Tyson's Corner Circulator Buses - Take a Book Along

This recent article in the Washington Post raised the important question of providing transportation within the Tysons Corner area to supplement the new Silver Line Metro service. Even with the new Metro stations, Tysons will remain a spread-out, edge city with long distances between buildings, large parking lots and uncomfortable walking infrastructure, at least in the short term. Even the most visionary land-use plans to transform Tysons to a more pleasant, transit-oriented development, idyllic urban space will take at least a generation to realize, if not longer.

In the meanwhile, people will need to get from the Metro stations to their destinations that may not be within walking distance or may be difficult to walk to. Hence the proposal to run circulator buses as described in the article. The article also points out that there is no money for the buses.

Without some sort of supplemental transportation, a significant part of the value of building the Silver Line will be lost. Currently there are thousands of reverse commuters from DC, Arlington and Alexandria who work in Tysons. Unless their work places are right near the new stations, many of them will continue to drive. After all, there's no HOV requirement in the reverse direction, most parking is free, and it will be so much more convenient to go right to your work place.

Even the buses themselves will be significantly suboptimal. They will need to deal with the same traffic as the cars. Passengers will have to wait for them at both ends. If your stop is later on the route, you'll have to sit through a half-dozen earlier stops. For a lot of situations, it might take fifteen minutes to get from the Metro station to a building only a mile away. That's as long as it would take to drive all the way from the Potomac River to the building. Some sort of supplemental transportation is needed, but circulator buses--unless they can somehow be separated and given priority--will be barely adequate.

The Tysons Land-Use task force recommends that eventually that be the case:
"The vision of a transformed Tysons calls for transit services linking the four future Metrorail stations with the rest of the Urban Center. As described above, these services may begin as shuttle buses serving Metro stations and evolve over time. A second phase may be buses operating in mixed traffic. A third phase may be buses operating on exclusive rights-of-way, followed by a fixed guideway system operating on exclusive rights-of-way." (from Transforming Tysons, Fairfax County's Department of Planning and Zoning, Feb. 2009)

What if Tysons were to leap forward to that vision now--become a visionary leader and try a radical departure from the inside-the-box transportation thinking? I believe a PRT system in concert with the Silver Line could be a catalyst for much more rapid and significant transformation of Tysons. It solves the last-mile problem elegantly. One could travel between any two points, non-stop, within Tysons in less than ten minutes. In and of itself it would attract people and businesses to Tysons. It's possible it could even pay for itself through revenues and through support from businesses (think hotels) that would support having it serve their building directly. I don't know how much support for the circulator buses might come from the businesses, which the Tysons task force has suggested. I suspect not much. It also eliminates the costs of phasing buses in and then out. It starts with the fixed guideway system from the beginning.

As Lincoln said "As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew." Buses are not new. Even streetcars are not new. Why not think anew and act anew? Many people are thinking hard about how to make Tysons new. Why not take grasp of a new vision of how to make Tysons an extraordinary place--not just the old Tysons, only better? I think creating a comprehensive PRT system in Tysons will create an example that could be imitated in scores of other places in the region and the nation, creating a true transformation of our urban spaces and our transportation paradigms.

Explain me to me re Climate Change Hoax

As I surf the blogosphere and read about climate change, I see many, many comments about a "climate change hoax" or fraud (examples: here, here, here, and lots of other places).

Whenever I read this I take pause and wonder hard about me. I've spent almost twenty years now working to reduce the risks of climate change. If the whole thing is a hoax, then I'm either actively participating in it or I've been bamboozled by the hoaxers. If it really is a hoax, then I can't explain me. Could someone please explain me to me?

Let's take the first one: that I'm participating in it. I don't recall ever being contacted by anyone--not Al Gore or any of his people, not the UN, not the National Academy of Sciences, not Nicholas Stern. Not anyone. No one has ever talked to me about helping to perpetuate any kind of fraud or hoax. I guess a true cynic would claim that I am lying, and I suppose I can't prove that I'm not. You'll just have to take my word for it. Nonetheless, I've had the pleasure of working with scores and scores of others in the environmental field, and not a single one has ever mentioned they were part of a hoax or fraud. Nor have any of them mentioned being contacted by any of the aforementioned or anyone else to take part in this elaborate hoax. In all my years, I've never come across someone rubbing their hands together saying, "bwa-ha-ha" in a conspiratorial tone. Who are these hoaxers?

Maybe I'm just going along with the hoax because I'm profiting from the illusion of climate change. That's a common accusation, often directed at Al Gore. Same problem as before when it comes to me, though. When I examine myself, it doesn't add up. I've got an MBA from a top tier business school. I could make a lot more money in management consulting or any of a number of fields. In truth, I have actually made a lot less money over the last couple of decades by focusing my career on this issue. Clearly, money is not my motive. I don't know about Al Gore; but again, he's never gotten in touch with me to help him out or share in his profits. So what's in it for me?

And I think about James Hansen. He's a government employee. He isn't being paid any more to push for strong action on climate. What's his motivation? He's not profiting; there's certainly lots of work he could do on other issues; and he even put his job at risk during the Bush administration. I don't get it. If there's some sort of hoax or fraud afoot, what's in it for him?

Investments? I don't know about James Hansen, but speaking for myself, I haven't yet set up my portfolio in a way that would take advantage of economic changes being affected by climate change and the actions to fend it off. I probably should, but I haven't up to now. So I'm not currently profiting. So money's not my motive. Explain me to me.

Many of these commenters also put forth the claim that we environmentalists are seeking to control the world, set up an oppressive world government that will deny their liberties and tax all their money away in the process. Yet when I examine myself, I find myself agreeing with them: I don't particularly care to pay unnecessary taxes, and I'm not a fan of oppressive government, either--nor do I have any interest in trying to take away people's personal liberties (I am, after all, a person, too; and I like my personal liberties). So if that is our goal, why am I doing it? Explain me to me.

So if I'm not actively part of the hoax, then I must be some sort of brainwashed supplicant to the cause. I've been bamboozled by the hoaxers! However, I examine myself again, and I find that a difficult argument to believe. I've never sent money to Nigeria nor been fooled by other hoaxes or scams. Perhaps I'm self-deluded and really am brainwashed, but why would it be only on this one single issue? If I'm brainwashable, then one would think others would take advantage of me. After all, there are scams everywhere all the time, yet I've never fallen victim to any of them.

And how about those scores of colleagues, friends and coworkers also working on the cause? Have they all been brainwashed, too? Yet most of them are very smart, if not brilliant. It's difficult for me to believe that they've all somehow been fooled by a secret and elaborate hoax of unknown origin.

So this whole idea of climate change being a hoax or fraud intended to create an oppressive world government and destroy our economy and freedoms is very difficult to reconcile with me. I can't explain me to me. If you believe that climate change is a fraud or hoax, please help me understand how I fit in.

Why two degrees really matters

My friend, Jon Koomey, said I should pass this along to all who may be interested. I think it's a remarkably intelligent article, so I am passing it along.

by Jonathan G. Koomey and Florentin Krause

When the countries of the world meet for climate negotiations in Copenhagen this month, they will discuss how to prevent global temperatures from increasing more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. This warming limit, accepted in principle by the leaders of the G8 countries in July, is more than just a number—it represents a way to think about the climate problem that can help us develop and evaluate options for solving it.

The current trajectory for greenhouse gas emissions would move the Earth by the middle of this century well outside the temperature range in which humanity evolved, marked by the 2-degree limit. This trend increases substantially the risk of dangerous, irreversible, and, perhaps, catastrophic changes in the global life support systems upon which we all depend. As the White House Science Advisor John Holdren aptly puts it, we’re “driving in a car with bad brakes towards a cliff in the fog.” The 2-degree limit is like a road sign warning us to avoid the cliff ahead.

Defining a warming limit implies a greenhouse gas budget, which is an upper limit to our cumulative emissions over the next 50 to 100 years. Such a budget encapsulates our scientific understanding of how emissions interact with the Earth’s climate and affect global temperatures. Some of the most significant greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, stay in the atmosphere for many decades, which is why the budget is defined over the long term.

Acceptance of an emissions budget should focus the climate talks because it encourages discussion of how to allocate that budget among countries. Many argue that developing countries like China can legitimately claim much of the emissions budget because they have large populations and have consumed relatively small amounts of fossil fuels thus far. But developed countries like the United States can’t phase out greenhouse gases overnight. In addition, many emissions from emerging economies are attributable to the manufacture of exported goods. Discussion of a specific budget will help negotiators balance more effectively these complex issues of feasibility and equity.

The warming-limit approach is analogous to how businesses conduct planning under uncertainty: Set a long-term goal, then work backward to determine how to achieve it, modifying plans dynamically as developments dictate. It’s operationally much more useful than a target for a single year. In fact, it can be used to derive such targets over many years, once the budget is allocated to developed and developing countries. It also has advantages over conventional, forward-looking policy analyses, which are hamstrung by the inherent limitations of economic forecasting models in accurately predicting the future.

Using a warming limit in this way prompts us to ask questions like “What are the least expensive options for meeting the target?” or “How many emission-free power plants must be built per week to meet the target, and how much capital would that require?” or “How fast must energy efficiency improve to meet the target given projected economic growth?” The answers to such questions help us identify the options that are most cost-effective, feasible, and desirable, and allow us to envision the kind of world we want to create.

The 2-degree warming limit is demanding—it implies halting growth in absolute global greenhouse gas emissions within the next decade, with reductions of at least 50% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels, and larger reductions soon afterward. It also has other implications that most policy makers do not yet fully appreciate:

(1) We shouldn’t wait: Delaying action only eats up the emissions budget, locks in emissions-intensive infrastructure, and makes the required reductions much more costly and difficult later. Early action also brings the costs of technologies down through economies of scale and learning-by-doing, a fact usually ignored by ill-informed climate skeptics.

(2) We need to move quickly on many fronts: The rate of change in energy systems needed to stay within the budget will require broad societal mobilization, rapid innovation, and major investments in science, technology, and education not unlike those undertaken by the United States after the USSR launched Sputnik in 1957. One key to rapid change will be the development of new technologies that consumers prefer even if they initially carry a higher price—much like early fossil fuels, such as kerosene, were preferred to whale oil for lighting in the mid-1800s;

(3) We can’t burn it all: More than half of the Earth’s remaining economically recoverable fossil fuel reserves must be kept in the ground to achieve climate stabilization (or, if burned, their carbon emissions will need to be stored securely). A price on carbon and significant reductions in the costs of low carbon technologies are the two most important means for achieving this difficult goal.

The 2-degree warming limit provides guideposts for a real solution to the climate problem, yielding insights available from no other approach. We’ll need to apply these insights, invest in a large portfolio of promising options, fail fast, and learn as rapidly as we can. There’s simply no more time to waste.

Jonathan Koomey is a Visiting Professor at the Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, and Florentin Krause is a researcher living in Richmond, California. Krause was the principal investigator and Koomey was one of two other coauthors of the first systematic attempt to evaluate the implications of a warming limit-based approach to addressing the climate problem (Florentin Krause, Wilfred Bach, and Jonathan G. Koomey. 1989. From Warming Fate to Warming Limit: Benchmarks to a Global Climate Convention. El Cerrito, CA: International Project for Sustainable Energy Paths. http://files.me.com/jgkoomey/9jzwgj). It was republished in 1992 as Florentin Krause, Wilfred Bach, and Jonathan G. Koomey. 1992. Energy Policy in the Greenhouse. NY, NY: John Wiley and Sons.
This post was reposted from Climate Progress. That posting includes footnotes and references which you may find useful.