Do the math if you want to save the planet

Oct 04, 2018

It’s after 11:00 in the evening. Travelling north on I-5 traffic has been excellent from Tacoma. Southbound through Seattle is a parking lot from down town all the way back to the University District, just past the Ship Canal Bridge. Repairs. Two days later, morning traffic was nearly a parking lot on northbound I-5 from Fife to the Highway 18 exit for Auburn at 5 a.m. because of an accident.

Slowly we have gotten used to traffic congestion. From Olympia to Arlington, there are certain times of the day and night we can expect slow goings. Throw in an accident or scheduled maintenance and you know you are going to get there late.

All it is, really, is a math problem. We’ve grown. There are now more than 5,000 people moving to the Puget Sound region every month. Last year, 60,000 new residents who need to get to work, get to school and to go shopping.

For the most part we are driving alone in vehicles that can accommodate four to six passengers comfortably. Others are driving pickup trucks that only occasionally transport a load that would require that type of vehicle. The consumer has spoken and trucks are being sold worldwide in greater numbers than cars. Ford, Chevrolet and Chrysler have all announced plans to discontinue models of cars while maintaining or increasing production of trucks. Even Lamborghini and Jaguar have introduced SUVs.

Looking closer at the math reveals that a 2018 GMC Yukon weighs around 5,500 pounds. It was rated at 15 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the freeway. A 2019 Toyota Corolla only tips the scale at a little more than 2,800 pounds. It will average around 27 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the freeway. Don’t forget that every six-pound gallon of gas creates 20 pounds of CO2. One is better for the planet, but both are inefficient with only one occupant.

The August of 2018, the CO2 count for our planet was 406 parts per million (ppm) as measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. Scientists have considered 350 ppm as a safe level of CO2 in the atmosphere. At the current rate of increase, the year 2100 could see the CO2 level at 800 ppm causing an average temperature increase of four degrees Celsius. Damage to crops, ocean fisheries and catastrophic increases in sea levels.

Simply put, the numbers indicate that business as usual cannot go on much longer. While there are admittedly places in Western Washington that need more lanes of freeway, once the lanes are added, they will be at capacity. Building more lanes will mean paying more taxes for repairs more frequently as more large vehicles travel over them.

Adding more capacity on freeways won’t address traffic on local arterial roads. The math is pretty simple. We have run out of open spaces to expand our roads. Somebody already bought and built on that dirt. That’s why the cost for a mile of light rail is over $1 million. We waited too long. To get the lines in we have to buy out whoever is already bought the dirt for their homes and businesses.

Build over or to dig tunnels. We are doing both. That’s also the problem with freeways. How would you expand I-5 through Seattle without buying out and tearing down high-rise office buildings?

We are at an unfortunate nexus of our history. We have never been taxed as much for transportation as we are now. The cost is steep and the progress is slow. The light rail line to Everett won’t arrive until 2036. How will that benefit those who commute via I-405?

Sadly, the math says that delays will only cost more in the long run. The math says you will never again ride in uncongested roads using the methods we have used for over 100 years. There is no space left to increase volumes for ever-larger vehicles occupied by only one person.

Forms of mass transit will be the norm for traveling between cities. Small micro-cars and micro buses will be needed to unclog arterials. City and town centers will need to be redesigned to allow greater access to services via walking and bicycles.

Where we once enjoyed the freedom of the open road, we now are prisoners of congested commuting. We can choose to fight the math or we can let the math help us to find solutions that efficiently solve the problem. Perhaps what we need is freedom from cars. Why can’t our solution include on-demand clean electric transportation from home to office, home to school or home to shopping? Imagine no more car payments, no more repair bills and no more accidents.

It’s time to embrace a new future. A clean energy future is the only way we can avoid the cost of the damage being done to our planet. The Global Footprint Network recently calculated what they called Earth Overshoot Day. Their organization calculated that the population of the planet used all the resources that can be sustained on a yearly basis on August 1, 2018. Their math suggested that our current use of resources requires 1.6 planets just like ours to sustain our rate of resource usage.

Other countries are using the math to work for them. They understand the cost of environmental destruction to the health of their people. They understand that a clean environment produces greater crop yields. They understand that investing in clean energy, electric transportation, and sustainable building practices will give their economies an advantage over those who cling to the dirty fossil fuel economic blue print of the last century.

We have the power in the up-coming election to vote for candidates and issues that will help us move forward. In the long run, the math favors us moving forward and not regretting our missed opportunities.

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