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Environment

Ways to Reduce Traffic Congestion and Greenhouse Emissions

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Remove car lanes, restrict vehicles and improve transit to reduce traffic congestion

by Fanny Tremblay-Racicot for The Conversation

During a trip to the United States, I was surprised to hear a transportation planner from a major American metropolis say that traffic congestion was not a problem because it was a sign of economic vitality.

Some even say that aspiring to less congestion is not desirable, as the road network is designed to absorb peak traffic during the morning rush hour. Not having congestion means there is more capacity within the network than demand.

Yet the environmental, social and economic costs associated with traffic congestion are real and affect the health, quality of life and wallet of all taxpayers and citizens on a daily basis.

The consequences of road congestion are generally measured in terms of additional travel time, and with the associated costs of additional vehicle use, such as fuel, depreciation and maintenance.

Costs of $4.2 billion in Montréal

Some studies also include greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and additional accidents caused by more time spent in traffic. Congestion also leads to other direct and indirect costs such as premature wear and tear on roads and impact on the health of people.

Montréal is the second most congested city in Canada, with a total of 145 hours lost per capita in peak rush hour traffic in 2018. It comes after Toronto, which ranks first among Canadian cities (167 hours lost). Québec City ranks ninth (85 hours lost).

Increase in greenhouse gas emissions

Road congestion also increases the air pollution produced by the combustion of fossil fuels, leading to an increase in respiratory problems, premature deaths and several types of cancer, especially for neighboring populations, which are often disadvantaged.

Gasoline and diesel vehicles also emit carbon dioxide, a powerful greenhouse gas responsible for global warming. In Canada, the entire transportation sector is the second largest source of greenhouse gases emissions, accounting for 28 per cent of total emissions.

In Québec, transportation accounted for 43 per cent of total greenhouse gases emissions in 2016, of which 80 per cent came from road transportation. These emissions increased by 52 per cent between 1990 and 2016.

Although greenhouse gas emissions from road congestion are not systematically inventoried, they are often used to justify new road projects. But why does congestion persist, despite government interventions to reduce it?

“Build it and they will come!”

The government response to congestion problems has generally been to build new roads or widen existing ones. However, this measure is ineffective because increasing capacity only increases vehicle use.

New routes generate additional demand equivalent to the new capacity. This natural near balance between supply and demand explains why roads reach pre-expansion congestion levels between five and 10 years after the construction of new routes.

What American economist Anthony Downs called “the fundamental law of highway congestion” in 1962 has since been confirmed by a large number of scientific studies.

The new traffic caused by the increase in road capacity, commonly referred to as “induced demand,” comes from four sources: increased commercial traffic, changing travel patterns, population migration and, to a lesser extent, diversion of traffic from other routes.

An increase in travel time

In the short term, new road segments reduce travel time and therefore costs, which encourages individuals and businesses to travel more, change departure times or itineraries, choose cars over public transit or move further away from where they work.

This increase in demand therefore compensates proportionally for the new road supply in the medium term, and at the same time for the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that could have been associated with a reduction in congestion.

In addition, the road network may not be used to its optimal capacity because users make an individual decision about the fastest route for their travel, regardless of the choices of others. These decisions may not correspond to the social optimal. Thus, the addition of a road can increase the total travel time over the entire network (and vice versa), making it necessary to coordinate individual trips.

Adding roads does not improve the economy

Another argument often used to justify increasing road capacity is that of job creation and economic development. Although road infrastructure creates employment during its construction, most studies have not found a link between increased road capacity and economic activity. Indeed, it is rather a displacement of economic activity across the same metropolitan region that is observed.

For example, exporting companies will be located along the new road infrastructure, but this will not have a significant effect on the total value of their production.

Increasing public transit is not enough

Increasing public transit is often promoted as the main alternative to building additional lanes or new roads. However, in accordance with the fundamental law of congestion, the space freed up by the use of public transport is ultimately compensated for by the additional demand it creates. Thus, public transport is not enough to reduce congestion.

In fact, if the objective is to reduce car traffic, the only effective method on the supply management side is reduction in road capacity, because the law of road congestion also works in the opposite direction: what we refer to as “reduced demand.” In addition to reducing travel demand, lane removal and traffic restriction also have measurable and documented social, environmental and economic benefits.

Adding new modes of public transit will not solve congestion problems. (Shutterstock)

Ecofiscal measures

Other measures are used to manage transport demand. First, the imposition of eco-tax measures, such as the gas tax and the parking tax, can help reduce vehicle use.

A Québec study reveals that increasing the gas tax to $0.46/L in Québec and introducing a road use tax of $0.15/km in greater Montréal area would make it possible to reach a quarter of Québec’s target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, in addition to increasing the use of public transit by almost 40 per cent.

Eco-taxation also encourages motorists to use public and active modes of transport, provided that these choices are available to them.

Teleworking, flexible working hours, parking management and so-called smart growth policies also reduce travel distances and the need or willingness to travel by car. These measures have positive consequences on public health, urban quality of life, land values, local consumption, etc.

The most effective planning choices are not always the most popular. To get them accepted, decision-makers must act at the right time, use technical expertise, conduct pilot projects, find allies, compensate for inconveniences and work with the various levels of government.

This text is an abridged version of a text originally published in the journal Le Climatoscope.

Fanny Tremblay-Racicot is Professeure adjointe, administration municipale et régionale, École nationale d’administration publique (ENAP)

The Conversation publishes knowledge-based journalism that is responsible, ethical and supported by evidence from academics and researchers in order to inform public debate with facts, clarity and insight into society’s biggest problems.

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Environment

Changes Brought On by Coronavirus May Help Tackle Climate Change

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Photo by DESIGNECOLOGIST

by Glen Peters for The Conversation

Stock markets around the world had some of their worst performance in decades this past week, well surpassing that of the global financial crisis in 2008. Restrictions in the free movement of people is disrupting economic activity across the world as measures to control the coronavirus roll out.

There is a strong link between economic activity and global carbon dioxide emissions, due to the dominance of fossil fuel sources of energy. This coupling suggests we might be in for an unexpected surprise due to the coronavirus pandemic: a slowdown of carbon dioxide emissions due to reduced energy consumption.

Based on new projections for economic growth in 2020, we suggest the impact of the coronavirus might significantly curb global emissions.

The effect is likely to be less pronounced than during the global financial crisis (GFC). And emissions declines in response to past economic crises suggest a rapid recovery of emissions when the pandemic is over.

But prudent spending of economic stimulus measures, and a permanent adoption of new work behaviours, could influence how emissions evolve in future.

Global fossil CO2 emissions (vertical axis) have grown together with economic activity (horizontal axis) over extended periods of time. Glen Peters/CICERO

The world in crisis

In just a few short months, millions of people have been put into quarantine and regions locked down to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Around the world events are being cancelled and travel plans dropped. A growing number of universities, schools and workplaces have closed and some workers are choosing to work from home if they can.

Even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has cancelled a critically important meeting and will instead hold it virtually.

The International Energy Agency had already predicted oil use would drop in 2020, and this was before an oil price war emerged between Saudi Arabia and Russia.

The unprecedented coronavirus lockdown in China led to an estimated 25% reduction in energy use and emissions over a two-week period compared to previous years (mostly due to a drop in electricity use, industrial production and transport). This is enough to shave one percentage point growth off China’s emissions in 2020. Reductions are also being observed in Italy, and are likely to spread across Europe as lockdowns become more widespread.

The emission-intensive airline industry, covering 2.6% of global carbon dioxide emissions (both national and international), is in freefall. It may take months, if not years, for people to return to air travel given that coronavirus may linger for several seasons.

Given these economic upheavals, it is becoming increasingly likely that global carbon dioxide emissions will drop in 2020.

Global air travel is down significantly as a result of the pandemic. Andy Rain/EPA

Coronavirus is not the GFC

Leading authorities have revised down economic forecasts as a result of the pandemic, but so far forecasts still indicate the global economy will grow in 2020. For example, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) downgraded estimates of global growth in 2020 from 3% (made in November 2019) to 2.4% (made in March 2020). The International Monetary Fund has indicated similar declines, with an update due next month.

Assuming the carbon efficiency of the global economy improves in line with the 10-year average of 2.5% per year, the OECD’s post-coronavirus growth projection implies carbon dioxide emissions may decline 0.3% in 2020 (including a leap year adjustment).

But the GFC experience indicates that the carbon efficiency of the global economy may improve much more slowly during a crisis. If this happens in 2020 because of the coronavirus, carbon dioxide emissions still could grow.

A decomposition of CO2 emissions growth into economic growth (orange) and carbon efficiency improvements (green) to estimate future emissions based on OECD economic growth projections. Glen Peters/CICERO

Under the worst-case OECD forecast the global economy in 2020 could grow as little as 1.5%. All else equal, we calculate this would lead to a 1.2% decline in carbon dioxide emissions in 2020.

This drop is comparable to the GFC, which in 2009 led to a 0.1% drop in global GDP and a 1.2% drop in emissions. So far, neither the OECD or International Monetary Fund have suggested coronavirus will take global GDP into the red.

The emissions rebound

The GFC prompted big, swift stimulus packages from governments around the world, leading to a 5.1% rebound in global emissions in 2010, well above the long-term average.

Previous financial shocks, such as the collapse of the former Soviet Union or the 1970s and 1980s oil crises, also had periods with lower or negative growth, but growth soon returned. At best, a financial crisis delays emissions growth a few years. Structural changes may happen, such as the shift to nuclear energy after the oil crises, but evidence suggests emissions continue to grow.

Global fossil CO2 emissions (in Gigatons or billions of tonnes of CO2) and carbon intensity of world Gross Domestic Product (grams of CO2 per $US, 2000), with the most important financial crises. Global Carbon Project

The economic legacy of the coronavirus might also be very different to the GFC. It looks more like a slow burner, with a drop in productivity over an extended period rather than widespread job losses in the short term.

Looking to the future

The coronavirus pandemic will not turn around the long-term upward trend in global emissions. But governments around the world are announcing economic stimulus measures, and they way they’re spent may affect how emissions evolve in future.

There is an opportunity to invest the stimulus money in structural changes leading to reduced emissions after economic growth returns, such as further development of clean technologies.

Fewer people are expected to use public transport during the coronavirus outbreak. Steven Saphore/AAP

Also, the coronavirus has forced new working-from-home habits that limit commuting, and a broader adoption of online meetings to reduce the need for long-haul business flights. This raises the prospect of long-term emissions reductions should these new work behaviours persist beyond the current global emergency.

The coronavirus is, of course, an international crisis, and a personal tragedy for those who have lost, and will lose, loved ones. But with good planning, 2020 could be the year that global emissions peak (though the same was said after the GFC).

That said, past economic shocks might not be a great analogue for the coronavirus pandemic, which is unprecedented in modern human history and has a long way to go.


Glen Peters is Research Director, Center for International Climate and Environment Research – Oslo.

The Conversation publishes knowledge-based journalism that is responsible, ethical and supported by evidence from academics and researchers in order to inform public debate with facts, clarity and insight into society’s biggest problems.

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Community

WeHo Annual Arbor Day Celebration Plummer Park – Mar 21

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WEST HOLLYWOOD — The City of West Hollywood invites community members to join staff and City Councilmembers for a tree planting ceremony in Plummer Park as part of the annual Arbor Day celebration.

Arbor Day is a special day that is set aside throughout the world to raise awareness of trees and the important role that they play in our environment.

People throughout the world take part in tree planting events and other celebrations of trees and the role that they play in our environment.

The first American Arbor Day was originated in Nebraska City, Nebraska by J. Sterling Morton. On April 10, 1872, an estimated one million trees were planted in Nebraska.

Saturday, March 21, 2020 at 9 a.m. at the Parkway on N. Vista Street on the West Side of Plummer Park, located at 7377 Santa Monica Boulevard.

For more information, please contact Debbie Gonzalez at (323) 848-3116 or dgonzalez@weho.org.

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Environment

House Passes Schiff’s Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act

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WASHINGTON D.C. – Rep. Adam Schiff has applauded the bipartisan passage of The Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act, which would add more than 191,000 acres of the Rim of the Valley Corridor to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA). The bill passed the House on a bipartisan basis with 231 Yeas and 183 Nays

Schiff first introduced this legislation in 2017, and Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris introduced companion legislation in the Senate. It recently passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on a bipartisan basis.

To view a map of the proposed expansion under the Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act, click here

“I am thrilled that the House of Representatives has passed the Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act, legislation I have championed for nearly 20 years,” Congressman Schiff said. “Preservation of the open space in our communities is not only good for our environment, wildlife, and ecosystems, but it is beneficial for the health and well-being of residents of all ages. The Rim of the Valley corridor is an area of striking and breathtaking natural beauty, and we must do whatever we can to preserve that beauty for the benefit of LA residents, the millions each year who visit, and for generations to come.”

“Today’s vote in the House is a win for the Rim of the Valley Corridor and the millions of Los Angeles County residents living in the surrounding communities,” said Senator Feinstein. “Preserving this unspoiled terrain will protect sensitive habitat for California wildlife and open space to benefit local economies. I am glad that Congressman Schiff was able to pass it in the House and look forward to doing the same here in the Senate, where it has already advanced out of committee.”

“The Rim of the Valley corridor is home to some of Southern California’s most beautiful wildlife and landscapes,” said Senator Harris. “That is why we must take immediate steps to protect this area’s habitats and natural resources. I am grateful to Congressman Schiff for his leadership on this issue and I applaud the House of Representatives for prioritizing the preservation of this area so it can be enjoyed by future generations. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to get this bill across the finish line.”

The proposed expansion is based on a six-year study of the region completed by the National Park Service in 2015. This legislation would expand the SMMNRA to include many, but not all, of the land included in the study. The lands included within the expansion will be known as the Rim of the Valley Unit and stretches from the Simi Hills and Santa Susanas to the Verdugos and on to the San Gabriel Mountains. The bill will enable NPS and the local community to better protect natural resources and habitats, and provide members of the community with improved access to nature for recreational and educational purposes.

To view the fact sheet about the legislation, click here.

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