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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

One transit metric
July 20, 2011 - 9:30pm

If we're going to challenge Greenback's students to design (at least in concept) a more sustainable regional transit system, we need to tell them up front just how we're going to judge the results. One obvious possibility is to calculate transit-related greenhouse gas emissions, and give the most points to the design which seems likely to minimize those.

I don't particularly want to do that.

Not because calculating GHG emissions would be difficult; given a reasonable set of assumptions it would actually be pretty easy. But because focusing solely on contribution to the greenhouse effect misses significant other aspects of sustainable transit.

  • Does the transit system increase the likelihood that people will choose to live in sustainable neighborhoods?
  • Will it increase the number of folks who walk or bike at least a half-hour a day (not necessarily all at one stretch)?
  • Will it likely increase local commerce?
  • Will it be safe?
  • Will it contribute to a sense of community?

Now, with such a broad (and in some cases unquantifiable) set of criteria, we can't just send these questions out to the student body and tell them to do their best. We need to find one or two criteria which take these factors into account, but which are easier to score.

I'm thinking that one way to achieve that is to somehow determine what percentage of residents, given a transit system such as the one being proposed, could logically be expected to leave their cars parked for five days out of any given week. The implication is that they don't use their cars to get to work, nor to do frequent shopping.

One number I've seen tossed around in transit-related discussions is the percentage of folks who commute to work without using a car. Not carpooling, not driving to the train station or the kiss-and-ride. No car in the daily equation at all. For the USA, I believe the percentage is in the mid-teens. In Canada, it's twenty-something. In Europe, if memory serves, the percentage of working folks who commute without using a car is over 70.

I have no illusions that any student-proposed regional transit system for Backboro will pencil out at over 70% car-less commuting. But 50 would be nice. And 50% may be achievable.

Clearly, I'm going to have to establish some explicit assumptions. Things like "if you live within two blocks of a bus stop and the bus runs regularly and the bus goes right by where you work, you're 90% likely to ride the bus." Not all of those assumptions are going to be entirely realistic. Indeed, one of the real-world challenges if any facsimile of the proposed system should ever get implemented would be to figure out what changes (newer buses, cleaner buses, faster service) would be necessary to make real life behave more like the game.

But a game, at least at first, this whole thing's going to be. Games rules have to be knowable. Games have to be fun. But games don't have to be (indeed, can't and shouldn't be) entirely realistic.

After all, when was the last time you could buy real estate in Atlantic City (or anywhere else) for $400.00 or less? More realist than that, I think we can achieve.


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