Cars Rule!

Mass transit cannot now, or probably ever, compete with cars, as this article from New Geography summarizing a large study concludes.

The article:

The Economist provides a useful perspective on the continuing decline of mass transit ridership in its current number. It starts with relating how Juana, a Guatemalan immigrant to Los Angeles, no longer takes the bus and now drives everywhere. She told The Economist that she had “two aspirations, to learn English and get a car,” which she did.

I heard a similar story a decade ago from a Gabonese student in Paris, who said that he needed a car “so that he could have feet.”

The Economist shows that the broad ridership decline occurring in US metropolitan areas (see graph) is also occurring in some of international cities, like London and Madrid.

The Economist cites more liberal car loans, working at home and ride hailing services, like Uber and Lyft.

Juana’s story is typical. For the most part mass transit is not competitive with cars. The average employee in the New York metropolitan area (with the most extensive mass transit system in the United States) can reach 13 times as many jobs in 30 minutes by car as by mass transit. In some US cities, the car reaches at least 100 times as many jobs. There is no conceivable level of public spending that can materially change that.

The car enriches lives in ways that mass transit cannot, by making millions of additional jobs accessible, by increasing shopping opportunities and by vastly expanding the potential for leisure and recreational travel. The reality is that when people can afford cars, they buy them.

Retrieved July 13, 2018 from http://www.newgeography.com/content/006019-mass-transit-ridership-losses

Posted in Transportation

Sacramento’s Bad Drivers

I knew we were bad drivers, but not this bad, third worst in country according to this rating, from a story in the Sacramento Bee.

An excerpt.

There is some bad news and some good news for Sacramento drivers.

The good news is that the city’s drivers are no longer ranked as the worst in the country, according to Insurance news site Quote Wizard. The bad news is Sacramento’s drivers still ranked as third worst, getting the nod over Riverside and Omaha, Neb.

The study, released Thursday, ranked cities based on traffic incidents — including accidents, speeding tickets and DUIs — and citations, including tickets for behaviors like distracted driving.

Why the improvement for Sacramento? The study suggests drivers could have been inspired by last year’s rank, as well as a decrease in some of the categories tracked.

“Things are looking up in Sactown,” the report said. “Last year’s worst-driving city is now only a distant third! A drop in speeding and accidents improved Sacramento’s overall driving score, even though they stayed relatively static in terms of DUIs and violations.”

The study’s findings about DUIs show that a crackdown by the California Highway Patrol may not have helped as much as officers had hoped, at least in Sacramento.

Other California locales in the top 10 include the “San Francisco Bay Area” at No. 5, San Diego at No. 6 and Los Angeles at No. 9. Bakersfield and Fresno also made the list of 75 cities, ranking No. 12 and No. 24, respectively.

Omaha, which went from No. 8 to No. 1 this year, was said to have the worst drivers because of “sizeable increases in accidents, speeding, and driving violations.” Riverside moved from No. 3 to No. 2 thanks to “a higher DUI rate than any other city,” the report said.

In contrast, the cities that ranked as the five best were Orlando, Fla., Miami, El Paso, Texas, Detroit and Little Rock, Ark. The report attributed “rock-bottom DUI and speeding rates” to Orlando’s top spot.

Retrieved July 13, 2018 from https://www.sacbee.com/news/local/transportation/article214787130.html

 

Posted in Transportation

Joy of Driving

The often overlooked fact about transportation choices, from Mobility Lab.

An excerpt.

I’ll admit it: I drove a U-haul cargo van last week and I liked it.

It was stressful maneuvering the van through the city (I dented another car and got a ticket in two separate instances), but when we drove down Virginian highways, it was so much fun. The speed, the scenery, and jamming out to the radio with my best friend in the passenger seat – it was awesome.

But I work at Mobility Lab, an organization whose mission is, quite simply, to reduce the amount of cars on the road. How could I enjoy driving?

We know that people often choose driving over more convenient modes for irrational reasons, like perceiving that public transportation will take more time or be more expensive than it actually is. But that’s only part of it: people might choose driving simply because they like driving, even if they know it’s more expensive and slower than other options.

Researchers have split the motives for driving into three camps: instrumental, affective, and symbolic.

Instrumental  is when driving makes more logistic sense or is a habit, like it is for people living in car-centric suburbs. (Since most of the talk about transportation behavior assumes people are rational actors whose sole motivation is practicality, we’re going to focus on the other two motives.)

Affective  is the feeling of driving itself – the speed, the “freedom,” and the comfort of being in a car. Symbolic is pretty obvious: your car is a status symbol that says something about you to the world.

“[T]he car is much more than a means of transport,” Dutch researcher Linda Steg writes. “The way people talk about their cars, and the ways cars are advertised makes it perfectly clear that the car fulfills many of such symbolic and affective functions.”

Steg and her team at the University of Groningen surveyed car commuters in Rotterdam to find out how much of driving was motivated by feeling and status, not practicality. It’s a lot, it turns out. “People more often commute by car when they judge its symbolic and affective functions more favorably,” Steg writes. “Even commuter traffic, which may be considered highly functional, is most strongly-related to non-instrumental motives.”

Interestingly, Steg found that men are more strongly motivated by feeling and status in their decision to drive than women are. (Perhaps this explains why men own luxury sports cars in much higher rates than women.)

Steg isn’t the only researcher in this space, however. A study from the journal Innovation found that people who enjoy driving recreationally – like on a road trip – are also subconsciously motivated to drive for non-recreation trips because of the intrinsic joy of driving. This causes “excess travel,” which is either driving for longer distances or driving when it’s a bad modal choice.

Retrieved July 9, 2018 from https://mobilitylab.org/2018/06/27/how-much-does-the-joy-of-driving-affect-peoples-decision-to-drive/?utm_

Posted in Environmentalism, Transportation

California’s Environmentalism

As examined by the City Journal; a must read.

An excerpt.

Environmental extremism increasingly dominates California. The state is making a concerted attack on energy companies in the courts; a bill is pending in the legislature to fine waiters $1,000—or jail them—if they offer people plastic straws; and UCLA issued a report describing pets as a climate threat. The state has taken upon itself the mission of limiting the flatulence of cows and other farm animals. As the self-described capital of the anti-Trump resistance, California presents itself as the herald of a green, more socially and racially just society. That view has been utterly devastated by a new report from Chapman University, in which coauthors David Friedman and Jennifer Hernandez demonstrate that California’s draconian anti-climate-change regime has exacerbated economic, geographic, and racial inequality. And to make things worse, California’s efforts to save the planet have actually done little more than divert greenhouse-gas emissions (GHG) to other states and countries.

Jerry Brown’s return to Sacramento in 2011 brought back to power one of the first American politicians to embrace the “limits of growth.” Brown has long worried about resource depletion (including such debunked notions as “peak oil”), taken a Malthusian approach to population growth, and opposed middle-class suburban development. Like many climate-change activists, he has limitless confidence in the possibility for engineering a green socially just society through “the coercive power of the state,” but little faith that humans can find ways to address the challenge of  climate change. If Brown’s “era of limits” message in the 1970s failed to catch on with the state’s voters, who promptly elected two Republican governors in his wake, he has found in climate change a more effective rallying cry, albeit one that often teeters at the edge of hysteria. Few politicians can outdo Brown for alarmism; recently, he predicted that climate change will cause 3 to 4 billion deaths, leading eventually to human extinction. To save the planet, he openly endorses a campaign to brainwash the masses.

The result: relentless ratcheting-up of climate-change policies. In 2016, the state committed to reduce greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. In response, the California Air Resource Board (CARB), tasked with making the rules required to achieve the state’s legislated goals, took the opportunity to set policies for an (unlegislated) target of an 80 percent reduction below 1990 levels by 2050.

Brown and his supporters often tout their policies as in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement, note Friedman and Hernandez, but California’s reductions under the agreement require it to make cutbacks double those pledged by Germany and other stalwart climate-committed countries, many of which have actually increased their emissions in recent years, despite their Paris pledges.

Governor Brown has preened in Paris, at the Vatican, in China, in newspapers, and on national television. But few have considered how his policies have worked out in practice. California is unlikely to achieve even its modest 2020 goals; nor is it cutting emissions faster than other states lacking such dramatic legislative mandates. Since 2007, when the Golden State’s “landmark” global-warming legislation was passed, California has accounted for barely 5 percent of the nation’s GHG reductions. The combined total reductions achieved over the past decade by Ohio, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Indiana are about 5 times greater than California’s. Even Texas, that bogeyman of fossil-fuel excess, has been reducing its per-capita emissions more rapidly.

In fact, virtually nothing that California does will have an impact on global climate. California per-capita emissions have always been relatively low, due to the mild climate along the coast, which reduces the need for much energy consumption on heating and cooling. In 2010, the state accounted for less than 1 percent of global GHG emissions; the disproportionately large reductions sought by state activists and bureaucrats would have no discernible effect on global emissions under the Paris Agreement. “If California ceased to exist in 2030,” Friedman and Hernandez note, “global GHG emissions would be still be 99.54 percent of the Paris Agreement total.”

Many of California’s “green” policies may make matters worse. California, for example, does not encourage biomass energy use, though the state’s vast forested areas—some 33 million acres— could provide renewable energy and reduce the excessive emissions from wildfires caused by years of forest mismanagement. Similarly, California greens have been adamant in shutting down nuclear power plants, which continue to reduce emissions in France, and they refuse to count hydro-electricity as renewable energy. As a result, California now imports roughly one-third of its electricity from other states, the highest percentage of any state, up from 25 percent in 2010. This is part of what Hernandez and Friedman show to be California’s increasing propensity to export energy production and GHG emissions, while maintaining the fiction that the state has reduced its total carbon output.

Retrieved July 6, 2018 from https://www.city-journal.org/html/californias-climate-extremism-16002.html

Posted in Environmentalism, Government, Politics

Sacramento, Second Most Flood Prone in US

That sad reality has not changed, as this story from the Sacramento Bee reports, although the move up the level of flood protection from 100 year flood to 300 year flood is an improvement, though the gold standard is 500 year flood protection.

An excerpt.

Even after years of drought, Sacramento’s biggest worry over water is flood risk. The city is widely considered the second-most flood-prone major city in America, after New Orleans.

Sacramento’s efforts to fight flooding got a major boost Thursday. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Rep. Doris Matsui’s office announced that the region has been allocated nearly $1.8 billion to strengthen levees and raise Folsom Dam. The federal money also will be spent widening the Sacramento Weir, a mechanism north of the city that acts as a safety valve by channeling flood waters into the Yolo Bypass.

Construction work on most of the projects could begin next year and likely would take about 5 to 7 years to finish, said Rick Johnson, executive director of the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency, or SAFCA.

The allocation means the Army Corps “recognizes the risk that Sacramento has,” Johnson said.

Currently, significant portions of the area lack 100-year flood protection — that is, the fortification to withstand a flood that has a 1-in-100 chance of occurring in a given year. People who live in neighborhoods lacking 100-year protection — and that means thousands in Sacramento — must buy flood insurance.

The projects that received funding Thursday, along with a separate project that will rebuild 24 miles of levees around the Natomas Basin, will elevate Sacramento to 300-year flood protection.

In total, the Army Corps allocated $17 billion for flood projects around the country Thursday, as part of a congressional appropriation in February.

“It’s extremely significant that the Sacramento region has received such a substantial portion of this overall funding,” said Matsui, D-Sacramento, in a prepared statement. “This is a huge milestone for our region.”

Retrieved June 6, 2018 from https://www.sacbee.com/news/state/california/water-and-drought/article214400254.html

 

Posted in River Development, Shasta Auburn Dam

New Bike Trail Coming

This new trail which will ultimately connect with the American River Parkway Trail sounds like a winner, as reported by the Sacramento News & Review.

An excerpt.

The abandoned Sacramento Southern Railroad line, which once carried pears, grapes and asparagus from the California Delta into Sacramento to be shipped to market, already feels, in some places, like an urban oasis. Near what will be the Del Rio Trail’s northern terminus, across Sutterville Road from the Sacramento Zoo, a hiker or biker moves through pools of shade thrown by native valley oaks and past nicely landscaped South Land Park backyards—many with access gates in their fences. A 10-foot-wide dirt road parallels slightly elevated tracks; in some places, the old railroad right-of-way widens into scruffy fields.

Over the length of its 4 and a half miles, the Del Rio Trail site is, in other places, overgrown and impassable. Volunteer cleanup efforts have already begun on the stretch running from Florin Road to the Meadowview/Pocket intersection. If all goes to plan, in a couple years or less, this trail will join the American River Parkway as a destination for hikers and cyclists. More importantly, it will become a local transportation resource, connecting South Sacramento and the city core.

Chuck Hayes, a member of the South Land Park Neighborhood Association, has devoted the past year to helping make the trail happen.

“This will mean folks from Meadowview and Pocket will be able to ride all the way to downtown almost entirely on Class 1 off-street paths,” Hayes says—explaining why that designation matters: “The more you can take bike routes off streets, the more comfortable people are. Off-street bike paths are the best way to get people onto bicycles who aren’t already experienced riders—that’s how you get someone who isn’t already on a bike to give it a try.”

A few days exploring the trail site and surrounding neighborhoods provide evidence as to why this is the case. The southernmost mile or so parallels Freeport Boulevard. On weekends, serious cyclists can be seen blasting down the boulevard on their way to big days roaming the rural roads of the Delta. But it’s easy to see why there aren’t a bunch of parents and children riding in the bike lane. The posted speed limit on Freeport Boulevard is, in places, 50 mph—and of course many drivers are ignoring that speed limit. In some places, the abandoned tracks can be seen 100 feet or so from the boulevard.

“I’m one of those guys in spandex some of the time,” Hayes admits, “and other times, when I’m out running errands, I’m just another schmuck on a bike.” His passion for this project clearly arises from a desire to help more ordinary schmucks get in the saddle.

One of Hayes’ favorite facts about this project is something most people would not consider when thinking about a municipal project like this: “At either end of the trail there are shopping centers anchored by grocery stores,” he says. “All of us who live anywhere near this trail are going to be able to do all our shopping on our bicycles,” he says, as if that were just about the coolest thing in the world—obviously.

While many rail-to-trail plans are about recreation, this one is clearly about transportation. The Del Rio Trail will pass within easy cycling distance of five grade schools, two middle schools, two high schools, a library and Sacramento City College. The zoo and William Land Park—the biggest park in the city—are at one end, and the Sacramento River Trail is at the other.

Much of that real estate is within Councilman Jay Schenirer’s district, and he believes this trail might be life-changing for many of his constituents. “It’s a matter of culture and habit,” he says. “For folks who live in these neighborhoods, this could make it easier and more fun for them to ride to work. On weekends, they might want to bike out to Old Sac.”

Retrieved July 5, 2018 from https://www.newsreview.com/sacramento/10-million-bike-trail/content?oid=26507305

Posted in Transportation

Recent Court Decision Dismissing Suits against Big Oil

An excellent analysis from New Geography of this important case.

An excerpt.

Federal District Court Judge William Alsup dismissed the “global warming” lawsuits of the cities of Oakland and San Francisco against large oil and gas companies, In so doing, the Judge provided important lessons in history, logic and public policy.

The cities had sought compensation for present and future sea level rise they attributed to the actions of defendants Chevron, Exxon Mobil, British Petroleum, Royal Dutch Shell, and ConocoPhillips, all among the largest investor owned companies in the industry. The suit did not target the similarly large state-owned oil companies such as Saudi Arabia’s Aramco, China’s Sinopec and PetroChina, Kuwait Petroleum, and Mexico’s Pemez which are among the most powerful in the industry.

The Costs and Benefits of Fossil Fuels

Judge Alsup ruled that cost-benefit analysis was necessary. Nearly a decade ago, I wrote a New Geography piece on “cowboy greenhouse gas emission policies” that get in the way of policies that could work, but did not anticipate the piecemeal cowboy legal actions of individual jurisdictions.

He cited a precedent, in which the U. S. Supreme Court “cautioned that policy questions concerning global warming require an “informed assessment of competing interests” and that “[a]long with the environmental benefit potentially achievable, our Nation’s energy needs and the possibility of economic disruption must weigh in the balance.” These points have been made evident in the recent report on the impact of climate change recently released.

The Judge noted that:

The scope of plaintiffs’ theory is breathtaking. It would reach the sale of fossil fuels anywhere in the world, including all past and otherwise lawful sales, where the seller knew that the combustion of fossil fuels contributed to the phenomenon of global warming.

Jurisdictions around the world could follow suit, with the result being substantially higher costs of production. This could significantly reduce economic growth rates and would especially hurt low income residents who are by far the most sensitive to such price increases.

Based upon the historical record, Judge Alsup’s view is that there have been important net benefits to society from fossil fuels:

“With respect to balancing the social utility against the gravity of the anticipated harm, it is true that carbon dioxide released from fossil fuels has caused (and will continue to cause) global warming. But against that negative, we must weigh this positive: our industrial revolution and the development of our modern world has literally been fueled by oil and coal. Without those fuels, virtually all of our monumental progress would have been impossible. All of us have benefitted.”

Despite all the sometimes overhyped talk about renewable substitutes for fossil fuels, it is clear that fossil fuels are still necessary to maintaining and growing the economy, Alsup says that:

In our industrialized and modern society, we needed (and still need) oil and gas to fuel power plants, vehicles, planes, trains, ships, equipment, homes and factories. Our industrial revolution and our modern nation, to repeat, have been fueled by fossil fuels.

Who is Responsible for the Externalities of Fossil Fuels?

Judge Alsup also raises the important logical question of responsibility. Who should shoulder the cost of any externalities? Judge Alsup places the responsibility for use of fossil fuels where it belongs, with those who use them. Perhaps it would have made more sense for Oakland and San Francisco to sue everyone, including their own citizens, since virtually everyone contributes to fossil fuel emissions.

The harm alleged by our plaintiffs remains a harm caused by fossil fuel emissions, not the mere extraction or even sale of fossil fuels.

Of course, the emissions are caused by the users of fossil fuels, none of whom is forced to use them. That may be an impractical course, but it is surely available to any who would apply monkish dedication to the subject.

Having reaped the benefit of that historic progress, would it really be fair to now ignore our own responsibility in the use of fossil fuels and place the blame for global warming on those who supplied what we demanded? Is it really fair, in light of those benefits, to say that the sale of fossil fuels was unreasonable?

Fossil Fuels Made the Modern World Possible

Indeed, if political leadership at the beginning of the industrial revolution had been similar to that of the cities of San Francisco and Oakland, there likely would never have been one. That would have been tragic. The billions of people lifted out of poverty would still be poor in all likelihood.

This is evident by the work of economists Diedre McCloskey at the University of Illinois, Chicago and Robert Gordon at Northwestern University. In 1800, most of the population of the world, including the currently most affluent nations of Western Europe, Canada, the United States and Japan was in poverty. Fossil fuels were critical in making possible the affluence that emerged on an unprecedented scale. It seems unlikely that there are many households prepared to accept the radically lower standards of living necessary by “swearing off” fossil fuels. Moreover, most would agree that throughout the affluent countries, poverty should be reduced.

Retrieved July 4, 2018 from http://www.newgeography.com/content/006023-lessons-oaklandsan-francisco-dismissal

Posted in Environmentalism