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4/14/2015

Walk Cities

Suburban life has always been synonymous with long hours in the car—going to work, school, the grocery store, the mall, soccer practice and friends’ homes. Some people even drive to take a walk.

That’s changing now, just like the stereotype of suburbs as places where everyone’s white, married with children and plays golf at the country club.  From Bethesda, Maryland to Edina, Minnesota to Kirkland, Washington, citizens are reinventing their towns to better accommodate walkers.  Traffic is being tamed on busy streets. New sidewalks and trails are being constructed. Business districts are coming to life thanks to growing foot traffic.

Leading the charge are suburban leaders who see their communities’ continuing prosperity and quality-of-life dependent on creating lively walkable places that attract young people, families and businesses wanting to locate where the action is.  Walking is gaining popularity across the US for both transportation and recreation because it improves health, fosters community and saves money.

The best place to experience the future of suburban living is Arlington County, Virginia, right across the Potomoc River from Washington, DC.  Built up during the 1950s, ‘40s and late ‘30s, after autos already dominated American life, it’s a classic suburb full of freestanding homes with driveways and green lawns.  Nonetheless it’s been named one of the 14 best “Walk Friendly” communities in America by the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center at the University of North Carolina and one of the 25 Best Cities for Walking by Prevention magazine.

A Day in the Life of America’s Most Walkable Suburb

 Walkable Cities

In Arlington’s Courthouse/Clarendon district, even on an unseasonably frigid Friday evening, you’ll find folks walking their dogs, pushing baby strollers, toting home groceries, out strolling or heading to health clubs, shops, restaurants and movie theaters.

The next morning is windy with snow flurries, but the wide sidewalks of Arlington’s Virginia Square/Ballston district hums with people running errands at the bank, the cleaners, the mall, the tailors, the print shop, the pharmacy, the hair salon and the phone store. A lot of shoppers popped over from nearby apartment buildings and townhomes that have grown up recently what once was a struggling commercial strip, while others strolled from nearby single family homes.

Clarendon/Courthouse and Ballston/Virginia Square are both served by a regional train system, a boost for walkable communities that most American suburbs won’t have access to anytime soon.  But pedestrians flourish in Arlington neighborhoods distant from train lines too.

The Westover neighborhood sports a typically Mid-Century design with parking lots in front of many businesses but still offers friendly streetlife. A trio of middle schoolers walk home from the grocery with lunch fixings, while neighbors stop for a chat on their way to the hardware store, library, pharmacy, barbershop, bus stop, the Lost Dog Café or the Stray Cat café.

Meanwhile the brand new Shirlington community, rising out of the ashes of a failed shopping center, feels like a suburban village. A Main Street built in what was a parking lot invites you to take an afternoon stroll browsing a wide selection of shops, ethnic restaurants, a library, a full-service grocery and Bus Boys & Poets, a popular bookstore. A few steps away are movie theaters, service businesses like hair salons and yoga studios, office buildings, townhomes, apartments, a bus station and parking garages.

These neighborhoods stretch over six miles in the heart of Arlington (which is both a city and a county at the same time), but you can reach them all on foot via pedestrian-friendly city streets or Arlington’s 50-mile trail network.

Arlington’s Path to Transformation

Arlington did not become a pedestrian success story overnight.  The sidewalks are lively today thanks to a series of smart decisions carried out over several decades. The story of this community’s rise to become America’s most walkable suburb offers lessons for towns everywhere wanting to thrive in the years to come. 

As an early model for the auto-oriented development that popped up all over the country after World War II, Arlington also become one of the first suburbs to experience the inevitable side effects of aging. The county population dropped from 174,000 in 1970 to 152,500 in 1980 as new land to develop became scarce and kids who grew up there moved away. 

“In the 1970s this was a declining inner ring suburb,” notes Chris Zimmerman, who served on the county board for 18 years. “I moved here in 1979 because of the cheap rent.  Arlington was a stopover for a lot of people until they could afford to move somewhere else”-- a familiar scene today in thousands of suburban communities.

The first step in Arlington’s revival was improved transit service, including a number of stops on the Washington Metro subway system. But most of the streets were still designed to move cars as quickly as possible with little regard for the impact on pedestrians and surrounding neighborhoods. “When I took office in 1996, traffic was the biggest issue in every neighborhood. People were worried about their kids walking to school,” notes Zimmerman, who left the county board in 2013 to become Vice-president of Economic Development for Smart Growth America.

The county board, spurred on by neighborhood leaders, adopted an “urban village” approach to planning, which Zimmerman says, “really resonated with people-- the idea of comfort and community while still being cosmopolitan. Being both suburban and urban at the same time.”

One strong focus of this plan was to make walking more safe and convenient. A task force on traffic calming was launched and the outdated policy of charging homeowners for the cost of building new sidewalks--still common throughout the US--was eliminated.

Ninety percent of all residential streets now have sidewalks (up from 73 percent in 1997), and traffic on seven of the county’s nine busiest roads has declined between 5 and 23 percent since 1996. As a result, walking and biking now account for16.6 percent of all trips around town.

The county’s population has now climbed to 220,000, and it’s attracting many young professionals and families who could afford to live in wealthier suburbs but prefer Arlington’s walkability and sense of community.

“This could be done anywhere,” Zimmerman counsels. “It doesn’t depend on big-scale transit, it depends on good urban design.”

Walking As a Way of Life

Peter Owen, a lawyer who grew up in nearby McLean, Virginia, chose to live in Arlington after studying at University of Virginia, William & Mary and Harvard because he wanted to be close to his family but still enjoy opportunities to walk.

Still old habits die hard, he admits. “It took me about four months of living here to stop driving in my car to the grocery store, even though I lived just a few blocks away.” Owen still owns a car, but says it stays in the garage most of the time.

When asked why walking is so important to him, Owen has plenty to say:  “I value the serendipitous encounters with my neighbors and the sense of connection to this place.  You notice lots more things, like kids playing, when you’re living at five miles per hour.”

“It’s dramatically different walking here than in the 1990s,” says Dennis Leach, Arlington’s Director of Transportation, who lived here for years before joining the county staff.  “You see all these people in places that used to be nowhere. It shows that if you do the infrastructure and land use right, you can provide people more viable transportation options and good places to walk, which has benefits for social equity, health and a sense of community.”

Walking in City 

What Makes For a Walkable Street?

Key actions that make Arlington’s streets more walkable include:

Crosswalks, which are clearly defined so motorists know where to look for walkers;

Bulb outs, which extend the sidewalk a few feet into an intersection to shorten pedestrians’ crossing distance;

Median islands, which offer pedestrians a mid-point refuge while crossing wide, busy streets;

Bike lanes, which not only encourage people to bike instead of drive, but also increase the distance between sidewalks and rushing traffic;

Pro-pedestrian zoning, which enhances the walking experience through measures like requiring first-floor retail shops or windows on buildings along pedestrian routes;

• Road Diets, a new step for Arlington, in which moderately traveled four lane road are reduced to two through-lanes with an alternating left-turn lane in the middle, creating space for bike lanes or wider sidewalks

Complete Streets, a county policy that all modes of transportation must be considered in street reconstruction projects;

Transportation Demand Management, a sophisticated strategic plan that looks at traffic issues involved in all development decisions, and offers incentives for businesses to locate in walkable places served by transit.

City Initiatives to Promote Walking

Of course, it takes more than crosswalks and sidewalks to get people walking.  That’s why nearly everyone I spoke with Arlington pointed to the work of WalkArlington, a county-sponsored initiative to encourage people to get back on their feet.

WalkArlington developed 25 walking routes known as Walkabouts around the county, highlighting neighborhoods’ history, community resources and attractions. The WalkArlington Works program helps employers and staff to boost walking in the workplace, both for commuting and breaks during the workday. The organization is part the county’s Car-Free Diet program, an innovative approach that helps families figure how living without a car or car lite (using just one private car) would work for them. WalkArlington also excites kids about getting around on foot with programs such as Walk to School Day  and walking school buses (in which parents become bus drivers on foot, picking up kids at their doors and walking them to school).

Arlington is taking steps toward fulfilling the dream of many residents, best articulated by the county’s former Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator Charlie Denney who grew up here: “Our goal would be to build a community where every 8-year-old can go all by themselves to buy an ice cream cone.”

10 More Suburbs Making Great Strides in Walking

Walking is gaining ground in many post-World War II suburban communities, including:

Edina, Minnesota — In 1956 this town just outside Minneapolis inaugurated the modern suburban era by opening the first enclosed shopping mall surrounded by vast acres of parking.   Now Edina is working hard to evolve into a 21st century suburb, where there’s a place for walking and biking too. 

Lakewood, Colorado —This Denver suburb traded a failed shopping mall for a built-from-scratch downtown offering shops, homes, offices, restaurants, Whole Foods, Target, a town common, a bowling alley and an Irish pub, all within close and pleasurable walking distance.

Bethesda, Silver Spring & White Flint, Maryland — Real estate developer and business professor Christopher Leinberger calls the DC region the most walkable metropolitan area in the US, edging out New York City on the strength of its suburban areas.  Indeed, Silver Spring, White Flint and Bethesda may someday challenge Arlington for the title of America’s most walkable suburb.

Kirkland, University Place, Sammamish, Redmond & Bellevue, Washington---Seattle is neck-and-neck with DC for pioneering walkable suburbs. Dan Burden, one of America’s leading experts on pedestrian friendly communities who works with Blue Zones, lists these five towns as taking big steps: Kirkland, Bellevue, University Place, Redmond and Sammamish.

And it’s worth keeping an eye on Tigard, Oregon, a Portland suburb, whose city council passed a resolution last November to make the community “the most walkable city in the Pacific Northwest.

Jay Walljasper writes, speaks and consults about how to create more healthy, happy, enjoyable communities. He is the author of the Great Neighborhood Book. You can check out his website, too.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



3/30/2015

bicycles 

I heard mentioned in passing recently that many American cities were designed for cars, not people. The comment seems unfortunately and oddly true. I define a city as a place where lots of people work, play, live, and gather. Because people are at the forefront of my definition of “city,” I am left questioning why the coupling of cars and people became so concrete. Ultimately, I want to explore how to detach that outdated and inefficient bond of people to personal cars in my city, Seattle.

Brent Toderian, a former chief city planner for Vancouver, B.C., has been exploring this area. He highlights the health opportunity in making cities easier for people to get around without cars, building body movement into our daily transportation routines. One example he gives of healthy urban transportation is the escalator and gondola systems in Medellin, Columbia. I remember when I lived in Belgium, how mass transit and walking were part of everyday life. I had no need for a car then, which was good for my health and added to my sense of community. 

In Seattle, our last mayor was hot to make our city more bicycle friendly, much to the dismay of many. As a driver, I do see a struggle, although reconcilable, between car drivers and bicyclists. Bikes can be difficult to see, and bicyclist’s navigating decisions can be unpredictable as they swap between car and pedestrian rules at their own convenience. On the other hand, some car drivers act aggressively toward bike riders. I feel that traffic flows best when everyone is responsible for watching out for themselves by being aware of those around them, and being as polite as possible. 

Seattle also has an adequate bus system. They keep raising rates, which makes it expensive for the working class, and they keep reducing services and stops, but it connects most sections of our city. Walking is more of an option in densely populated intercity areas. However, our city's affordable housing seems to be disappearing, so walking commutes are becoming more of a luxury. 

What used to be a twenty-minute commute from my home in North Seattle to downtown, can now take me up to an hour and half. If you ignore the waste of time, which as you know is my most precious commodity, and you just take a look at the Earth’s resources, the rise in travel time is unacceptable. So how do we change this and make our Emerald City more sustainable and livable? In my vision, we choose three or four innovative transportation methods (bikes, light rail, gondolas, and walking) and interlink them while we wait for shareable community cars that drive themselves.

What initiative transportations do you think we can link together to make our cities more livable? Can you help limit your gas usage and emission footprint? How can you help shift your the transportation around you?


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



3/4/2015
MU110bBedTop

MPX (Mother's Pickup eXperiment) deserves its own header, and mixing MPX with MAX is confusing (even to me) so I'm calling this post MPX's first update. You can read the MPX project overview here.

MU110aBedTop

Here's MPX (Mother's Pickup eXperiment) on its way home from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania. I had just crossed over the Oregon border when I took these photos, and as you can see it was taken last year. How can you tell? Because it isn't raining.

Yes folks, we're currently celebrating the annual Oregon Rain Festival. We don't have the least pleasant winters in the country—not by a long shot—but our winters are serious enough to interfere with testing. Mileage when it's cold and wet and windy is significantly worse than mileage when it's warm and dry and calm, and if there are rules of thumb for “How much worse is it, Jack?” I sure don't know them...but summer-and-winter are apples-and-oranges when it comes to comparative fuel economy testing. And so, for now, we have to rely on last year's preliminary test data, but that's enough to show that this streamlined bed cover gives a good bang for the buck. I can't be precise yet, but over-the-road fuel economy has gone from a smidgeon (see what I told you about precision?) under 25 MPG to within spitting range of 30 MPG. That's like finding a gallon of free fuel every 150 miles or so—Free Fuel In The Wind, to quote Phil Knox. If that doesn't impress you, think of the savings over the life of the vehicle: if MPX's first owner streamlined the bed the day it rolled off the showroom floor, it would have saved well over a thousand gallons of gas by now.

Which ain't bad for a DIY plank-and-plywood bed cover, which you can crank out in a week of evenings for around $125 in materials. It also offers most of the features you expect in a bed cover, such as keeping your possessions dry—and with the addition of a hasp and padlock, keeping your possessions in your possession.

This is not exactly an aerodynamic breakthrough. Lots of eco-modders have made their own (enough that there's a generic name for them; they're known as “aerocaps” among us high mileage zealots) and they average between 12 percent and 15 percent in claimed highway mileage improvement. It makes you wonder why you have to Do It Yourself...if they're that great, why aren't aerocaps commercially available? We'll have to get into that in another update.

Check out the 100-mpg car page for all Mother's MAX stories, and Kinetic Vehicles to make your own Max.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



10/9/2014

I apologize for September's lack of blog post—I was running around doing stuff, including attending the Seven Springs MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR, where I ran a little workshop on the Mother's Pickup Experiment (MPX). Just before I left, I shot this video where the MPX, unmodified from its stock form (a 1994 Toyota Hilux with mumbledy-mumble miles on the clock), was the control group for a rolling resistance reduction demonstration, starring MAX.

MAX has obvious features to decrease its aerodynamic drag (though not so obvious in this video because I was working on some body mods that day and the doors and windshield were removed), and it also has some more subtle features to decrease its rolling resistance (Goodyear Assurance Fuel Max tires and Lucas Oil synthetic lubricants), which is a catch-all phrase meaning “all the drag that isn't aerodynamic drag.”

Rolling resistance is all the little frictions—the drag of the wheel bearings, the drag of the gears stirring up the fluid in the transmission, the drag of the tires flexing as they roll—that dominate the total drag package at low speed. Rolling resistance (unlike air resistance) is pretty much constant; if you pushed your car with a bathroom scale between you and the back bumper, the poundage the scale would read would be about the same at a steady 1 mph or a steady 5 mph (or in theory, in a vacuum, a steady 50 or 100 mph). One result of this is, if you have a slope that is steep enough that your car will start rolling, it will keep rolling.

The access road at my local airport has a slight slope—slight enough that you sure don't notice it when you walk on it, it's only about an inch down for every ten feet forward. Most of the time you don't notice the slope when you park on it, either, because most cars just sit there. In fact, the first time I got out of MAX out there and MAX wandered off on its own, I was pretty surprised. Since that day, I use the parking brake all the time*, regardless of how flat the road feels.

So here's the video, with my usual goofball production values (or lack thereof). It only takes a minute to watch, and I hope you enjoy it.

Check out how to make your own MAX.

*It's such a habit now that I left the parking brake on for my first take of this video. For the second (and last) take, I blocked the driver's side rear wheel with a dime-sized piece of gravel, which was an easy rollover, and looked much more professional than pushing and grunting and going nowhere.

Video by Jack McCornack


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


8/20/2014

Bicycle. Image Credit: Ian Sane

According to statistics, the US release the second highest amount of carbon emissions in the world, after China. A staggering 33% of the US carbon emissions that are released comes from transportation, with 60% of the transportation emissions coming from gasoline for cars and light trucks. This means that transportation is the second largest contributor of U.S greenhouse gas emissions after the electricity sector.

Since 1990 greenhouse gas emissions from transportation have increased by roughly 18%, which is largely due to an increasing demand for travel. Furthermore, the number of vehicles travelled by car and light trucks has increased by 35% from 1990 to 2012. Again, this is for a number of different reasons ranging from population growth, economic growth, urban sprawl and low fuel prices early on in this period.

Although efforts have already been increased to reduce the amount of carbon emissions created by transport, such as the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) taking coordinated steps to enable the production of a new generation of clean vehicles, through reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and improved fuel use from on-road vehicles and engines, from the smallest cars to the largest trucks, there is still a lot more that needs to be done if the US are ever going to achieve their goal of reducing carbon emission by 30% from 2005 levels, as announced by President Obama.

How to Reduce Transportation Emissions

Efforts should be increased to encourage more U.S. citizens to change their travel habits and make more eco-friendly choices. Whether it is public transport, car sharing or walking/running/biking whenever or wherever possible. It would be beneficial to introduce more incentives for Americans to actually travel in a more environmentally friendly way, such as the bike to work scheme that is being used in the UK. If UK businesses opt into the bike to work scheme, both employers and employees can benefit, including getting a bike for a discounted price, saving money on traveling costs, get more fit and healthy as well as significantly reducing their carbon footprint. If more American businesses had a scheme similar to this, it would all contribute to making the U.S a greener country. 

Although it would be great if everyone could run, walk, bike everywhere and get public transport at any point of the day, in reality this is not at all possible for every U.S citizen. However, that doesn’t mean to say that people can’t travel in a more green way.  60 percent of transportation emissions come from gasoline for cars and light trucks, but this figure could significantly be reduced if more U.S citizens opted for ‘green’ cars. For example, a gasoline-powered car that gets 20mpg releases 20lbs of CO2 in comparison to a plug-in hybrid car that gets 100mpg releases just 4 lbs of CO2.

Buying a Green Car

One issue that might be raised from this point is the expense of buying a newer ‘greener’ car, which many U.S. citizens may not be able to afford. However, it could be argued that many green cars have been made to be affordable to a large target market. Alternatively, there is the option of car financing which again is something that many UK citizens have chosen to do in order to get the car they like as well as obtain a greener lifestyle. For example, Simon Gray at Credo Asset Finance, who offer car finance in Norwich, is delighted to see so many people seeing the benefits of car finance:

“We are delighted at the increasing interest in people coming to us for the best car finance deals around so that they can get the car they want at an affordable price for them. As ‘being green’ has become an increasing important issue for many consumers’ lifestyles, we have seen a growing interest in people opting for cars that are better for the environment.”

So, although strategies are already being put in place to reduce the amount of carbon emissions released by transport, perhaps America should introduce some more strategies to reduce transportation emissions even further in the U.S.

Photo Credit: Ian Sane



7/30/2014

My friend Jim* has his MAX on the road now. He has around 500 miles on the clock so far, and wrote some comments on a homebuilt car forum we both subscribe to:

I topped off the tank got on the expressway and drove 55 miles an hour North for 80 miles to visit a friend. The friend drove the car for 10 miles or so & we noticed a storm coming from the east.
Dropped my friend off and drove the car home at 65 to 75 miles an hour to avoid most of the rain 170 miles and put in 2.3 gal. OR 73.9 MPG or $0.05 per mile. Must finish the top.

Yeah, well, if you want to outrun storms in a MAX, your mileage is going to show it, so Jim needs to finish the top. Jim does aircraft fabrication for a living, he's a skilled and talented craftsman, and it's no shock that his car looks prettier than my car, and I expected his top to look nicer than mine too, but I wasn't expecting to see this photo two days later...

MU108a

...or this photo a day after that.

MU108b

Jim used 2” thick expanded styrene insulation board, cut blocks to shape, glued them together in place on his car, and sanded them smooth. He then covered it with fiberglass and carbon fiber cloth, laminated together with epoxy resin. This description does diminish the skill involved (it's a bit like saying, “Michelangelo took a large rock and knocked off all the pieces that didn't look like David”) but that's how it's done.

MU108c

I particularly like the double-bubble look, which was common enough in sports cars of The Day, and the windshield is pretty neat too, it's a mid-50s GMC pickup truck windshield made into a split windshield by taking 14” of glass out of the middle, and flipping it upside down to make it lower and more acute.

MU108d

I'm looking forward to copying this top for myself, it sure looks a lot nicer than my current ragtop. You'll be reading more about this reader-built MAX soon, right here on this blog.

*I'll be meeting Jim in person for the first time in about a month, I'm driving the MPX truck to the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs and Jim's on my route. Much like Will Rogers, I have many friends I haven't met yet.

Photo by Jack McCornack

Check out KineticVehicles.com to make your own MAX.



7/28/2014

Providing practical riding information for cyclists everywhere is the goal of the CycleMap app from Ratomic Lab. The cycling app indexes the most popular bike paths around the world, which makes pedaling your way around a foreign locale easier than changing gears. Want to ride into downtown Gothenberg from Kortedala? No problem. Fancy a leisurely spin around Tokyo? CycleMap has you covered.

Developed by Oliver Carbonneau, CycleMap was conceived after the developer realized there weren’t many good smartphone apps for bicycling. Eventually, Carbonneau decided to open-source the application, making it possible for anyone to add to the app's vast index of bike routes. Currently, CycleMap includes 1.346 million kilometers' worth of paths around the globe.

Funding from entrepreneur David Boudreault has allowed CycleMap to offer a free version as well as a “pro” version, which costs $4.99. CycleMapPRO not only lets users know the type of path — gravel, pavement, dirt — but also allows users save their search history and favorites. The Pro version gives directions to nearby bike shops for riders in need. Don’t own a bike? No problem. CycleMapPRO also shows the locations and availability of bike share stations in 176 cities.









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