Reducing Traffic’s Role in Climate Change

By Thomas Hohenacker

Thomas Hohenacker is the CEO of Cleverciti Systems.

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In 2016, the total emissions from all countries on earth equaled 6,511 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. Can you guess which of the economic sectors listed above was responsible for the greatest amount of greenhouse gases during this time period?


Transportation Emissions

If you chose transportation, you’d be correct. Creating nearly 28.5 percent of the total gas emissions in 2016, burning fossil fuel for vehicles resulted in the largest impact. The Union of Concerned Scientists states that cars and trucks emit around 24 pounds of carbon dioxide and other global-warming gases for every gallon of gas, which accounts for nearly one-fifth of all U.S. emissions.

Cities play a substantial role in these statistics, as many large metropolitan areas are filled with bumper-to-bumper traffic every single day. Los Angeles, for example, was ranked the world’s most congested city with drivers spending an average of 102 hours in traffic during peak times in 2017.

Emissions laws exist around the world in an effort to control this increasing pollution, such as those put forth by the European Commission. These limits exist for both light- and heavy-duty vehicles to reduce vehicle emissions and improve testing procedures.

But rising emissions from driving are contributing to many areas not reaching climate objectives, such as California, which is not on track to meet regional greenhouse gas reduction goals. As vehicle miles traveled have increased nationwide and the percentage of drivers commuting to work alone is rising, the state faces challenges that the California Air Resources Board says need to be impacted by significant changes.


How Efficient Parking Management Can Help Spark Change

To address the overabundance of transportation emissions contributing to global warming, many components must come together from various aspects of the industry to reduce the overall impact. Cities should take steps to improve parking congestion through a number of strategies.

We’re starting to see this varied approach include the enhancement and increase in the use of mass transit and public transportation options. According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), public transportation saves 37 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. Greenhouse gases can be reduced by 24 percent through public transit strategies that are coordinated with combining travel activity, land use development and operational efficiencies.

But this course of action shouldn’t be the only solution deployed; the smartest way to address the transportation emission concern is to look at the problem from all angles. And while promoting public transportation is certainly impactful, cities must also focus on the piece of the puzzle that will likely always exist: parking.

We’re all familiar with the struggle that is trying to find an empty parking space downtown, at an event, at the airport or at your favorite retailer. That time spent in your car searching parking lots and garages is then turned into unnecessary pollution and emissions, which ultimately contributes to global warming.

Since approximately 30 percent of all inner-city traffic consists of cars only searching for a parking space, the reduction of this search traffic will contribute considerably to the overall reduction of emissions in the city.

Parking managers should prioritize implementing intelligent parking management solutions that create the ability to reduce or eliminate the time drivers search for available spots, therefore reducing the impact on the environment. By using innovative sensors installed on light posts above spaces, real-time information of the current parking situation can be obtained and lead to informed decision-making.

For example, the city of Cologne, Germany, leverages this kind of technology to reduce parking search traffic for its inner-city area, diminishing emissions and improving quality of life for citizens. The city of Caloundra, Australia, also sees reduced emissions and energy consumption in multiple areas.

Instead of testing their luck at the closest garage or lot with an uncertain occupancy level, drivers can be made aware in advance of where they can find an open space. In Germany, for instance, drivers are spending 560 million hours per year searching for a parking space; but, according to a study of the German automobile industry, this search time could be reduced by at least one third if parking data generated by reliable parking sensors were available to drivers. This would also result in 1.7 billion fewer miles driven per year and a reduction of 0.5 million tons of carbon dioxide.

The average of 17 hours a year spent by Americans searching for parking can also be dramatically lowered, as can the $345 cost per driver in wasted time, fuel and — overall — emissions.

This intelligent parking management method can also be combined with the aforementioned increased use of public transportation. For travelers that aren’t walking to bus stops, train stations or airports, finding a place to park still comes into play. Transit operators can take advantage of a smart parking solution in the lots and garages at these locations for the ultimate emission reduction project.

Advanced technology that revolutionizes the parking experience provides satisfaction for drivers, but also affects the big picture by increasing overall traffic mobility, reducing congestion and making use of otherwise underutilized parking spaces. These factors then reduce the amount of time cars are running, cutting down on their role in the planet’s temperature rising.


Looking Ahead

With transportation emissions creating such a large portion of the climate change problem, leaders and managers in this field inherently adopt the responsibility to make a change. Parking management can help contribute to the overall goal, even if just a small piece of the larger puzzle.


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  1. I’m not a climate skeptic at all, but I do value correct and verifiable information, so I have to ask:
    If a gallon of gasoline weighs approximately 7 lbs, how can you can you get 24 pounds of carbon dioxide from that 7 lb gallon? I went to the source sight, and 5 lbs are attributed to the refining and extraction process, and it states that 19 lbs comes direct from the tailpipe. So again, how do we get nearly a 3-fold increase in emissions from the source fuel?

    • I believe it’s the act of combustion that increases the final output in weight.
      Gasoline is made of long chains of carbons (w hydrogens attached, which are very light). When it combust the carbon chains break apart, and each carbon is now attached to two oxygen molecules that wasn’t in the fuel before – making CO2. Also the reason you need oxygen for combustion to take place. This reaction produce energy and water as well (H2O). Energy we use, water is easily recycled and CO2 we have way too much now!
      Basically burning combine the fuel w oxygen and the combined sum of the final products is heavier than the fuel because the added oxygen attached tothe carbon.
      Hope this helps.

  2. Vehicle emissions are 1/3rd of air pollution. We need to take vehicle emissions all the way to zero not just improve a bit. To reach 100% clean, the form of the vehicle needs to improve by about 8X. Then the sunlight that shines on the path of vehicles is enough energy to power the transportation fleet. These improvements are in the US patent office today. No need to wait to do a complete job of removing vehicle air pollution. Oil and gas needs to be a cash cow export for the US to slower nations with sunk cost in old junk vehicles. Freight vehicles burn up $146 billion dollars each year that could instead go toward the trade imbalance. Harvesting sunshine along the vehicle’s routes makes more sense to power the fleet.

  3. This is very important! We can make a difference just by making parking smarter. Of course, it needs to be a part of bigger plans to make cities happier, more convivial, and make cars less needed by promoting walking, biking, scooters and integrated neighborhoods where shopping, working, exercising, visiting parks and meeting places that do not require cars to get there. Such improvements are illustrated in the book Happy Cities, by Charles Montgomery, among other great studies. We can build a happier, more sustainable future by thinking and working more holistically.


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