Green Transportation

Moving toward a transportation system that fuels healthy people and a healthy planet.

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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


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...


...or this photo a day after that.


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.


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.


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 to make your own MAX.


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.


bike rackAmtrak’s latest efforts to modernize its cars will improve traveling by train for bicyclists. Previously, cyclists had to keep their wheels in cumbersome boxes when riding the rails, an inconvenient task for commuters living in the Northeast corridor. To remedy the situation, the company has just begun field-testing a new baggage car design that features collapsible shelves for luggage. The shelves double as bike racks when not in use.

Joe Boardman, president and CEO of Amtrak, says, “It’s clear that Americans want a national system of intercity passenger rail and Amtrak is moving ahead to build new equipment to meet customer demand.” During the testing phase, the new cars will travel along the Northeast corridor and will be tested for speed, breaking, stability and, of course, baggage handling. When testing is complete, these new baggage cars will be implemented along all 15 of Amtrak’s long-distance routes. 

In addition to new baggage cars, Amtrak has already given the green light to new diner, sleeper and baggage-dormitory cars. “We’re excited for this next phase of the new equipment journey into revenue service and hope you are, too,” says a company spokesperson. Amtrak hopes for the new baggage cars to be ready for use by the end of 2014.

Photo by Amtrak



Congratulate me! I drove MAX south of San Francisco about a month ago to the Maker Faire Bay Area and won the Maker Faire Editor's Choice award for our class. What is our class, exactly? That's hard to say. It's sure not the Amazing Vehicle class, because we were outclassed numerous times on that front; every time I turned around I'd bump into an amphibious dragon boat or a high speed cupcake or a steampunk submarine...or a 25-foot-tall mechanical octopus shooting gouts of flame from its tentacles.

Maybe there was a Street Legal Vehicle class, but probably not—conformity to standards is not a strong motivator at the Maker Faires (note the “e” in Faire) so I doubt we'd get our own class for dotting the Ts and crossing the Is as required to get a license plate.

I know I didn't get it for workmanship, either. The guy right next to me, Nick Jenkins, had a car he'd built from scratch (with a number of Kinetic Vehicles body and hardware parts, I'm proud to say) that looked a lot like MAX looked in its Escape from Berkley trim...or a lot like Dave's MAXine which attended last year's Maker Faire Bay Area...except Nick's car looks like it rolled off the showroom floor and into a restoration shop, and from there to a museum where curators applied bugs to the headlights to give it a simulated “used” look. It's a work of art in the old-school sense of the phrase, whereas Dave and I (and the guys who built the octopus) subscribe more to the how-soon-can-we-get-this-on-the-road aesthetic.

DIY Philosophy at the 2014 Maker Faire

Compared to MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIRS, the Maker Faires draw folks who want to see stuff more than who want to learn stuff, and while Maker Faires are indeed a celebration of the Do It Yourself philosophy, it seems the majority of the spectators came to admire DIY from afar. And though MAX was generally well received, a surprising (to me at least) number of people thought I was trying to pull something over on them with my claim of 100 MPG on the freeway. One guy grinned and said, “You must really baby it.” No, sir, when I baby it, I get 120 MPG.

So maybe I won the High Fuel Efficiency Vehicle class, but fuel efficiency isn't a huge motivator at the Maker Faires...wait a minute, that's not completely fair (or faire, as the case may be). They do honor efficiency, and efforts to make our world greener, but art for the sake of art is honored as well. Since many of the objects d'art are huge and flamboyant (a word one rarely gets to use literally) they get well-deserved attention, and only a nitpicker such as myself would note that, for example, a flaming octopus typically runs through 200 gallons of propane a day. To quote Butch Cassidy, A small price for beauty.


The curiosity is killing me, so I've emailed the organizers for clarification of MAX's class. I'm guessing it's something like Non-Flaming Vehicle Under Six Tons but I'd like to know specifically.

Photo by Jack McCornack

Check out to make your own MAX.

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The United Kingdom’s first all-electric bus route started running in Milton Keynes in January and will be closely monitored over a five-year period to test the effectiveness of an electric system against diesel.

Electric BusThe eight electric buses run 17 hours a day and seven days each week to cover approximately 56,000 miles a year. Paul Adcock, Area Managing Director of public transport company Arriva, says: “Electric buses have huge potential, and we’re exploring how they can help us take better care of the environment without compromising passenger service.”

In order to maintain the same service schedule as diesel buses, the buses charge overnight and receive charges throughout the day from wire coils buried beneath the road. Through a process called inductive charging, parking a bus over a charging plate for 10 minutes replenishes two-thirds of the energy needed to run its 15-mile route.

“Electric buses’ physical and economic potential has historically been sidelined because no one could see around the range problem associated with the batteries,” says John Miles, director of the Milton Keynes electric bus program. According to global engineering firm Arup, Miles has a plan to combat this issue: “Wireless charging can bring electric buses in from the cold, and potentially put them neck-and-neck with their diesel counterparts. If we can demonstrate true parity with diesel buses during this trial, we’ll have reached a tipping point for low-carbon transport – we’ll have proved it can be cost-effective as well as green.”

The buses are projected to reduce CO2 emissions by approximately 270 tons each year. The amount of CO2 savings could increase to about 680 tons annually as the U.K. moves toward greener energy and the electric bus system continues.

Counselor John Bint, Cabinet Member for Transport and Highways, explains to BBC News: “This electric bus trial is the result of over a year's careful planning, so getting bus drivers behind the wheel is a wonderful milestone to reach. Seeing all eight buses on the route will be a very proud moment for everyone who's been involved.”



In response to public demand, it's time to make a MAX-ified pickup truck.

Maybe 'demand' is overstating the case; it's not like folks are telling me, “Put all the money in this bag and nobody gets hurt, and while you're at it, make a high mileage pickup.” It's more like, “Sure, MAX is cool, but...” followed by a description of their particular needs, followed by “...and gets a hundred miles per gallon.”

I used to explain why their particular needs were incompatible with 100 mpg, and why small and light and streamlined are essential ingredients if you want three-digit mileage on a beer budget, just like I used to explain why a walk-in closet and two bathrooms are incompatible with a 100-square-foot tiny house*. My father used to describe these folks as, “He wants to be an astronomer, but he doesn't want to work nights.”

Finding a Reasonable Mileage Target

But I've mellowed out somewhat. Unlike the 100-square-foot thing**, that 100-mpg thing is an arbitrary line in the sand, so now when people describe their vehicular needs, I ask, “What's a reasonable mileage target for that?” and we get to talking.

These needs commonly include space for an occasional third person, and occasional building supplies, and an occasional half ton of produce to the Farmer's Market, and an occasional ATV or riding mower, and (here in the Pacific Northwest at least) a way to keep the cargo dry—all of which can be achieved by a small pickup truck with bench seats and a removable canopy.

And for our mileage target? According to, the best mileage small pickup you can buy today is the Toyota Tacoma 2WD, with 21/25/23 mpg for city/highway/combined. I suspect we can double that, using the same principles we used with MAX—we can't go as far as the MAX car regarding weight, drag, and powerplant (not if we still want a practical pickup, which we do), but we can make significant improvements in all those areas, and I think 42/50/46 mpg is within reach.

Furthermore, I think we can do it on a beer budget — domestic beer, no less — $7,500 for the whole project, which is ¾ of what it took to make MAX. It should take a lot less time, too, and the bulk of the time and money savings comes from starting with the job half-done — starting with an existing vehicle instead of starting with a pile of steel tubing.

MOTHER's Pickup Experiment

So we've purchased a 1994 Toyota HiLux, with mumbledymumble miles on the odometer, and if you look carefully at the body, you'll note various paint shades from factory red to oxidation pink, depending on the history of the various body parts. I suspect this truck has had a difficult life, but it drives straight, and it stops with minimal drama when I push the brake pedal, and the shifter shifts with alacrity, so I think it's a decent base for this project.

Now what it needs is a good name. Until someone suggests a better one, we'll call it MPX for Mother's Pickup Experiment.

*I live in what used to be known as a cute little cabin, and is now known as a “tiny house”. It's about a hundred square feet inside but it's bigger on the outside because it has hewn log walls—see, I told you it was cute!

**In my neck of the woods, if you go over 100 square feet you need a building permit. My cabin is on wheels, so it's a trailer, not a building. BTW, log cabin construction is a poor choice for mileage, but I doubt I'll be driving it much.

Photo by Jack McCornack

Check out the 100-mpg Car page for all MOTHER's MAX stories, and to make your own MAX.

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