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Sustainable transport or green transport refers to any means of transport with low impact on the environment, and includes non-motorized transport, like walking and cycling, transit oriented development, green vehicles, car sharing, and building or protecting urban transport systems that are fuel-efficient, space-saving and promote healthy lifestyles.
Sustainable transport systems make a positive contribution to the environmental, social and economic sustainability of the communities they serve. Transport systems exist to provide social and economic connections, and people quickly take up the opportunities offered by increased mobility. The advantages of increased mobility need to be weighed against the environmental, social and economic costs that transport systems pose.
Transport systems have significant impacts on the environment, accounting between 20% and 25% of world energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. Greenhouse gas emissions from transport are increasing at a faster rate than any other energy using sector. Road transport is also a major contributor to local air pollution and smog.
The social costs of transport include road crashes, air pollution, physical inactivity, time taken away from the family while commuting and vulnerability to fuel price increases. Many of these negative impacts fall disproportionately on those social groups who are also least likely to own and drive cars. Traffic congestion imposes economic costs by wasting people’s time and by slowing the delivery of goods and services.
Traditional transport planning aims to improve mobility, especially for vehicles, and may fail to adequately consider wider impacts. But the real purpose of transport is access – to work, education, goods and services, friends and family – and there are proven techniques to improve access while simultaneously reducing environmental and social impacts, and managing traffic congestion. Communities which are successfully improving the sustainability of their transport networks are doing so as part of a wider program of creating more vibrant, livable, sustainable cities.
The term sustainable transport came into use as a logical follow-on from sustainable development, and is used to describe modes of transport, and systems of transport planning, which are consistent with wider concerns of sustainability. There are many definitions of the sustainable transport, and of the related terms sustainable transportation and sustainable mobility. One such definition, from the European Union Council of Ministers of Transport, defines a sustainable transportation system as one that:
Allows the basic access and development needs of individuals, companies and society to be met safely and in a manner consistent with human and ecosystem health, and promotes equity within and between successive generations.
Is Affordable, operates fairly and efficiently, offers a choice of transport mode, and supports a competitive economy, as well as balanced regional development.
Limits emissions and waste within the planet’s ability to absorb them, uses renewable resources at or below their rates of generation, and uses non-renewable resources at or below the rates of development of renewable substitutes, while minimizing the impact on the use of land and the generation of noise.
Sustainability extends beyond just the operating efficiency and emissions. A Life-cycle assessment involves production and post-use considerations. A cradle-to-cradle design is more important than a focus on a single factor such as energy efficiency.
Most of the tools and concepts of sustainable transport were developed before the phrase was coined. Walking, the first mode of transport is also the most sustainable. Public transport dates back at least as far as the invention of the public bus by Blasé Pascal in 1662. The first passenger tram began operation in 1807 and the first passenger rail service in 1825. Pedal bicycles date from the 1860s. These were the only personal transport choices available to most people in Western countries prior to World War II, and remain the only options for most people in the developing world. Freight was moved by human power, animal power or rail.
The post-war years brought increased wealth and a demand for much greater mobility for people and goods. The number of road vehicles in Britain increased fivefold between 1950 and 1979, with similar trends in other Western nations. Most affluent countries and cities invested heavily in bigger and better-designed roads and motorways, which were considered essential to underpin growth and prosperity. Transport planning became a branch of civil engineering and sought to design sufficient road capacity to provide for the projected level of traffic growth at acceptable levels of traffic congestion – a technique called “predict and provide”. Public investment in transit, walking and cycling declined dramatically in the United States, Great Britain and Australasia, although this did not occur to the same extent in Canada or mainland Europe.
Concerns about the sustainability of this approach became widespread during the 1973 oil crisis and the 1979 energy crisis. The high cost and limited availability of fuel led to a resurgence of interest in alternatives to single occupancy vehicle travel.
Transport innovations dating from this period include high-occupancy vehicle lanes, citywide carpool systems and transportation demand management. Singapore implemented congestion pricing in the late 1970s, and Curitiba began implementing its Bus Rapid Transit system in the early 1980s.
Relatively low and stable oil prices during the 1980s and 1990s led to significant increases in vehicle travel from 1980-2000, both directly because people chose to travel by car more often and for greater distances, and indirectly because cities developed tracts of suburban housing, distant from shops and from workplaces, now referred to as urban sprawl. Trends in freight logistics, including a movement from rail and coastal shipping to road freight and a requirement for just in time deliveries, meant that freight traffic grew faster than general vehicle traffic.
At the same time, the academic foundations of the “predict and provide” approach to transport were being questioned, notably by Peter Newman in a set of comparative studies of cities and their transport systems dating from the mid-1980s.
The British Government’s White Paper on Transport marked a change in direction for transport planning in the UK. In the introduction to the White Paper, Prime Minister Tony Blair stated that
We recognize that we cannot simply build our way out of the problems we face. It would be environmentally irresponsible – and would not work.
A companion document to the White Paper called “Smarter Choices” researched the potential to scale up the small and scattered sustainable transport initiatives then occurring across Britain, and concluded that the comprehensive application of these techniques could reduce peak period car travel in urban areas by over 20%.
A similar study by the United States Federal Highway Administration, was also released in 2004 and also concluded that a more proactive approach to transportation demand was an important component of overall national transport strategy.
Environmentally sustainable transport:
Transport systems are major emitters of greenhouse gases, responsible for 23% of world energy-related GHG emissions in 2004, with about three quarters coming from road vehicles. Currently 95% of transport energy comes from petroleum. Energy is consumed in the manufacture as well as the use of vehicles, and is embodied in transport infrastructure including roads, bridges and railways.
New York City has an astonishing 5,900 buses with over 2.69 million riders every weekday (NYC Statistics). Lansing on the other has 90 percent of their people riding in personal vehicles. One bus of people is six times more efficient than a car with one person in it. (Weiner, Edward). Taking public transit saves an average household over $6,000 on automobile expenses per year (Victoria Transport Planning Institute). The Michigan Avenue Corridor can adopt this bus use idea very easily, and by doing so they also help lower the unemployment rate. U.S. fleet of light trucks and vehicles account for a little more than one-fifth of the total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions (National Research Council). By placing more bus stops along the Corridor and by offering a wide variety of riding plans, we can change the rising health problems that come from use of trucks, cars and vans. Traffic crashes continue to be one of the largest causes of deaths and disabilities for people aged 1-44 years (Committee on Toxicological and Performance Aspects of Oxygenated Motor Vehicle Fuels, National Research Council). Public transportations are 170 times safer than riding in a vehicle (Driver Safety). It’s reported in New York for every 10,000 commuters who leave their cars at home and commute on an existing public transportation service for one year, end up saving around 2.7 million gallons of gasoline (American Public Transportation Association). The continued use of buses as transportation in New York City has proven to help out in every standing aspect. If Lansing could establish a more rigid bus attitude and help to develop more situations where people could ride a bus instead of drive their own car, the changes would be enormous. The Michigan Avenue Corridor is the perfect place to apply this plan and help to cut back on the individual use of vehicles. When trying to fix urban transportation problems there are many possible solutions, but the biggest of which is “Improving public transportation” (Asmaa Ait Boubkr, Gaboune Brahim, and Avel-Li’ Blasco Esteve). New York City is giving us the numbers and the example, it’s now necessary to implement these views into the Michigan Avenue Corridor.
The environmental impacts of transport can be reduced by improving the walking and cycling environment in cities, and by enhancing the role of public transport, especially electric rail.
Green vehicles are intended to have less environmental impact than equivalent standard vehicles, although when the environmental impact of a vehicle is assessed over the whole of its life cycle this may not be the case. Electric vehicle technology has the potential to reduce transport CO2 emissions, depending on the embodied energy of the vehicle and the source of the electricity. Hybrid vehicles, which use an internal combustion engine combined with an electric engine to achieve better fuel efficiency than a regular combustion engine, are already common. Natural gas is also used as a transport fuel. Biofuels are a less common, and less promising, technology; Brazil met 17% of its transport fuel needs from bioethanol in 2007, but the OECD has warned that the success of biofuels in Brazil is due to specific local circumstances; internationally, biofuels are forecast to have little or no impact on greenhouse emissions, at significantly higher cost than energy efficiency measures.
In practice there is a sliding scale of green transport depending on the sustainability of the option. Green vehicles are more fuel-efficient, but only in comparison with standard vehicles, and they still contribute to traffic congestion and road crashes. Well-patronized public transport networks based on traditional diesel buses use less fuel per passenger than private vehicles, and are generally safer and use less road space than private vehicles. Green public transport vehicles including electric trains, trams and electric buses combine the advantages of green vehicles with those of sustainable transport choices. Other transport choices with very low environmental impact are cycling and other human-powered vehicles, and animal powered transport. The most common green transport choice, with the least environmental impact is walking.
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