Monthly Archives: May 2013

$64 million question: To exercise or not in the presence of dirty air

200px-NYCDOT_SR-1801.svg[1]Air pollution and what affect this has on human health and what role exercise may play, is an area of discussion I am extremely interested in.

So, should a person engage in aerobic activity if one resides in a location where air pollution is present, like where I live in Fresno, California, where air is often either unhealthy or unhealthy for sensitive groups?

So, I found this Huffington Post article, “Exercise and Air Pollution” and in it writer Ben Greenfield provides insight.

Greenfield noted, “According to a 2004 Australian review of pollution studies worldwide, during exercise, even very minimal concentration of air pollutants can damage the lungs.”

The triathlon and fitness expert then goes on to explain how this happens.

“This happens because harmful particles from the air can get past the nasal hairs, the body’s first line of defense. Ultimately, these particles end up in the lungs thus causing inflammation and irritation. These particles sometimes end up in the bloodstream as well. When this occurs, the risk for heart attack and stroke then increases. So since working out means you’ll have to breathe deeper, then more of these particle pollutants get to pass through your nasal filtering.”

That’s the not-so-good news. Question is: Is there a bright side in any of this? Greenfield offers some surprising and encouraging perspective.

In this regard, mentioned were three different studies. One involved mice while the other two involved people. The results of all three studies revealed that exercise, even if done in the presence of air pollution, is better on the body than had no exercise been done at all. At least, this is what my takeaway here is.

“It’s no secret that the higher the air pollution in the area, the higher the hospital admissions for patients seeking relief or treatment from cardiovascular and respiratory issues as well,” Greenfield pointed out. “But on the other hand, the health benefits of exercise seem to more than just balance out the harmful effects of air pollution.”

One related study in particular, a University of British Columbia study conducted in the school’s Environmental Physiology Lab, is quite telling.

Wrote Greenfield: “The research utilized two groups of individuals for seven straight weeks. The first group was made to cycle at various intensities while exposed to diesel engine exhaust. The second group, meanwhile, performed similar activity though in an environment with clean, filtered air. The results provide hope as the subjects made to cycle in polluted air appears to have adapted their bodies, and in fact showed signs of combating the harmful effects of pollution the way that the mice in the previous study did.”

The triathlon and fitness expert was also quick to point out that more research in this area is needed yet at the same time expressed in no uncertain terms that the research done to date might help ease worries, “…as it appears going out to exercise is better than no exercise at all when living in a polluted area.”

Related to this, a concern that I have as far as air pollution is concerned on the person who exercises in its presence, has to do with what the implication(s) is (are) long-term.

Key considerations, meanwhile, such as when to exercise (as in what time of day and under what circumstances – weather-related or otherwise), where to exercise, the importance of knowing about the levels of air pollution in an area or city affected by such, understanding what kinds of consumables (edibles) are beneficial to health, and being educated on things like wearing protective (filtering) gear in helping reduce one’s exposure to pollution, can be quite helpful to people who exercise in the presence of air pollution. And as it has to do with these, in rounding out the article Greenfield provides several helpful pointers.

In my opinion, it is better to be in the know when it comes to what’s involved regarding exercising in pollution’s presence, than to be completely in the dark on this. Greenfield’s article, in this sense, is not only apropos but chock full of relevant and substantive info.

In search of clean air: California hard at work in clean air fight, has a ways to go still

If you want to know where some of the worst places in America are for ozone and particulate pollution, look no farther than California.

SMOG_-_NARA_-_542581.tif[1]That’s not just a blemish on the Golden State (and America), it’s a black eye. Add the term “eye sore” to regions plagued with smog.

Still, in a Patterson (Calif.) Irrigator report written by Jonathan Partridge titled: “Cleaner air still hit with failing grades,” Partridge cites American Lung Association of California President and Chief Executive Officer Jane Warner as having said: “‘The [American Lung Association] State of the Air 2013 report shows that California is continuing the long-term trend to cleaner and much healthier air,’ Warner said. ‘This progress in cleaning up air pollution demonstrates that our clean air laws are working.’”

“‘However, our report also shows that air pollution continues to put lives at risk throughout the state. We must step up our efforts to cut pollution so all Californians can breathe clean, healthy air,’” Partridge wrote in citing Warner.

America’s dirtiest air hotspots are the Los Angeles and San Joaquin Valley regions for both ozone and particulate pollution.

Cities ranked high for particulates are Bakersfield-Delano and Merced (highest), Fresno-Madera (3rd highest) and Hanford-Corcoran (4th highest), according to Partridge. What’s more, Los Angeles-Riverside had the worst ozone problem, “closely followed by Visalia-Porterville, Bakersfield-Delano, Fresno-Madera and Hanford-Corcoran,” the Patterson Irrigator columnist noted.

There are those who contend that California air over the years has gotten cleaner.

In the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District’s (SJVAPCD) 2012-2013 annual report: “Report to the Community, 2012-13 Edition,” in the “Message from the Air Pollution Control Officer” section, Executive Director/Air Pollution Control Officer Seyed Sadredin declared, “We have seen significant improvements in the [San Joaquin] Valley’s air quality, and clean-air strategies designed and implemented in the Valley now serve as the model for the rest of the state and nation. The progress we’ve made together over the past two decades is unmistakable: an 80 percent reduction in air pollution from Valley businesses, the cleanest winters and summers on record, the attainment of an important air quality standard for particulate matter (PM 10), significant reductions in the number of days with unhealthy air quality, and being closer than ever to meeting tough new health standards for ozone. These are real victories and they should be celebrated.”

It would seem counterintuitive for an area with some of the nation’s worst air quality to also be “the model for the rest of the state and nation,” clean-air strategies design and implementation-wise.

Please keep in mind that the Valley’s continued failure to meet a federal one-hour ozone health standard, has resulted in a yearly $12 fee being tacked on to annual vehicle registration fees, the extra $12 going toward air pollution cleanup efforts. That amounts to $25 million, part of a yearly $30 million fine assessed for ozone non-compliance. Valley businesses, meanwhile, are on the hook for the remaining $5 million.

It is my understanding that if the federal one-hour health standard for ozone pollution is met for any three consecutive years, the $12 added to the annual vehicle registration fee disappears.

Weather and topography play a role

I believe weather, to an extent, has been a factor in the air quality picture in the Valley.

View of Los Angeles, California taken from space
View of Los Angeles, California taken from space

Partridge in the Patterson Irrigator wrote: “The [State of the Air] 2013 report noted that the decline in Modesto’s particulate matter ranking stemmed from unusual climate conditions in 2011, along with changes in monitoring.

“The region was particularly hit hard in late 2011 and early 2012, when the air was stagnant with little wind and little rain, [SJVAPCD spokesman Anthony] Presto said.”

Related to this Sadredin wrote: “On one hand, the Valley’s geography, topography and climate conditions demand more from the Valley in the form of measures to reduce air pollution. On the other hand, the Valley’s resources and capacity to absorb regulatory costs are limited due to the region’s economic disadvantages.”

In “Plagued by polluted air: Is the San Joaquin Valley at increased asthma risk?,” I expressed, “I wholeheartedly believe the direful situation need not get any more direful before there is improvement and along these lines I would hate to think conditions would have to hit rock bottom before any real change is made.”

And then I asked: “But is this where the Valley is headed?”

Being a model for the state and nation in terms of design and implementation of clean-air strategies, one would think the answer to the above would be a decisive “No!”

Fighting the good air fight

As SJVAPCD Executive Director/Air Pollution Control Officer Sadredin earlier expressed, air-quality-improvement victories should be celebrated. No question. On the other hand, with so much more ground to cover in this regard, there should absolutely be no let-up in the fight to rid the air of damaging, deleterious and deplorable pollution. When that happens, then true victory can be declared. That’s a day that I look forward to indeed!

California's flat, expansive and agriculturally-robust but often air-pollution-shrouded San Joaquin Valley
California’s flat, expansive and agriculturally-robust but often air-pollution-shrouded San Joaquin Valley

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

Middle photo: NASA

For failing cities especially, smart growth has allure

Smart growth, Denver, Colo. style
Smart growth, Denver, Colo. style

Fresno, California has fallen on hard times – really hard times. Fresno is not alone.

The Fresno Bee columnist George Hostetter in a May 25, 2013 article wrote: “City Hall is broke. [Fresno Mayor Ashley] Swearengin has been fighting budget woes since she took office in January 2009. She expects to make ends meet in the fiscal year ending June 30 but is looking at a budget gap next year of perhaps $6 million.”

One could easily argue that it is the failure of Fresno and other cities suffering the same and similar plights to recover from the Great Recession and housing bubble burst. I don’t believe this is it. What I do, however, attribute Fresno’s fiscal meltdown to is sprawl.

William (Bill) Fulton blogging on the California Planning & Development Report Web site in “The Fiscal Case for Smart Growth” states, “After eight years in elected office in California, I can tell you that I often fell into the same trap as everybody else: chasing revenue. When you’re up against the wall on budget problems, any new revenue – especially a boost in property or sales tax revenue – looks like the solution to all your problems.

“And it is – at first. How many times have I heard a city councilmember or a city manager say they’re just trying to hang on for one more year until the revenue from some new subdivision ‘comes online.’ But as I’ve written before in this space (‘The Multari Curve’), the revenue boost is short-term and over time it’s eaten up by increased service costs, meaning you always have to approve another subdivision to make up for the deficits on the one you approved in the past.” If I didn’t know better, I could swear Fulton was describing Fresno.

Adding to this, Jeff Turrentine in “Neighborhood Watch” writes, “…I believe the champions of sustainability should be emphasizing how ideas that fall under the rubric of smart growth benefit all of us, wherever we reside. Their new message needs to be: if you really love your suburban quality of life, then know that the greatest threat to it isn’t coming from bureaucrats, environmentalists, or liberal politicians. It’s coming from that brand new, almost-completed housing development going up right next to yours.”

So, what to do?

This is where smart growth practices can help.

If the proof is in the pudding then one place to learn from smart growth planning and implementation-wise is Charlotte, North Carolina.

Fulton, pointing to Smart Growth America (SGA) research, observed that regarding fire departments serving Charlotte’s conventional suburbs, costs were four times that of neighborhoods developed following a blueprint of smart growth, emphasizing “…SGA concluded that a smart growth approach could avoid the need for Charlotte to build two fire stations when the city is built out, saving about $13 million in capital costs and $8 million per year in operating costs.”

If only Fresno et al. powers that be were in the loop and hence getting with the program.

Meanwhile, as I brought to bear in “What makes smart growth so ‘smart,’” in referencing the Center for Clean Air Policy’s “CCAP Transportation Emissions Guidebook – Part One: Land Use, Transit & Travel Demand Management,” smart growth strategies, with emphasis on “urban sustainability,” includes:

Smart Growth, Emeryville, Calif., style
  • concentrated activity centers
  • mixed use development
  • increased density near transit
  • pedestrian oriented design
  • interconnected travel networks
  • parking management
  • open space preservation

(Source: “CCAP Transportation Emissions Guidebook – Part One: Land Use, Transit & Travel Demand Management, Written and Developed by Greg Dierkers, Erin Silsbe, Shayna Stott, Steve Winkelman & Mac Wubben,” Center for Clean Air Policy)

And what does all this have to do with helping in the area of air emissions?

Less dependence on driving which, in turn, means less traffic and therefore fewer emissions.

Rationalization of transportation: Putting the brakes on delay, worsening air, etc.

Transportation at a crossroads?
Transportation at a crossroads?

Is our transportation system broken?MUTCD_W2-6.svg[2]

Americans, some of if not the world’s most mobile people, day in and day out, manage to get to where we need and/or want to go. But, does this mean mobility can’t be improved? I’m pretty sure everyone can agree that it can.

So, where are we going, how are we getting to where we need and/or want to go and can this be done more conveniently, cost effectively, efficiently, expeditiously, safely and sustainably?

The ‘what’ and the ‘how’

RTD light rail transit train, Denver, Colo.
RTD light rail transit train, Denver, Colo.

Interestingly, for those using public transit to meet daily transportation needs, from the document: “A Profile of Public Transportation Passenger Demographics and Travel Characteristics Reported in On-Board Surveys, May 2007,” from the APTA from “Figure 14: Trip Purpose” (p. 35), the majority of trips were: work trips (59.2%), school (10.6%), shopping/dining (8.5%), social (6.8%), personal business (6.3%), other (5.7%) and medical/dental (3.0%).

From this it is reasonable to assume the trip purpose percentage breakdown for automobile travel would closely parallel that of transit.


According to Texas Transportation Institute 2012 Urban Mobility Report data, in 2011, American drivers collectively were stuck in traffic 5.5 billion hours, the average per-driver delay being 38 hours. Public transportation and aviation excluded, the nationwide delay was responsible for 2.9 billion gallons of fuel being wasted and, on a per-capita basis average yearly fuel wasted was 19 gallons. Assuming the national average per-gallon-of-gasoline cost to be $3.65, that is an extra $69.35 that is shelled out compared to motor vehicle movement being completely fluid. Factor in all motor vehicle delay all across America and it amounts to $10.585 billion going up in smoke.

And where the environment is concerned, for year 2011 there were 380 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions releases per vehicle due to congestion. Meanwhile, collectively, motor vehicle CO2 releases across the nation for the same year totaled a whopping 56 billion pounds.

Rounding out the picture, for car-dependent families or individuals, whereas half-a-century ago 10 percent of household income was a transportation expense, today on average, 20 percent is eaten up by transportation.

Changing attitudes, changing travel patterns

I can’t help but think about what it is that brought us to where we are today. History is clear.

Is this as good as it is going to get or can and should we expect better?

I know as well as anyone there has been a good deal of hype regarding robot or driverless cars. Aside from the driverless aspect what’s so great about them? Are these cars any better at putting a dent in delay or easing congestion than any other car for that matter? Some may argue they are. Assuming all the technical bugs are worked out, if every motor vehicle operating on roads today were replaced with one of driverless capability, all other conditions being the same, how much could delay be reduced by? Or, in other words, how much of a reduction in delay could be expected?

360px-CBX_Parkchester_6_jeh[1]On the opposite end of the same axle is the motor-vehicle-carrying infrastructure. On such infrastructure the carrying out of better traffic management strategies are going to help, sure, as would any resolution to enable increased capacity. But even so, betterment in this area is limited.

Number two on the list in popularity and use is public transit. In the United States public transit comes in at a distant second with such trips accounting for roughly two percent of all trips taken on average. Remember, on any given day there are 250 million or so motor vehicles jockeying for roadway space.

This seems so odd, that is, the proliferation of motor vehicle and roadway use, especially when public transit use at one time was the rule, the former being the exception.

I will say this: If alternatives to driving were promoted far more than what is currently the case, and there was a better balance among all modes, aviation included in that mix, I say the delay problem is addressed. That’s my take. How to increase demand for alternatives to driving is what I see is the challenge.

To me this is about changing mode share and travel patterns all to achieve a desired result – the betterment of mobility, productivity, economic and human health and, of course, air or, improved quality of life, in other words.

For Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport’s automated people mover, things are looking up

Birmingham Int'l. Airport AirRail Link, UK
Birmingham Int’l. Airport AirRail Link, UK

On visits to the Phoenix metropolitan area in both May and November 2009, I had the opportunity to ride the region’s Valley MetroRail light rail system. At the station at 44th and Washington streets, construction was then underway on what is today’s Phoenix (PHX) Sky Train™ system, an automated people mover (APM) connecting light rail riders to Sky Harbor International Airport and vice versa. Well, on Apr. 8, this year, the system opened its doors to serve the public.

But as stated in an Apr. 8, 2013 Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport press release, there is more to this APM, way more.

“Passengers using the PHX Sky Train™ will find a seamless connection between Terminal 4, which serves 80% of the passengers at Sky Harbor, East Economy parking, and the regional METRO light rail system at 44th Street and Washington.”

Furthermore, “Travelers using Terminal 4, Sky Harbor’s busiest, will access the free PHX Sky Train™ from Level 3, where the gates and security checkpoints are located. From there, it is a two-minute ride to Sky Harbor’s largest economy parking area. Those wanting to connect with the METRO light rail only have a five-minute ride between Terminal 4 and the 44th Street Station. Trains arrive and depart every three to five minutes,” according to the press release.

Besides all this, the electrically powered system is fully automated. Shuttles or trains require no driver, operate around-the-clock all year and hence, are tremendously environmentally friendly.

“By early 2015, the PHX Sky Train™ will serve all three terminals at Sky Harbor, with a station Terminal 3 and a walkway to Terminal 2. In its final stage of construction, the PHX Sky Train™ will continue to the Rental Car Center.”

I’ve been to Sky Harbor Int’l. Airport also, and it’s a sprawling complex.

So, having a transfer device on this order on site available for airport passenger and employee use at Sky Harbor, tying together a number of locations, will make getting around the airport grounds that much more streamlined.

The PHX Sky Train™ automated people mover is just the latest edition in a line of airport-served APM systems thereby adding a new dimension to domestic intermodal travel.

For the PHX Sky Train™ things are definitely looking up!

CATS: Value-packed ‘Megaflora’ trees absorb pollution, produce energy

Number 19 in the Clean Air Technologies Series.

Fuel being a central and huge and important element in the energy production story, I doubt very many people realize there is at least one fuel, an alternative fuel, that can not only produce energy but help clean air, soil and water as well. The fuel? It’s called: “Megaflora.”

Providing an in-depth look is CBS 47 (KGPE) TV news anchor Justin Sacher.

Meanwhile, interviewed in the report is Fresno scientist and Emerald Energy founder Dr. Ray Allen who, according to Sacher said, “The fast-growing trees require little water and help clean soil and air.”

Allen touted the plant’s many values in the report.

For instance, it could assist in the production of natural gas.

As Allen explained, when Megaflora trees are gasified or, in other words, incinerated “‘in a chamber with no oxygen’” at a temperature of around 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, the trees are then changed into a natural gas state called “‘syngas. Then once you have it in a syngas state, then you have a power source that you can run a diesel engine, convert it to natural gas off of, or you can actually take this into a liquid fuel called synthetic diesel, synthetic jet fuels; you can just take the wood chips and put it straight into the unit and natural gas comes out with only one percent ash.’”

Ninety-nine percent of tree content is convertible to energy. The one percent that is not converted and remains behind, according to Allen, is sand or glass sand.

Being that this particular breed of tree is value-packed, there is more to this tree than just meets the soil.

“‘Our goal is to put [Megaflora] on polluted lands first,’” Allen relates.

The trees’ remarkable ability as a storage mechanism for pollutants and toxins, makes demand for the tree extremely high.

In fact, over the next three decades, China has made a commitment to buy more than 2 billion Megaflora trees, according to Allen.

The gasification process prevents any Megaflora-absorbed pollutants or toxins from being re-released back into the air.

Sacher, meanwhile, adds “Dr. Allen says China’s severe pollution problems and energy needs dictate they take action now – solutions that may otherwise take decades of research to fully establish.”

Imagine biomass capable of producing energy while at the same time helping to clean the air.

Megaflora – an air-pollution-reducing, energy producing method that’s time has come? Sure seems so!

Colorado forward-thinking regarding transportation, transportation policy

Denver RTD light rail train
Denver RTD light rail train

“A new state law that quietly moved through this year’s legislature gives cities and counties unprecedented freedom to spend tax dollars on transportation projects other than roads and bridges,” Monte Whaley wrote in the Denver Post.

“This means communities for the first time can use their share of the $250 million pot of money made up of state fuel sales taxes and license plate fees — known as the Highway Users Tax Fund, or HUTF — on bike and pedestrian lanes and bridges, bus purchases, rail-station construction and other transit-friendly projects.”

What a concept!! Colorado has it right, if I do say so myself.

To me, this is unprecedented. But, is this a formula for success, though? And, if so, will such a move resonate with other states and to the point that it prompts them to follow the transportation policy approach adopted by Colorado? Obviously, many questions.

I realize I am getting ahead of myself. For now, anyway, why it took until now for this action to come to be is beyond me.

Even before the new Colorado law in question went into effect, that, of course, being on April 26, 2013, it appeared the state was not so rooted in convention that it would not consider such newfangled approaches in solving transportation issues like Tubular Rail, for example.

On August 27, 2012 Monte Whaley, writing in the Denver Post once more, this time in “High-flying ideas for I-70 mountain corridor in Colorado include ‘tube rail,’” wrote, “A project that calls for a 120-mile, high-speed transit system to be built on Interstate 70 between Jefferson County and the Eagle County Airport is certain to attract top thinkers — and the biggest dreamers — both foreign and domestic.

“That includes Texas businessman Robert Pulliam, who doesn’t believe high-speed rail will solve the traffic woes along the corridor.” …and who “thinks a train shooting through a series of elevated hoops that’s supported by a suspension system that keeps the rail cars on track will do the trick.”

In my way of thinking it is good there are “thinkers” and “dreamers” (I prefer to call the latter “visionaries”) for, if not, the status quo would surely rule the day.

Back on point, Whaley points out that congestion through the mountainous areas along the I-70 corridor in question has, for decades, riled communities that dot the corridor and, as well, the state department of transportation, CDOT.

“That has prompted CDOT and others to search for answers, conventional and otherwise, to help relieve the traffic clotting,” Whaley notes.

How this all develops and unfolds over time is definitely something to keep close tabs on. What solution in this corridor will ultimately prevail is at this point still a mystery.

But, this much is for certain: If a fixed-guideway transit system capable of moving commuters at a relatively rapid clip is not “in place by 2025,” then CDOT will fall back on implementing the old standby technique of “widening the highway or making other roadway improvements,” the Denver Post columnist reported.

Proposed short-haul freight rail line linking Central, Southern California has potential

“Diesel, used by most [heavy goods vehicles], causes more air pollution per kilometre than other fuels such as petrol.” This was a determination of the European Environment Agency (EEA), as brought to bear in the EEA’s Feb. 28, 2013 “Reducing the € 45 billion health cost of air pollution from lorries” press release – a very important determination at that.

Diesel-smoke[1]Meanwhile, “EPA [United States Environmental Protection Agency] estimates that ap­proximately 11 million older diesel engines remain in use, and will continue to emit significant amounts of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) until they wear out and are replaced. To reduce the public’s exposure to pollution from these older, dirtier engines, Congress in 2005 authorized fund­ing for the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act, a grant program designed to selectively retrofit or replace the older diesel engines most likely to impact human health,” the federal regulatory agency expressed in the document: “Second Report to Congress: Highlights of the Diesel Emissions Reduction Program,” a document, incidentally, prepared by the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality. In the interest of improved quality of life, this is indeed a noble effort. As far-reaching as this effort is, however, far more work in terms of diesel-engine-exhaust-emissions-reduction could be done.

As it were, today’s post is actually a follow up to my May 16, 2013 Air Quality Matters blog post: “The road to lower auto emissions could mean more road work ahead – huh?” Please understand many ideas have been floated as to how to effectively limit diesel truck pollution coming from California highways mainly, particularly those in both the southern and central regions; two of the nation’s dirtiest air hotspots and where air quality improvement is such a pressing matter.

Besides widening freeways or building new ones, which, in my opinion, just encourages more driving, everything from sustainable community strategies and regional transportation plans planning and implementation to the building of state high-speed rail, is in process. Call these works-in-progress.

Another, this one though yet to gain serious traction, is described in “The Altamont/San Joaquin Valley Corridor – Rail Sub-Program to the National Goods Movement Trade Corridor and Economic Stimulus Program for the San Joaquin Valley, Draft Version 2.5 – San Joaquin Valley National Agricultural Goods Movement Trade Corridor: Rail Program Concept Paper – October 2008.” It doesn’t mean the ASJVC idea won’t ever see the light of day. It simply might be a time issue as in when the time is right.

As it stands, four main north-south trade or goods movement corridors (California State Route 99 and Interstate 5 and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific railroads) exist. The ASJVC, if installed, would be the fifth.

The plan

“Transportation represents one of the largest sources of air pollution and global warming emissions in the valley, and projections indicate that the amount of vehicle travel in the valley could grow faster than the valley’s population,” states the Center for Energy Efficiency & Renewable Technologies in its “Developing a Vision for Transportation in California’s Central Valley” communication. “Moreover, cargo traffic at California’s ports is projected to increase by 2 and a half times by 2020, with much of that freight traffic transiting through the valley.”

Meanwhile, what is expressed in this regard in the “Route 99 Corridor Business Plan,” released in Feb. 2013, is that vehicle truck miles over the next two decades in the San Joaquin Valley region are projected to grow by 60 percent.

The key here is finding viable and effective ways to reduce corresponding pollution without impeding the movement of these goods.

320px-APM_Terminals_WJ_Grimes[1]So, the basis of the ASJVC proposal is this: The Alameda Corridor in Southern California is what could be referred to as a “high-performance” rail corridor in that it acts as a sort of specialized rail conveyor belt between downtown Los Angeles and Long Beach for the purpose of expediting container traffic in and out of the ports area. “Like the Alameda Corridor goods movement in Southern California, this project seeks to build a public/private partnership to enhance goods movement and restore an ailing rail system,” the concept paper noted.

Meanwhile, on page 2 of the concept paper, presented is a graph which shows the energy intensities (in British Thermal Units per ton-mile) of freight modes (as of 2004) comparing Waterborne, Pipeline, Rail, and Heavy Duty Diesel Truck. The least energy intense is rail at 325 Btu/ton-mile while the most energy intense is heavy duty diesel truck at 3,163 Btu/ton-mile, making diesel truck-hauled freight the least energy efficient of the group.

And ergo the advantage of rail.

California's flat, expansive and agriculturally-robust but often air-pollution-shrouded San Joaquin Valley
California’s flat, expansive and agriculturally-robust but often air-pollution-shrouded San Joaquin Valley

Since agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley is a multibillion-dollar-a-year industry, having a so-called “high-performance” rail corridor in service to expedite agricultural produce and other large-volume time-sensitive lading, would be of great value particularly in light of the fact that freight on the state’s two existing long-haul rail freight lines is destined to increase.

“Increases in national goods movement will require mitigating impacts to Central California with additional air quality controls, grade separations, and an alternative corridor for short-haul rail,” according to the concept paper.

“Without a separate short-haul system, goods from more than 100 Central California businesses will have to be shipped by truck. This could disastrously affect California’s air quality as well as the national economy.”

Detailed maps contained in the concept paper show the proposed corridor in question and route selection.

Yes, it’s an ambitious proposal and will require much legwork, no question. But, to me, to pull off such an endeavor, the nature of this proposed state-based contiguous short-haul freight rail conduit being what it is, this is exactly where the rubber meets the road or, more correctly, where the steel wheel meets the railroad.

Agency labels diesel engine exhaust emissions as ‘carcinogenic’ and other revelations

In a May 1st Air Quality Matters blog post, I referenced the Unites States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) document titled: “Second Report to Congress: Highlights of the Diesel Emissions Reduction Program,” a document to be of particular relevance and importance. (To learn more and read what I had written, see: “EPA’s Diesel Emissions Reduction program is showing promise”).

Since that time I have learned via the European Environment Agency’s (EEA) “Reducing the € 45 billion health cost of air pollution from lorries” Feb. 28, 2013 news release, that, “While air pollution in Europe has fallen significantly in recent years, it is still a problem in some parts of Europe, where [heavy goods vehicles] can be a major factor, the [“Road user charges for heavy goods vehicles (HGV)”] report notes. Diesel, used by most HGVs, causes more air pollution per kilometre than other fuels such as petrol. Exhaust emissions from diesel engines were recently labelled as carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.”

The EEA in the release goes on to point out that coming from the road transport sector in countries in Europe (“covered by the EEA”), 40 percent to 50 percent of nitrogen oxide (NOx) releases are from HGV. Meanwhile, NOx along with fine particulates or primary particulates (PM 2.5) can pose a health risk “as they can cause respiratory diseases, cardiovascular illnesses and other health problems,” the EEA in the release notes.

More broadly, there are six key or criteria pollutants from the transport sector. These are: nitrogen oxides (NOx), fine particulates (PM 2.5), coarse particulates (PM 10), sulfur oxides (SOx), carbon monoxides (CO), and non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC).

Source: European Environment Agency, 2012
Source: European Environment Agency, 2012

From “Figure 4.1 The contribution of the transport sector to total emissions of the main air pollutants in 2010 (EEA-32)” from The contribution of transport to air quality – TERM 2012: Transport indicators tracking progress towards environmental targets in Europe, shown in graphic representation are these six pollutants and their corresponding percentages from transport and non-transport sectors alike as well as what the various mode percentages were within the transport sector.

For example, looking at NOx in 2010, transport’s contribution was 58 percent. Meanwhile, NOx from Road transport exhaust accounted for more than half of transport’s NOx contribution with lesser amounts from International shipping, Domestic shipping (European Environment Agency – 32), International aviation, Domestic aviation (EEA-32) and Railways.1

Over the many months I have been writing, I have presented information on diesel emissions. One of the most compelling pieces of such information, in my opinion, has to do with heavy-duty-vehicle-produced versus motor-vehicle-produced smog-forming emissions in terms of contribution histories.

In “CATS: Decline in smog-forming emissions from California cars a bright spot,” within this post I referenced the Public Policy Institute of California’s report: “Planning for a Better Future: California 2025: 2010 Update,” Transportation. As it has to do with heavy-duty-vehicle-produced versus motor-vehicle-produced smog-forming emissions’ contribution histories, what I offered was this: “In another ‘California Transportation’ illustration comparing years 1975 and 2006, also depicted in the form of a graph, in 1975 motor vehicles in state were responsible for 70 percent of all smog-forming emissions coming from mobile sources, whereas 30 percent of such were from heavy-duty vehicles and off-road and other mobile sources. In 2006, the tables turned: passenger vehicles produced roughly 25 percent of smog-forming emissions and heavy-duty vehicles, off-road and other mobile sources were responsible for the remainder or about 75 percent.” One of smog’s main ingredients is NOx.

Lastly, keeping in mind that this week in America is National Transportation Week, there is perhaps no better time than this very moment to be made aware of the fact (if one is not already) that transportation remains the biggest contributor of emissions worldwide. More importantly, I feel, is what is being done to counteract or combat global emissions, irrespective of the source, and then bring that information to light.


  1. For more on this, see: The contribution of transport to air quality – TERM 2012: Transport indicators tracking progress towards environmental targets in Europe, EEA Transport and Environment Reporting Mechanism (TERM) Report, No. 10, 2012, European Environment Agency, Nov. 27, 2012, p. 34.

The road to lower auto emissions could mean more road work ahead – huh?

At one part in particular in the previous post, in essence, I asked if it is not more economical to expand California State Route (SR) 99 – which is currently being widened from four to six lanes at various spots between Kern County, located in the south San Joaquin Valley, and Sacramento to the north, rather than to extend SR 65 farther north as far as to perhaps northern Madera County. For the most part, SR 65 sits parallel to and east of SR 99 between southern and northern Tulare County.

In case there is any uncertainty as to what this is about, the presumption is the SR 99 widening is being done to address traffic congestion. Yes, economic considerations are one thing. But what about the implications of congestion on air emissions? Doesn’t this count for anything? In that sense by extending SR 65 farther to the north it would seem that this would be by far the better of the two choices to pick.

Obviously, money is saved in expanding SR 99. Presumably, the traffic congestion issue is addressed too – presumably. However, by extending SR 65, not only would this result in the life of both thoroughfares being extended, the opportunity for even less congestion to occur would be created. At the same time, I can’t help but be reminded of Interstate 5 which, by the way, parallels SR 99 although it is located farther west; its construction completed well after the inauguration of SR 99. With an SR 65 extension, this would mean three parallel highways in the central San Joaquin Valley instead of two. Is it even needed, though? That’s the question.

The same question being asked by some regarding the building of the 800-mile statewide high-speed rail project.

At any rate, even with the redundancy, these roads can, at times, fill up with traffic and in some places and in some cases, to the point of saturation.

That there doesn’t appear to be consensus is there some common ground that can, at least, be found?

Hydrogen vehicle
Hydrogen vehicle

What’s that?! Zero-emissions vehicles or ZEVs, you say?

That people choose to drive, why not encourage far greater ZEV use? And in so doing, and presumably here as well, the trappings of that happy median being found are there. Plus, by virtue of this action, there is also the presumption that a means to enable air-emissions-reductions targets to be met sooner would exist.

I mean, what else is there automobile-improvement-wise that would be more apropos? Right off the bat I can’t think of any. But realistically speaking, how many people are going to purchase or lease ZEVs? I’m sure the market has grown over time, but will it grow to the point where a real difference will be made?

As this week is National Transportation Week in America, discussing the issues discussed this week at the Air Quality Matters Blog seems most fitting.

The conversation continues tomorrow, the discussion having to do with the latest research on diesel emissions with the main focus being on public health.