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Help! w/Anti-Light Rail arguments ...

by BruceMcF Sat Sep 1st, 2007 at 08:24:00 AM EST

See, the thing is, I have been trying to think through a reply to the anti-rail argument The carbon cost of building and operating light rail, by Emory Bundy of the Coalition for Effective Transportation Alternatives.

To sketch Bundy's argument:

  • a CO2 payback period for the tunnel on the order of 90 years
  • public transport contribution to CO2 reduction is exagerated, because the US DoE Transport Data Book gives per passenger energy by rail as 2,784 BTU's vs 3,445 BTU's by car
  • the most cost effective solutions are to use existing capacities ... subsidize bus fares to increase average loadings, encourage vanpools, etc.
  • Sound Transit promotes sprawl by providing ample free parking in suburban locations and heavily subsidized trips to the city
  • The same money could be used to much better effect in supporting other, rival, means of transport, with special attention paid to bicycles.

    The plea, and some thoughts, after the fold.

    From the diaries ~ whataboutbob


Help! ... I wanted to get a solid reply put together by last week, but did not make near enough headway ... and although the looming recession is providing me with unplanned days for blogging, the Labor Day Weekend (we don't have Labor Day on no commie May 1, but rather on the first Monday of September) with the three day weekend my best opportunity.

Some thoughts:

I would like to ... research / think through / or most ideally, find already done for me somewhere ... the network effects of the northern tunnel extension. That is, the article uses the projected ridership for that specific project, but if the project opens the door for multiple on-ground extensions, then the network CO2 payback would certainly plummet. The whole point of leading off with the single-leg CO2 payback of the tunnel is to make the payback period as long as possible.

Alternatively to this, unearthing the capacity of the tunnel compared to the projected ridership, to be able to say what the direct CO2 payback is for various levels of total peak hour capacity.

Second, the indirect CO2 payback is completely ignored ... that is, the payback from reclustering development that reduces total transport miles required. I have seen a reference to Colorado seeing more indirect reduction than direct reduction in car miles ... that is, the reduction in driving due to Transit Oriented Development exceeding the direct transfer from cars to rail. But I have not seen the actual research ... that would be a great jumping off point, especially for helping to explain why vanpools are sugar coating the same Auto-Size-Fits-All development system of ever growing transport miles per person.

That then goes into the fact that having people in outlying areas driving into train stations to park and ride encourages the de-sprawling of those outlying areas ... where the article tacitly relies on the premise that clustering development in outlying areas is impossible, plus the even more absurd idea that the alternative to providing regional rail service is that the residents in those areas will all move into the city.

The final argument, regarding bicycles versus trains ... that is one that I am feeling very confident on, if I can but get there. Speaking as a bike commuter over a period of five years, it is complete bullocks, and I am reasonably confident I can make that case.

Also, any and all ideas for effectively structuring the reply will be very welcome.

That's All.

Display:
Let me first state that I have no idea where the tunnel is built or any why the light-rail has to go through a tunnel.

Bikes are always nice, but I see them more as complementary to light-rail. In my experience from a student town, biking is prefered (among the cash-strapped, generally fit) students for distances under 30 minutes. Over 30 minutes busses are considered, with different cut off times for different people. Assuming a biking speed of 20km/h that gives an effective biking distance of 10km. Less if you need to haul groceries.

Please note that these are just numbers extrapolated from my own experience and might not be relevant to the area in question.

a CO2 payback period for the tunnel on the order of 90 years

And how long will it be used?

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!

by A swedish kind of death on Thu Aug 30th, 2007 at 04:23:46 PM EST
I quite agree on bikes ... I have a cycle commute of over an hour and a half each way, and my personal report from that is, that's an insane distance to commute by bike.

20kmh (12mph) is reasonable on level terrain without a headwind ... but in this part of Ohio, for an old man like me a biking speed of 20km/h would be very optimistic ... with three decent hills along the way and a number of false flats, I make 7.5 mph when I am laboring, 9mph when I am going well ... the other direction, which is an easier ride, I can sometimes make more than 10mph.

Converting to the new money, that would be 12kmh for a bad day, to 14kmh for a good day, getting to work, 16kmh for a reasonably good day getting home.

And when I was cycle commuting in Newcastle, Oz, the train was a better complement than the bus, for any area served by the train. This was with a folding bike that I could put in the luggage rack of both the newer buses and the trains.

I am reasonably comfortable with the bike argument, once I have worked out the rest of the argument that it will be fitting into.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Aug 30th, 2007 at 04:38:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sounds like he's talking about Seattle (the reference to "Sound Transit" is a giveaway, as well as the fact that there is a major transportation tax act on the ballot there this fall).

A light-rail tunnel is being bored beneath Beacon Hill, just east of downtown Seattle. Seattle is a VERY hilly city and light rail needs some tunnels to be an effective method of transportation.

And the world will live as one

by Montereyan (robert at calitics dot com) on Fri Aug 31st, 2007 at 10:59:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, sorry, yes he is. The "coalition for effective transport solutions" (sorry if I misremembered the name) is the cookie cutter citizens anti-rail lobby which developers and other stakeholders in the roadworks lobby put together whenever there is rail funding to fight off.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Aug 31st, 2007 at 12:25:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Calling DoDo....

Calling DoDo....

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Thu Aug 30th, 2007 at 04:38:27 PM EST
Here... but too tired to write much, maybe tomorrow.

I note that I have fresh observations and photos of light rail in operation in Vienna, Strasbourg, Frankfurt, and a nearly finished line in Le Mans, with some stricking effects of the latter even before end of construction not irrelevant to the diary.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Aug 30th, 2007 at 05:21:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, I got no call this afternoon, so it appears that I get a five day weekend ... but in any event, Friday or Saturday is plenty of time.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Aug 30th, 2007 at 05:32:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
public transport contribution to CO2 reduction is exagerated, because the US DoE Transport Data Book gives per passenger energy by rail as 2,784 BTU's vs 3,445 BTU's by car

You are misquoting him here - the article refers to "fuel efficiency" not CO2 reduction. It is undoubtedly a deliberate choice on his part. The reduction in CO2 emmisions from light rail may be far greater than is suggested by the comparative BTU values - it just depends on the source of electricity that is used. Even if you choose to burn fossil fuels to produce your electricity, at least with a fixed power station there is the option to try CO2 sequestration. That won't happen with cars any time soon.

by det on Fri Aug 31st, 2007 at 08:24:40 AM EST
I am not quoting him at all in the above, I am summarizing his argument ... this is a two step process, and works by insinuation rather than explicitly:
Moreover, the agency's calculations assume no improvements in automotive fuel efficiency. Yet Congress in this session might enact a measure to raise average mileage from 25 to 35 miles per gallon by 2018. That one conservation measure, a 40 percent per mile improvement even before the tunnel will be complete, would extend Sound Transit's greenhouse gas pay-back period to the year 2088.

Further, public transit's contribution to fuel efficiency is exaggerated. ...

So his argument relates energy efficiency to CO2 emissions payback first, before he provides the numbers from the US DoE.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Aug 31st, 2007 at 10:30:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I must confess that when I read "... might enact ..." my first thought was ".. and pigs might fly". I am sure that I was doing congress a great dis-service. However as a broader point, the valve of light-rail and the tunnel should be judged against the status quo, not some ideal hypothethical situation that may never arise.
by det on Sat Sep 1st, 2007 at 08:16:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Bundy's comments are being made to oppose what is called "Sound Transit 2," a new tax in the Puget Sound area to build roads and a major expansion of the light rail system finally under construction in the Seattle area.

The arguments are specious. A dead giveaway is the argument that buses are better. No, they're not. As anyone who has commuted by bus in the Puget Sound area knows, they get stuck in traffic a LOT. And spew forth their emissions there. Vanpools face the same problem. Light rail, on the other hand, offers much higher capacities along the major commuter corridors (Interstate 5, Interstate 90, the 520 bridge) with a far lower environmental cost, putting out much fewer CO2 because it does not have to share lanes with freeway traffic the way buses do.

Note "cost effective" - that's code for "I don't want to pay taxes for rails." The anti-tax crowd is happy to pay for more roads, and prefer it to rails. They gin up these arguments about carbon to try and derail expansion of the mass transit system.

Sound Transit's park-and-ride lots do not at all encourage sprawl. Bundy is being dishonest about this, because he almost certainly knows that King County has a VERY stringent set of land use policies that greatly limit sprawl. And as you noted, there's nothing stopping local planners from encouraging transit oriented development. Sound Transit is on record as favoring it.

Finally, bicycles. Bundy apparently has never tried a bike commute in the Puget Sound. It is a very hilly place, as I've mentioned. And available bike paths are not exactly widespread. Ultimately, of course, it rains a LOT there. Only a few die-hards commute on a bike in the rain. Most others turn to buses or cars. Light rail provides a much better option.

And the world will live as one

by Montereyan (robert at calitics dot com) on Fri Aug 31st, 2007 at 11:07:23 AM EST
Assuming the BTU/Passenger is correct ...

and the train has the daily ridership of 2,500 people ...

2,500 x  2,784 = 6,860,000 BTU  (Train)

2,500 x  3,445 = 8,612,300 BTU  (Car)

This is what Bundy, et. al., is trying to obscure.  Differences don't seem so different when they are put on a per/unit basis.  To accurately assess the situation you need to look at the population (users) of the differing systems and establish the final figures.  

Here for more info regarding the Handbook.

Look at the supporting figures for the 90 year CO2 payback.  A lot of games can be played with long-term projections and extrapolations.  The most common is to load one side, such as light rail, with every conceivable cost and ignore costs for the side the argument supports.  Example, the cost of maintaining and repairing highways and other roadways is conveniently forgotten by the anti-rail people so if you are talking about establishing a light rail system it is legitimate to compare to the cost(s) of establishing alternative transportation systems - such as automobile/highway system.  (Don't forget to include inflation -- a billion don't buy as much as it used to.)

The way you write something is as important, so would say it is MORE important, as what is said.   For example, their own figures show the train has a 124% BTU efficiency compared to cars.  (Train BTU divided into Car BTU) using 0% efficiency as the baseline.)  

(ATinNM.  Sophist for Hire.  Have gun, will travel :-)

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot

by ATinNM on Fri Aug 31st, 2007 at 11:47:56 AM EST
(Train BTU divided into Car BTU) using 0% efficiency as the baseline.)  

Wrong.  I'm in too big of a hurry to get to work.

SB, Train BTU divided into Car BTU with 0% baseline and Car BTU as 100%.


Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot

by ATinNM on Fri Aug 31st, 2007 at 12:00:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And here I thought "sophist" implied "for hire".

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Aug 31st, 2007 at 12:03:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... of hobby sophists on the web.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Aug 31st, 2007 at 12:27:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Amateurs the lot of them!

Can they do THIS:

All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
It's Clinton's fault.

I think not

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot

by ATinNM on Fri Aug 31st, 2007 at 03:54:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I was curious about this:

public transport contribution to CO2 reduction is exagerated, because the US DoE Transport Data Book gives per passenger energy by rail as 2,784 BTU's vs 3,445 BTU's by car

So I looked at the study what kind of capacity assumptions they were making for rail travel.

The study puts the following warning in a thick black box above every energy-use table:

Great care should be taken when comparing modal energy intensity data among modes. Because of the inherent differences among the transportation modes in the nature of services, routes available, and many additional factors, it is not possible
to obtain truly comparable national energy intensities among modes. These values are averages, and there is a great deal
of variability even within a mode.

So basically these are meaningless figures for evaluating your specific transit project.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Fri Aug 31st, 2007 at 12:20:00 PM EST
I'm amazed by the differences in the evaluation of the various transportation systems.

From a french government web site we have:

http://www.effet-de-serre.gouv.fr/quizz

30) A votre avis, parmi les affirmations suivantes, quelle est la vraie ?

A/ Les autobus émettent 2 fois moins de CO2 que la voiture

B/ Le métro parisien consomme 7 fois moins d'énergie que la voiture

C/ Le tramway consomme 10 fois moins que la voiture

Réponses A, B et C ! Pour nos déplacements en ville, la solution des transports en commun est aujourd'hui le meilleur moyen de réduire nos émissions de gaz à effet de serre.

They say that the sentence "Paris subway consumes seven times less energy than car" is true. I assume they mean by passenger-km (I've asked them via the contact form).

by Laurent GUERBY on Fri Aug 31st, 2007 at 04:58:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Also they seem to compare overall average BTU use for cars over all use vs train for all uses.

But here we have a particular use for the fight: urban commute by car vs light train.

And on urban commute cars get their worst mpg (below average mpg) and I'd say per passenger too since likely to have less passenger (1) when work commuting than doing longer range trip with the family (2-N).

by Laurent GUERBY on Fri Aug 31st, 2007 at 05:06:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Also perhaps you could change the framing of the debate a bit by saying his focus is far too narrow (in much the same way that in figuring the GDP, a tree has no value until it's cut down).  When you figure in the benefits of light rail, you simply have to figure in the commute time saved, the increased health and productivity benefits to having workers/humans using light rail who get back time (to spend as they wish, those hours they don't spend in congested traffic) and avoid frustration, which leads to road rage, an antipathy for humankind (sort of kidding), high blood pressure and anxiety as appointments/flights/classes/concerts/whatever are at risk of being missed.
You also have to factor in the lives saved, as there are FAR fewer lives lost in rail accidents, aren't there?  I'm not sure about that one.  But if true, it cannot be ignored as a benefit.  
Why doesn't it surprise me that in framing the argument, they totally left out the human factors?

Karen in Austin

'tis strange I should be old and neither wise nor valiant. From "The Maid's Tragedy" by Beaumont & Fletcher

by Wife of Bath (kareninaustin at g mail dot com) on Sat Sep 1st, 2007 at 08:58:00 AM EST
A trojan must have ate my BS detector yesterday. How could I not respond to this:

Sound Transit promotes sprawl by providing ample free parking in suburban locations and heavily subsidized trips to the city

That may have been true in 1888, but since then sprawl (in the US) has been car-culture driven.

One could argue that the opposite proposition is demonstrably true, but it might be more fun to defy them to prove it.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Sat Sep 1st, 2007 at 09:45:41 AM EST
The DoT Transport numbers book that the linked article refers to:

Transportation Energy Data Book

Bikestations information:

Bikestation home page ... "Bikestation is a not for profit organization that offers secure bicycle parking and related services to make cyclists' lives easier. Park your bike at Bikestation and you can be assured that your vehicle is secure and covered."

Bikestation promotional material

The Instant Advocate Bikestation page


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Sep 1st, 2007 at 10:14:12 AM EST
Sorry for the long absence, but I had other duties (among them, an emergency 'callback' to work from the rest of my vacation...). Tomorrow, I will put together a comment here with some argument, and a whole diary with my light rail observations on vacation in West Europe, with urban development relevance (one point Bondy didn't cover correctly).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Sep 1st, 2007 at 02:59:16 PM EST
... didn't cover at all, since he covered no point correctly.

Looking forward to it.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Sep 1st, 2007 at 03:56:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry, I only got until sorting my pictures today... and now I have to call it a day for an early morning wake-up.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Sep 2nd, 2007 at 04:20:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... uhm, I mean, Labor Day, so I get the day off. Also, tomorrow I'm on call, but probably won't be going in. I guess that holiday is "Looming Recession Day".


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 11:52:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A rambling diary is up on dKos ... as it says below the fold, I am going to go for a tighter op-ed as a follow-up.

Bikes and Trains: Greenwashing Anti-Rail in the Seattle Rail Debate
by BruceMcF, Sun Sep 02, 2007 at 09:06:23 AM EDT

On August 16, my attention was drawn to the article The carbon cost of building and operating light rail, by Emory Bundy, a board member of the Seattle anti-rail group, Coalition for Effective Transportation Alternatives.

What especially raised my ire was:

But the greatest harm to the environment and the public comes when you calculate the lost opportunities. ...

The leading forfeited opportunity is bicycling, the best possible transportation mode: cost-effective, energy-efficient, non-polluting, and healthy -- save for the danger from surrounding cars.


I thought I would, as a public service, wade through this one. Some of this is with the help of discussants from the Eurotrib, in the diary Help! w/Anti-Light Rail arguments ... ... of course, I selfishly appropriate all credit for any errors.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Sep 2nd, 2007 at 09:12:03 AM EST


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