Monday What's on the Web: The Green Miles

Each Monday I highlight other bloggers or web contributors who are making important or interesting contributions to climate, sustainability, transportation or market transformation. Check back each week for another installment.

Miles Grant is a fellow Arlingtonian who shares a strong interest in protecting and improving our environment.  He is also an assiduous follower of politics--both local and national, with a particular interest in Virginia state politics.  His blog, The Green Miles, reflects both of these, with posts that address one or the other or, often, both.  Mr. Grant ran for state delegate in 2009, but lost in the local election.  He works for the National Wildlife Federation, where he also maintains an active blog focusing on issues specific to that organization.

Recent posts on The Green Miles include:

Recent posts on his blog at the National Wildlife Federation include:

Keep an eye on Miles.  It's my hope that he and people like him will be politically successful to help push more progressive environmental policies at a faster pace.

Monday What's on the Web: Shareable

Each Monday I highlight other bloggers or web contributors who are making important or interesting contributions to climate, sustainability, transportation or market transformation. Check back each week for another installment.
 Shareable is a blog that studies the societal and economic opportunities that arise out of networks of sharing.  Sharing has become a more talked-about topic of late, and there are more and more companies offering sharing products and services, including Zipcar, B2B Rentals (apartments), Bikesharing, Wikipedia and others. 
Media has also been covering it, including Fast Company, The Wall Street Journal,  and the New York Times.

This is the kind of idea that will help us Transform to Sustainability, the name of this blog and the idea that major and transformative changes are needed to create a sustainable future. Why does every house need a lawnmower for use about 30-40 hours per year?   Or a power drill that might be used 3-4 times a year or less.  The amount of "stuff" that is created just to sit around mostly unused can be viewed as a tremendous resource, and Shareable is looking how that resource is being deployed and exploited.

Recent blogs include:
Google Invests in P2P Carsharing Service, RelayRides
The New Mutual Credit
Is Sharing Contagious?

Personally, I belong to Zipcar and Capital Bikeshare, and I have used B2B Rentals when traveling.  I'd love to jettison more of my seldom-used stuff if I knew I had access to shareable resources when needed.  Check it out:

Monday What's on the Web: NRDC's Switchboard

Each Monday I highlight other bloggers or web contributors who are making important or interesting contributions to climate, sustainability, transportation or market transformation. Check back each week for another installment.
The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC)'s Switchboard is their umbrella page for all their staff bloggers, of which there are many.  The quantity of material here is large, averaging more than ten blog posts per day.  The range of topics is also broad, including:
and many, many more.  Coverage of topical issues, like the COP16 meetings in Cancun is strong and complete.  Whatever your issue of interest, you are certain to find one or more bloggers at NRDC who write interesting and insightful posts on it.  Enjoy!

How to Effectively Improve Utility Reliability (even though they're monopolies)

The Washington Post ran a long investigative article about Pepco, the local utility that serves Washington DC and the nearby Maryland suburbs.  It took Pepco to task for its lousy reliability and exposed its weak excuses (and outright lies) about its reliability problems.  Pepco ranks among the worst utilities in the country for number and length of outages.  Read the article here.  Also check out the associated links for more information.

The problem with utility reliability is that the costs of outages are primarily borne by the customers--they are externalized from the utility.  The only costs utilities pay are a tiny loss of revenue and the chewing out they get in the press.  The difference between a 1-hour outage and a 5-hour outage may cost Pepco a dollar or less in lost revenue, but it might cost a residential customer a refrigerator full of food.  I recall after Tropical Storm Isabel came through in 2003, I walked past my nearby Baskin-Robbins about 24 hours after the power went out.  They had to throw out their entire inventory of ice cream: thousand of dollars worth.  They were just one of thousands of businesses that suffered major financial losses due to the power outages from that storm.

The article mentioned that some customers are spending $9,400 to install natural gas-powered generators in their homes.  If 10,000 customers do that, it's a total expense of $94,000,000 incurred by them to reduce the risks associated with outages. Unlike, say, cell phone service, customers cannot choose to switch to a different utility for their electric distribution service, so there is no competition to raise the bar for reliability.

Pepco is regulated by the public utility commissions in DC and Maryland.  The simplest way to get Pepco to make improvements is for these commissions to internalize the costs of outages with a simple mechanism.

Photo from Keo 101 on Flickr
Pepco has announced that they have a 5-year plan to improve reliability.  So give them the five years they claim they need.  Then starting in 2015 the PUCs should require them to reimburse customers for outages.  For example, any residential customer would receive $2 per hour or portion of an hour that their power is out after the first 15 minutes.  So if Pepco experiences an equipment failure that knocks out 2000 customers for 3 hours, they pay $12,000--$6 to each customer.  If after a big storm, they lose 100,000 customers for 10 hours, that's $2 million--$20 to each customer.  Reimbursements to commercial customers would be on a different scale.  (I'm just making up the amount of these reimbursements for illustrative purposes; the appropriate dollar amounts could be higher or lower.)

The utility commissions would build into Pepco's rate case the expected costs to the utility for achieving "average" reliabilty based on regional or national statistics.  Or to return to their own reliability rate from 2004. If Pepco exceeds that, then their investors would reap extra profit; if they fall short, their investors pay.  This is fair, since the customers who are directly affected are the ones who get the reimbursements if Pepco falls short, while the customer base as a whole would pay a slight premium for increased reliability if they exceed the goals.

The commission could set the bar anywhere they like.  One idea would be to expect them to achieve "average" by 2015 and then increase the reliability expectation by some percentage each year, incentivizing Pepco to continuously improve.

What about "Acts of God?"  I would propose that there are no "Acts of God."  It's up to the utility to prepare for big storms and other large-scale disruptions.  This is, in fact, the business they are in.  Hopefully the risk of enormous payments would get them to start looking more seriously at undergrounding, redundancy, smart grid and other risk abatement strategies.  They could purchase re-insurance for major losses.  That would be good, because the re-insurer would likely be tougher on Pepco than the PUCs, since they would be scrutinizing Pepco's actions to make sure they reduce their own risks.

This customer rebate mechanism is very simple and easy to understand.  The financial incentives are exactly aligned with the desired outcomes.  The utility is rewarded for exceeding its goals and penalized for falling short.  It incentivizes them to go beyond the minimum and look for creative solutions.

For the last five years, Pepco has gotten fat and happy while allowing its reliability to go to pot.  Sure, they've had a couple of uncomfortable press conferences, but no real penalties.  A mechanism like this would keep them from ever letting it happen again.

Some ideas for Starbucks

(bpende on Flickr)
Starbucks customers use reusable cups only 1.5% of the time, as I discussed in my recent post.  This is a pathetically low percentage.

Although they offer a 10 cent discount for reusable cups, I suggested in that post that they do not appear to be trying very hard and noted that I would offer some suggestions in a future post.  Here they are.
  • Increase the font.  On menus in the stores when the 10 cent discount for bringing your own cup appears at all, it is in a tiny font, almost unreadable at the bottom.
  • Buttons for baristas.  Cheap and easy: have the baristas wear a button, so every customer sees the 10 cent promotion.
  • Modify pricing presentation.  Instead of offering a discount, list two prices for each drink: e.g. Wicked Cooliatta - $3.49 your cup, $3.59 our cup.
  • Signage. How about posters and signs and other more visible marketing materials?  I've never seen any of this in any store.
  • The sudden reward.  Program the cash register so that one or two random customers per day who bring in their own cup get their drink for free.  Make sure the barista loudly congratulates the customer.
  • Loyalty program.  Provide a bar code that adheres to the cup.  Scan it each time.  After xx number of visits, the next one's free.
  • One-day events.  Offer 1/2 price drinks on special promotional days for people with their own cups.  Advertise in advance.
  • Charge for cups.  A more painful approach, but it's worked wonders for bags in DC.
Any good marketing firm could come with a dozen more, but this list can get you started, Starbucks.

Monday What's on the Web: Deutsche Bank Climate Change Advisors

Each Monday I highlight other bloggers or web contributors who are making important or interesting contributions to climate, sustainability, transportation or market transformation. Check back each week for another installment.
Deutsche Bank Climate Change Advisors is one of the leading climate change investors in the world.  From my perspective, however, the key role they play is as a word of reason from the business side of the ledger.  There are so many old-line businesses: industry, banking, manufacturing, etc., that are often pushing against taking strong action on climate change.  DBCCA is the opposite.

As a business in the investment industry, they need to be as knowledgeable and insightful and accurate as possible if they intend to succeed in the long run.  They have identified climate change as a "mega-trend."  From their site:
"Deutsche Asset Management identified climate change as one of the mega-trends that would drive the global asset management business for the next generation and beyond. We saw that the rapidly growing level of carbon in the atmosphere meant that the world had to take action now, and that this would require massive capital investment over several decades. That in turn would produce exciting new investment opportunities from which our clients could benefit."

In the last two years, DBCCA has put out about two dozen investment reports that provide key insights into how climate change interacts with investing and business in general.  These reports are well researched and thorough and make strong cases for action on climate as well as taking more in-depth looks at particular industries and trends.  Some recent examples include:

Natural Gas and Renewables: A Secure Low Carbon Future Energy Plan for the United States

Climate Change: Addressing the Major Skeptic Arguments
(I particularly like this one for its thorough look at debunking the skeptic arguments.  In my opinion, this paper is more influential than many due to its source from a major investment player rather than an advocacy group.)

Investing in Climate Change 2010 - A Strategic Asset Allocation Perspective

I receive an email when new research comes out from DBCCA.  I was not able to find a place on their web site where you can sign up.  If you are interested, though, try sending an email to Bruce Kahn, and he will put you on his list.

New Fairfax County Parkway Interchange Gives Peds and Bikes Short Shrift

Plans to rebuild two intersections along the Fairfax County Parkway at Fair Lakes Parkway and Monument Drive--adding ramps and interchanges--fail to make pedestrians or bicyclists welcome.

VDOT is planning to rebuild the intersections of the Fairfax County Parkway at Monument Drive and Fair Lakes Parkway (map). They will eliminate the intersections, replacing them with bridges and ramps. The detailed plan is available here (pdf, 9.3M). Robert Thompson discussed this project in an article in the Washington Post on Saturday, and details can also be found on the VDOT web site. It includes this language: "Shared-use paths and sidewalks will enhance pedestrian access at the interchange and to the Rocky Run Stream Valley Park trail system." Since I am not personally familiar with this area, it may be true that they are improving the current situation, but that would only be because it must be really bad now.

Although sidewalks and shared use paths are included in the project, this will be a dauntingly scary place to be either a cyclist or pedestrian. This is obvious from the artist's rendering of the project, in which it is virtually impossible to make out any pedestrian or bicycle infrastructure. The artist's rendering nicely details traffic flows, lanes and other automobile-related details. One can make out some sidewalks, but it's not at all clear how they are supposed to connect or how one could safely use them. The buildings in the lower left in the rendering are currently a Residence Inn. There is an office building shown on the lower right that one could probably hit with a golf ball from the Residence Inn. Although one could ostensibly walk from one to the other, it seems that the Fairfax County planners have not given much thought to actually making that a feasible option.

Looking at the detailed pdf graphic, it appears that pedestrians will be required to cross at least three slip lanes (one of them an acceleration slip lane) with no signals. They will also be required to walk under a 6-lane wide bridge next to eight lanes of traffic--a rather unpleasant experience one can imagine.

It's understood that VDOT is trying to make the Fairfax County Parkway more and more of a limited-access highway, and their goal is to move more cars at higher speeds and greater capacity than before--for better or worse. However, it's large projects like these that provide an opportunity to think more creatively about accommodating all modes. Particularly as bicycling is growing in popularity, it is important to create easier and safer ways of crossing barriers like these.

(This  post originally appeared on Greater Greater Washington, including more than 30 comments)

Starbucks is just not trying very hard

by rubenerd on flickr
A recent article by Anya Kamenetz in Fast Company magazine highlighted Starbucks' efforts to reduce its waste stream.  It particularly looked at the problem of the billions of its coffee cups that are discarded every year--three billion according to the article.

Much of it focused on how to re-engineer the cup so it could be recycled or composted.  It's difficult to do so, because the cup has to be made of materials that will withstand the heat of the coffee and also be in contact with a potable liquid.

A few pilot programs are under way.  Blah blah blah.

Here's the sentence that caught my attention--way at the end:
Starbucks, to its credit, has made reusables part of its strategy; it sells tumblers and offers a 10-cent rebate for customers who bring in their own. Yet a paltry 1.5% of drinks are actually served in reusables.

That's 3 out of every 200 customers.  This writer, Andrew Teasdale in Vancouver, blogged about his local shop, where it was a much better, but still pathetic, 5%.  I might edit out the words, "to its credit," in the above sentence. . .or question the use of the word "strategy" to describe their ineffective efforts.

A few years ago Starbucks set this goal:
 - By 2010, increase customer use of reusable commuter mugs tenfold  (I learned this here, by the way)

No way.  Not even close.  In fact, I don't think they are even trying.

I virtually always bring my reusable mug with me, as I posted once. My point here, though, isn't to evangelize.  We've all heard that before.

Rather I think Starbucks needs to step up its game.  Perhaps the 10-fold goal is pretty high (although 15% doesn't seem out of reach), but doubling should be easy with relatively minimal effort.  Here's how I know they aren't trying:
by raffik on flickr
  • Although they offer a 10 cent discount for your own cup, they do not market it at all.  When it even appears on menus, it's way at the bottom in the smallest font.  Go ahead, look the next time you go and see how inconspicuous it is.
  • I've never seen any point-of-sale about this promotion: no signs, posters, stickers, buttons on barista's shirts. . .nothing.
  • I've never heard of them trying any kind of marketing or other effort to increase this.  I may have missed something, so let me know if you have.
  • The baristas do generally know.  Only about 5% of the time do I have to remind them to give me the discount.
So there you go.  Starbucks set a goal just a couple of years ago, which they have clearly abandoned without really even trying in my opinion.  Even if they come up with some sort of cup that doesn't have to be thrown out, reusables are still vastly superior, so they need to be promoting their use regardless.
Come back soon for a follow up post with some ideas about how they could boost that percentage.

Monday What's on the Web: Thanksgiving

Each Monday I highlight other bloggers or web contributors who are making important or interesting contributions to climate, sustainability, transportation or market transformation. Check back each week for another installment.

Due to traveling for Thanksgiving, there is no What's on the Web this week.  Check back next Monday for a new installment.  I hope your Thanksgiving was rewarding and safe.


Monday What's on the Web: Cleantech Blog

Each Monday I highlight other bloggers or web contributors who are making important or interesting contributions to climate, sustainability, transportation or market transformation. Check back each week for another installment.
Cleantech blog has been around since 2005, making it one of the older environmental blogs around.  There are about 2 dozen contributors to the blog, which covers the cleantech arena.  Key bloggers include Richard Stuebi, who has been with the blog since the beginning and Neal Dikeman, who has a background in banking and finance and likes to focus on the types of technologies that can transform our economy in positive ways.

Recent posts include:

The “Smart Grid”: An Overview

GE Buys 12,000 Chevrolet Volts

Cleantech Meets Heavy Steel

Additionally, if you have ideas and opinions related to the clean tech sector, they may welcome you as a blogger.



So you think you pay a lot for parking?!

Next time you get ready to complain about how much it costs to park somewhere, remember this.  I spotted this parking price sign in Manhattan recently.
  Bike parking in Manhattan
With tax, that's $15/day or $200/month.  One would need to have a pretty expensive bike to afford more than $2000 per year to park here.  For what I paid for my commuter bike, I could afford to have it stolen three times a year and still pay less.  Whew!

Given that they can probably fit 10 bikes in the space of a single car, that translates to a space rate of $150/day or $2000/month.

Bjorn Lomborg Both On- and Off-Target on Climate Change

(from Wikipedia)
The Washington Post published an op-ed by Bjorn Lomborg, the controversial climate change author.  In this op-ed, he argues that humans are capable of adapting to climate change, and can easily do so.

"The process is called adaptation, and it's something we humans are very good at. That isn't surprising, since we've been doing it for millennia. As climate economist Richard Tol notes, our ability to adapt to widely varying climates explains how people live happily at both the equator and the poles. In the debate over global warming, in which some have argued that civilization as we know it is at stake, this is an important point. Humankind is not completely at the mercy of nature. To the contrary, when it comes to dealing with the impact of climate change, we've compiled a pretty impressive track record. While this doesn't mean we can afford to ignore climate change, it provides a powerful reason not to panic about it either."

Millennia he says.  Not really.  Although humans have been around for hundreds of thousands of years, civilization has only been around for about 10,000 years--a time period during which climate has been remarkably stable.  Replacing "humans" with "civilizations" makes his statements false.  Civilizations are not good at adapting to changes in climates.  It's true that we have different civilizations in radically different climates, but they don't move from one to another.  Read Jared Diamond's Collapse for a perspective on how making environmental changes can effect civilizations.  (hint: they don't adapt well.) 

He cites the example of Tokyo, which has subsided up to 15 feet in places, as an example of how we humans can adapt to rising sea levels.  Also the Netherlands.  Both of those countries, of course, are highly developed and wealthy.  A counterexample of Vienna--from another developed country, to boot--might be brought forward as a likely lost cause, a place that will be unable to effectively adapt. 

(photo from Oxfam)
More to the point, how about New Orleans?  How about Pakistan floods?  How about Russian heat waves?  How about the 2003 European heat wave that caused tens of thousands of deaths?  We did not do a very good job of adapting to those, did we?  From my viewpoint, we humans are pretty piss-poor at this adaptation thing, so cavalierly stating that we'll be able to adapt is irresponsible.  And, to emphasize a previous point, who is going to pay for all the adaptation in developing countries if we can't even do it well in the developed world?

"One of the most pernicious impacts of global warming is the extent to which it exacerbates the phenomenon known as the urban "heat island effect."
Hashem Akbari, a senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who specializes in cost-effective methods of combating the effects of climate change in urban areas, has shown that by painting roofs white, covering asphalt roadways with concrete-colored surfaces and planting shade trees, local temperatures could be reduced by as much as 5 degrees Fahrenheit.
Painting streets and rooftops white may sound impractical, if not silly, but it's a realistic strategy - which is to say, it's effective and affordable."

Agreed.  I might point out that this is not news.  The idea of reducing the urban heat island effect has been around for at least a couple of decades.  It's highly effective.  It even helps with mitigation (.e. reducing greenhouse gases).  We haven't done it.  When does he suggest we start?
Also, it's local.  Yes, it might be possible to reduce temperatures in LA or Beirut, but the Arctic is still going to warm just as much.

He ends with this statement:
"Obviously, whether it involves dikes or buckets of white paint, adaptation is not a long-term solution to global warming. Rather, it will enable us to get by while we figure out the best way to address the root causes of man-made climate change. This may not seem like much, but at a time when fears of a supposedly imminent apocalypse threaten to swamp rational debate about climate policy, it's worth noting that coping with climate change is something we know how to do."

We also know how to reduce greenhouse gases.  We already have strategies that can address half or more of the "root causes" of man-made climate change.  In many cases it's even easier and cheaper than adaptation. But every day we delay mitigation means even more adaptation.  I agree that we need to adapt; we'll be forced to, since we're not acting fast enough on climate anyway.  But starting yesterday, we really, really need to reduce.

I think Mr. Lomborg performs a disservice with this op-ed.  By emphasizing the (false) "ease" with which we humans can adapt, he de-emphasizes the need for much more rapid and serious action on reducing greenhouse gases.  In fact, he almost recommends further delay.  Also, his contention that we still need to figure out the "best way to address the root causes" is just silly.  We need to pursue ALL the ways to address the causes--not waste our time trying to find a silver bullet "best way."

Monday What's on the Web: Joe Romm

Each Monday I highlight other bloggers or web contributors who are making important or interesting contributions to climate, sustainability, transportation or market transformation. Check back each week for another installment.
This week's "What's on the Web" is a repeat from last spring.  
Addendum: if you have not read Joe Romm's harsh criticism of the Obama administration's failed climate policies, please read it here.

 This week I highlight the blog Climate Progress and its prolific blogger, Joe Romm. Launched in August of 2006 and supported by the Center for American Progress (where Joe is a Senior Fellow) Climate Progress is an indispensable blog for anyone interested in the "debate," politics, science, media coverage and virtually every other aspect related to the issue of climate change. Climate Progress is very up to date, covering breaking scientific studies, media coverage, news, political actions etc., generally within a day or less.

Joe brings a strong point of view to the issue--a point of view that I share. That is, climate change is the most serious issue mankind is facing, and strong and immediate action must be taken. Joe takes pleasure in debunking and beating up on deniers and delayers. His knowledge of the science is deep and broad. He is the main contributor to the blog, although he also includes guest bloggers. Posts tend to be fairly long and in depth, sometimes including significant detail and always containing significant opinion.

Example titles include:
- Lugar and Voinovich float “half-assed” alternative to comprehensive climate and clean energy jobs bill.
- Must re-read statement from UK’s Royal Society and Met Office on the connection between global warming and extreme weather
- WashPost editorial: “If current trends persist, it’s likely that in coming decades the globe’s climate will change with potentially devastating effects for billions of people.”
- Report: Koch Industries outspends Exxon Mobil on climate and clean energy disinformation

Also, be sure to take in the comments. There are a number of commenters on this blog who add considerable insight and depth to some of the posts.

Counterpoint: High-Speed Rail Can Be a Good Investment - Post 4: Density, Cost

Last Monday, Robert J. Samuelson published an op-ed in the Washington Post suggesting the high-speed rail is nothing but pork.  At one point he says:

"Only in places with greater population densities, such as Europe and Asia, is high-speed rail potentially attractive. Even there, most of the existing high-speed trains don't earn 'enough revenue to cover both their construction and operating costs,' the Congressional Research Service report said. The major exceptions seem to be the Tokyo-Osaka and Paris-Lyon lines."

(from Wikimedia Commons)
As I mentioned in a previous post, I traveled on the AVE trains in Spain this summer.  Spain has a population density of about 210 people per square mile.  There are 12 US states with greater densities than this, as follows:
  • New Jersey            1,174
  • Rhode Island          1,008
  • Massacusetts             841
  • Connecticut               726
    • UK                 656
    • Germany         593
  • Maryland                  583
  • Delaware                  453
  • New York                414
  • Florida                      344
    • France            310
  • Ohio                         282
  • Pennsylvania             281
  • E. Coast (MA-FL)   276
  • California                  237
  • Illinois                       232
    • Spain              210
  • Hawaii                      202
Even more to the point, the whole East Coast, from Massachusetts to Florida, is almost as densely populated as France, which is highly regarded for its excellent high-speed rail system.  So this oft-repeated canard that the US just isn't dense enough to accommodate high-speed rail is patently untrue.

Now the second point: "high-speed trains don't earn 'enough revenue to cover both their construction and operating costs."  Neither do highways.  In fact most highways earn no revenues at all.  Zero.  So what's his point?  Highways don't earn enough revenues to cover EITHER their construction or operating costs.  Virtually all transportation systems are subsidized.  So the decision is not whether a system can pay for itself--none do--but rather which systems make the most sense for long-term growth, environmental impact, competitiveness, value, flexibility, etc.  The very fact that some high-speed rail lines actually DO pay for themselves, as he points out, makes a strong argument for choosing them over highways, which never do.

Counterpoint: High-Speed Rail Can Be a Good Investment - Post 3: Greenhouse Gases

Last Monday, Robert J. Samuelson published an op-ed in the Washington Post suggesting the high-speed rail is nothing but pork.  At one point he says:

"What would we get for this huge investment? Not much. Here's what we wouldn't get: any meaningful reduction in traffic congestion, greenhouse gas emissions, air travel, oil consumption or imports."

I think he is wrong on all counts.  I addressed commuting and air travel.  Today I address greenhouse gas emissions.

Yesterday I made the point that intelligently designed and built high-speed rail can reduce air traffic.  And it has in countries with good networks, like France, Spain and Japan.  Every plane trip that is eliminated is going to save thousands of gallons of fuel.  Every gallon of fuel contributes about 25 pounds of CO2 to our atmosphere.  In yesterday's post I pointed out that the trains from Madrid to Barcelona had the capacity of as much as sixty flights per day between those two cities (in reality, since not every train is full, they are not currently offsetting that many flights--but they could).  That's theoretically over 2000 tons of CO2 per day that could be saved.  Less, of course, than whatever greenhouse gases are emitted from running the train.

As I pointed out yesterday, however, as our production of electricity gets cleaner, so will the emissions associated with running the train.  So let's say 1/2 of that for now: 1000 tons per day.  365,000 tons per year.  For one corridor.  I would disagree with Mr. Samuelson's contention of no "meaningful reduction in greenhouse gases."  Maybe that's not much to him, but I think it's meaningful.

Monday What's on the Web: Bracken Hendricks

Every Monday I highlight other bloggers or web contributors who are making important or interesting contributions to climate, sustainability, transportation or market transformation. Check back each week for another installment.
Bracken Hendricks is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.  Mr. Hendricks has been a long-time promoter of policies and ideas to reduce the risk of climate change and is well versed in strategies that engage the private sector in this pursuit also.  You can read his contributions to the Climate Progress blog here.  And you can read his various contributions at CAP here.

 Just yesterday, the Washington Post ran a very cogent op-ed by Mr. Hendricks laying out the foundation for why addressing climate change is as much a conservative issue as a liberal/progressive issue.  In fact, for those of you who read this blog, you will know that I believe there is a strong confluence between business success and environmental protection, and so I am on the same page with Mr. Hendricks.

Keep an eye on Mr. Hendricks's contributions.  He is intelligent and practical and brings strong and pragmatic views in the ongoing challenges presented by climate change.

Counterpoint: High-Speed Rail Can Be a Good Investment - Post 2: Air Travel

Last Monday, Robert J. Samuelson published an op-ed in the Washington Post suggesting the high-speed rail is nothing but pork.  At one point he says:

"What would we get for this huge investment? Not much. Here's what we wouldn't get: any meaningful reduction in traffic congestion, greenhouse gas emissions, air travel, oil consumption or imports."

I think he is wrong on all counts.  Yesterday I addressed commuting.  Today I address air travel.

Here's his point:
"In a report on high-speed rail, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service examined the 12 corridors of 500 miles or fewer with the most daily air traffic in 2007. Los Angeles to San Francisco led the list with 13,838 passengers; altogether, daily air passengers in these 12 corridors totaled 52,934. If all of them switched to trains, the total number of daily airline passengers, about 2 million, would drop only 2.5 percent."

Hmm.  Amtrak's Northeast corridor by itself carried more than 50% of the passenger load he quotes above.  There's something wrong with that number.  I suspect that they did not include intermediate passengers. Since a train can make a few stops (not too many, or it degrades the service), a single corridor actually serves several markets.  Just like the Washington-New York trains serve Baltimore and Philadelphia as well as DC and New York.  I suspect that would increase that number substantially.

When I was in Spain this summer, I took the AVE train from Madrid to Barcelona--386 miles (2 hours, 38 minutes!) (see my post: High-Speed Rail in Spain).  Almost every single train on Friday afternoon was completely sold out, and they run 24 trains between 5:50 AM and 11:30 PM.  Each of those trains can carry 1.5-2 times the number of passengers on a plane, unless you're talking a widebody aircraft.  That's a lot of flights being replaced.

More importantly, however, is that our air traffic system is overburdened.  It will take billions and billions of dollars to upgrade air traffic control and increase capacity of that system.  Take a look at my blog post from last year describing how strategic use of effective rail might eliminate the need to build a $20 billion third Chicago airport.

This op-ed suffers from one of the most common logical errors.  It compares the costs of high-speed rail with, well, nothing.  It assumes that whatever would happen instead wouldn't cost anything at all.  But not only would the costs of trying to increase air capacity be enormous, but the environmental costs would be higher as well.  What kind of analysis is that?  And that doesn't even take into account that trains can be more flexibly fueled (electricity can come from renewables, nuclear or other sources).  For now, planes are pretty much reliant on petroleum, which is getting more and more precious.

More soon.

Counterpoint: High-Speed Rail Can Be a Good Investment - Post 1: Commuting (??!)

Last Monday, Robert J. Samuelson published an op-ed in the Washington Post suggesting the high-speed rail is nothing but pork.  At one point he says:

"What would we get for this huge investment? Not much. Here's what we wouldn't get: any meaningful reduction in traffic congestion, greenhouse gas emissions, air travel, oil consumption or imports."

I think he is wrong on all counts, and I'll deal with each one-at-a-time over the next few days.

First: traffic congestion.  Another quote: "Even assuming 250,000 high-speed rail passengers, there would be no visible effect on routine commuting."

 Well, duh!  High-speed rail has nothing whatsoever to do with commuting.  Setting up this irrelevant strawman that he can then knock over is a waste of ink and damages his credibility on the other points.  It's as stupid as saying, "Building a third Chicago airport will have no visible effect on routine commuting."

I'm certain Mr. Samuelson is smarter than this, so why does he spend two paragraphs trying to make a point that high-speed rail is going to have some sort of effect on traffic.  I don't know.  Some of the commenters to the article suggested it was a paid oil-company promotional op-ed.  I'm not quite that cynical.

Monday What's on the Web: Treehugger

Every Monday I highlight other bloggers or web contributors who are making important or interesting contributions to climate, sustainability, transportation or market transformation. Check back each week for another installment.
This week's Internet resource is Treehugger.  Treehugger adds more than 30 posts a day on topics related to environment, health, and sustainability.  This is how they describe themselves:

"TreeHugger is the leading media outlet dedicated to driving sustainability mainstream. Partial to a modern aesthetic, we strive to be a one-stop shop for green news, solutions, and product information."

Note that Treehugger is a Discovery company, which gives it substantial resources to keep it going.  Also keep in mind that it is part of the Discovery conglomerate, which is essentially an entertainment company.

With as many posts as they put up, it can be overwhelming.  They offer a dozen subtopics to help screen for those posts that are most interesting to you, including "Cars + Transportation," "Travel + Nature," "Business + Politics," etc.

Beyond its postings, Treehugger also includes forums, polls, games, and a series of guides on how to "green" many aspects of life, such as weddings, cars, gift-giving, renovations, etc.

Much of the content is relatively short, without significant in-depth detail, but they occasionally point you to more complete resources.

It's definitely worth keeping an eye on Treehugger, mainly for its ability to find interesting stories from across the sustainability spectrum.

Bike O'Meter Gives Real-Time Snapshot of Bikesharing Worldwide

If you haven't already seen the interactive, animated map that shows station activity for Capital Bikeshare stations, be sure to check it out here.  Following on that, and using the same data, a new app created by Steven Gray, called Bike-o-Meter, is also providing useful real-time data on bikesharing systems from around the world.

Each of the dials shows the percentage of total bikes in use at that particular moment in time.  It is not able to differentiate between bikes that are actually being ridden and those that may be in transit for relocation or taken out for servicing.  However, it uses the maximum number of bikes in the system within the last 24 hours--not the advertised total number of bikes owned by the service--as the denominator in the calculation.  Here's a bigger screenshot showing 2.8% of Capital Bikeshare's bikes in use at 1:04 PM on Wednesday, October 27.

I noticed that Barcelona's usage rate at 7:00 PM was 22%.  There were about 4500 bikes in service in Barcelona at that time, so that's almost 1000 bikes in use.  Wow!  Click on either graphic for a larger view.

Monday What's on the Web: Deep Climate

Every Monday I highlight other bloggers or web contributors who are making important or interesting    contributions to climate, sustainability, transpotation or market transformation. Check back each week for another installment.
Deep Climate is this week's "What's on the Web" blog.  Deep Climate's slogan is: "Exploring climate science disinformation in Canada."  The blog is run by an anonymous Canadian citizen who is clearly well versed in science.  His analysis of a number of papers and other postings can be very thorough and detailed.  For instance, in a post titled "McShane and Wyner 2010" he very thoroughly deconstructs the McShane and Wyner paper published in August that was cheered on sites like Watt's Up With That (a skeptic site).

This is a bit of a geek's site, getting into pretty deep statistics and other topics.  Posts can be very long.  However, it's an important resource (not just for Canadians) in the battle against climate disinformation.

Other recent posts include:

Wegman under investigation by George Mason University

The blog also includes an occasional open thread, which allows for an open discussion on topics of interest among the readers.

Michael MacCracken's letter in the Washington Post

The following letter to the editor appeared in today's Washington Post.  It was written by Michael MacCracken, who is the chief scientist for climate-change programs at the Climate Institute.  I am in total agreement with Mr. MacCracken.  In particular, to get maximum results, BOTH carbon taxes and market-based trading programs must be developed.

With so little being done politically on climate change, Dana Milbank ["Plan B on climate change," op-ed, Oct. 17] noted that scientists want to research additional measures, often called geoengineering or, better, climate engineering. Removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere will be essential, but it will have a significant effect only with sharp emissions reductions. Reducing warming by interfering with incoming solar radiation appears possible but is likely to have unintended side effects and involves difficult governance issues.
Climate engineering thus makes sense as a strategy only after making commitments to limit emissions. The United States needs to take the lead and demonstrate the technical ingenuity to show that a modern economy can prosper with low greenhouse gas emissions, and Congress needs to enact incentives for this to happen. 

Ending dithering requires both a well-designed cap-and-trade program to provide incentives for industry to move aggressively and cost-effectively, and a carbon tax with per capita rebates to provide incentives for families and individuals to adopt green technologies. Because mitigation and adaptation will require time and effort, climate engineering may well be needed to moderate the worst effects. 

Monday What's on the Web: Climate Crock of the Week

Every Monday I highlight other bloggers or web contributors who are making important or interesting contributions to climate, sustainability, transportation or market transformation. Check back each week for another installment.
This week I debut my first "What's on the Web" YouTube personality: Greenman 3610, who puts out a series of videos entitled "Climate Change Crock of the Week."  Although not always weekly, the producer of these videos, Peter Sinclair, regularly posts extremely well produced  YouTube videos that primarily debunk various climate change skeptic arguments, like this one.

There are currently about 40 videos in Greenman3610's list.  Visit Climate Crock of the Week, and share with your skeptic and non-skeptic friends.  The videos are entertaining and informative.

Capital Bikeshare Works Again

Following up on last week's experience, I used the Capital Bikeshare system again today.  It was a very similar location.  I was on a discussion panel at 1875 Connecticut Avenue, NW, which is about 4-5 blocks north of DuPont Circle.  There's a CaBi station at 19th & Florida right behind the building.  I got a bike there and rode straight down 21st Street to 21st & I.  That took under 10 minutes.  Then I walked the two blocks to Foggy Bottom to catch the Orange Line home.

CaBi saved me a 10-minute walk to DuPont Circle plus the transfer from the Red Line to the Orange Line.  I also saved 40 cents on my Metro fare.  Woo-hoo!

Monday What's on the Web: Ricky Rood's blog on Wunderground

Every Monday I highlight other bloggers or web contributors who are making important or interesting contributions to climate, sustainability, transportation or market transformation. Check back each week for another installment.
 I previously featured Dr. Jeff Masters in my Monday What's on the Web series.  This week I feature his colleague, Ricky Rood. Dr. Masters focuses quite a bit on severe weather: hurricanes and the like.  Ricky Rood, however, focuses his posts almost entirely on climate change, and he's been doing it quite effectively since 2007.  Dr. Rood is a professor at the University of Michigan, teaching about climate change and its interaction with all aspects of society (bio).

His posts are thoughtful and thorough and lend a lot to the discussion.  Recently he posted a 4-part series that included the question "What to do?" in each one.
I highly recommend this series of articles along with Dr. Rood's blog in its entirety.

No More "Ridiculous" Car Trips

The city of Malmo, Sweden adopted a marketing campaign highlighting "ridiculous" car trips--those less than five kilometers (about 3 miles).  Here's a video highlighting their efforts:

No ridiculous car trips from Martin Lang on Vimeo.

Monday What's on the Web: The Progressive Fix

Every Monday I highlight other bloggers or web contributors who are making important or interesting contributions to climate, sustainability, transportation or market transformation. Check back each week for another installment.

This week's profile is The Progressive Fix.   The Progressive Fix is a blog associated with the Progressive Policy Institute.  It covers a wide variety of topics that support progressive topics, including many that mirror closely the ideas and policies that this blog endorses.  It tends to be more political and policy oriented than market and business oriented, but covers a lot of good ground nonetheless.

This blog covers the whole range of topics, from Afghanistan to Urban Planning.  By going to their content-by-topic page you can find those topics of particular interest, such as Environment or Green Jobs

In particular, PPI has been a strong supporter of high-speed rail (two previous posts on this blog here and here) and investments in infrastructure that will support a growing economy. 

Recent posts that may be of interest to my readers include:

How the Military is Leading the Way on Energy Security

Congress and Climate: The Long View

How To Pay For High-Speed Rail




My First (mostly positive) Experience Using Capital Bikeshare

Today I had a great opportunity to try out my new membership to Capital Bikeshare.  I was attending a 1/2 day seminar at the Hilton Hotel on Connecticut Avenue, north of Dupont Circle.

Since I take the Orange Line from Arlington, I decided to disembark at Foggy Bottom and ride up to the conference, allowing me to skip the transfer at Metro Center.

The station at Foggy Bottom is not yet in place, so I had to walk two blocks east to the station at 21st & I Streets.  There were about 12-15 bikes at this station, ready to go.  It was pretty easy; I just inserted my fob in the slot, the light turned yellow, then green, and the bike unlocked.  I put my bag in the rack and secured it with the attached bungee and headed up 20th Street.

(View Steve Offutt's bikeshare map from October 1 2010 in a larger map)

At first I did not notice the station at 20th & Florida.  I had misremembered the location as being at 19th and Florida.  When I got there, I did not see a station.  I called the toll-free number on the bike and was directed to the station by a customer service agent.  The reason I had missed it was because it is a much smaller station and there was only a single bike in it.

About noon I left my event and went back to the station for the return trip.  Unfortunately, there were no bikes at 19th & Florida.  I walked to Dupont Circle to the station on Massachusetts avenue and got a bike there.  During the time I got that bike, two other people did as well.  I had a short conversation with a woman who was using one for the first time and was very excited about it.

I rode back to 21st & I, returned the bike, walked to Foggy Bottom and took the Metro home.  I saved 95 cents over the fares I would have paid had I taken the Metro to Dupont.

From this experience, it appears that the system is getting used:
  • At least two others must have used the station near the hotel, since the two bikes that were there when I went in were gone when I came out.  
  • The station at Dupont was used by two others just in the few minutes I was there
  • The station at 21st & I Street had clearly been used numerous times over the 3 hours between my two visits, because the bikes were all moved around from their original locations.
Here's hoping they get the rest of the stations opened pronto--particularly downtown stations in advance of the Metro shutdown during Columbus day weekend.

Can Capital Bikeshare get up and running in time for Metro shutdown?

(Photo by M. V. Jantzen)
I recently sent this note to the contact person at DDOT working on the new Capital Bikeshare system.

Just in case you were not aware, Metro is planning major maintenance and a huge shutdown on the Orange & Blue lines for Columbus Day weekend.
Farragut West, McPherson & Metro Center will be closed (Red line in Metro Center will be open, though). People will be shuttled from Foggy Bottom and Federal Triangle.

This is an enormous opportunity to show the value of Capital Bikeshare.  All those Orange & Blue Line riders who deboard at Foggy Bottom or Federal Triangle are going to be trying to get somewhere from there. Also Red line riders downtown wanting to transfer. Waiting for the shuttles is going to be a nightmare I'm certain. As you deploy the new stations, it would be really smart to focus on those that serve the affected areas before Columbus Day weekend (which is 11 days away). Think of the awesome marketing when your members deboard at Foggy Bottom, hop on a bike and happily ride off while everyone else stands in an enormous crowd of people trying to shove onto a line of buses. PR and media dream, too.  Don't miss this chance of a lifetime.   Perform well and you will gain hundreds of members just by being in the right place at the right time.

If I were you, I would totally focus on these stations for the next week:
  • South of Massachusetts
  • West of 6th St. NW
  • North of Constitution
  • East of New Hampshire/24th St.
I count 17 stations in that area, but almost none are up and running except around GW.  At the very least you will want to have the metro stations covered along with the station at RRB not far from Federal Triangle.  Better would be to have all 17 in full service.

I'd like to post something on Greater Greater Washington and CommuterPage about how CaBi is the solution to the shutdown, so if you can let me know which stations will be in service before October 8, that will help a lot.  I hope it's all of them.
Good luck,

Monday What's on the Web: Street Films

Every Monday I highlight other bloggers or web contributors who are making important or interesting contributions to climate, sustainability, transportation or market transformation. Check back each week for another installment.

Street Films is an awesome site filled with hundreds of videos related to the urban form--particularly transportation.  Based in New York, many of the films feature New York City, but one can find interesting perspectives from around the world.

They categorize their content under these topics:
One of my favorites, which injects a good deal of humor and satire, is this one:

Capital Bikeshare launch - Some photos

Yesterday's launch of Capital Bikeshare was a great success, underscored by perfect weather: cool temperatures and blue skies.  I rode with a caravan of riders who delivered bikes to the Crystal City bikesharing stations.  Here are a few photos from the event:

Station at 15th and Crystal Drive before it is populated with bikes
The brand new bikes all lined up on Tingey Plaza
DDOT chief Gabe Klein (at mic), Arlington County Board Chair, Jay Fisette (in black shirt) and Mayor Adrian Fenty (right) at the launch event
All the riders saddling up for the inaugural ride

Riding along the Southwest waterfront in DC
Our caravan of riders turning onto the 14th Street Bridge access ramp
The Crystal City station now populated with bikes thanks to these riders

Monday What's on the Web: The Story of Stuff

Every Monday I highlight other bloggers or web contributors who are making important or interesting contributions to climate, sustainability, transportation or market transformation. Check back each week for another installment.

If you have never seen Annie Leonard's video about the environmental costs of consumerism, then please watch it right now.  It's an entertaining but also sobering look at how our current economic system is zooming us along a pathway to certain environmental catastrophe.  As though climate change isn't enough on its own!

There are several videos on the Story of Stuff Project web site.   I'm good with three of them, but I disagree with many of the points in the Cap and Trade one.  So watch the other three.

Reports on Costs of Dulles Stop on Silver Line are Absurd

Today's Washington Post reported that the estimated costs for Phase 2 of the Silver Line are much higher than originally estimated.  The part of those estimates associated with the Dulles station, $640 million higher to place it immediately adjacent to the terminal, must be highly inflated.

The original costs of Phase 2 were in the $2.5 - $3 billion range.  The new estimates add about $600 million. Keep in mind that these are preliminary engineering studies and are thus subject to significant revision.

Specifically, though, this article reports that the costs associated with the Dulles stop would be $640 million lower by putting the stop 600 feet away rather than immediately in front of the terminal as originally planned.
This is a recent issue, and here are two recent GGW posts that deal with this:
The $640 million cost associated with this is totally absurd.  That is more than the Woodrow Wilson Bridge cost, which is two superstructures across a major river over a mile long.  Give me a break.  It will not cost $1,000,000 per foot.  The reason this cost estimate is so high is because the people doing the estimates are being constrained and not allowed to think outside the box.  I am way out of my league here, since I am no engineeer.  But I suspect that the costs are being driven by the assumption that the rail line and station need to be shoehorned in without making any changes to the existing access to Dulles by cars. 

However, if one were to instead look at the situation as a clean slate and redesign access for all modes as part of the project, it would have to cost way less than that.  I imagine one could demolish the entire infrastructure in front of the terminal and completely rebuild it for less than $640 million.  What is needed is vision.  Ask the simpler question, "How could easy and optimal access for the rail line and cars be accomplished most effectively given the existing space?"  If it's cheaper to tear out some of the roads and then put them back somewhere else than to try to dig a tunnel for the train, then do that instead.  There has to be creative solutions that will put the terminal where it belongs--inside--for a lot, lot less than $640 million.

Regardless, I stand by my comment I posted to GGW back on August 13:
"I cannot imagine an airport siting its automobile passenger drop-off 600 feet from the terminal entrance. It's the accumulation of these little "compromises" that eventually add up to a system that is inconvenient, as Reza rants about above. Where do we stop? If 600 feet is no big deal, then what about 700? or 800? The mindset is just wrong.
"It's no different than making 10-minute headways into 14-minute headways on a train line (average waiting time goes up 2 minutes). Hey, it saves some money and is only a *minor* inconvenience, why not? Well, if it's already 14 minutes, then make it a round 15 for simplicity's sake. And you know the rest.
"Design and architecture send signals. The signal being sent by this design will be--for the decades it is in existence--that Metro is the second-class mode people ought to use to travel to the airport. On the other hand, imagine that the station for the Silver Line were actually MORE convenient than being dropped at the curb. Imagine that! A station located and designed so that every airport user says, 'Wow! Look how convenient and cool that is.' As it is with this new proposal, it will be essentially completely out of sight, and many people probably won't even know it exists. Then what signal is being sent? That, in my opinion, is the much bigger value."