This Week in Climate Change News
American cities have faced record-breaking droughts and superstorms throughout 2012, as well as a contentious presidential campaign that simultaneously and inexplicably ignored the topic of climate change.
However, the reelection of President Barack Obama gives us the hope that, for at least another four years, U.S. politics might favor science (Bill Nye, I’m looking at you). And perhaps the good folks at Foggy Bottom might finally, resolutely, turn the public discourse to the facts that predicate the need for urban sustainability.
In other words: Let’s talk about climate change. Afterall, the media sure is.
NPR ran a very interesting piece today about the dangerously low, post-drought levels of the Mississippi River and how it is negatively affecting the business of local towboat operators in southern Illinois.
According to the piece, the Mississippi River stood at 45′ last year, and it’s just 5.5′ today. The low water and rocky, underwater outcroppings make navigating the river dangerous in this area, so the local towboat operators want the Army Corp of Engineers to:
- Divert water from the Missouri River to this area of the Mississippi
- Smooth the bottom of the Mississippi River by blasting away the rocky outcroppings
The Corp, for their part, says they can’t do it.
Allow me to also direct you to a piece aired 18 months ago, also on NPR, that discusses the economic impact to southern Illinois’ towboat operators because of extreme flooding of that region of the Mississippi River.
File it under: The Economic Impacts of Global Weirding.
Meanwhile in the east, the tri-state region struggles to bounce back from the impacts of Hurricane Sandy. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand testified this week before a (seemingly empty?) Senate committee, where she told the heartbreaking story of two toddlers in Staten Island that were washed away from their mother’s arms during the storm.
Unemployment surged following Superstorm Sandy, as workers were forced to stay home or wait for their businesses to rebuild. The overall cost of the storm is estimated to be over $70+ billion in New York and New Jersey alone, and new estimates put the death toll at 125.
After years of denying that climate change event existed, the discussion in the U.S. has shot past mitigation and settled on adaptation. It’s about time. We are, as they say, a little late to the party. But thankfully, that means that other governments have been working on climate adaptation for years and we have examples in London, Rotterdam, Hamburg and Tokyo that we can adopt, and adapt, as our own.
The challenge now isn’t money, as Michael Kimmelman writes in the New York Times, “considering the hundreds of billions of dollars, and more lives, another Sandy or two will cost.” The problem is politics. How can we get the needed urban-adaptation projects passed through our vitriolic political system?
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Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
I spoke last week with Krishna Desai from Cubic Transportation, and we discussed three big problems facing transportation, and the ways that Cubic is approaching these challenges:
1) If (or when) more workers return to traditional on-location jobs, but feel a lingering distrust of crowded spaces, people who can afford it may opt for private cars instead of using public transit for their commute. This will create a massive influx of cars on roads that were already crowded, and more financial woes for transit agencies already dealing with budget shortfalls. Krishna told me about a suite of optimization tools Cubic is deploying in places like Mexico and San Francisco to make public transit more efficient, more transparent, and, overall, more attractive to riders.
2) For the time being, though, we’re dealing with the opposite problem. How can transit agencies find ways to influence user behavior in a way that complies with social distancing and capacity requirements? How can you incentivize riders to wait for the next bus? (In a way that doesn’t alienate them forever – see #1). Cubic has deployed a loyalty/advertising program in Miami-Dade County that was originally intended to increase ridership, but is now being used to help control crowding and social distancing on transit.
3) Transportation infrastructure, in generally, was not built to accomodate 6-feet of separation between riders – or between workers. Little things like, for example, opening gates, requires workers to be closer than 6-feet to riders, and there are examples like that throughout every transit hub. Technology can help, but creating and implementing software/hardware solutions quickly and efficiently requires experience with innovation, deployment, maintenance and more. Cubic has a program called Project Rebound that shows the possibilities.
Advanced Urban Visioning offers a powerful tool for regions that are serious about achieving a major transformation in their sustainability and resilience. By clarifying what optimal transportation networks look like for a region, it can give planners and the public a better idea of what is possible. It inverts the traditional order of planning, ensuring that each mode can make the greatest possible contribution toward achieving future goals.
Advanced Urban Visioning doesn’t conflict with government-required planning processes; it precedes them. For example, the AUV process may identify the need for specialized infrastructure in a corridor, while the Alternatives Analysis process can now be used to determine the time-frame where such infrastructure becomes necessary given its role in a network.
The introduction of intelligent transportation systems, which includes a broad network of smart roads, smart cars, smart streetlights and electrification are pushing roadways to new heights. Roadways are no longer simply considered stretches of pavement; they’ve become platforms for innovation. The ability to empower roadways with intelligence and sensing capabilities will unlock extraordinary levels of safety and mobility by enabling smarter, more connected transportation systems that benefit the public and the environment.