New Project, chapter 1: Transport.

There are probably few advances in technology that have shaped society more than how we move ourselves across the globe. With advances in steam power, electric motors and finally the internal combustion engine over the 19th century, these new modes of transport drastically changed where people lived and what they ate. Beginning in the US nearly a century ago and soon after in Europe, the personal vehicle industry bloomed, with this technology quickly becoming as much a status symbol as a practical device.

Following WWII, the car meant that is was possible to own a patch of land while having access to all the essential services; the suburbs were truly borne and simplified… sprawl was inevitable. Food preservation improved and, with long distant travel increasingly inexpensive, there was greater selection with less effort through in purchasing store bought items than working the personal space.

The number of vehicles per capita is ever increasing (see recent values here), with multiple cars per house becoming a common sight in the suburbs of developed countries and single person trips the norm.

As transport is responsible for a large proportion of our greenhouse gas emissions, it is sensible to look into methods of increasing efficiency of the sector.

Although the first thought is generally directed at new technology, such as hybrid and electric vehicles, this ignores the problem congestion and extra space requirements and it also ignores other options that already exist. Here, we would like to offer other suggestions that could more rapidly be employed and address the many inefficiencies of the transport sector.

* Please feel to add comments, suggestions and feedback. If you have references, please provide them. The hope is that the above will serve as the first draft of an introduction to the chapter to which sub-chapters can be included. If you feel that a chosen chapter could be divided or approached differently, please don’t hesitate to suggest as much. At the end of the week, I plan to start to develop the chapter into something more formal, however, that doesn’t mean that the chapter is closed – so please feel free to continue to add to this post (keeping it relevant and not into broader debates) or to make suggestions on the separate page where I will post the more formal draft. This is not just my work, but a project open to anyone interested and I hope that others can also develop a sense of ownership for this open project 🙂


17 thoughts on “New Project, chapter 1: Transport.

  1. TODs and PODs
    (as people who have read the Innovation series can probably guess, this will largely be my personal angle throughout this project :))
    Transit and pedestrian orientated developments (TODs and PODs) are an interesting way to reduce the need for personal vehicles. The key principle behind this is to establish medium to high density areas with mixed services, easy walking access and light rail within these areas and fast efficient transport between these areas.
    Electrification of the public transport of TODs is an effective way to rapidly reduce the inefficiency of transport (examples would be that idle energy waste is largely reduced – electric engines are off when stationary and with the loss of congestion, this also reduces emissions relating to inefficient travel). Electric vehicles are already well developed and remove pressure of emissions to the source – much of which can already be supplemented with renewables.
    The loss of personal vehicles with internal combustion engines from TODs will also help to improve local air quality, car related pollutant runoff in storm water and reduce injury and death resulting from collisions. PODs will help to stimulate greater personal activity and should help to counteract certain social dysfunctions (ie. the increasing loss of a sense of community, certain social phobias etc). The combination of both will also reclaim vast amounts of landscape and city floor space currently occupied by roadways and parking.
    This will also ensure that reserve fossil fuel supplies can be preserved for other transport and industries that do not have as obvious alternatives (ie. air and sea travel, agriculture).
    TODs and PODs require investments in improved infrastructure in key areas and stimulation of private investment to encourage change, rather than enforce change, with the obvious benefits to local economies.

    Opportunities beyond carbon: looking forward to a sustainable world. Editor O’Brien J. (2009)


    1. Electrification of the public transport of TODs is an effective way to rapidly reduce the inefficiency of transport

      Thin ground here, I think?

      Although certainly an electric motor is more efficient than an IC engine at turning energy into work (since IC engines only manage about 25% conversion), it depends on how your electricity is generated and how much power is lost during transmission from the station to the vehicle. If your energy source is carbon then I think the gains would me minimal, possibly even negative (depending on the infrastructure). In an urban environment a hybrid bus with regenerative braking would probably match an electric tram of the same passenger capacity if the electricity wasn’t from renewable sources.

      Damn, I didn’t mean to comment three times in quick succession. 😦


      1. Keep it up! I really like this idea building – I’d like to build a good little ideas piece that can be shared.
        I have to admit that I agree with you. With electric rail, it comes down to the efficiency of the source and transfer. However, I think that improving these processes should be easier than improving IC engines. Buses are also a great idea. We have an O-Bahn system here which is basically a concrete rail system that buses can hope on and off of rapidly moving from the city out to the north east. It beat rail in this way that it’s not essential to jump off the bus as a main terminal – because the bus may also head out from this station and service the surrounding suburbs. It’s definitely worth keeping in mind.
        I honestly feel that personal vehicles have a limited future and should be in more of a shared-use function.


      2. One thing I thought on the way into work today that somewhat works against greater rail is obviously extra energy requirements to overcome the greater inertia of these vehicles. I suppose lighter rail should suffice in and between nodal TODs? They should be able to maintain a fair amount of on-board energy storage to (helping to maintain consistency with lower grade renewables) and like you mentioned regarding the buses, regen braking would also suit such transport?
        Of course, this is only speculation. 🙂


      3. “One thing I thought on the way into work today that somewhat works against greater rail is obviously extra energy requirements to overcome the greater inertia of these vehicles.”

        No, I think that could be wrong (but it probably depends how they are driven, and the distances between stops). Trains are heavy, so yes, a lot of energy is required to get them up to their cruising speed – but the same inertia also means that they don’t decelerate quickly when you turn the power off. Here in the UK you can sense the power being turned off several kilometres before the next station, braking usually doesn’t kick in until a few hundred metres from the platform.

        Ultimately the energy consumed in a journey is equal to the potential energy gained or lost between the start and end points (which is zero if they are at the same altitude), plus the energy lost due to resistance (aerodynamics, “rolling road” resistance, braking at the end of the journey, etc.).

        Generally trains have a low atmospheric drag (being long and thin), and steel wheels on steel rails should mean that there is little loss due to friction compared to rubber on asphalt – at least when you’re travelling in a straight line.

        Maybe what we really need to find is a “Well to Wheel” energy comparison (per passenger kilometre) between different modes of transport?


      4. Good point! 🙂
        I suppose also, if power storage is available on-board or the lines could also accept input, there might be potential in some energy re-capture in deceleration? Excuse my ignorance. I loved physics, but my understanding is not past that of first year of uni.
        Either way however, I still feel that rail probably offers the most efficient standard long distance and internal TOD light travel – buses obviously also fill in the gases (and developments like the o-bahn are an excellent combination of both).
        I’ll have a look around for the literature on transport efficiencies..


  2. I quite like the idea of community bicycle schemes, which do seem to have met with some success despite the obvious dangers of theft & vandalism.


    We don’t have any schemes like that up here yet, but we do have Sustrans which is making some headway.

    Given that the Moray Council has been praised for having “eight times the national average” of children riding to school – but that is still only 8% of it’s pupils – there’s still room for further improvement.

    Moray also has a “fleet” of a dozen or so bicycles (including two folding bikes and a tandem) available for staff to borrow. This is primarily intended for people who need to attend meetings in other locations, but they can be booked out overnight or for a weekend as well.
    (I tried to find a link for this, but without any luck)

    I was struck by the high popularity of bicycles when I was on a training course in Holland a few years back. It helps that their bike lanes are separated from the roads (or at least they were in the part of the country that I was in), and that at road junctions bicycles have a legal right of way over other vehicles.

    Plus Holland doesn’t have our hills & mountains, or the quantities of snow that we get from time to time. 🙂


    1. Bikes are a great idea – I know Adelaide has been working on this for sometime. Unfortunately for us, it’s attached to the road and when cars park in the bike lane… It’s pretty risky. I’ve heard of other places having a parking land between the road and bike lane. It would make a lot of sense.
      Bikes would work really well in higher density TODs/PODs where cars are removed from the main areas.
      Hills are the hard part. 🙂 The Adelaide plains are fairly flat and I used to ride into the city by linear park that runs alongside the River Torrens. However, I didn’t choose a bike for speed – it has just over a handful of gears and is pretty heavy. When you hit one of those slow long inclines, it can be the difference between getting to work feeling fresh or wrecked! lol But I could also be making a point about my fitness.


  3. You’re too young to know this, Tim (my children are your age) but Adelaide used to be a bike, tram and train city.

    I remember the *flood* of blokes on bikes from the old car factories down near Cheltenham at much the same time as I left school – also on a bike. By that time the tram tracks had been ripped up and replaced with “more modern” buses, but the visual impact was tremendous. (Many of those men owned cars, but they were used for evening and weekend activities, not for daily transport to work.)

    There’s a cafe on a corner in Dulwich with photos of trams turning through the intersection – now filled with a roundabout – but clearly on their way to Greenhill Road to go to Burnside. No trains in the Eastern suburbs, but trams, yes.


    1. Too young to remember (I also moved here in ’92), yes, but I love this little city of ours and the history. Many of the artery roads that feed the older, mixed use areas show signs of the old light rail, while being lovely areas to walk around on foot. It’ll be a sensible re-development, especially if population increases as the government plans it too – these older areas are prime for high density TODs, if only they were filled with picturesque old buildings (I lived near Walkerville Tce. for close to a decade and saw a lot of the protests over the old buildings there for instance).
      Car use will need to change – congestion is appalling inefficiency. It would be nice to see more bike, public transport and pedestrian development.
      That roundabout; Dequetteville tce? Streamlining that spot again would be sensible for the stress level and accident rate of that spot. Too many people panic where they get to it… 🙂


  4. No, no, not Dequetteville Tce. This is right within the streets behind the old Queen Vic hospital site. Corner of Stuart Rd and Dulwich Avenue.

    I think it’ll take a miracle to get everyone involved to agree on *that* roundabout. I avoid it like the plague. Unforunately, any solution will involve an awful lot of traffic lights. The current appearance with lots of medium sized trees is quite attractive – as long as you’re not having palpitations wondering whether the next lunatic is going to clean you up.


    1. oh, okay, my mistake!
      Unfortunately, it’s difficult for me to avoid it, but I’ve got to a point of near desensitized – but that doesn’t mean that others panicking doesn’t nearly kill me! lol


  5. I’ve found this paper which looks at the comparative whole-life emissions (including the supporting infrastructure).
    Supplementary information for the paper is here.

    Interestingly aircraft do better in this study as a result (as there’s a relatively low infrastructure overhead – planes don’t need roads or rails).

    I’m not sure that the results would apply unmodified in other regions – for example, they have the average lifetime of 16.9 years for a sedan and 12 years for a bus – in the UK those figures would probably be reversed, most cars don’t last longer than a decade here (probably due to our weather). 🙂
    The authors themselves note that the New York City Subway would have a GHG emissions figure 1.5 times higher than the San Francisco electric systems simply because S.F. has a much higher ratio of renewable generation.

    They also take occupancy into account (see the things that look like error bars on the charts on page 6). This is a good thing to do, but again this is likely to vary geographically.

    Caveats apart, it does look as though rail is ultimately the answer. But where an existing road infrastructure exists (which is pretty much everywhere) increasing bus journeys at the expense of cars would be seem to be a sensible interim measure.


    1. Excellent find S2! It’s a really interesting article and very comprehensive (I like that fact that they also look into other pollutants – something I’ve had a bit to do with in my previous job).
      For their particular job, aircraft certainly do fairly well and I’m a big believer in giving that industry (and shipping) more time to evolve than land based transport as land based options already do exist. It’s also difficult to measure the transfer element to and from airports which would also add a significant GHG portion to the industry.
      You also make a great point about rail related emissions. For the steel component, I doubt we can do much about the GHG emissions (which generally causes me to go on a rant when I come across big steel structures being left to rust). That said, once the infrastructure has been developed, provided that it is well maintained, rail should play a significant role. However, this could easily be supplemented efficiently with buses.
      I feel that this still leads back to TOD and POD developments where personal vehicles become obsolete. Efficient high capacity public transport would make sense between these developments, and within, it’d be advisable to promote pedestrian orientated movement (probably the most GHG emissions friendly – not to mention healthy).
      One thing that they didn’t discuss in the paper, that I’d be interested (and may work against electric rail) is ozone pollution. I wouldn’t be surprised if the electrical activity in the air would produce some ozone (in fact, I’m sure it would), but how much?


  6. I’m not sure, to be honest.

    Certainly poor electrical contacts (arcing) will produce ozone – I can still remember the sharp, pungent smell from my childhood model railway set. A poorly maintained and/or overworked electric drill smells the same.

    But I think designers of electric vehicles work hard to minimise it, partly for efficiency but mainly for longevity (burnt out contacts are expensive to replace). Having said that we do get some bright flashes from electric trains in really cold weather, when ice builds up on the contacts.

    IC engines also indirectly produce ozone, though – NOx plus sunlight plus volatile organic compounds (VOCs) leads to ozone production. The introduction of catalytic converters came about because of this – they are designed to get rid of the VOCs in emissions.
    Unfortunately trees also produce VOCs …

    I know that the high ozone levels that are reported in places like Atlanta are during temperature inversions (when the ozone gets trapped) are primarily attributed to NOx (& the plants). I suspect that the O3 from electrical discharges is minor in comparison, but I don’t know of any studies to back this up.

    Ironically it was high ozone concentrations in places like Atlanta that led to the introduction of catalytic converters, before anyone realised that plants also give off VOCs.

    Beware of the flowers, for I’m sure they’re gonna get you … yeah.


    1. In my previous position, we were monitoring NOx, SO2, O3 etc in relation to car fumes/air quality. I never actually looking into much behind the O3 – we didn’t often see much – mostly on bright days.
      I’ll probably make the next section live later today or tomorrow, but won’t bring together this first section yet… see if we can spark more interest. 🙂
      Cheers for your contributions so far!


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