Light Rail Benefits Economy and Environment—Why Oppose It?
By Rob Perks
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
I recently returned from a transportation conference in Raleigh, North Carolina on the economic benefits of building a light rail system to connect the Triangle region (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill). The event—dubbed the "Transit Makes $ense" summit—was organized by the area's leading "good growth" advocacy group WakeUP Wake County.
The event featured more than 250 attendees, ranging from corporate executives and civic leaders to elected officials and planning experts. There was lots of press coverage leading up to the event and this great article that followed: Road Worrier: New urban workers want rail transit.
But in the wake of WakeUP's summit, the critics of the proposed light rail network connecting communities in the Triangle have started to have their say. Outside "experts" brought in by local transit opponents contend that while the roads are congested, Raleigh is just not crowded enough to warrant train travel.
Even more ridiculous, the local newspaper opined that the trend toward denser development and more compact communities means there may be less need to enhance the transportation system with rail or roads.
Let's untangle those two points, shall we? First, when it comes to population density the numbers don't lie. Raleigh is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas not just in North Carolina but in the nation. Add the other sides of the Triangle—Chapel Hill and Durham—and it's easy to see why such a populated region suffers from heavy traffic.
Already, the voters of Durham and Orange (where Chapel Hill is) have passed ballot measures to raise taxes a modest amount to pay for expanding bus service and building a regional light rail system. But a couple of conservative Wake County commissioners are blocking a similar ballot measure from going up for a vote. (Why? Because they're afraid voters will pass it, of course!) Until or unless Raleigh gets on board, the light rail system can't happen because Wake County is the missing piece of the puzzle.
As for denser development somehow negating the need for transit, you really can't have one without the other. The point of walkable communities is to enable people to get around without having to drive everywhere. A light rail system would allow people living in such communities to be conveniently connected by rail, thereby lessening their reliance on roads to travel around the region. Moreover, light rail actually spurs that type of development. Folks in Raleigh need to look no further than Charlotte, where the light rail system that opened in 2007 has sparked a building boom of mixed-use development and $1.6 billion in economic impact all along the line.
What the naysayers in Raleigh need to realize is that public transportation is popular. Indeed, more Americans are getting on board with public transportation as the cost to own and operate a vehicle rises and American consumers look for ways to save money. Many also see a range of other benefits, from reducing congestion to improving quality of life. In fact, a new America THINKS survey from infrastructure firm HNTB Corporation found that:
- three in four (76 percent) Americans are open to taking public transportation instead of driving (an increase from 69 percent in 2010, when HNTB last asked that question.)
- nearly half (48 percent) say they would require an area to have good public transportation before they would consider moving there
- more than 2 in 5 (46 percent) say a different area having a good public transportation system would make them more likely to move there
As Raleigh copes with growth, civic leaders and elected officials need to think hard about where they want their city to go and how they're going to get there. For instance, they could aspire to be like Philadelphia, with its robust transit system, where between 2005 and 2010 highway travel fell by 9.3 percent while regional rail ridership increased by more than 15 percent.
Or they could follow the path of Atlanta, the poster child of poor transportation planning—highlighted recently by the major league baseball franchise's decision to relocate its stadium far outside the center city. Talk about a monument to failed urban planning. To wit: "The Braves' new stadium...will be an inaccessible suburban theme park surrounded not by vibrant signs of city life but by sprawl—subdivisons, strip malls and SUV-choked interstates and access routes."
Having traveled quite frequently to Raleigh, it's quite clear to me that there's more than enough sprawl in the region. It's time to make the vision of transit for the Triangle a reality. An editorial today in the Raleigh News & Observer sums up the reason to get rail rolling in the region:
"What’s needed is leadership with foresight, not hindsight...To argue against much more investment in transit is to demonstrate a reluctance to have faith in the future by investing in it."
This piece originally appeared on NRDC Switchboard.
Visit EcoWatch’s TRANSPORTATION page for more related news on this topic.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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