A Closer Look At Three Vital Reports On Transportation & Greenhouse Gas Emissions

This month, no less than three new reports worth a closer look have been published regarding transportation and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) published the first two reports — each dealing with the impact of bicycling on the reduction of GHG emissions.

One analysis is the first of a series of focused studies concentrated on the Metro Orange Line and its parallel bicycle path, while the Bicycle-Rail Trip Analysis And Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Focused Study (80p. PDF) looks more broadly at bicycle trips to and from Metro Rail.

The purpose of the Bicycle-Rail study is to establish the benefits of providing an intengrated transportation system where bicyclists are accomodated at train stations and on trains.

Project surveyors collected 710 surveys at 19 stations throughout the Los Angeles Metro Rail system. The research produced a number of interesting findings.

The study indicated that bicyclists are a small but important subset of riders on the Metro Rail system, and bicycle-rail trips offset vehicle miles traveled resulting in quantifiable greenhouse gas emissions.

Bicycle-rail trips would replace approximately 322,000 motor vehicle trips and reduce 3.96 million vehicle miles traveled each year, offsetting approximately 2,152 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) annually — equivalent to taking 422 motor vehicles off the road.

These numbers take on added significance when considering the survey finding that allowing bicycles on trains is a major reason why passengers choose to bicycle, particularly for riders who have access to a motor vehicle.

The survey concludes with several recommendations based on these findings.

The cost-effectiveness of bicycle programs could be improved substantially by exploring ways to achieve the same or higher increases in bicycling at lower cost to Metro.

Bicycle programs provide a number of co-benefits beyond emission reductions including increased safety for bicyclists and pedestrians, health benefits from increases in physical activity, and generating higher ridership on Metro buses and trains. 

The total potential impact of a program of coordinated bicycle investments is greater than the sum of its parts.  There is a definite “network effect” to bicycle travel.  While individual facilities do attract new users, more riders will be attracted t oeach facility when bicycles can be a safe, convenient, and efficient means of transport for all destinations in Los Angeles.

The Metro Orange Line Mode Shift Study and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Analysis (108p. PDF) looks specifically on the 14-mile Bus Rapid Transit busway that extends from North Hollywood to Woodland Hills.

But to date, the role that the busway’s accompanying bikeway plays in improving regional sustainability by increasing Metro Orange Line transit ridership, reducing automobile use, and lowering GHG emissions had not been studied.

After collecting more than 1,700 surveys, the study found that bicycle facilities have had a positive influence on people who typically drive to the station, with:

  • 11% sometimes bicycling to the station
  • 19% agreeing that the Orange Line Bike Path has influenced their use of a bicycle for transportation
  • 24% having considered bicycling or walking to the station
  • 39% reporting having used the Metro Orange Line Bike Path at some point

Together, bicyclists who use the Metro Orange Line bus and bicyclists who use the Metro Orange Line Bike Path may be saving between 371 and 602 metric tons of CO2 per year based on the results of this preliminary study.

These findings suggest that an integrated bicycle and pedestrian facility can potentially play an important role in improving livability and reducing GHG emissions when combined with a major transit infrastructure project.

In addition to these two local studies produced by Metro, we wanted to highlight a new report from the World Resources Institute in conjunction with EMBARQ.

The Role Of Driving In Reducing GHG Emissions And Oil Consumption: Recommendations for Federal Transportation Policy (45p. PDF) looks at how transportation can play a pivotal role in the national response to the related challenges of climate change and oil dependence, as the transportation sector contributed 31% of U.S. GHG emissions in 2008 and 72% of U.S. oil consumption in 2009.

It explores whether tehcnology improvements alone can achieve oil consumption and GHG emissions reduction targets consistent with recent draft legislation and international climate negotiations.

The report finds that the United States must achieve significant improvements in vehicle technology and reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per capita to meet these targets.

With improvements to vehicle technology and reductions in per capita VMT, the United States would not need to import any oil by 2030.

The report also reviews evaluations of existing federal transportation programs for their impact on GHG emissions, oil use, or VMT and finds a general lack of evaluation for these metrics.

The authors propose that Congressional reauthorization of surface transportation funding should:

  • establish national goals for transportation (reduced GHG emissions, performance-based funding, performance-based planning)
  • increase direct funding for programs and strategies that reduce GHG emissions, VMT and oil consumption via larger portions of targeted federal transportation funds