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Clark Williams-Derry's Posts

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Tolls for thee

Politicians are charging commuters to use the roads, and paying no price for it.

Via Planetizen News, evidence that the impossible is finally catching on: According to Governing magazine, more and more jurisdictions in the US and Europe are making drivers pay to use roads when they're congested. And remarkably, the politicians responsible for instituting the tolls don't seem to be paying much of a political price. London's experiment is perhaps the most famous: The city now charges drivers about $10 to drive into the city center between 7 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. on weekdays. Some pundits predicted that the policy would spark a commuter rebellion. Instead... Rather than revolting, drivers did one of …

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Lessons on sprawl and transit ... from Los Angeles?

L.A. tries to get itself out of its sprawled mess.

Well, from the LA Times, at least.  The paper's had a series of guest editorials about traffic, transit and urban planning -- specifically, how sprawling, congested LA can get itself out of the fix it's put itself into over the last 60 years or so.  The LA area is surprisingly dense, but the population is spread out fairly uniformly over a large area -- which makes it very hard to service the region cost-effectively using transit.  At the same time, building new roads has become both exhorbitantly expensive and politically unpalatable. Sounds a little like much of the rest of …

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Popping corn

Every time I post something about biofuels (such as ethanol and biodiesel), it gets, shall we say, spirited comments. Passions run hot on both sides, with opinions split between those who think that biofuels are one of the most promising solutions to America's petroleum dependence and a great way of reducing climate-warming emissions, and those who think that that biofuels are mostly a costly and wasteful distraction. What do I think? I posted a longer post on that subject on the Cascadia Scorecard Weblog. Here's a Cliff Notes version. Corn ethanol's chief critic says that it's a waste of energy …

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Mad Max

Clark Williams-Derry

Cars that get five hundred miles per gallon?  According to this piece by LA Times editorialist Max Boot, it's possible using today's technology, including plug-in hybrids and "flexible fuel" vehicles that run on both petroleum and biofuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel. Now, I'm inclined to agree with the editorial's main points:  North America's petroleum dependence is a profound strategic and economic vulnerability; and we can make our transportation system much, much more fuel efficient using existing technologies--and without waiting decades for new technologies, such as hydrogen fuel cells, to catch on. But what about this statement:  "How to do …

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Fuel Meddle Racket

Clark Williams-Derry

Wonder no longer: oil and gas get subsidies out the wazoo. Here's the latest example from British Columbia... The province will spend $408 million over 15 years to bolster northeastern B.C.'s oil and gas industry, Minister of Energy and Mines Richard Neufeld said Tuesday, which includes new or expanded support for resource road construction, community infrastructure, education and the reclamation of abandoned natural gas wells. Of course, this sort of subusidy is just the tip of the iceberg: in much of the US, oil and gas extraction get special tax treatment -- and, some would argue, privileged access to public …

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States of grace, states of confusion

Which states use the least gasoline?  Which ones have the best gas-conservation trends? Probably not who you'd think, at least for the latter question. Based on Federal Highway Administration data covering 2001 through 2003, residents of New York State use the least gasoline, person for person, of any U.S. state: about 0.8 gallons per person per day, vs. the national average of 1.2 gallons per person. That's to be expected: New York City--which makes up a sizable chunk of the state's population--is among the densest cities in the country, which allows many of its residents to get by perfectly well …

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Fuels rush in

This Eugene Register-Guard editorial -- cautioning Oregon's politicians to take a sober, hype-free look at biofuels before launching a program to subsidize them -- is definitely worth reading.  But it makes one point that, while not clearly out-and-out wrong, at least deserves a closer look. According to the editorial, legislative action to promote biofuels in Oregon would be unnecessary ... ... if biofuels could compete with other forms of energy in the marketplace. The fact that ethanol and biodiesel need the Legislature's encouragement is evidence that these fuels suffer an economic disadvantage, have environmental costs or both. Hold on, there, …

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The liter of the pack

I didn't know this: In Canada, automobile fuel economy is expressed as gallons per mile, not miles per gallon as it is in the U.S. (Well, really, it's liters per hundred kilometers, but if you're south of the 49th parallel and a metric-system-phobe, gallons per mile is essentially the same thing.) Now, I don't mention this just to expose my lack of cultural knowledge of my northern neighbors. I mention it because it seems to me that liters-per-kilometer is a much better way of expressing the fuel efficiency of autos. As I mentioned before, miles-per-gallon math is quirky, and has …

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Of Motion and Emotion

I seem to have touched a nerve: it seems that more people had an opinion about my posts on the Cascadia Scorecard weblog discussing the Prius and the potential benefits of hybrid SUVs than about anything I'd written before. My question is: why? To recap:  in the first post I argue that, for someone choosing between an inexpensive-but-pretty-efficient car and a super-efficient-but-more-expensive Prius, the cheaper car might be the more environmentally sound choice -- as long as you're willing to invest some or all of the savings to reduce pollution in other ways. Perhaps not the answer you'd expect from …

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The little engine that could?

Hm.

Over the last two days, a question has circulated around the NEW office, asked by green architect and NEW friend Rob Harrison. His quandary: Which car should he buy to replace an automobile that was totalled? He's narrowed his choices to four -- a super-efficient Toyota Prius, a VW or Subaru station wagon, or a 1992 Honda Accord -- and is weighing factors including price, reliability, safety, utility, and environmental performance. I can't claim any special expertise on the subject, but I can say this much (and I'm preparing to duck when people start throwing blunt objects at me): For …

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