Driving – with congestion, delay, emissions from, all up – the good news, there is some

As it has to do with mobility, there has been much in the media in recent days and with good reason.

Here in America, not only is the number of miles traveled up, but so too is the trend: it appears to be non-stop. Effectively, the more people the more aggregate miles there are, whether done on foot, on bike, in a boat, car, plane or train.

The increase in MT (miles traveled) in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. Where a wrench into the mix enters frame, comes with the fallout created on account of such.

There are some constant themes we’re hearing: congestion; delay; gasoline- and diesel-fuel consumed; lost productivity; the monetary loss connected with such or waste by any other name; and poor health and detrimental air quality; to name a few. To correct these deficits, viable solutions must be identified and implemented.

On Jul. 23, 2014, published was the Air Quality Matters blog post: “Calif. air cleaner despite more people, more miles driven, more gas burned. The road ahead?

In that there is this: “[I]t is important to note that if vehicle mileage is going up, then motor vehicles must become cleaner burning and far more fuel efficient through the use of cleaner-burning fuels and/or through technological improvement, this coupled with increased numbers of zero emissions vehicles plying roadways and/or a significant shift in the way land and resources are used as it has to do with sustainability and/or a greater reliance on walking, biking and public transportation, that is, in order for those bills’ emissions targets to be met. Improvement progress needs to be ongoing.”

In the five years since, how has California done? Answering this is important not only because of the state’s pervasive air pollution problem, in big cities like Los Angeles and in the San Joaquin Valley, especially, and due to it being the nation’s most populated state and in regards to it having the most traveled miles but because how California has done air- and climate-pollutant-emissions cleanup-wise in the face of all of this, could be precedent-setting.

In the “U.S. driving popular way back when, even more so now” Mar. 29, 2016, Air Quality Matters post, it is written:

“Two different stories (a commentary and a traditional news report) appearing in this past Sunday’s The Fresno Bee, had to do with automatic mobility of the rubber-tired kind.

“The commentary, by The Sacramento Bee op-ed writer Dan Walters, focused on the notion that in the Golden State – California – efforts here to limit, reduce driving, in Walters’ view, are failing. The Sacramento Bee columnist gave some supportive statistics.

“Such as:

  • Licensed automobilists total 26 million in state
  • New car and truck purchases statewide weigh in at over 2 million each year – a near-record, and
  • The number of miles Californians drive annually is 330 billion, twice the amount logged in the mid-1970s

“And, use of public transit here has been falling off, the Bee columnist added.”

Three-and-a-half-years later, the story today still looks pretty much the same. As to the second bullet point above, the makeup of cars being sold is what’s different today.

“The electric vehicle market share continues to increase throughout the state, making up 11.2 percent of the market, year to date. This is a 4 percent increase during the first nine months of 2018. However, not every powertrain is seeing this increase, hybrid vehicles continue to see a decline year over year, from 4.6 percent in Q3 [the third quarter] 2017 to 4.1 percent year to date,” as pointed out in the California New Car Dealers Association’s Nov. 20, 2018 “California New Vehicle Sales Remain at Elevated Levels for 2018” press release. “Additionally, 13 of the top 20 brands in California saw light truck sales increase, paced by Volkswagen with an increase of more than 100 percent compared to this time last year.”

And, adding to bullet point number 3, in Nov. 2018 alone, state automobilists rolled off 3.463 billion miles (a revised figure). At least, preliminarily, anyway, that number was bested in Dec. 2018, motorists in the Golden State registering 3.957 billion miles, a tremendous amount of driving when you think about it.

In the grand scheme of things, meanwhile, in the state of California, and by the numbers, there are:

  • 175,000 miles of roads and highways
  • 500 transit agencies
  • 245 public-use airports
  • 12 major ports
  • 1 high-speed rail system under construction

(Source: California’s 2017 Climate Change Scoping Plan: The strategy for achieving California’s 2030 greenhouse gas target, “Transportation Sustainability,” California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board, Nov. 2017, p. 73).

The breaking emissions-reductions-related news story right now is California’s refusal to go along with the Trump administration’s overarching position of rolling back miles-per-gallon fuel ratings efficiencies or improvements on motor vehicles.

Even some automakers are standing with and are completely behind California on this. That’s comforting.

It would not be nearly as meaningful or impactful had the state’s yearly transportation-sourced carbon-dioxide-emissions output not stood at its current 40-percent level and approaching the 50-percent level when emissions from fuel extraction and distribution are included.

This is a big deal.

Key considerations here are: What parts of California are contributing what percentages of greenhouse gas emissions and what sectors are contributing what percentages to California’s total greenhouse gas emissions output inventory?

As to the second point, anyway (probably the more important consideration of the two), here are the identified sectors and the connected percentages:

  • Transportation: 39%
  • Industrial: 21%
  • Electric Power: 16%
  • Commercial and Residential: 9%
  • Agriculture: 8%
  • High Global Warming Potential Gases: 5%
  • Recycling and Waste: 2%

(Source: California Greenhouse Gas Emissions for 2000 to 2016: Trends of Emissions and Other Indicators, “Overview of Emission Trends by Sector,” California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board, p. 4).

If all of this has implications for the rest of the nation, much work still lies ahead.

Image above: California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board

2 thoughts on “Driving – with congestion, delay, emissions from, all up – the good news, there is some”

    • Yeah, SB 375. I don’t believe this legislation, mandate, measure so far has produced really glowing results. It’s still early, so how effective this becomes over time, we’ll just have to wait and see.

      I understand efforts in Sacramento in employing the practices and principles of smart growth development and therefore limiting the amount of farmland lost to other kinds of development, is working, at least to some degree, more so there, as I understand it, than in other areas of the state. That would make Sacramento the exception.

      In the area of transportation, there is so much that could be done. For instance, high occupancy/toll lanes on freeways can help alleviate congested traffic and delay as would greater dependence on non-driving means of travel. Building more roads and expanding existing roads is antithetical to the cause because this just encourages more driving which, without cleaner-burning automobiles and/or fuels, and more driving in low- and zero-emissions motor vehicles, means dirtier air via increased emissions.

      All of which points to the notion that we must do a better job if we are, in the per-capita sense, to make significant positive headway in terms of cleaning up our air.

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