Archive for December, 2010

The City of Seattle has made developing a goal for citywide carbon neutrality by 2030 a priority.  In September 2010 the City held a forum in which workgroups gave presentations on carbon neutrality strategies in various disciplines.  At the time I noted a lot of incrementalism, and very little vision of a city at zero emissions.

For each significant category (>3% of the total emissions) in the City of Seattle 2008 carbon emission inventory, below I list whether reaching zero emissions is primarily a matter of government policy, culture or technology.

Cars (20% of total): Policy and culture.  Walking, biking, electric transit and electric vehicles can entirely eliminate fossil-fueled personal vehicles.

Trucks (18%): Technology.  Battery power is unlikely to be effective for freight trucks due to energy density, weight and cost.  Rails aren’t everywhere that goods need to go.

Air (18%): Technology.  Non-fossil fuel solutions to air transport are yet to be determined.  Reducing air travel is an interim step.

Natural Gas (16%): Policy.  The City can shut down the natural gas distribution system.  Users, given sufficient notice, can migrate to electric appliances and/or retrofit for energy efficiency.

Cement production (11%): Policy and technology.  Policy can force install of the best available emissions reduction processes, or fund low-carbon cement research.  But technology is needed to go to zero.

(Other sources combined are 17% of emissions.)

The City of Seattle has the capability to be carbon neutral  in several categories by 2030 through policy only.  The city is blessed with carbon-neutral hydropower for electric supply.  For neutrality, the city’s electrical demand needs to be kept within the capacity of the hydropower system, supplemented by other renewables such as wind.  The key to achieving this is to be aggressive about electrical efficiency as activities are transitioned from other fuels, such as personal vehicles or natural gas furnaces, to the electric supply. 

Technological progress is needed in three major categories to reach zero: trucks (goods transport), air travel and cement production.  I will write about each of these items in upcoming posts.


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…Cause it is “Christmastime in the City.  Soon it will be Christmas day.”

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all!

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In November we learned that peak conventional oil occurred in 2006, per the IEA, the official arbiter of energy supplies.  Today we learn that peak U.S. gasoline also occurred in 2006, according to the Associated Press.  After falling for the previous four years, energy experts now expect gasoline consumption to continue falling, returning to 1969 levels by 2030.

Washington State Department of Transportation recently reassessed their gas tax revenue projections, which have been overestimating revenue for years, resulting in a long-term funding shortfall.  The State gas tax and highway program are on a collision course with reality.

From the Statewide Fuel Consumption Forecast Models (Washington State, November 2010)

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Parisian Multiway Boulevard (Source: de.wikipedia.org user Luestling)

A tool for building the city, little known in the United States, is the multiway boulevard.  I was not aware of the term until reading “The Boulevard Book” by Allan Jacobs, Elizabeth Macdonald and Yodan Rofe, the authoritative reference on multiway boulevards.  I had seen roads of this type in my international travels, from Guangzhou to Paris, but didn’t realize their significance until reading this book.

Multiway boulevards are multi-functional roadways, consisting of at least a central roadway, optimized for fast automobile traffic, and side roadways, optimized for low-speed local access traffic and parking.  Medians separate the central roadway from the access roadways, and on well-designed boulevards the medians, access roadways and sidewalks create an extended pedestrian realm.  Multiway boulevards typically have at least four rows of formally spaced street trees.  The median trees visually and psychologically separate the traffic realm from the pedestrian realm.  Pedestrians feel comfortable lingering on sidewalks and medians, crossing the access roadways at will.  Vehicles in the access roadways travel slowly by design, due to the narrowness of the lane, frequent bicycles and pedestrians, vehicles entering or exiting parallel parking, and delivery trucks stopped for unloading.  Multiway boulevards are capable of handling heavy volumes of fast traffic, from 4 to 10 lanes, while providing a safe, quiet and relaxing environment for the adjoining buildings and pedestrians along the roadway.

Multiway Boulevard Cross Section (from the "The Boulevard Book")

In contrast, U.S. traffic engineering focuses on only one function for a road: high-speed traffic corridor, from which pedestrians and businesses stay away, and local access streets, with limited traffic volumes and speeds.  Multiway boulevards can accomplish both tasks within one right-of-way.  The best boulevards, however, do require very wide right of ways.  Absolute minimum is 100 feet wide, more typical are 180 to 250 feet wide.

It is well-known that freeways, whether at grade, in a trench or elevated, are detrimental to cities, separating neighborhoods with deafening and ugly “no-go” zones, and overwhelming the local street grid at off-ramps.  Multiway boulevards are an elegant solution to providing rapid mobility in a city without sacrificing quality of life.  Does your city have any of these roads?

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Worldchanging.com is closing down.  A big loss for the sustainability blogosphere.

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Citymusic: The Town

Citymusic post for the week: I’m bringing out “the town” by Macklemore.  Retrospective of Seattle hip hop, expresses feel and the soul of the place. 

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