Thursday, April 26, 2012

Light rail is not Green

The solution to climate change and over population is not to build more and develop more land.

The solution to climate change and over population is not empty street trains (light rail), slowly clanging and chiming all hours of the night (Metro Transit green line).

It is not slow, empty BRT (bus not-rapid transit) on dedicated lanes past the urban sprawl of St. Paul into undeveloped Lake Elmo or Woodbury (Gateway - gold line plan).

The Gateway planning people flew out to Los Angeles to study their transit, but Los Angeles Metro has fewer riders now than three decades ago, when buses were the county's only transit option. Metro has spent $9 billion of light rail trains, tracks, and subways but lost more than 10 percent of its riders from 2006 to 2015. “It's a bit perverse,” USC engineering professor James E. Moore II told the LA Times. “You're spending all this money and you're driving ridership down. If you're investing heavily in transit, you'd hope ridership would increase.

Light rail (LRT) is not environmentally friendly. Walking is. Biking is. Light rail trains are not.

Light rail makes long traffic light cycles causing traffic to idle, waiting for the empty light rail trains. Minnesota took its busiest intersection, University and Snelling, and threw a slower-than-express-buses street-train into the traffic mix. Drivers wait longer or avoid the area.

Light rail removes all the big CO2 filtering trees and is infrastructure heavy. It is a huge building (& repairing) project, requiring miles of cement forms and pavements, thick enough to hold the weigh of a 50 ton train plus (some) tons of people.

"Cement manufacturing releases CO2 in the atmosphere both directly when calcium carbonate is heated, producing lime and carbon dioxide, and indirectly through the use of energy if its production involves the emission of CO2. The cement industry produces about 5% of global man-made CO2 emissions, of which 50% is from the chemical process, and 40% from burning fuel. The amount of CO2 emitted by the cement industry is nearly 900 kg of CO2 for every 1000 kg of cement produced... The high-temperature calcination process of limestone and clay minerals can release in the atmosphere gases and dust rich in volatile heavy metals, a.o, thallium, cadmium and mercury are the most toxic." - from the Cement wiki

Greenhouse gases... heavy metals... very un-green.

The Central Corridor (to be known as the Green Line -- snicker, snicker) will connect Minneapolis and Saint Paul downtowns. Its concrete will be 2' deep x 28' wide x 11 miles long (58,080'). It has to hold the weight of a 25 ton train, plus passengers.

Let's see, uh, 2 x 28 x 58,080 = 3,252,480 cubic feet
and one bag of Portland cement (50kg) makes 1.25 feet³
so there might be 2,601,964 bags or 130,099,200 kg (cement calculator)...

...converting kilograms to kilograms of CO2 emitted (900 kg of CO2 for every 1000 kg of cement)...
117,089,280 kg of CO2 or 117,089 metric tons of carbon dioxide...

And that's just for the rail bed itself, not the:
          reworking of the roadway
          train stations
          utility forms and tubes
          deep footers for power line trees ¥...

What does the Central Corridor Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) say about the environmental impact of the project? Nothing.

What it says is that during construction, there will be trucks, and they will pollute when idling. It talks about that for several pages.

The FEIS says nothing about the environmental impact of all the cement, plus 22 miles of power lines and 44 miles of rails, or the trains themselves and power from power plants, like Minnesota's high polluting Sherco plant that emitted almost 14 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2011.

The closest it gets to comprehensive air quality issues is a response to a comment.

Responses to FEIS Comments Received (FEIS attachment C): Air Quality Impacts (AQ-1)
"One comment was received on the air quality analysis and questioning whether there would be any benefits to air quality as a result of the project. Response:  The focus of the air quality analysis disclosed in Section 4.5 of the FEIS was on identifying the potential for any adverse effects related to the proposed action. There was no discussion of proposed project benefits and this analysis has not and will not be completed as part of the NEPA process for the Central Corridor LRT project.  The project is included in the MPO’s regional transportation plan, which has been shown to be in conformity with air quality plans for the area; any significant benefits of planned transit system improvements, including the Central Corridor LRT project, were taken into account during the regional air conformity analysis of the metropolitan transportation plan."

I love this answer. It says, "Uh, that's not our job. Act like it's good." It also acts as if the materials are magically created and cured. Construction sites are just a bunch of idling trucks.

The New York Times quoted a 2009 study by Mikhail V Chester and Arpad Horvath of University of California, Berkeley, that compares light rail and regional commuter rail systems in Boston and California with small, medium and large aircraft, as well as buses and cars. "Neglecting to take into account the emissions associated with constructing buildings like train stations and laying the tracks may make train travel appear far more environmentally friendly than it actually is, the authors found... 'Most current decision-making relies on analysis at the tailpipe, ignoring vehicle production, infrastructure provision, and fuel production required for support.... We find that total life-cycle energy inputs and greenhouse gas emissions contribute an additional 63 percent for onroad, 155 percent for rail, and 31 percent for air systems' relative to those vehicles’ tailpipe emissions."

The study says, "Vehicle non-operational components often dominate total emissions. Life-cycle criteria air pollutant emissions are between 1.1 and 800 times larger than vehicle operation. Ranges in passenger occupancy can easily change the relative performance of modes."

It is a myth that light rail trains are green. But that's not the worst of it.

Three complications
There are three complications that make the environmental matters worse in the Gateway Corridor fiasco.

1. Destination. The Hiawatha Line connects the airport and Mall of America to downtown Minneapolis. That's going from destination to destination. The Central Corridor goes from downtown Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul. That's a destination to (nearly) a destination. Gateway Corridor wants to go from downtown St. Paul to nowhere. That encourages urban sprawl. And urban sprawl is bad for the environment.

2. Residential. It's one thing to put a huge construction project along a railroad right-of-way like the Hiawatha Line. It is another thing to plop a train down on a residential street with a speed limit of 30 miles per hour.

3. Pointless. Half of the bright ideas for the Gateway Corridor have the train slowly zig-zagging through residential St. Paul, working its way up a hill (Hillcrest) only to wind its way down the hill. What is the point of that? It's a waste of energy. It's a waste of time. It's a waste of money. And it hurts the environment.

No comments:

Post a Comment