Cities

A mile in my shoes

Debunking the notion that walking is bad for the planet

Sheesh. Wouldn't you know it, the "walking is bad for the planet" meme has reared its head yet again, this time in a British newspaper: Food production is now so energy-intensive that more carbon is emitted providing a person with enough calories to walk ... than a car would emit over the same distance. The climate could benefit if people avoided exercise, ate less and became couch potatoes. This made its way to the top of Digg over the weekend, and it's little wonder. It's got all the characteristics of a "sticky idea": it's simple, it's memorable, it seems credible, and most of all, it's unexpected -- which makes it perfect for passing around at the water cooler. Yet it's actually nothing new. Versions of this idea have been circulating since at least the 1980s. I blogged about a similar claim a year ago. Moreover, as I found out when I ran the numbers, there's a good reason this claim is so counterintuitive: it's false!

NYC subways: One kilowatt-hour per trip

Subways are the best

Recently I tracked down an article on the annual electricity use of the New York City subway system: 1.8 billion kilowatt-hours (kwh). To put that in perspective, the entire U.S. economy uses about 4,000 billion kwh annually. According to the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority, there were 1.499 billion trips made on the subway in 2006. So it takes a little over 1 kwh to move one person on trips, of varying length, in New York City. That's 4.1 million riders per day, on average. So if 200 million trips a day are required in the U.S. for everybody, and if everybody rode a subway, we would need about 90 billion kwh for personal transportation -- about 2 percent of our current electricity use. For comparison, let's use Gar Lipow's estimation that a super-duper plug-in hybrid would travel 65 miles using 8 kwh.  If the average trip was 8 miles, we would also have 1 kwh per trip. Something to strive for?

15 Green Buildings

Green building has grown up, from a tiny movement of hands-on idealists to an increasingly mainstream business sector that erects office towers and research centers. Sure, the structures on this list aren’t as low-impact as yurts or straw-bale homes, but they represent green building on a broader, more public scale — where energy efficiency and sustainably sourced materials come together to touch the lives of the many rather than the few. Read through the list, then tell us about your own favorite green buildings, big or small, in the comments section at the bottom of this page. Courtesy of the …

Vehicle of change

The Big Green Bus rides again

Witness the Big Green Bus. Hard to miss, even amid the glaring sun and smog at Bonnaroo. I happened upon the crew of Dartmouth students at the festival last year and got just a few minutes to chat with them. This year, I sought them out on the festival grounds and then met up with them again when they rolled into Seattle last weekend. During their 12,000-mile trek this summer, the Big Green Busriders are stopping at various events and landmarks ranging from a Doobie Brothers concert to Zion National Park to San Francisco Marathon Water Stop #3. And they’re …

Frogs love bikes

Paris bike rental scheme takes off

But wait, I thought bikes were impractical! Taxi drivers and other critics said that it would never work, but three weeks after Paris was sprinkled with 10,000 self-service bicycles, the scheme is proving a triumph and a new pedalling army appears to be taming the city’s famously fierce traffic. Bertrand Delanoë, the city’s mayor, and his green-minded administration are jubilant at the gusto with which Parisians and visitors have taken to the heavy grey cycles that have been available at 750 ranks since July 15.

Word Gets Around

New bike, parking policies leave polluting vehicles in the dust Now for some wheely good news (sorry, it had to be done): officials around the globe are moving forward on innovative eco-transportation schemes. Last week, the city council of Reykjavik, Iceland, enacted a rule that gives free parking to those who drive fuel-efficient vehicles. In Ontario, Canada, yesterday, officials said they will develop a rating system for eco-friendly cars and trucks, with an eye toward debuting a green license plate in 2008 for low-emitters; the tag could net owners perks like free parking and access to commuter lanes. In Paris …

Damn Environment, It’s Always Getting in the Way

Partisan eco-impasse stalls budget vote in California California’s massive state budget is nearly six weeks overdue, and a partisan eco-impasse is a major factor. The state Assembly passed a spending plan in late July, but it’s stalled out in the state Senate. The current sticking point: the 37-year-old California Environmental Quality Act, under which the state can sue cities, counties, and developers that don’t fully consider the eco-impacts of new development projects — impacts that, these days, include climate change. Republicans are seeking a ban on such suits for three years, saying voter-approved funding should go “into levees and not …

World's first carbon (and car) free city planned

Can it happen here?

From CNNMoney.com: It may seem strange that the emirate of Abu Dhabi, one of the planet's largest suppliers of oil, is planning to build the world's first carbon-neutral city. But in fact, it makes a lot of financial sense. The 3.7-square-mile city, called Masdar, will cut its electricity bill by harnessing wind, solar, and geothermal energy, while a total ban on cars within city walls should reduce the long-term health costs associated with smog. Masdar will be filled with shaded streets to encourage walking. A solar-powered transit system will take you to the airport. Masdar is still on the drawing board -- construction begins in January, with a very tentative completion date of 2009 -- but the result will be watched closely around the world. Maybe they read Car Free Cities by J.H. Crawford.

SpotBus

The next generation of riding transit

Riding transit just got way, way, easier. A new website called SpotBus is wildly better than existing online trip planners. For one thing, you can enter destinations like a normal person -- "Ballard," or "Ikea," or "ferry," or whatever -- not some arcane intersection. It's so much faster and more intuitive that it feels like giving up your old gimcrack five-disc CD changer for an iPod. It only works in the Puget Sound area, but there's no reason something similar couldn't be devised for other regions.