that suburban influence practically guarantees increased automobile usage and that leaves fewer suburbanites as transit-systems’ patrons. In this case proximity presumably determines transit-ridership success and in terms of tapping suburbia, transit’s access is limited. It doesn’t mean that things in this respect can’t change. Keep in mind also that in today’s world, car-sharing services are perhaps having an impact too.

320px-Salt_Lake_City_panorama[1]Meanwhile, in two metro regions of note – Denver and Salt Lake City – transit patronage is experiencing quite a remarkable upsurge. In the latter region, Salt Lake City, the area is more a collection of communities, making it suburban-like and transit service there is working exceedingly well. In Denver, moreover, there is much in the way of transit expansion as well, the downtown region around a completely revamped Union Station serving as a hub. Balaker and Staley insist that with niche transit services such as commuter express buses (I take this to mean Bus Rapid Transit or “skip-stop” services) or highly patronized localized corridors, whether successful or not, will not do much to reduce congestion on the regional level; at least this is what I understand the authors to be suggesting.

What I am picking up is that the duo are not totally dismissive of the role of transit as a congestion-relieving apparatus but rather because of population densities (or the lack thereof), costs and other limiting factors like lifestyle preferences, expecting transit to be a real congestion-busting tool beyond making more than a slight impact, is expecting much.

Given the right conditions, on the other hand, there is every reason to believe transit could be a force to be reckoned with in the car-congestion-reduction department. If not a congestion reliever in the grand sense, transit still pulls its weight in reducing pollution as long as ridership, comparatively speaking, is healthy.

In upcoming installments I will look at other “myths” and provide supporting and opposing viewpoints.

So stay tuned.