Greater Greater Washington

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DC-area transportation is not on track to meet climate change goals

The region's governments area currently reviewing new transportation projects to add to their long-range plan. But the list of projects in the queue, if built, will increase carbon emissions rather than lower them.


Analysis of 2013 Constrained Long Range Plan by TPB staff.

Right now, the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) is conducting its annual review of new projects for the Constrained Long Range Plan (CLRP). The CLRP is a comprehensive list of the "regionally significant" transportation projects that TPB member governments realistically believe could be funded over the next few decades.

Projects that Maryland, Virginia, and DC wish to build must go through the CLRP both to be eligible for federal funding, and to go through the federally required air quality conformity process.

While federal air quality rules require the region's transportation projects to meet goals for pollutants regulated under the Clean Air Act (Nitrogen Oxide and Volatile Organic Compounds that form ozone, along with particulates (PM2.5)), the TPB does not yet have to regulate carbon dioxide. The transportation projects in the pipeline, if built, would send us far pastthat is, in the opposite direction ofour climate change goals.

In 2008, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) set a goal of reducing CO2 emissions 80% by 2050 below 2005 levels. Several initiatives since then have studied ways the transportation sector, which emits 30% of the region's CO2, could meet the goal. There is the 2010 Region Forward plan, the 2010 "What Would it Take?" report, and the 2014 Regional Transportation Priorities Plan.

Yet so far, the TPB has been reluctant to apply these regional goals to the CLRP because it might mean telling Virginia, Maryland or DC to remove or modify some projects. To what end is MWCOG continuing to develop and adopt these reports and plans, if actually implementing them is apparently off the table?

The 2010 "What Would It Take?" report looked at possible approaches to bridge the emissions reduction gap, and identified several important strategies to meet the region's climate goals for transportation including expanding telecommuting, providing monetary incentives for carpooling, increased transit use through bus priority treatments, expanding bicycle and pedestrian trips, and parking cash-out subsidies for employees who do not drive to work but receive free parking at their workplace.


Graph from MWCOG's 2010 What Would It Take report identifies gap in emissions reductions needed above and beyond federal CAFE standards.

The report relied heavily on the hope that the federal government would push harder for cleaner fuels and more efficient vehicles, but recognized that we need to move forward in the meantime to reduce vehicle miles traveled and to dramatically increase trips by walking, cycling, and transit.

Other cities and regions around the world are setting and implementing ambitious goals to reduce carbon emissions and we can too. Copenhagen, which has set a goal to become carbon neutral by 2025, expects new fuel types to account for just 18% of its cuts in transportation emissions.

It plans for most of its reductions to come from boosting cycling to account for 50% of all trips, increasing transit ridership by 20%, and optimizing the flow of buses, cars, bicyclists, and pedestrians using improved signalization. Copenhagen also plans to switch its entire public transit fleet to electric vehicles running on clean energy.

Seattle implemented its Climate Action Plan in 2008, which sets a goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. In order to tackle its transportation emissions, which comprise 40% of the city's footprint, Seattle has set a goal to reduce emissions from passenger vehicles by 82% by 2030, and to reduce vehicle miles traveled by 20% by 2030. It plans on tripling bicycling trips from 2007 levels by 2017, as well as expanding transit capacity.

Bold goals need not be unrealistic. Already today, 50% of all trips in DC happen by walking, bicycling and transit, and while adding 83,000 residents over the past decade, the city saw vehicle registrations decline. The Sustainable DC plan goal for 75% of all trips in the District to be by walking, cycling, or transit by 2032 seems very achievable.

Meanwhile, tens of millions of square feet of development in Arlington's two Metro corridors have helped to shift a majority of trips in those corridors to walking, bicycling, and transit, while not increasing traffic on surrounding local roads. Across the region, 84% of new office construction is within ¼ mile of a Metrorail station, and suburban leaders are embracing transit-oriented development and proposing new transit lines. Not only do these approaches reduce emissions, they offer an alternative to driving in congestion and have been shown to have health and economic benefits.

That's why it's particularly frustrating that the Council of Governments isn't acting to reevaluate the many legacy projects in the region's long-range transportation plan to address climate change. To do so, we need to shift funding to new transit projects, to meet Metro's capacity needs identified in the Momentum Plan, and to support the region's plans for walkable, transit-oriented development.

The state DOTs, which have the most control over the CLRP, also need to start proposing better projects, while many local cities and counties need to better plan their own patterns of growth.

As the forecasted impacts of climate change continue to worsen, our only option is to act. With the EPA moving to regulate carbon dioxide from power plants under the Clean Air Act, it's only a matter of time before it begins to regulate mobile sources.

We should lead, not wait. We should take fully to heart the reports we have prepared together as a region and implement those plans. Take a second to send in a public comment if you want our region's leaders to take the steps needed to cut our transportation emissions.

Kelly Blynn is the Campaign Manager for the Coalition for Smarter Growth's Next Generation of Transit Campaign. A former international campaigner at the climate change organization 350.org, she believes in thinking globally while acting locally, and she is now working hard to organize with communities for sustainable and equitable transportation in the Washington, DC region. 

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Talk about a pointless exercise. Make an artificial goal that is completely unimplementable even in the best of conditions, do no cost-benefit analysis that could possibly sway some fence-sitters into support, and announce that you aren't meeting the goals? Come on.

by movement on Apr 11, 2014 11:07 am • linkreport

the goals however, are not artificial. Unless you think that avoiding catastrophic global warming is an artificial goal. It may be possible to cut more from non-transportation sectors and less from transportation, and the report from which the goals come explicitly acknowledges that. It would be interesting for MWCOG to look at total GHG emissions related to the area including all the coal plant generated electricity we use, and estimate the likelihood of major emission cuts in that and other sectors in the same period. I think it will still show that we need to cut transp related emissions.

by AWallkerInTheCity on Apr 11, 2014 11:26 am • linkreport

And actually the MWCOG has not announced that they arent meeting the goals (unless there is a link there I missed). Ms Blynn is announcing that. To GGW, which one hopes is not on the fence on this.

by AWallkerInTheCity on Apr 11, 2014 11:28 am • linkreport

"Unless you think that avoiding catastrophic global warming is an artificial goal."

Seems China will add back more than we can reduce... Add India to that and we are doomed!

by Bill Smith on Apr 11, 2014 12:19 pm • linkreport

Of course the goal is artificial. There is no science to the targets. They are picked out of thin air. The best way to shut down emissions is to shut down economic activity. And that is what we would have to do to meet those targets. No thanks.

by movement on Apr 11, 2014 12:21 pm • linkreport

Movement

10 MT of emissons allows for a lot of economic activity (esp if the vehicle emissions per VMT decline) unless you think all those vehicles are just for Sunday joy rides.

The percent decrease is based on whats required to avoid a certain level of warming. Due to climate feedback effects, the cost of additional GHGs beyond a certain point is non-linear. Ergo, you do not need extensive economic analysis of the consequences to know that the upper limit for GHGs has to be.

Bill - China in particular is attempting to reduce the amount of GHG per unit GDP. Its difficult to formalize those goals in a treaty as long as we are unwilling to ratify any climate treaty. We are certainly not doomed. But thats one of the fall back excuses for taking no action - instead of "there is no AGW" they go to "there is so much AGW, we are dooomed anyway, so lets eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die"

by AWallkerInTheCity on Apr 11, 2014 12:29 pm • linkreport

http://www.mwcog.org/uploads/pub-documents/zldXXg20081203113034.pdf

"As a compromise between IPCC recommended reduction levels and those adopted by COG member local governments, the
Climate Change Steering Committee chose to set three targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions: 10 percent below business as usual (BAU) levels by 2012, 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050"

So its even lower reductions than called for by the IPCC.

by AWallkerInTheCity on Apr 11, 2014 12:33 pm • linkreport

You are right in that a goal of 80% by 2050 below 2005 levels is not stringent enough to meet scientific standards. I am not sure about the in-depth history of how we arrived at that goal, but I imagine it was, unfortunately, a political compromise. Even so, it is still a big task, and we are not on track to meet it. That being said, it isn't out of reach at all, and certainly doesn't mean shutting down economic activity. Our most thriving economic centers are those where the greatest numbers of trips are non-motorized or by transit, and a huge percentage of recent development has occurred within a quarter mile of Metro stations. We can do this, but we must get serious about it.

by Kelly Blynn on Apr 11, 2014 12:36 pm • linkreport

http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/syr/ar4_syr.pdf

here is the IPCC 2007 synthesis report.

by AWallkerInTheCity on Apr 11, 2014 12:38 pm • linkreport

"The best way to shut down emissions is to shut down economic activity"

You don't need to have zero emissions, as the earth is capable of absorbing a certain amount of carbon you need to eventually become carbon neutral. I dont think the IPCC report even calls for doing that by 2050. And as noted above, the MWCOG goals are less stringent than the IPCC goals. So shutting down economic activity is a strawman. Im not sure what the motive for using that strawman is. the real question is what is the best way to achieve the MWCOG goals, and clearly shutting down all economic activy is neither needed to get there, nor optimal. But some of what is needed to get there will still mean changes that many people will not like.

by AWallkerInTheCity on Apr 11, 2014 12:42 pm • linkreport

"The best way to shut down emissions is to shut down economic activity."

When Hubbert's peak is reached, that will happen on its own.

http://www.theoildrum.com/

by CyclistinAlexandria on Apr 11, 2014 12:47 pm • linkreport

@movement:

"The best way to shut down emissions is to shut down economic activity."

Come on, now. Relying less on talking points and more on facts would be useful. One estimate is that the US spends $700B annually on oil. If we use 1/2 or 1/3 of this because of greater energy efficiency, we have hundreds of billions of dollas to spend on other goods or services, many of them produced here in the US rather than sending billions of dollars every year to petro-dictators like Putin.

We sold our car last October. My emissions have gone down significantly. I have more disposable income now, not less. I contribute to more economic growth not less.

by 202_Cyclist on Apr 11, 2014 1:49 pm • linkreport

@movement:

"Of course the goal is artificial. There is no science to the targets."

Even if global warming is one big hoax, if we took steps to address it, we would have cleaner air, a more efficient and modern transportation system, improved balance of trade, improved public health, and the US would enjoy an enhanced geopolitical position in the world.

by 202_Cyclist on Apr 11, 2014 1:51 pm • linkreport

You are all seriously underestimating the costs of the proposed actions. Assuming that the technology fairy waves a wand and solves all of the technical challenges, someone would have to pay to replace all of the old stuff (most of which is functional, if suboptimal). Not only that, we would have to raze most of our existing populated areas and physically move people to spaces that are more energy efficient. If we did these things, we would have to slash our own economic activity on a national scale. After all, there is an opportunity cost to shifting a significant amount of economic output towards building the infrastructure to support a carbon-neutral economy.

The benefits story is overstated as well. Invariably America's competitors would pick up the slack and guess what. They will be less efficient than we are now and as a planet things will be even worse. These are the unintended consequences of ignorant action.

My suggestion is to walk away from the proposals. Ignore them. They are so fundamentally flawed that they serve no value. Focus on what can be achieved given today's political and economic realities. Anything else is a waste of time.

by movement on Apr 11, 2014 4:58 pm • linkreport

We don't have to be carbon neutral tomorrow. We need to be on the path to it. We can get there with existing tech, without dramatic changes to our lifestyle. This is well documented elsewhere and is taking us off topic - which is what MWCOG can do to encourage a better mix of investment projects.

America's competitors - Europe and Japan are already farther ahead than we are. WRT to the emerging economies, clearly what is needed is a treaty that would limit their emissions. again that has been extensively discussed elsewhere.

But im not sure what you mean by slack - absent the treaty, do you think they are limiting their emissions because of the amoutn of our emissions? I doubt that.

The point of this of course is to change the realities, by focusing on what we need to do. Your arguments, to the extent anyone listens to them, make it more difficult to change the political realities - they reinforce the memes used by those who oppose taking any action.

by AWallkerInTheCity on Apr 11, 2014 5:11 pm • linkreport

@202_Cyclist
Congratulations on selling your car. It is a phenomenal achievement to be able to create a livable lifestyle for yourself without one.

Don't get carried away though. Your family is but a billionth of the problem. For most of us, there are few aspects of life that are possible without one. In fact, even if all of the transportation proposals on the table were implemented, only a small percentage of people would be able to go car-free.

by movement on Apr 11, 2014 5:16 pm • linkreport

You also seem to have missed this from the next steps section of the what would it take report

"The first is to further analyze the strategies included in this study within a comprehensive cost-benefit framework in order to account for multiple benefits. Some strategies may not have major CO2 reduction potential, but have multiple benefits worth exploring through cost-benefit analysis, which would provide a more complete context for prioritization of strategies in the transportation sector specifically."

Prehaps the first step is to actually read the damned study? Do that before you walk away from the steps mentioned?

by AWallkerInTheCity on Apr 11, 2014 5:16 pm • linkreport

"That's why it's particularly frustrating that the Council of Governments isn't acting to reevaluate the many legacy projects in the region's long-range transportation plan to address climate change. To do so, we need to shift funding to new transit projects, to meet Metro's capacity needs identified in the Momentum Plan, and to support the region's plans for walkable, transit-oriented development."

which of these should we walk away from?

by AWallkerInTheCity on Apr 11, 2014 5:18 pm • linkreport

" For most of us, there are few aspects of life that are possible without one. In fact, even if all of the transportation proposals on the table were implemented, only a small percentage of people would be able to go car-free."

While car freedom is not the only way to reduce VMT (and reducing VMT is only one part of the puzzle) I think there are many people who are able to go carfree, now, than choose to, and that if even a few of these things are implemented, many more could.

by AWallkerInTheCity on Apr 11, 2014 5:22 pm • linkreport

@AWITC
What I mean by slack is that global demand for products currently produced here does not go away just because we stop supplying them. Someone will meet that demand. Economic activity requires energy and energy requires emissions, especially when that activity is shifted to places that are relatively inefficient.

We can get there with existing tech, without dramatic changes to our lifestyle.

Actually, you can't. Relocation and replacement costs alone make it impossible. There isn't a single proposal on the table that addresses how everyday people are going to pay for the things that are needed to reduce their energy consumption.

I think I'm a perfect example of this. I went out of my way to move to a walkable area. I can go days without touching my car. Yet I still drive 10,000 miles a year. The amount of driving saved by walking and taking the bus is a drop in the bucket compared to the drives I am forced to take to Ft. Belvoir and Leesburg. Neither office is going to move under any circumstances. So for me to make a significant change, someone is going to need to find me an equal or better job in a better location and/or provide me a more energy efficient car. Exactly how do you expect that to happen? It is completely unrealistic.

by movement on Apr 11, 2014 5:33 pm • linkreport

I read through the "WWIT" report and dismissed it as a bunch of hand-waving because it doesn't address the costs of achieving the vision, much less the benefits. Without that information, it is useless as a policy guide.

by movement on Apr 11, 2014 5:47 pm • linkreport

Does the report account for emissions from coal fired plants elsewhere for the electricity to run the WMATA rail system?

by Douglas Andrew Willinger on Apr 12, 2014 2:41 pm • linkreport

WMATA can get its electricity from hydro. Don't worry about that.

It's pretty absurd for this agency to simply disregard the CO2 reduction goals by *building more roads*, which will create more global warming.

Step one when you're in a hole is *stop digging*. It's going to be hard to fix the existing sources of high transportation emissions, but we can avoid creating NEW sources quite easily. Unless we're this agency with its list of 1950s-style road projects.

by Nathanael on Apr 13, 2014 12:36 am • linkreport

WMATA can, but does it?

Roads do not pollute, rather its the vehicles and their technology- which we can pretend is static when it's not.

Lesser emissions per vehicle seems to be forgotten by current EPA regs which seem more designed to prevent road building in wealthier areas, gin a shifting of the traffic burden to less affluent areas. Of course the greater vmt of such diversions tend to get overlooked.

Of course there has to be a jibe against 'digging' as the emissions are most noticeable at the localized hot spot of vehicular road tunnel portals, which would serve to remind of the greater need for cleaner vehicles.

by Douglas Andrew Willinger on Apr 13, 2014 1:46 am • linkreport

Assuming that the technology fairy waves a wand and solves all of the technical challenges

As far as I know, there are no technology fairies, but there are oodles of engineers and they are - once again - saving the world. While you weren't looking, the cost of solar power just became cheaper than fossil fuels in 19 regional markets, and is closing the gap everywhere else at an astonshing rate.

someone would have to pay to replace all of the old stuff (most of which is functional, if suboptimal).

That is one cost. But cars are replaced pretty frequently and coal powered plants are being shut down with years left on them.

Not only that, we would have to raze most of our existing populated areas and physically move people to spaces that are more energy efficient.

Nah. That's not necessary. This can be done with out wiping the slate clean. Solar panels, electric cars, some retrofits, tougher regulations for new buildings, etc... The frustrating thing about it is that it's really not that hard. We don't all have to start eating Soylent Green.

Invariably America's competitors would pick up the slack and guess what. They will be less efficient than we are now and as a planet things will be even worse.

I doubt it. There's a limit to how much any one country can pollute, and China is close to it now. The air is so bad there that people simply won't allow it for much longer. And I feel like a competitor who's less efficient is not much of a competitor.

and energy requires emissions,

Except for wind, solar, nuclear, hydro-electric, etc...

I read through the "WWIT" report and dismissed it as a bunch of hand-waving because it doesn't address the costs of achieving the vision, much less the benefits.

That's how I felt about the 13th Amendment. Where was the cost-benefit analysis to get rid of slavery? Or to enter World War II? Nowhere, that's where. Just a bunch of hand-waving about freedom and liberty.

But, the cost-effectiveness of various proposals are mentioned several times in WWIT. For example, see chart 11.

by David C on Apr 13, 2014 10:17 pm • linkreport

Does the report account for emissions from coal fired plants elsewhere for the electricity to run the WMATA rail system?

WMATA gets it's power off the grid. Which, if Maryland is any indication, is less than half coal. And getting smaller all the time.

So yes, it does get power from hydro. Not much, but some. Far more than the average car does.

Why is it relevant, I wonder?

by David C on Apr 13, 2014 10:22 pm • linkreport

Yeah, I saw Chart 11. What are the benefits of an X% decrease in emissions? And what else could be done with the billions of dollars it costs to get there? That's cost-benefit analysis.

China is only at the pollution tipping point in a few of its cities. It is a big country. Besides, China is only one emerging market. What about the rest of the world?

It might not be that hard but it is expensive. Who is paying for the solar panels and electric cars? Who is getting people to move from their existing offices to these great new energy efficient ones? In a lot of cases we're talking about entities that just want to stay solvent over the next five years. Do you honestly think they are going to sabotage their business model in order to make a trivial impact in a multi-decade problem? You are kidding yourself if you think it is easy.

And sorry, comparing this to the Thirteenth Amendment is absurd. This isn't about one demographic group disenfranchising another.

by movement on Apr 14, 2014 10:52 am • linkreport

"What I mean by slack is that global demand for products currently produced here does not go away just because we stop supplying them."

A. Manufacturing is only one piece of the emissions puzzle. B. even if cap and trade (not directly relevant to the piece on MWCOG, BTW) were to increase manufacturing costs of energy intense goods, not all manufacturing of such goods would shift offshore. C. Ultimately there is only so much labor in China. As reflected in increased wages there - so shifting more of one industry there, will shift some other econ activity out of china. Ditto for other emerging markets though they are not as far along. If there is a real problem with emerging markets grabbing share of energy intensive industries because they fail to price carbon, a carbon tariff is an option.

" Someone will meet that demand. Economic activity requires energy and energy requires emissions,"

econ activity can vary in its energy intensity, and the energy can vary in its emissions.

"Actually, you can't. Relocation and replacement costs alone make it impossible. There isn't a single proposal on the table that addresses how everyday people are going to pay for the things that are needed to reduce their energy consumption."

Ah, we are back to consumption. Some of those things have a positive ROI for the consumer, some will have positive ROIS as tech advances, and some will have positive ROIs after we price carbon.

"I think I'm a perfect example of this. I went out of my way to move to a walkable area. I can go days without touching my car. Yet I still drive 10,000 miles a year. The amount of driving saved by walking and taking the bus is a drop in the bucket compared to the drives I am forced to take to Ft. Belvoir and Leesburg. Neither office is going to move under any circumstances."

actually the changes you have made, in a world without carbon taxes, or even appropriate pricing for congested roads, or the infra investments discussed above, show how much is possible. You have already shifted based on your voluntary goals, and on current market conditions. If we change incentives, in various ways, we can shift even more.

" So for me to make a significant change, someone is going to need to find me an equal or better job in a better location and/or provide me a more energy efficient car. Exactly how do you expect that to happen? It is completely unrealistic."

I dunno about you, but the current car I drive (conventionally fueled BTW) is more energy efficient than the previous one we owned. We made it happen the way people always buy cars. I've also started to get into transportation biking, with the help of a friend who showed me how possible it was.

by AWallkerInTheCity on Apr 14, 2014 11:13 am • linkreport

"Yeah, I saw Chart 11. What are the benefits of an X% decrease in emissions?"

There is a debate over that, you might google on GHG, cost benefit, and OMB, to see the discussion within the federal world. And that discussion, I might add, does not reflect the notion of a very significant non-linear effect as get above 4 degrees C of warming.

" And what else could be done with the billions of dollars it costs to get there? That's cost-benefit analysis. "

actually once you get the econ cost of carbon right, you dont need to say what else could be done. If a ton of carbon is 20 bucks, its 20 bucks. Thats how BCA is done, not by looking at specific alternatives.

"It might not be that hard but it is expensive. Who is paying for the solar panels and electric cars?"

Home solar panels, or on commercial buildings?

" Who is getting people to move from their existing offices to these great new energy efficient ones? In a lot of cases we're talking about entities that just want to stay solvent over the next five years. Do you honestly think they are going to sabotage their business model in order to make a trivial impact in a multi-decade problem?"

A number of firms look for LEED buildings when they are moving - to solve the problem, to save money on energy, and to get the PR value. note, if we provided proper incentives, that would cause more firms to do so.

by AWallkerInTheCity on Apr 14, 2014 11:18 am • linkreport

Yeah, I saw Chart 11. What are the benefits of an X% decrease in emissions?

They address that:

"Currently federal guidelines provide general direction on how to value carbon dioxide by setting values for the “social cost of carbon,” which is an estimate of the monetized damages associated with an incremental increase in carbon dioxide emissions in a given year that factors in a wide range of impacts, such as
agricultural productivity and human health (Reference 11). An interagency working group dedicated to this issue has set this value at around $21 per ton in 2010, rising steadily to $45 in 2050 (discounted at 3%)."

And what else could be done with the billions of dollars it costs to get there? That's cost-benefit analysis.

Normally a cost-benefit analysis doesn't include the opportunity cost. Money is fungible. We could do almost anything with it (except get the Beatles back together).

What about the rest of the world?

I'm not going to stop bailing a sinking ship because I don't think Mary is working hard enough. But, I think People in Indonesia are interested in not destroying the planet too.

It might not be that hard but it is expensive. Who is paying for the solar panels and electric cars?

People who use energy. Who's paying to clean up the environmental damage caused by pollution or to deal with the impact of global warming and ocean acidification?

Who is getting people to move from their existing offices to these great new energy efficient ones?

The market. Once it responds to regulations. The same as how we get people to move to ADA compliant buildings.

Do you honestly think they are going to sabotage their business model in order to make a trivial impact in a multi-decade problem?

Who's talking about sabotaging anything.

You are kidding yourself if you think it is easy.

Germany increased their renewable energy share from 6% to 20% in 11 years. And the last I checked their industry was not sabotaged.

And sorry, comparing this to the Thirteenth Amendment is absurd. This isn't about one demographic group disenfranchising another.

Well, if the concern is that we should not do the right thing, because it gives our competitors an advantage, then perhaps we should look at other ways to increase our competitiveness by sacrificing our values. Other countries use child labor, allow unsafe working conditions, don't limit pollution and even use slavery in order to lower costs and undercut us. So perhaps it is time we consider allowing American businesses to use the full range of business-competitive practices to avoid sabotaging them. I don't really want my 8 year old working 17 hour days in an unsanitary slaughterhouse, but I do want to be pro-business. What is one to do?

by David C on Apr 14, 2014 11:44 am • linkreport

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