Another Solution to Reducing Auto Accidents

Nice_hair790453Norman Y. Mineta, former Secretary of Transportation, had an op-ed published in today's Washington Post in which he pointed out the sobering fact that more than 3,000 people will die in auto accidents worldwide today. Today!

In the United States, traffic fatalities have been very steady at between 40,000 and about 43,000 annually for well more than a decade (stats here). Rates of fatalities (per driver, per mile, etc.) have slowly declined, since there are more drivers driving more miles.

Mr. Mineta focuses primarily on safer cars, safer roads and safer behavior as solutions. I would like to suggest that reducing driving would likely be far more effective. Imagine: a 10% reduction in driving would save over 4000 lives per year (and more than 80,000 injuries!). I don't know what the economic value of those avoided deaths and injuries are, but if that money were able to be invested into more and better transit, smarter development and all the other things that reduce the need to drive, I'm sure it would be a positive return.

Blue Line Reroute and Communication

MetroThere have been several articles recently about rerouting some blue line trains so that they will run between Franconia/Springfield and Greenbelt, using the bridge over the Potomac rather than the Rosslyn tunnel. I'll have to defer to Metro regarding how this improves capacity (I suspect it does), but my key point is that these cannot be called "blue line" trains. In fact, from what I can tell, these trains would spend more time on green line tracks than blue anyway. As I have ranted about in a previous post, how we identify our buses and trains can either make things easier or harder on riders. I agree with this Dr. Gridlock letter writer that when this new route is introduced it needs to have its own identifying color. Calling it a "Blue Line B" or something will only serve to confuse riders.

How Long Does It Take? Really?

2_wall_clock1Have you ever noticed how people "adjust" how long it takes them to travel? When you ask people about their commutes, they will either undershoot to rationalize their particular choice or overshoot to make a horror story.

To whit: my wife recently changed her workplace to Silver Spring 3 days/week. We live in Arlington a 17-minute walk from East Falls Church metro. She drives to work, primarily because the walk-metro-shuttle-to-her-work trip would take almost an hour and a half each way. I encourage her to Metro, but she's justifiably resistant.

Recently our neighbor was over for tea and inquired about her new work. My wife said, ". . and it only takes 25-35 minutes to get there." After choking briefly on my tea,Tea_cup_small_2 I challenged her on this.
Tuesday mornings at 7:30 my daughter has her piano lesson, and my wife has left it to me to get her there (without a car, because she has it). "Why is it then that you have to leave by 7:15 on Tuesdays to get to work by 8:00? You could drop [daughter] off at 7:25 and still make it to work in 25-35 minutes, right?" I asked.
Suddenly her story changed to 40-45 minutes. . .just to be safe.

Not to pick on my wife, but I hear this all the time. My experience is that drivers time themselves from the clock in their car, so they only count the time from when they pull away until they park. People who ride the bus or bike or metrorail count from when they leave home until they either enter their workplace or get to their desks.

I'm not really sure where I'm going with this. Just an observation.

Rule of Thumb #1 - How Much Coal

We hear some big numbers: millions of tons, thousands of pounds, etc. Sometimes it's nice to have some rules of thumb to help us get a handle on the environmental impact of our actions. Here's a simple one:
A typical incandescent light bulb will burn its wattage in pounds of coal over its lifetime.

(Accompanying pollution rule of thumb: 1 pound of coal = 1.25 pounds of CO2)


- a single 40-watt bulb will burn 40 pounds of coal and produce 50 pounds of greenhouse gases
- a single 60-watt bulb will burn 60 pounds of coal and produce 75 pounds of greenhouse gases
- a single 75-watt bulb will burn 75 pounds of coal and produce about 94 pounds of greenhouse gases
- a single 100-watt bulb will burn 100 pounds of coal and produce 125 pounds of greenhouse gasesPile_2
Imagine the next time you buy a 4-pack of 60-watt bulbs that you also had to schlep home the 240 pounds of coal that will be burned to keep those lights on!

So, as John Morrill has encouraged us previously on this blog, reducing that impact is pretty simple and pretty inexpensive (it's actually better than free--since savings are much larger than costs). Upgrade your lighting from 150-year old incandescent technology to 20th century CFLs.

(The fine print - Rule of thumb assumes your electricity is coming from coal-powered plants. In reality, somewhat more than 1/2 of all electricity is generated by burning coal, and it's different depending on where you live, what time of day and year it is, etc. The point of this rule of thumb is to show the immense amount of fossil fuels required to power our lives.)