Cities

Ask a Brokeass: Trade wins

At last, a use for that old Milli Vanilli CD

Long ago, I promised an interview component to Ask a Brokeass. I’ve talked to some badass brokeasses since then, but I haven’t gotten around to transcribing all of those interviews. The intern needs an intern. Then last week I received an email from Mark Hexamer, co-founder of the innovative new media trading site Swaptree.com, who saw my posts on the greening of Harry Potter and the virtues of sharing and wanted to talk up his project. What’s greener than an eco-edition of Harry Potter? Well, the edition of Harry Potter that never had to be printed, argues Hexamer. Lucky for …

Coach buses provide long-distance, low-emission convenience

Greyhound gets some competition from Megabus.com

Buses, on average, get low passenger miles per gallon in the U.S., because they stop often and don't use most of their capacity. Coach buses -- providing prebooked travel between cities -- don't suffer from these limitations. Megabus.com, a new niche player in this market, provides cheap, comfortable travel between nearby cities with travel time comparable to driving or taking commuter airlines (in a very small portion of the U.S.). Efficiency is 184 passenger miles per gallon -- without using hybrid buses or using any particular efficiency technology. They just use yield management ticket booking, where the earlier you book a ticket (relative to other passengers) the less you pay for your seat. (Thanks, Jordan Hayes for the tip.)

Of cars and carbon

How the Prius stacks up against other cars

Sure, everybody knows that what you drive affects how much you warm the climate. But after the jump: a chart that proves the point.

More ways to use our friend the wind's energy

Clever video

A short video -- proof that ingenuity is alive and well:

They're counting on you

To count … heh

WNYC is calling on New Yorkers to go outside and count the SUVs in their ‘hood as part of an experiment in getting citizens involved in the reporting process. Sez their website: This our experiment in “crowdsourcing,” where we employ you, the listener, in an act of journalism. We’re trying to find out just how much gas-guzzling SUV use there is throughout the New York area, with all the talk of environmental sustainability in the city. So you go out and report, then leave a comment with 1) your neighborhood, 2) your block (street and cross street) 3) the number …

Piquing interest

How does the Home Interest Mortgage Deduction affect sprawl?

Now that the housing market is tanking, is it a good time to talk about the absurdity of the Home Interest Mortgage Deduction? I mean, it's truly crummy social policy. The biggest benefits go to the people in the highest tax brackets, own expensive homes, and earn enough income that they can itemize their deductions. So in essence, the HIMD is a ginormous housing subsidy for the well-off -- and one that dwarfs all of the housing subsidies to lower-income folks. This NY Times article lays out the case nicely: apparently, half the benefit of the deduction goes to the 12 percent of taxpayers who make at least $100 grand per year. But the conventional wisdom is that the home interest mortgage deduction isn't just crummy social policy, but crummy environmental policy as well. Allowing homeowners to deduct mortgage interest on their taxes gives people an incentive spend more of their money on housing than they otherwise would. And people with extra money to spend on housing tend to buy larger homes on bigger lots -- which, in theory at least, means that the HIMD primes the pump for low-density sprawl. But is this really true? Does the HIMD really accelerate low-density sprawl?

Aero 101

Airliners are shaped the way they are for a reason

We took our Prius over the mountains a few weeks back. I was looking forward to testing it at the extreme end of its design envelope, with a bulky cargo carrier to boot. This gave me an opportunity to see how much highway mileage would be affected by aerodynamic drag. Yes, yes, I should have stuck to the speed limit, but by not doing so I preemptively squashed a bitching point leveled by hybrid hatas -- Prius drivers sticking to the speed limit are always getting in the way. We nailed 40 mpg on the nose for a 260-mile trip that was 95 percent highway driving. I was pleasantly surprised. Just look at that blob on top of the car. I used the cruise control religiously and pegged the speed 5 mph over the posted limit whenever traffic allowed, which was most of the time.

Congestion pricing saves more than it costs

Bloomberg’s law: Environment equals economic growth

This guest essay comes from Steven Cohen and Jacob Victor. Steven Cohen is executive director of Columbia University's Earth Institute and director of its Master of Public Administration Program in Environmental Science and Policy at the School of International and Public Affairs. Jacob Victor is an intern at Columbia's Earth Institute. After overcoming numerous obstacles in Albany, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's controversial congestion-pricing plan finally appears to be slowly moving forward. Thanks to a last-minute deal between Bloomberg and the leaders of the state Assembly, it is almost certain that New York will receive a $500 million federal grant to fund the equipment and upgrade mass transit in order to begin the program. While New York City has not been given permission to charge tolls to enter Manhattan south of 86th street, the first steps in implementing congestion pricing were authorized by New York state's famously dysfunctional state government.

Plug-in hybrids rule; PHEV Hypercars rule even more

Let’s go all the way

When David pointed out that plug-in electric hybrids (PHEVs) can reduce carbon emissions in all possible futures, two main arguments were raised in opposition -- practicality, and the possibility that they will provide too low a reduction, while blocking the path to something better. The way commercial plug-ins look to be implemented within the next five years is that normal hybrids will be built with large batteries and the ability to plug into a socket in your dedicated parking space. They will travel the first twenty miles or so on electricity and then turn on their gasoline engine around the 21st mile or so. Even with our current grid, they will emit less CO2 per mile than when they switch to their gasoline engine. Like hobbyists, who manually convert existing hybrids, these will have to be more expensive than a normal hybrid, because they have every expense a normal car has plus the extra battery cost. If gasoline prices rise high enough, I suppose they may pay for themselves in fuel savings, but mostly they will sell on the "cool" factor. However, there is another way to implement plug-ins, one we could begin now with a large enough investment, which produces savings comparable to a full electric car -- and which, if run on wind, or sun, or other ultra-low-carbon electricity sources, could actually provide a 98 percent emissions reduction.

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