Wednesday, October 27, 2021

What does the attention we give to automobile deaths say about us?

 I had saved an article to share that asked this exact question. One of the things that is amazing is that we normalize death as long as it comes in the form of a car accident. It is normal, we read about it all the time, yet for some reason it doesn't phase us. 

What's even more disturbing is the increase in deaths by pedestrians which is growing, of which is highlighted in this article by a AAA chapter. 

Given our current climate predicament, what people should be doing more of (walking and biking), is increasingly dangerous. A conundrum indeed. 

Monday, October 18, 2021

eBikes taking off on the Peninsula

Nice write up in the San Mateo Daily News about the increasing popularity of eBikes and some of the incentives for low income individuals to get subsidies for eBikes. 

There is also some legislation going on at the Federal level to provide incentives for eBikes similar to electric cars known as the E-BIKE Act, is also making its way through Congress. The proposed legislation would extend a 30% tax credit for electric bicycle purchases.

Given the weather in California, it makes sense for more bike riding. We just need to work on that bike parking issue.

The bells start to toll for ride share

Today's New York Times has an editorial on the challenges that ride sharing are confronting and all the supposed benefits that were suppose to accrue. Well as more data comes in, the old adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The net net is transportation, ehmmm cough cough, I mean mobility, is incredibly hard to provide. One of the presumed benefits was to reduce pollution, and by extension greenhouse gases, but sadly that is not the case. 

Now a new study is punching a hole in another of Uber and Lyft’s promised benefits: curtailing pollution. The companies have long insisted their services are a boon to the environment in part because they reduce the need for short trips, can pool riders heading in roughly the same direction and cut unnecessary miles by, for instance, eliminating the need to look for street parking.

It turns out that Uber rides do spare the air from the high amount of pollutants emitted from starting up a cold vehicle, when it is operating less efficiently, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University found. But that gain is wiped out by the need for drivers to circle around waiting for or fetching their next passenger, known as deadheading. Deadheading, Lyft and Uber estimated in 2019, is equal to about 40 percent of rideshare miles driven in six American cities. The researchers at Carnegie Mellon estimated that driving without a passenger leads to a roughly 20 percent overall increase in fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions compared to trips made by personal vehicles.

On demand is incredibly difficult, and the more that moves to on demand, the costs of providing that convenience occurs somewhere, either explicitly or implicitly. And those costs may not be strictly in the form of emissions, but time. One thing is that Uber took off because it made people feel like "ballers" with on demand services reserved for the rich. However, in places where there is high density, everyone acting like that, you end up with deadlock and an increase in emissions and loss of time. This is illustrated in this Tweet and this response from the wealthy (or at least aspiring wealthy) who know that sometimes shared transit is faster as illustrated by this response:

Efficiency comes from shared capacity.  

Saturday, October 16, 2021

The cost of free returns in online shopping.

This is a fascinating article on what happens to all those online returns, and it isn't pretty. The benefit of modern life is that we can operate at scale, which leads to efficiencies and hence lower costs. Most of what we do to get goods into our hands has been optimized to be more efficient. And we can see this trend coming back as a result of the pandemic, as restaurants streamline their menus to make things more efficient. In engineering we have a saying, "make the common case fast". Well returns, are not the common case, and they are not optimized in any meaningful way.

So this has a cost in almost every way, cost to make the goods, cost to ship the goods, cost to dispose the goods. And all those costs include environmental and carbon cost. 

Convenience is the bogeyman of our modern age, and it's leading us to an unsustainable path. However, convenience is like crack, super addictive. Can we break the habit, or just cut back a little?

Friday, October 15, 2021

So what will it take for your neighbor down the street to change?

If you are reading this blog, if you read this blog, yeah, I admit it has been a long time since I've posted, but I digress. If you are a reader of this blog, you are probably concerned about the impact of CO2 emissions on the planet's climate and worried about the subsequent impact on us as a species. Maybe you've dealt with killer storms or are still cutting your air with a knife in the fall. You say, enough already, climate change is real, and the data and the models suggest that it's a direct result of our voluminous combustion to feed our needs. Note combustion is not limited to fossil fuels, we are burning a heck of a lot of jungle for burgers and agriculture. So you have taken the plunge, and maybe gone electric. That shiny Tesla is pretty hot, and it's a brilliant move to be a no apologies green car. You get the gal, and you get green street cred. If you are really cool, maybe you've started walking to your coffee shop a few blocks away, or picked up a new ride of a bicycle. 

So the question, is not what is it going to change your mind and actions to reduce your carbon generation. The question of course, is how do you change your neighbor? What needs to happen in your mind to compel action to be reduce one's carbon footprint. 

It's a question that I wrestle with, since being here in a supposedly enlightened area, I still see people using their cars for short trips. The differential in time to go to the local Philz is maybe 2 minutes by bike, and 7 minutes walking. And that's before you factor in parking. But I still see people turning on the ignition. 

Is self locomotion too hard? Too sweaty? Too uncool? Too inconvenient? Too limiting? What stops people from taking an alternative that while takes a few more minutes, is healthier for both the person and the environment? 

In California, will eBikes with mini-Trunks take off if offered, or will they be like so many pieces of exercise equipment collecting dust? What is going on people's minds, not what they say, but what will actually move them to change? That is the question we need to ask!