Sunday, June 29, 2008

Gas Prices are hitting the Amish

While they lead a totally different life than you and me, the Amish community of Ohio is feeling the effect of high gas prices as well. It is important to note that will they avoid all the materialism that most Americans encourage, they still need cheap gas to get by just like the rest of us.

WKYC, Cleveland Reports:

UNITY, Ohio (AP) -- They may use horses instead of autos for transportation, but the rising cost of gasoline is still pinching the wallets of members of an Amish community in southern Ohio.

Dan Miller, a carpenter and horse breeder who bought an Adams County market in July, says several items have doubled in price from last year to this year.

Those include taking care of a horse, the cost of propane and the fuel that runs his coolers at the market.

Miller says he along with his wife and five children will make fewer trips by taxi to surrounding areas because a 10-mile trip has risen from $10 to $25.

Amish continue to survive even without a car in very rural communities. Of course they distance themselves from a lot of the modern inventions that have came into existence in the last 200 years, they still rely on some of them. I think we should look at parts of their lifestyle to improve our own. Buying local, using only what you need and living sustainably are key values that they preach everyday. I'm not advocating that we throw away everything modern, just that we do what's best for our long term sustainability.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Global Warming, Energy Usage by 2030

Brian Williams highlighted a special report by Intelligence Officials that showed that global warming could cause for an increase in terrorism and destabilize countries in the third world. Also in this video, the Department of Energy predicts that energy usage will increase 50% by 2030.

Once again, our politicians are ignoring the problem by proposing gas tax holidays, increases in oil production, and lawsuits again oil companies. What really needs to happen is a huge increase in the amount of money spent on our national infrastructure. We need to implement more clean energy, mass transit, fuel efficient vehicles and more sustainable living. How clear does the picture have to be before Congress stands up and takes some action? "Since this isn't going to happen till 2030, we have several years to make changes" most politicians will say. Hopefully by that time they themselves are looking for new employment because someone that is willing to take action took their job.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Amtrak Ridership Continues to Skyrocket

I'm sure you've all heard about this over the past 6 months, but what's important is that the news media is showing that Amtrak is important to sustainable development and transportation. Politics over the past 40 years have bled passenger rail service till this day. House Resolution 6003 shows that perhaps politics is moving aside so that we can finally have a decent rail service in this country. You can get some more details about Amtrak's ridership growth and future plans in this CBS News Video.

As what the pundit from the National Association for Railroad Passengers stated, we are spending only $1.5 billion instead of $8 billion a year on passenger railway service. Every year that goes by we have to make up for the lack of funding. At what point do we reach when what we have is so far behind we can't even afford to continue to fund it? Are we just waiting for personal teleportation technology? Is that why our transportation infrastructure is the worst for a modern country? As gas prices and global warming continue to rise, perhaps people will start to demand more from their elected officials. At this rate, we'll probably get an answer in 50 years.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Want High Speed Rail in the US? Vote Obama

I hate to make this a political blog because I know everyone hears it all the time. However, I think when you discuss the choice between green transportation alternatives and continuing our rapid decline into dirty energy dependency, you have to look at politics and what is stopping us from cleaning up our act.

With that said, Barack Obama is a clear supporter of Mass Transit initiatives, Amtrak, alternative energy and other changes that will honestly impact our environment for the better. McCain while he has some progressive ideals and he's shown in the pass that he can be non-partisan when it comes to the environment has recently drifted back towards a reactionist viewpoint when it comes to transportation changes rather than a logical one.

Obama has always supported increased spending for mass transit, Amtrak, alternative energy and other programs to help the environment. However, if you have doubt, check out the most recent statement in Miami.
And we’ll also invest in our ports, roads, and high-speed rails – because I don’t want to see the fastest train in the world built halfway around the world in Shanghai, I want to see it built right here in the United States of America.
McCain on the other hand has shown that he doesn't care for Amtrak, Mass Transit and any hope we had for developing alternative fuels under a presidency run by him has affectively disappeared. I don't necessarily care if people vote for McCain if this issue isn't important to them, but please be informed when you select that name on a ballot.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Rocky Mountain High (Praises for Transit)

MSNBC had a great clip this evening about how some cities are doing it right. In the clip, they highlight Denver which is using their new Light Rail system as a way to alleviate high gas prices. It's pretty clear that even in spawling cities like Denver, Light Rail can work.

So why aren't other cities learning from Denver? Is it because they think there is an end in sight with high oil prices? Do they think that cars give them freedom? Or are they just opposed to higher taxes? Something tells me that most people are uninformed about mass transit....

(thanks for the overhead wire for this great video)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Say No to Off-Shore Oil Drilling

I know the idea of cheap domestic oil is tempting, but the fact is that oil production from off shore oil platforms will take 5 years to trickle down to US consumers. The oil that would result from any off shore drilling would be limited. Based on the flow that comes from off-shore in Texas, it would be a small percentage of our daily use.

Proponents of drilling off-shore say that it will increase supply. The fact is that our refineries are at 90% production. They are pretty much maxed out in terms of supply. Building huge platforms in the ocean costs billions of dollars, if oil companies build these mammoths in the ocean, they are going to pass the cost onto consumers. The reason that gas hasn't risen to even higher levels is because oil companies haven't built any new infrastructure for the increased demand. If they are forced to do this, they will pass the costs on because they know their future in oil is limited.

Drilling for oil in AWNR and off-shore is a very short period stop-gate that doesn't solve our energy problem, it feeds our addiction. Drilling off the coast in Florida, California and other states will only increase our demand for oil as it will artificially decrease the supply of oil. Drilling off-shore would have the same impact that ANWR drilling would have. The Department of Energy said that drilling in the ANWR would only reduce prices by 0.75 cents a BARREL by 2025.

The fact is that if we want a sustainable future, we need to invest in alternative energy so that our transportation can operate via electricity. Why go through the middle men of the gas company when you can easily get a more efficient engine that's better for the environment and cheaper.

We can produce 5 million plug-in hybrid vehicles faster before any off shore oil platform becomes operational. Beyond that, they are better for the environment and we eventually cut back our dependence on foreign oil in a way that's great for the economy.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Re-Urbanism Making a Comeback?

It appears that maybe Americans are changing their ideas about a society in which everyone has one acre of land, two SUVs and a McMansion. Of course this is all prelimaniary and who knows it could just be another yuppie fad that will pass once society deems it's not cool again to live in the cities.

While it's horrible that it seems that Suburbia is slowing disappearing and housing prices may drop rapidly in certain areas just because of poor financial and civic planning. I see a lot of positives coming out of this. It'll be a long time before our urban centers are revived to something coherent of a typical urban center, but this is a positive step. The interesting note is that it doesn't seem to be influenced by gas prices as much as the younger generation that doesn't like the suburban environment. The numbers do show that 40% of some cities want walkable communities.

I grew up in suburbia and I'm still here but once I get a job in the city, I'm going to move back there as it's much cheaper to live in Cleveland than in the suburbs and if I'm in a good neighborhood what do I have to worry about? Cleveland has some historic neighborhoods that are trendy but relatively safe. In fact, the city of Cleveland got it's first Wal-Mart two years ago and made such a big deal about it. The mayor that pushed the deal through didn't get re-elected and the shopping center has largely been unpopular.

We've seen this happening in San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and other cities and it should trickle down. What this movement needs is more jobs in cities. As long as jobs stay in the suburbs so will the people. In certain cities, local politicians have had much difficulty getting employers to develop in their city. Which is surprising because in a lot of American cities, the land is cheaper than in the suburbs.

Hopefully, this movement will be sustained and we won't change our minds in a few years when the economy is much better. I hope that suburbs stay put as well because that could be a huge economic issue if our suburbs disappeared. However, I think they need to stop sprawling outwards and start building density like a typical satellite city. Our population will increase to 400 million by 2035 so increasing our city sizes is the best way we can create a sustainable future.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Compressed Air Car and the US

As some of you know, Tata Motors is working on the Compressed Air Car that is expected to be released in Europe and Asia later this year. The car costs 1.50 Euros to fill up and will have a range of 200km and operate at speeds of 110km an hour. Tata plans to have a model that sells for about 3,500 Euros (5000 US approx.).

You can learn more about the Compressed Air Car on the BBC special that announced it a couple of days ago.

One has to think though that with rising fuel prices here, that the vehicle may be a great addition to the US market. Of course with US Safety Requirements that could be impossible. The weight of the car is probably limited and therefore it would unlikely survive any crash tests that US uses because a lot of our tests on based on large cars impacting smaller ones.

With that said, at a price of 5,000 USD and something that costs 2.25 to fill up it could be a really attractive option for those that don't need all the fancy stuff that is currently out on the market.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

AMTRAK: Veto Proof Addition

While Bush has threaten to veto the Amtrak spending bill that will provide nearly $15 billion over 5 years for the system, that threat is no longer an issue as House Resolution 6003 passed the floor 311-104. Some of the funding would go towards state matching funds so that states can implement their own inter-city rail service.

Besides the $14.9 billion provided for Amtrak and intercity rail, an amendment to the bill would authorize $1.5 billion for Washington's Metro transit system over the next 10 years.

Unlike the Senate version, the House bill includes a requirement for the Department of Transportation to seek proposals from private companies to create a high-speed service that would take travelers from Washington to New York in two hours or less. However, it is speculated that while it's possible it's more likely that Amtrak look into new ways of funding improvements on the business line in the United States.

With record fuel prices comes record ridership. In 2007, 25.8 million passengers took Amtrak for a ride. The railroad expects ridership to approach 28 million this year, Amtrak spokesperson Cliff Black said. May was the biggest month in Amtrak's 37-year history, with total ridership up 12 percent over last year and ticket revenue up 16 percent over last year. Black said Amtrak's marketing research indicates that about half the increase can be attributed to gas prices.

With $15 billion collected for the future operating costs of Amtrak, all that needs to be collected is $300 billion to improve the infrastructure so that service can once again be world class. Ridership on airlines and falling and raising on Amtrak. It's about time we fund Amtrak so that it can once again be the successful service that it was meant to be.

Toyota Plugin Hybrid

It's no secret that Toyota is working on a plug-in hybrid. The only question was when is one going to be released. That question was answered today when they announced they will release a plug-in hybrid vehicle in 2010 to compete with the Chevy Volt.

Toyota is best know for the Prius Hybird, but what is unknown will the Prius be converted to a plug-in hybrid or will it be a new design. What is know is that it will use lithium-ion batteries instead of nickel-metal hydride which is currently used in the hybird Prius vehicles.

With this announcement, it's clear that Toyota, Ford, GM, Nissan and Honda are all working on Plug-in Hybrid vehicles. I wonder at which point will more vehicles makers jump on the alternative energy vehicles bandwagon. Will it be $4.50, $5 or maybe $6 a gallon? Of course there are several alternatives and plug-in hybrids will be well out of reach for most American drivers.

In the end this is great news as we begin to relinquish our dependency on the dirty source of energy that is oil. I wonder how long it will take for us to do the same with coal. The sooner the better, but mostly likely it won't be until Americans suffer from rising electricity costs that bring plug in hybrid charging costs to what gasoline costs currently. Or perhaps by that time people will have sustainable energy sources on their property, I know I will.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Anaheim-Vegas Maglev Train Gets Initial $45M for Environment Study

According to Engadget, looks like we may see a Maglev train in the US. While I'm definitely happy to see this come to life, I wonder if it's just a pie in the sky as Americans will find a reason to oppose this even though it's clearly needed.
It's been a while since we heard anything about the proposed Anaheim-Las Vegas maglev train. As of Friday, the project is moving forward as part of a transportation bill signed by President Bush that puts aside $45 million for the 300 mile-per-hour train. While the project initially called for a $3- to $5 billion budget, this little chunk of money will get things rolling (or, as the case may be, floating). The train is projected to whisk people from Disneyland to Vegas in under two hours. No word on proposed launches or actual construction, but we assume Disney will get involved with some extra cash at this point.
While I'm totally for this project, I wonder why they are choosing Maglev? TGV Electric-like conventional steel-rail trains are just as fast and don't cost nearly as much. I'm thinking maybe it's just a gimmick because whenever people hear of Maglev they think of awesome. Hopefully, the study will show that using a conventional TGV style will be better and if it does go through they can implement it into the possible future California HSR Network.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

A Brief History of Gasoline Consumption in America has a great cartoon that shows the American viewpoint of how cheap gas has influence our vehicle purchasing behavior. The cartoon is predictably true and shows following the 1970s when gas was expensive, rationed and proven bad for the environment; we switched to larger fuel inefficient vehicles because of the price of gasoline. This chart here shows that vehicle fuel efficiency jumped in the late 1970s but totally plateaued as many didn't feel it necessary to conserve a finite source of energy. We suffer now because we are dependent on gasoline, oil and natural gas and weening ourself off of these resources will take decades.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

How to Fix Amtrak

I wrote an article for Environmental Graffiti talking about how it's time to fix Amtrak. You can read it here. In that article you can see why Amtrak suffers. It barely owns any right of way, it's suffers from delays and poor trackage and it's been having to complete against airlines and cars which have been given far more money.

With that said, after we fix the infrastructure problems of Amtrak and start to operate new and more frequent service, how should Amtrak get rid of the stigma that is has about itself. I broke it down into Amtrak should operate into brands much like European rail travel does. This will help Americans identify with what particular service they want. You can read below.

National Amtrak

Amtrak - This brand would continue to operate the 4-12 hour trips that are typical for current Amtrak routes. They would be offered as a low-cost alternative to flying and driving and typical speed average would be around 60-80mph with no delays as infrastructure improvements would have been made. A few examples of routes could be New York to Cleveland, Chicago to Memphis, Kansas City to Dallas. Typical trips would be no less than 200 miles and no less than 500 miles.

Nightrak - This brand would operate the long hull routes across the country that would be exclusively sleeper cabins and coach would be consist of an open bay bunk bed set up and a much larger lounge area. It would operate as a cheaper alternative to flying under most circumstances but would be much more comfortable. The normal trip would be 12 hours to 30 hours. Service would be sped up so that it wouldn't take longer than 2 nights to get across the country. Typical routes would be Chicago to Los Angeles, New York to San Francisco, and Las Vegas to Miami. Trip lengths would be anything more than 500 miles. Average speed would be 70-90mph

Daytrak - This would be a brand that provides short intercity services between states. While most commuter rail services would be funded by municipalities and states, Daytrak would fill any intercity gaps that may exist. Typical travel time would be 1-4 hours. A typical type of service could be Chicago to Milwaukee, Pittsburgh to Cleveland and Portland to Seattle. Trip lengths would be anything from 100 miles to 200 miles. Average speed would be 60-80mph

Speedtrak - All services that operate on a high-speed rail network and operate as speeds faster than 200mph. Service will be comparable to Daytrak, however speeds will be much faster. Business Class services and higher will use Biztrak branding on a separate train.

Biztrak - Biztrak would be the new brand to oversee the service targeted towards business travels. Some Biztrak services could operate on the same line as Daytrak services, but they will operate at a higher speed and offer only Business and Higher class seating. There will be several levels of Biztrak services.
- Biztrak Express - Sservice that operates 200mph or faster on a HSR right of way and only stops at the most popular stations.
- Biztrak Regional - Service that operates 200mph or faster on a HSR right of way and stops at all stops on the line.
- Biztrak Commuter - Service that operates at 120mph or faster on a conventional right of way and stops at half of the rail stations.
- Biztrak Suite - A potential service that can run across country from NYC and LA for business travelers, operating at speeds of 200mph. Service will take 20-24 hours and private suites will be offered.

State Operated Rail
- Intrastate HSR (i.e. California HSR) that doesn't cross borders
- Intrastate Regional services (San Joaquins, Pacific Surfliner)
- Intrastate Intercity services (Capital Corridor)

City/Regional Operated Rail
- Commuter
- Heavy/Subways
- Light Rail
- Streetcars/Trams

Of course, if passenger rail service ever got to the point where it was truly profitable again for private companies to run it, I think we should look at that route as well. At which point, I would hope that Amtrak and companies would be spun off as a private company and any government funding would go only towards capital improvements that all passenger services could utilize. I've always been a proponent of "Socialize the Risk, Privatized the Profits", so I can see rail transportation taking off if we actually invested in it because private companies can compete to offer the best services as long as they don't have to pay for the infrastructure.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Mass Transit Continues to Rise

I think MSNBC pretty much says it best.

Current State of our Infrastructure

Second Ave Sagas has a nice little write up about the state of our failing infrastructure in the United States. The site comments on an article from the Wall Street Journal about how public transportation authorities are hurting from the rise in diesel prices like the rest of the country.

Rising fuel prices have hit public transportation harder than consumers. Diesel, the main fuel for bus systems, has gone up 40% since the beginning of the year to an average $4.72 a gallon last week. Regular gasoline is up 27%. Adding to the crunch: Transit budgets that are largely funded by sales tax revenue are shrinking as consumers spend less in response to tough economic times.

“We’re all getting killed,” says Cal Marsella, general manager for Denver’s Regional Transportation District.

To compensate, many agencies have been canceling plans to expand service, raiding emergency funds and raising fares to stay in budget. When that’s not enough, agencies are resorting to cuts in service. In a survey of the nation’s public transit agencies to be released Friday, the American Public Transportation Association, which lobbies for greater support of public transit, found that 19% of bus operators responding are cutting service to some degree, while 21% of rail operators are doing the same.
It's becoming all too familiar once again as we as a country can not foresee our future even though the history is all written down. We like to avoid being told we're doing something wrong instead of listening to facts reported by scientists and historians that show we are at an age where cheap gas will not last. What does our president do when faced with the fact that our environment is being destroyed? He threatens to block laws in congress because it could raise gas prices by 0.53 cents.

It's time we actually look at ourselves and see we are the cause for expensive gas, we are the cause of environmental destruction, we are the cause of congestion on roadways. Why do we block mass transit? The horrible excuse of increased taxes? The taxes that go towards lowering the cost of transportation. People that ride public transit save over $2000 a year for the price of perhaps a few hundred dollars a piece to improve public transportation. The writing is clear and we just ignore it and wait till we can't go anywhere cause most people can't afford it.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Highways for Rivers

Orphan Road has an interesting snip from the Seattle Times concerning the replacement of a busy highway with a boulevard and ancient river in Seoul, Korea. Once a nightmare with traffic, crime, slums and unwanted pollution, the viaduct was replaced with a boulevard and river. It has been very successful redeveloping that area of the city of Seoul.

It's amazing that people still call for more highways, when all we need to do is tear them down and redesign how we live our lives. If there is anyone out that would rather live in the first image please tell me because I have some oceanfront property in Tennessee to sell you.