Jump on a moving train that ends up collapsing | An alternative view | Diane Diamond
This is the environmental path to follow. It is the solution to manage our traffic problems. It’s the right way to use – and save – energy in our community. Jump on our moving trains! Ours is the right path to our future.
Is this the right way? Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. We jump on the bandwagon – and hope. And hope for a better future is important. We must hope.
But here are some issues where our hope is dwindling, as our dreams are not – or cannot be – realized.
A friend of mine predicted a few years ago that we won’t need our cars anymore, because we can use Uber and Lyft, and soon some self-driving cars will arrive that we can wave to come and take us somewhere, just like ours cars do now. These rental cars will save us energy because they will keep going, serving many of us for a day, not just ourselves. In addition, they will use less fuel, because starting our own cars several times a day uses more gasoline. And because this fleet of cars will serve all of us, there will be less need for downtown parking and our highways will be more empty. Yes, it’s all good.
According to the NYT, “Lyft reported a loss of $ 911 million last year, up from $ 688 million in 2017. Uber earned $ 997 million last year, much better than its loss of $ 4 billion in 2017, but that profit included revenue from the sale of some. After reversing these one-time items, Uber lost $ 1.8 billion last year. “
Their future is uncertain as rates keep rising. It now costs between $ 15 and $ 18 to get from Palo Alto to Redwood City one way. San José Airport is around $ 30.
And many Uber and Lyft drivers wanted part-time jobs, like evenings and weekends, to boost their income. About three years ago I was in New York and our cab driver reported all Uber and Lyft cars on the streets, which were blocked. And the influx of these fleets has significantly affected the taxi industry.
Another bandwagon is driving people to buy electric cars or plug-in hybrids. So far, about 3% of Americans have electric cars. The clamor for (electric) cars in the United States comes from places with moderate temperatures (like Palo Alto). Part of the usage problem is that in states where the weather is very hot or very cold, it takes a lot of electricity to keep an electric car air-conditioned or heated, so the range of the car drops sharply. I’m all for EVs and hope they are the future, but I’ve lived near Chicago in minus 30 degrees before. But I kept my car in the garage, plugged it in every night to keep it warm, and easily used my heater and car to get to work. I can’t imagine driving a daily 15-mile electric commute to work, wearing gloves and thick scarves, because I can’t use my heater.
What about transit-oriented housing? A very quick to understand program that the state launched in 2008 to encourage the public to use the then less used buses and trains in the state. To attract them, the state has helped finance more affordable housing. The plan assumed that if people lived near public transit, they would use it to get to work and might not even need a car at all!
We have built a lot of transit-oriented housing over the past decade and more. Who knows if the people who use public transport actually live in this accommodation? Years ago, I asked Palo Alto’s planning director if there were any studies to see if the occupants were actually using public transportation. She did a thorough search, she said, and could not find any studies or data indicating whether the occupants were actually using these nearby buses and trains.
I did a quick search this year and couldn’t find any data either. But my “research” was very limited. Maybe the people in such accommodations actually used it, and maybe they didn’t. Does anyone more knowledgeable on this subject really know?
I lived in my non-transit oriented home in Palo Alto for twenty years like three. During this time, I worked in Palo Alto, San Francisco, Stanford and San Jose. I tried taking the light rail to San Jose, so I took my car to park in Mountain View, took the light rail, and got off near downtown. Total duration: one hour and 10 minutes. If I drove to work it took 18 minutes. And when I was working in San Francisco, I walked to the station, took a train, then a bus to work at 8:45 am. Time spent: 80 minutes, because my office was miles from the SF station. If I drove: 45 minutes.
I’m not saying the concept is a bad idea. It’s a good idea. But we’ve been on this bandwagon for years and apparently have little data to make sure it has served its purpose.
There are other running trains that we jump on that haven’t worked. Like the high-speed train. The PA city council immediately backed the 2008 $ 9 billion voting measure to approve the rail system. A year or two later, he withdrew his support. A few years later, it was a costly failure ($$$$ billion). The HSR Authority report indicated at the end of 2021,
“The Authority currently has 119 miles under construction in three construction lots. Designer-builder contractors Tutor-Perini / Zachry / Parsons, Dragados.” Although this project is the first bullet train project in the United States and still has its supporters, I would call it dead on the rails nonetheless.
This week, the council hopped on the wagon supporting ‘smart meters’ in Palo Alto, a new meter installed on every home and unit in town that would tell people how much electricity, gas and water they were using and what the rates were during peak hours. It’s an effort to get people to use electricity at lower rates (like after 9 p.m. or mid-morning). Current cost: approximately $ 18.2 million. Advantage for consumers: more frugal use, perhaps. Will it help save our environment? To be determined.
I have a few more questions:
• Palo Alto wants to go all-electric. It now demands that new construction must not use natural gas. City officials are also talking about the residential conversion of water heaters and stoves from gas to electricity. But will our electrical system really handle the increased load? Or are we going to use so much electricity because we will have to depend on it alone? The new smart meter system claims it will be better able to control outages? True? What if we found out that we really don’t have the capacity of a fully electric city. I know the matter has been studied for years and city officials say they are confident it will work, but things are moving overnight. Still, if we don’t try it and then have power outages, that’s not good either.
I also have well-meaning environmental friends who insist that our future will depend almost entirely on solar, wind and nuclear power and provide enough energy for our future. They are jumping on a new bandwagon! Or is it a marvelous political correct bandwagon filled with wishes and dreams?
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