Earth Day 2014: ‘Conserve’ is the word

The Earth seen from Apollo 171 Earth Day 2014: ‘Conserve’ is the wordPutting and keeping Earth on a sustainable track is the best medicine. In addition, it goes without saying, or should, that staying that course requires our help because, frankly, in this regard our planet cannot go it alone. To achieve that end will take work – heaping helpings of it, in fact. Fortunately, causes like Earth Day and Air Awareness Week (about a week from now), the excellent starting points that these are, offer hope and, as it pertains to this, are a definite assist. Earth Day 2014 being today, it and air take center stage; the duo sharing the spotlight here.

Air and Earth

Since it is through the burning of fossil and other fuels that the introduction into the air of pollutants occurs, I’d be curious to see what effect a 24-hour moratorium on burning would have on world air. Speaking of which, what better day for this than Earth Day 2014 – today?! Agreed?

It would require tremendous cooperation and commitment to pull something like this off – if it could be pulled off – the likes of which has probably never happened before.

But, think what would result: meaning, what would be affected and how.

On the move

For starters, those having access to zero-emissions motorized transport, no matter what the form, would be able to get from place to place without too much difficulty. Even aviation creations such as the Solar Impulse could show the world that flight is still possible though aviation in general would be at a standstill.

For nearly all other fossil-fuel-based motorized transportation, well, sorry. The overarching sentiment: “not today!” Most everything else: non-polluting walking, biking, public transit use, for instance, “okay!”

Carbon lite

In the area of energy consumption, more reliance on renewables such as solar, wind, wave, geothermal, etc., or scaling back energy use, period, would help put the world on a more proper carbon-emissions course. As for energy consumption on an individual or household level, all who have homes equipped with a solar photovoltaic system would already be ahead of the game. Those who do not could do much to lower demand on the energy supply through conservation efforts. The savings could be substantial.

Carbon dioxide’s impact

It is indeed more than a curiosity that one type of pollution can actually cause another. Some of the additional carbon dioxide (CO2) entering the atmosphere goes elsewhere: it has been and is ending up in major bodies of water like the world’s oceans. In fact, writer Elizabeth Kolbert in OnEarth magazine insists, since 1800, with heightened CO2 emissions, what has resulted is ocean acidity levels intensifying.

In the Kolbert article in question, according to the author, this increased ocean acidity, from what I understand, is due to air-to-ocean transference of CO2 and there is less of that gas escaping from the oceans than what is being introduced. And, as it happens, each year carbon dioxide by the billions of tons of is being added to the seas. Not a pretty picture.

So, the atmosphere, tantamount to being a dumping ground for the extra CO2, what this, in effect, is resulting in are pH-altered seas. And, what the increased oceanic acidity means is: sea life is impacted if not threatened.

‘Conserve’ is the word

I think conserving, more than any other single notion, is probably the best way to make the most of Earth Day. And all, everybody, even doing a little, could go such a long, long way!

Image above: NASA

To encourage greater usage, should ZEV buy incentives be made part of the sales deal?

In the more than a-year-and-a-quarter’s time since I began blogging on air quality, cars have not been a hot-ticket item for me. In other words, in the big-picture perspective, I haven’t given autos their due like I have trains. So, today, for the auto I thought I would dedicate space.

‘Charge Ahead California’ campaign hits the road

On Nov. 18, 2013 Peter Lehner of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) posted on the Switchboard, his blog: “Electric Vehicles Approach Tipping Point.” Lehner observed: “When the latest generation of plug-in electric cars hit the mass market three years ago, they evoked the same mix of reactions as hybrids did: enthusiasm, curiosity, and some skepticism. However, they’re selling at more than twice the rate at which the first widely available hybrids left dealers’ lots.”

Now, as it has to do with the air and its improvement, I ask: Should incentives be part of the overall package when purchasing zero-emissions vehicles (ZEV), more so than when purchasing less environmentally benign vehicles, that is, to encourage greater usage of such? My answer is: Yes! I’ll explain.

It so happens, four days earlier, the NRDC put out its “Charge Ahead California Launches Campaign: Diverse coalition aims to put one million electric cars, trucks and buses on California’s roads” press release.

Over what length of time, though?

The answer? Inside 10 years, lowering pollution levels, adding legions of new workers, helping keep in the state more money coming from transportation and, in turn, giving the economy a boost, this according to information presented in the release in question.

And as to the matter of incentivization, “The campaign will focus on directing current polluter fees on oil companies to fund existing, highly successful purchase incentive programs and to increase access to zero emission transportation in disadvantaged communities,” offered the NRDC.

Meanwhile, Lehner added: “California is part of an eight-state coalition, including Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont, which recently agreed to work together to get 3.3 million electric vehicles on the road by 2025. And the recently signed Pacific Coast Climate Action plan, issued by the governors of California, Washington, and Oregon, and the premier of British Columbia, also calls for scaling up electric vehicle sales.”

In case there is any uncertainty at all as to why the push for increased electric vehicle operation, the reason isn’t difficult to understand at all: zero-emissions vehicles as the name suggests are the cleanest road-based power vehicles going.

“Cars, trucks, and buses are the single largest source of air pollution in California and are responsible for 34 percent of the state’s soot and smog-forming pollution,” the NRDC in the release contends. “A recent MIT study found that traffic pollution causes almost 6,000 premature mortalities annually in California, almost twice the number killed in traffic accidents. Four in ten Californians, more than in any other state, live close enough to a freeway or busy road that they may be at increased risk of asthma, cancer and other health hazards. Lower income households in communities of color tend to live closest to heavily trafficked areas and suffer disproportionately.”

On top of the emissions-reduction aspect, according to information in the release also, operating an electric car cost-wise, works out to about a dollar per gallon; what would be its equivalent in a gasoline-powered vehicle.

Seventy billion dollars is spent on diesel and gasoline in the Golden State yearly, less than 50 percent of which remains in state.

“Automakers are beginning to bring a diversity of advanced electric drive vehicles to the market, which don’t rely on gasoline and appeal to families across the income spectrum. Most automakers today are either selling or making zero-polluting cars for sale within the next few years,” added the NRDC.

Zero-emissions vehicles: Helping pave a cleaner-air traveled way ahead.

Hydrogen vehicle1 To encourage greater usage, should ZEV buy incentives be made part of the sales deal?

Air: It is what it is and what it is, is not good

Globally, in 2012, from the effects of air pollution 7 million people died prematurely, according to the World Health Organization or WHO. This is up from an estimated 800,000 in 2000. The fact of the matter is, without mitigation, the situation could get worse.

Although the 7 million amounts to just 0.1 percent of the 7 billion in total world population, it is the growth in the numbers of those deaths that is troubling. In the span of just 13 years, deaths caused by air pollution skyrocketed: an increase of 775 percent. Imagine that kind of increase every dozen or so years. Personally, I can’t imagine.

So, at what point do people take a stand and say “enough is enough already?!” Or, how many people need die from air pollution’s effects before the world starts to pay attention? I mean really starts to pay attention? My sense is those thresholds have not yet been reached.

The fact that there is as much loss of life as there is this way is disquieting. Whether this many people or if even one person dies on account of air-pollution-related sickness is indeed sad. And, even if we are not exposed to moderately unhealthful or hazardous levels of air pollution on an ongoing basis ourselves, based on the way print, broadcast and video news reports get disseminated and therefore by association who this is reaching, we know for a fact that many are exposed.

That smog, the toxic brew that it is, damages delicate lung tissue. Not unlike other toxic gaseous compounds, elements or substances, depending upon smog exposure level and to what degree (concentration) and over what time duration, no doubt determines the extent of lung-tissue damage done.

Smog isn’t the only concern, though. There are other pollutants on the radar also; namely, particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM 2.5), nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulfur oxide (SOx), Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) and others.

So, why has world air condition gotten as bad as it has?

Transportation: We’ve gone too far?

Looking at motorized transport in America, this much I know: In an average day, approximately 50,000 airplanes take to the skies; in transit at the same time are roughly 40 million of a total quarter billion road-based power vehicles; and nearly 32,000 commuter, intercity and subway trains roll on down the lines. Keep in mind this does not include the myriad freight train and maritime moves added to the mix, but, when factored in, it’s a lot of to-and-fro-traffic moving about.

As it applies, through my researching and writing on matters having to do with the air, I’ve learned about healthcare costs arising from the effects of polluted air. In monetary terms those are huge.

Renee Schoof in an Oct. ‘09 McClatchy Newspapers article (“Report looks at hidden health costs of energy production”) mentions a one-year National Research Council (NRC) study that considered such costs. The report committee, consisting of 19 panel members “… looked at transportation by motor vehicles, which make up 75 percent of transportation energy use, but it didn’t monetize the pollution damages from air, rail or water transportation. It estimated the pollution damages from motor-vehicle transportation at $56 billion in 2005,” Schoof wrote.

“The dollar amounts were mainly early deaths due to pollution, with the value of each life put at $6 million, consistent with other studies,” added the McClatchy Newspapers columnist.

Over nine-tenths or more than $5.4 million represented what Schoof referred to as “the statistical cost of early deaths.” As I understand it, there were other costs examined by the panel in the studies as well such as asthma and chronic bronchitis, this information came courtesy of committee panel Vice Chair and University of Maryland Economics Professor, Maureen Cropper. Meanwhile, in “High price of breathing polluted air: Energy production and transportation in the crosshairs,” I indicated also the “… NRC report estimated the yearly hidden costs associated with early mortality and health impacts to the thousands of Americans so-affected, and in this case all attributable to fossil fuel use, totaled $120 billion. Roughly half – $62 billion – was tied to electricity production from the burning of coal, according to Schoof.”

So, what are some viable ways to cut pollution from the motorized transport sector?

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.”

What matters

Eliminating pollution in the air is not impossible. With the correct prescriptive approach applied, plus with people motivated and resolved enough to get the job done right it is this combination that will result in air pollution being gone for good. This is exactly what I believe it will take.

For more on related conducted studies, see: “Polluted air: The ‘heart’ of the problem,” “$64 million question: To exercise or not in the presence of dirty air,” “Tracking pollution: Research helps explain air-contaminant survival,” “Air: It ain’t what it used to be … but it can be again,” and “Can PM 2.5 lead to early mortality?

Air Awareness Week, Earth Day and more planet-helping ideas

The Earth seen from Apollo 171 Air Awareness Week, Earth Day and more planet helping ideasSpring has sprung. It’s both a time of renewal and of cleaning and I am thinking about and looking forward to two upcoming events: Earth Day (Apr. 22nd) and Air Quality Awareness Week (Apr. 28th through May 2nd). I am also thinking about what my messages should be as it has to do with those two celebrations. They are both right around the corner and will be here before you know it.

As I sit here computer before me pondering what to write, I have absolutely no qualms in admitting I have given up the regular ritual of daily newspaper reading – you know, the kind of paper that, upon delivery, could be … well, just about anywhere, from amongst the shrubs in the flower bed partially or completely hidden from view and plunked down on the driveway to, with any luck, being propped against the front door – my preference instead being to read news stories of my choosing, picked from a multitude of available online sources.

When I think about it, I have to believe I’m helping the environment, even if in a small way only, by foregoing reading the traditional newspaper, you know, the one that has come to be known colloquially as “the paper.”

Broadly speaking, readers and subscribers of “the paper,” more than likely pay little, if any, mind regarding the ease with which a copy can be had, or about what all is involved in the production and distribution of such.

First, for those who are more inclined to want to know more, there is the paper stock procurement aspect and what that entails. Then there is the press run itself, followed by delivery of finished product to the consumer.

On the other hand, for that news which is available in electronic format via the Web, as to what is in print immediately above, well, steps on this order aren’t needed.

As it pertains to my situation, it wasn’t a conscious decision to get my news from online sources because I believed I was going to help the environment by following this course. The decision probably has more to do with the fact that I am more comfortable using my computer to peruse online news than with any other single factor. No doubt influencing that decision also is the wealth of different news sources available at one’s fingertips. And subordinate to that, I suppose, is with respect to accessing and viewing reader feedback. With newspapers of the hard-copy variety, if one is inclined to respond as in providing comment to, say, a particular item, consideration must be given to the separation in time between when comment is initiated and when such makes it into the public domain. Out in cyberspace, on the other hand, such is not typically an issue.

By no means am I suggesting to those satisfied in getting their news the old fashioned way to dump “the paper” and substitute in place of that the more newfangled way of accessing the news, that is, interactively online.

In getting back to the main talking point, the point of this whole discussion, in case you’re wondering, is the notion of environmental stewardship, believe it or not. Every improvement made in this regard helps.

So, with that and with sights set on Earth Day and Air Quality Awareness Week 2014, I indeed look forward to those with much anticipation.

Image above: NASA

Suburban rail: An idea whose time has come … again? Act 3

At this point it should be quite evident that passenger train service to and through suburbia is neither a new nor novel notion. With all the progress on this front made to date, coupled with what seems to be unwavering resolve in pushing on, I see nothing but clear track ahead.

A personal journey

In Baltimore, Maryland – land of my birth and where I resided until age 20 – brought back was rail-based public transit in the 1980s. Long since relocated to California by that time, I tried to keep my finger on the pulse as best I could (remember: the Internet was unavailable then) regarding what in the way of rail development was taking place in my former stomping ground. A visit in the mid-80s afforded a ride on Baltimore’s then very new subway line. I make it a point to ride rail mass transit in places I visit during my travels – that is in the locales that have such systems.

In addition to the subway, the eastern seaboard city located on the Patapsco River estuary of the Chesapeake Bay also possesses a light rail system. The line that I am familiar with shares tracks with freight trains and ties the Pennsylvania Railroad Station (also known as Union Station) with the office district of Hunt Valley, a North Baltimore suburb. The freights, incidentally, use the tracks during the overnight hours when light rail transit service is restricted.

“Suburb,” being the operative word here and its connection to transportation in general and rail-based mobility in particular is what this story is about.

Now: the view out the front window.

Where is automated mobility going? The next revolution

There is much speculation floating about as to what automated transportation in the future will look like; what it will consist of. The buzz right now seems to be over autonomous automobiles or cars that can drive themselves. But, really, is this the ultimate resolution?

Moreover, sealed tube-travel concepts like Hyperloop have surfaced recently.

DSCN4328 255x340 225x300 Suburban rail: An idea whose time has come … again? Act 3As for the above, I think it is too early to predict where, exactly, these endeavors and not-quite-off-the-drawing-board proposals, respectively, will go. But by no means does this mean that these and other ideas (similar in principle or otherwise) should not be pursued.

What I will focus instead on, is city-based (i.e., between and within cities) public passenger rail transit.

To try to get a better grasp on the direction transit more along these lines in North America will likely take, I have decided to consult: “The Most Promising North American Rail Regions Over the Next Decade,” an entry posted by Rich Sampson on the Potomac Express who provides a very good overview.

Please keep in mind that this was presented almost a year ago, but below is a sample from the list that Sampson assembled:

In tenth place are several. Places on the local and regional passenger train maps have names like Kansas City, Cincinnati, Oklahoma City, Austin, San Antonio, Memphis, just to name a few should ring a bell. And in reference to the Cincinnati streetcar system it has had to overcome quite a few hurdles, but the construction operation is moving proudly forward “full steam ahead.”

Ahead of this, the nine spot is reserved for Detroit and Ann Arbor. In the case of the former eyes are affixed on the M-1 Rail plan. This 3.2-mile-long route is taking shape as I write this and will connect the Motor City’s Midtown and downtown districts. Meanwhile, in Ann Arbor, there is the “proposed” 27-mile “Walley” (Washtenaw to Livingston) line.

Weighing in at number eight on Sampson’s list is Orlando and Central Florida. Based out of Orlando is SunRail expected to open this year if it hasn’t already done so. It is a regional rail system paralleling Interstate 4 its entire length. Add to this All Aboard Florida, a private enterprise bridging together by passenger rail Miami and Orlando with possible future extensions to Jacksonville and Tampa. Sampson mentions some additional prospects here in the number 8 spot also.

Ottawa’s “O-Train” enters the station on track seven. Here the Potomac Express blog poster chats up the line that is to replace an existing bus rapid transit service and then some when completed.

Coming in in the sixth position is the on-tap Central Link light rail with a couple other honorable mentions such as the Tacoma Link, East Link and the University Link extensions. Add to this five, count ‘em, five additional streetcar service possibilities, and what seems clear is the direction transportation in Washington State’s Puget Sound region is heading.

In the five slot is the greater Phoenix and Tucson metropolitan areas; namely, Phoenix with its MetroRail light rail transit offering and Tucson with its currently-in-the-works Sun Link streetcar addition. The Central Mesa extension on the eastern end of the MetroRail corridor in the Phoenix metropolitan region is taking shape too. This extension, when complete, will add 3.1 miles to the current 20-mile, 28-station system. And on matters of sustainability, Metro Rail is going solar.

Though too long to include the entire list, for the rest of the story and specifically to see details on the final four, go here: http://potomacexpress.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-most-promising-north-american-rail.html

Epilogue

As should be as plain as day, the earlier installments – Acts 1 and 2 of this “Suburban rail: An idea whose time has come … again?” series – have dealt exclusively with the present and past. Now, with this third and final act (concerning “what lies ahead”) a wrap, and on top of this, the series itself being complete, the full story is thus told.

Suburban rail: An idea whose time has come … again? Act 2

In the final paragraph in “Suburban rail: An idea whose time has come … again? Act 1,” I urged: “So …, is it high time to return to the suburbia-served-rail-public-transit model?” Well, today’s discussion is an attempt to answer that very question, plus I provide somewhat of an historical tour of the streetcar suburb.

Is history repeating itself?

Rail to suburbia as of late has been playing out in regions all across America. Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Sacramento Regional Transit, and a host of others provide suburban services. Still, others like Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit’s “SMART” service will be coming online in the very near future. Compared to transportation development or progress as a whole, regarding rails-to-the-suburbs efforts it has been a slow train. Despite this, the interest – and investment – has nevertheless been there and is continuing to build.

So, what explains the renewed interest and where is this renewed interest exactly?

To answer this question where better to turn than the source: RAIL magazine’s 31st Edition – Fall 2012.

In “Now Trending: Streetcars,” RAIL Editor-In-Chief Scott Bogren wrote: “Among the many trends revealed by the 2010 U.S. Census, none will likely have a more significant impact on the development of passenger rail in the nation – and more specifically, streetcar operations – than the fact that for the first time in our history, four out of five Americans reside in an urban area. This 80 percent figure fully doubles the same statistic in 1910, when 40 percent of Americans lived in urban areas. Perhaps more importantly, the growth of urban America in the past decade was 12 percent, outpacing overall population growth in the same period, which stood at 9 percent.”

Building on this (pun intended) train of thought, a growing population means the 80 percent city share will grow in size as will the 20 percent that resides outside urbia – namely those who call rural America home. And what this means is that as the populace of urban America expands in number, so too will the numbers of rural Americans, but the growth of the latter will not be as pronounced as that of the former. From this, it is not too difficult to understand the relationship of one sector relative to the other. So, the obvious next question is: How will one affect or relate to the other and in what way or ways has mobility been influenced by the changes going on?

In speaking to this, Bogren asserted: “A variety of new studies are now pointing to the fact that younger Americans are moving to cities in ever larger numbers – and these urban residents are eschewing cars as their only means of transportation.” To me, this implies that logged automobile mileage is in decline which can only mean that the pace of logged mileage among other modes is picking up and included in that “other modes” category is, of course, passenger rail.

DSCN2462 340x255 300x225 Suburban rail: An idea whose time has come … again? Act 2

Santa Fe Southern Rwy. passenger train, Santa Fe, New Mexico

By no means does discussion end there. Besides the fact streetcar systems typically prompt livable, walkable and transit-centered development that tends to bring living spaces and workplaces closer together – in some situations these are one and the same – and growing in popularity among people from many walks of life, but also according to Bogren, these same streetcar systems are increasingly playing a more key role with respect to the broader transportation network and, as the RAIL Editor-In-Chief put it, “to enhance city-wide connectivity.”1

And that connectivity runs the gamut from cars, buses, vans and shuttles to trains, trains and more trains; be they surface, above-surface or below-surface based.

That we humans travel to venues we need and/or want to go to, when traveling by train, limiting that type of travel to inside urbia (i.e., intracity rail travel) or outside suburbia (i.e., intercity rail travel) applications only, in essence reduces the opportunity or the number of options available to satisfactorily and efficiently and effectively meet the mobility needs of a mobile population and one seemingly increasingly on the go.

Historical streetcar suburb tour

So, three questions:

  1. What are streetcar suburbs?
  2. What was the impetus behind the creation of streetcar suburbs?
  3. Why did the streetcar suburb concept fall out of favor and when did this begin to happen?

The answers to these far and away provide the most basic of descriptions.

Historically, streetcar suburbs were outlying communities, suburban-based in nature and were connected to inner-core neighborhoods via the streetcar line that tied the two together, particularly during the concept’s heyday.

“Streetcar suburbs were neighborhoods built along established streetcar routes,” Mark Hurley, Trustee/Corporate Secretary of the Baltimore Streetcar Museum relates. “Developers used this concept to lure people to move out of the city into the suburbs, but right along the car lines for convenient transportation as many folks still relied on taking the streetcar for transportation.” Hurley cited as a relevant example the community of Rodgers Forge to Baltimore’s north (located outside city limits). The Rodgers Forge Community, Hurley says, was established or created on this premise.

NewOrleansHUDRedStreetcarRiverfrontCanal1 300x210 Suburban rail: An idea whose time has come … again? Act 2As to why the streetcar suburb concept fell into disfavor, subsequent to the Second World War, suburban community development located farther and farther away from urban centers began to appear in greater and greater numbers, such communities themselves off the beaten street railway paths, so to speak. Hurley notes, “People also wanted to purchase automobiles for more ‘personal’ transportation, rather than relying on public transportation.”

So, is it high time to return to the suburbia-served-rail-public-transit model? Based on what was presented above, it would be a Yes! most definitely!

With that, “Suburban rail: An idea whose time has come … again? Act 3” has anything and everything to do with the view ahead.

Notes

  1. Scott Bogren, “From the Editor-In-Chief – Now Trending: Streetcars,” RAIL, 31st Edition – Fall 2012, p. 1.

Suburban rail: An idea whose time has come … again? Act 1

NewOrleansHUDRedStreetcarRiverfrontCanal1 Suburban rail: An idea whose time has come … again? Act 1You may not think of it in this manner, but the modes that make up transportation are mobile devices. Okay, now that that’s been established, just how mobile are these devices anyway? Well, one way to put it is: they aren’t static. But, by no means is mobility fluid absolutely, the best it can be or even all it can be.

So, here’s the $64 million question: How can mobility be improved? There are lots of ways to do this, though in this multi-part essay I’ll be talking about just one – suburbia-served rail transit.

The ‘big-picture’ perspective

Leighton Walter Kille at the Journalist’s Resource, describes the land-based transportation paradigm in the United States as follows: “America’s ground-transportation system is the essence of complex.”

Kille then goes on to explain exactly what was meant by “the essence of complex” in this case. He writes: “According to a 2013 report from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), it includes approximately 4 million miles of state and local roads, 136,000 miles of federal highways, 604,000 bridges, and 141,000 miles of rail, 80% of which are for freight. In addition to the 250-million-plus private cars and trucks in the United States, more than 74,000 commercial buses operate on our highways, while 31,602 train cars and locomotives keep intercity, commuter and subway systems rolling.”

But, does “the essence of complex,” as spelled out in the preceding paragraph, even begin to describe just how out of kilter transportation in America is? Okay, maybe “out of kilter” is too harsh a term. Perhaps a better, more appropriate way to sum the situation up is: our system of transportation lacks balance not to mention it suffers from a serious lack of funding – and when I say “suffers” I mean literally that.

Meanwhile, in “Making the connection – Part 3: Public transit: At a loss without it,” I opined: “Understanding that the proliferation of suburbs along with corresponding exponential rises in population, vehicle traffic and vehicle miles traveled had led to a point of diminishing returns being reached, with concomitant traffic congestion which, wastes time, money and fuel and has led to a deterioration of urban air quality and a host of other ‘unintended consequences,’ alleviating or easing or outright eliminating congestion is paramount.”

Congestion is a very real and important idea here, but obviously it is not the only one. Others coming to mind are: access (or reach), availability, comfort, convenience, efficiency, reliability, safety, speed, and above all others perhaps, sustainability.

History bears repeating

In getting back to the “Making the connection – Part 3: Public transit: At a loss without it,” I furthermore offered: “In the early days, that people embraced public transit the way they did what with its considerable reach and all is no surprise. Absent public mass transit, for most residents living in densely populated, big-city, inner-ring neighborhoods, the world beyond such was seldom frequented. With the introduction of transit, on the other hand, to those inner-city dwellers in particular, the world became a lot less big.”

In continuing I posited: “Over the years with many having flocked to suburbia, public transit use was no longer the rule but had become the exception. Motor vehicle travel dominates – plain and simple.”

So this being the case, is it high time to return to the suburbia-served-rail-public-transit model? It could very well be. And, on that note, this and more on the history of streetcar suburbs is what is on tap for Act 2, the second installment in this multi-part essay. Meanwhile, in Act 3, land transportation’s future is what will be considered.

No slam dunk on spent American car batteries getting recycled sustainably – one year on

A little over a year ago, I wrote about used car-battery recycling and that a good deal of the recycling of used batteries from cars in America was being heaped on places like Mexico in terms of that type of work being done.

As Tim Johnson, a McClatchy Newspapers correspondent in: “As U.S. tightens rules on lead emissions, battery recycling has moved to Mexico,” explained: “Mexico has won a leg up for a reason: Its lead emissions standards are one-tenth as stringent as U.S. standards. Mexican factories can ignore strict U.S. regulations that cap harmful lead emissions onto factory floors and into the air.”

Meanwhile, in “No slam dunk on spent American car batteries getting recycled sustainably,” I added: “Not a very comforting thought, especially when one considers, ‘Scientists now say that exposure to lead – even in minute quantities – can lead to cardiovascular disease, kidney damage and neurological disorders. Ten months ago, the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined that ‘there is no safe level of lead.’’

“If this is, in fact, fact, it would seem U.S. car battery disposal would be handled in the most responsible way, which means also, the most sustainable way.”

Not so, apparently, for in: “L.A. County to create toxic pollution ‘strike team’: The Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon is first on list for the team, which will include health officials, prosecutors and fire department officials,” article authors Jessica Garrison and Abby Sewall noted that as of a Mar. 11, 2014 vote, supervisors in Los Angeles County, California approved the creation of a “strike team,” assembled for the purpose of identifying county-based, toxic-pollutant emitters – the very first being the Exide Technologies battery-recycling facility located in Vernon, California.

The two Los Angeles Times correspondents further noted: “The board’s action came a day after state officials released reports showing that elevated levels of lead have been found in the soil of homes and a preschool near the plant.”

Residents of neighborhoods nearest the plant, namely Boyle Heights and Maywood, were warned by officials to avoid contact with “bare soil” and those growing vegetable crops, were advised to do so “in raised beds” only, according to information brought out in the L.A. Times article in question.

To many, such warnings are no doubt unsettling, that is, if not downright alarming. I just don’t see how this could not be the case!

But the uncertainty of not knowing what lies ahead in terms of finding and implementing a mitigating resolution as I see it can do nothing but further compound matters. It could be that the instituted fix – provided there is one – could be comprehensive and thorough as in permanent closure of the plant or could involve something that is much more complex in nature.

In the broader sense and as cited in the L.A. Times story by Garrison and Sewall, “‘The real proof will come when once we see what this team can accomplish,’ [Adrian] Martinez [an Earthjustice lawyer] said. ‘If we start seeing results, and cracking down on really bad polluters, then I think we should applaud them.’”

This could indeed be unprecedented. And then again, Martinez, just as before and cited once more in the same article, no less and in no uncertain terms, was quick to point out: “‘But there is a lot more work we need to see.’”

What I and am sure others are hoping for is a highly favorable outcome that is satisfactory to all concerned, hopefully one that is sustainable too.

In ozone (or any other) speak, presentation (still) matters

And now for something decidedly different.

It is all about the delivery

As for oxymoronic expressions, I can think of none better than: “old news.

DSCN0406 340x255 300x225 In ozone (or any other) speak, presentation (still) mattersSo, what does this have to do with “the price of eggs in China” – or today’s topic, in other words?

In “Air in America: A world of contrasts and contradictions,” I wrote about contradictions – and contrasts. Well, contradictions is only part of what this is about.

On Aug. 25, 2013, as it just so happens, I penned “Ozone speak: Presentation matters.” Although in that particular post I did not come right out and say it, when it comes to the exchange of information, it goes without saying that consistency regarding content accuracy be absolute, no ifs, ands or buts about it.

As it relates, in that write-up, I referenced specific data (information) from a San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District “Healthy Air Living” document titled: “Item #7: Update on Ozone Air Quality Progress and Air Alert Initiative.” The specified date on that document, by the way, is Aug. 15, 2013.

Now please keep in mind that in this original “Ozone speak: Presentation matters” blog post, one takeaway was: “As for the ‘Healthy Air Living’ report overall, I feel it would have been much more helpful and useful to provide greater explanation as in defining ‘Ozone Design Value Trend,’ for example.” Hopefully, my criticism here was deemed constructive.

Well, as it turns out, in another air district document – this time in “1-hour (and 8-hour) recent ozone trends” – on page 3 (of 3 pages) there is a graph headed with the title: “Significant Progress on 8-hour Standard.” There, unfortunately, is disagreement here regarding plot data.

As it stands, plotted on the vertical axis on the left side is “Hours over Standard” with the four numbers 0, 50, 100 and 150 ascending from bottom to top with 150 being the topmost number, while plotted on the horizontal axis is a timeline with years 1996, 2012 and 2013 shown. The referenced standards (1997 and 2008) and their corresponding parts per billion (ppb) numbers (75 and 84) don’t jibe.

Cases in point: the red plot is designated as the “1997 Standard (75 ppb)” while the blue plot is designated as the “2008 Standard (84 ppb),” when, in fact, 75 ppb is indicative of the 2008 standard and 84 ppb is indicative of the 1997 standard.

Now, compare that to the reference below from the original “Ozone speak: Presentation matters” post:

“Related to the page 2 report info., meanwhile, on the following page is the ‘Decreasing Ozone Trends’ table. On the horizontal axis are yearly dates from 2003 to 2012 (2003 on the left and 2012 on the right) and on the vertical axis is ‘ppb’ with the numbers 60, 70, 80, 90, 100, 110 and 120 ascending from bottom to top with 120 the topmost number. Situated between 70 and 80 is a horizontal red dashed line representing the 2008 Standard of 75 ppb and situated between 80 and 90 is a horizontal blue dashed line representing the 1997 Standard of 84 ppb which is less stringent or protective of public health than the 2008 standard. A solid blue line is plotted toward the top with 2003’s reading being around 115 (ppb ozone) and 2012’s reading at somewhere around 97 or 98 (ppb ozone). What this has to do with is the ‘San Joaquin Valley 8-hour Ozone Design Value Trend.’”

The contradiction is quite apparent although I would think the error was inadvertent. Even so, I feel the viewer viewing this information is at a tremendous loss particularly if such information is interpreted as being valid.

Today’s takeaway? Contradictory or inaccurate, not all is bad news? Nope. Not it. Here’s a hint: Whether new or old, happy or sad or whatever, it is important information be presented well.

For what it is worth, I do my best to see to it information that I present or re-report on is just that.

Gravity train: Clean-energy generation need not be an ‘uphill’ battle

Not surprisingly, gravity railroads – which were among our nation’s first railroads – are making a comeback – or are poised to. The gravity railroads that I’m speaking of are not in the business of hauling freight per se. Instead, the gravity, as employed in the application I’m talking about, is tied to energy production and energy storage.

Sound far-fetched? One company doesn’t think so, apparently.

Enter ARES: the Advanced Rail Energy Storage system.

Here is my understanding of the way the system works.

A railroad, constructed between two train storage yards – one at the top of a grade and one at the bottom – in this case serves as a platform for energy consumption and production. Shuttle trains in this case carry blocks (the blocks themselves having a given mass or weight) between the two yards – with transfer of rail vehicles or shuttle trains from the lower to upper rail yards occurring during off-peak hours when electricity demand is low, taking electricity supplied from the grid to power trains going uphill. Contrastingly, trains going downgrade produce power through a process known as regenerative braking. It is this power produced through the regenerative braking process that fuels the grid; ideally at times when energy demands are high. (A brief overview of the regenerative braking process is covered in: “CATS: Breaking friction-braking barriers with regenerative braking”).

Furthermore, and also as I understand it, the draw of grid-supplied electricity to run the rail vehicles during low-demand periods is small compared to that which is railcar generated and fed back into the same electric grid during periods of high energy demand. In fact, ARES cites an almost “80 percent charge / discharge efficiency” ratio.

Using a system that relies on electric motors, in the downgrade application, such have the capability to become electricity generators. It is through these generators that electricity can be produced; all made possible by train-axle rolling action which, in essence, turns mechanical into electrical energy. The reverse is true when electrical energy or electricity is converted into mechanical- or rail-traction power. In the latter application electric motors do the work, whereas in the former, the work of gravity is relied upon. (See also: “CATS: ‘Contactless’ energy-storage features give transit an edge” and “Capacitor energy storage feature to make U.S. October debut on light rail transit system”).

From a June 26, 2012 press release, it is noted: “ARES is designed to: guarantee grid security and reliability; support the increased use of renewable technologies; and to provide a grid-scale energy storage solution that does not rely on water. ARES is the first viable alternative to pumped hydro energy storage. ARES is less expensive, more efficient, and more widely deployable than pumped hydro storage technology and all other comparable storage technologies.”1

Also, from what I understand, Tehachapi, California is the locale of a scaled-down or reduced-scale track platform on which ARES system testing has taken place. Full-scale implementation roll-out may be right around the corner.

For more, see: “Grid Scale Energy Storage.”

Notes:

  1. “James A. Kelly Joins ARES as CEO,” Advanced Rail Energy Storage (ARES) Press Release, Jun. 26, 2012.