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Is the U.S. turning a corner on high-speed rail?

Katherine Dorsett, CNN
For a while now, crazy situations, hunger pangs and frustrating hours behind the wheel have been making life slightly miserable for Florida commuter Joe Panyanouvong. The attorney who regularly makes the 84-mile journey between Orlando and Tampa on Interstate 4 is ready for a solution.

“I have made this trip many times during peak hours for work and leisure. It can feel like a parking lot at times,” said Panyanouvong. “During heavy traffic it’s taken me as long as 2.5 hours to get from Orlando to Tampa.”

He recalls one day when — despite departing Orlando early to get a head start on a business trip — traffic and farm animals got the best of him near U.S. Route 27 and Interstate 4.

A cow had wandered past a fence onto the road, causing tie-ups and headaches.

“I ended up missing lunch because of that cow,” Panyanouvong said with a laugh. “I don’t like missing lunch and I especially don’t like getting stuck in traffic due to wandering farm animals or any other reason.”

For generations, much of the nation has been forced to use cars, buses or pricey aircraft to travel to nearby cities. But this year, Washington opened the door to what may be a historic turning point in regional travel.

The Department of Transportation awarded $8 billion among 31 states to begin developing America’s first nationwide high-speed intercity passenger rail service…
(18 August 2010)

Transport study call to slash carbon emissions

Paul Jeeves, Yorkshire Post
A RADICAL approach to transport policies drawn up by researchers at a Yorkshire university could see the UK’s carbon emissions slashed by more than three-quarters within the next 40 years.

A study published today by a renowned environment research unit at York University has predicted the carbon footprint generated by the nation’s transport networks could be reduced by up to 76 per cent by 2050.

A quarter of the greenhouse gases produced in the UK are from transport, and it is increasing emissions faster than any other sector of the economy.

Growing levels of car use, road freight and aviation have created major problems in reducing transport’s emissions, although researchers from the Stockholm Environment Institute maintain massive reductions can be achieved with a departure from traditional policies.

The co-author of the study, Prof John Whitelegg, said: “This project marks a significant break with traditional thinking that regards transport as too hard to deal with when it comes to greenhouse gas reduction.

“We have shown that the potential is much greater than anyone previously thought and that reductions in emissions go hand-in-hand with improvements in air quality, health and economic success.”

The research has suggested that if the proposed measures are implemented, there would be substantial economic benefits as well as a significant fall in road deaths and injuries…
(15 August 2010)
The report is here.

The Big Lie: Highway Projects Help the US Economy

Walker, LoveSalem
One of the hardest things to notice is when something that used to be true is no longer.

When America was a young country of abundant natural resources and few people, transportation projects that enabled shipment of goods — canals, plank roads, and turnpikes — provided a huge economic stimulus, as those projects enabled those abundant natural resources to reach their markets in the East and in the greater world beyond.

And when America industrialized, transportation projects both fed and profited from our new mechanized prowess. Railroads, heavily subsidized, generated huge returns for their owners and (indirectly) for the nation as a whole, enabling our factories to supply the world with goods, even as the mechanized reapers also began to make the Midwest the granary of the world.

Thus, the mental link was forged in the minds of many: transportation projects create long-term economic benefits.

But note: what is true of a producing country is not true of a country that is primarily a consumer. In America of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries, the country that realizes most of the benefits of our freight transportation projects is China, with Japan, Taiwan, India, and Indonesia following up.

Because today, freight COMES to the US, and containers leave empty. That means that all the hot air that the state and federal highway departments emit about the economic benefits of transportation investments is both true and terribly misleading. Transportation projects continue to help manufacturers and sellers, as they historically have.

What has to change is our willful blindness to our new reality that, as a consuming nation that has offshored its manufacturing base and runs a staggering monthly trade deficit (see graphic), each new project sold for its “freight mobility” benefits is really just another vein being opened in the American national body politic. Spending on highways not only just helps the nations selling us goods more than us, it also strengthens our addiction to petroleum, which further runs up our trade deficits. This way lies madness and economic collapse…
(9 August 2010)

Will the Aviation Industry and Climate Change Come in for a Smooth Landing?

Salvatore Cardoni, Take Part
Cloaked in fluorescent reflective jackets with the phrase “Please Do Something” printed on the back, 57 protestors from the anti-airport expansion group Plane Stupid cut through a security fence outside London’s Stansted Airport.

It was 3:15 a.m. on December 12, 2008, and the group was on an eco-mission.

They moved with stealthy precision to the runway and set up camp, barricading themselves within fortified fencing.

When airport police arrived on the scene, they were greeted with a simple, but powerful sign: “Climate Emergency.”

Seven hours later, the peaceful sit-in was over. All 57 protestors were arrested, charged with aggravated trespass, and released. But the incursion was a success. During the sit-in, 56 Ryanair flights were cancelled. Per protestor, 41 tons of greenhouse gases were not emitted into the atmosphere.

“Traveling by plane is the single most damaging thing an individual can do in terms of personal carbon footprint,” says Plane Stupid spokesman Joe Ryle, in written answers to questions from TakePart.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says aviation is responsible for 2 percent of global C02 emissions.

Aviation advocacy groups and environmentalists generally accept this number. But environmentalists argue that the 2 percent is equivalent to a higher share because “the effect of releasing gases and particles at high altitudes” maximizes the damage, reports the New York Times.

The epicenter of the debate is radiative forcing, defined by Treehugger as “the change in the energy balance in the lower atmosphere by a climate change mechanism.”

Radiative forcing is measured by the change in temperature at the Earth’s tropopause, which is the area where the troposphere (the part of the atmosphere that contains our weather) meets with the stratosphere (the 30 miles out from there that buffers the planet from outer space).
(19 August 2010)
Nice job of summing up the issues. Aviation is NOT a popular issue to bring up, since environmentalists also love their plane travel. Can’t ignore the issue though.

Recommended by Post Carbon Institute on Facebook. -BA

London’s Do-It-Yourself Approach to Safer Streets
Elizabeth Press, Streetfilms

In the UK, the non-profit Sustrans is pioneering a community-based method to reclaim streets from high-speed traffic and make neighborhoods safer and more sociable places.

Called “DIY Streets,” the program brings neighbors together to help them redesign their streets in a way that puts people, safety, and streetlife first. So far, individual streets have benefited from DIY redesigns in 11 communities in England and Wales. Recently Streetfilms got a walk through of one successful DIY project — on Clapton Terrace in London. With the people who made it happen as our guides, we saw how planners and neighbors collaborated to transform a place where speeding used to rule into a local street with calm traffic and safe space to socialize.

Can the DIY model work on a bigger scale than an individual street? We’re about to find out: Residents of the London Borough of Haringey will soon be working with Sustrans on the first neighborhood-wide DIY project.
Aug 10, 2010