Automobile Path Dependence in Phoenix: Driving Sustainability by Getting Off of the Pavement and Out of the Car

Doctoral Dissertation

A methodology is developed that integrates institutional analysis with Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to identify and overcome barriers to sustainability transitions and to bridge the gap between environmental practitioners and decisionmakers. LCA results are rarely joined with analyses of the social systems that control or influence decisionmaking and policies. As a result, LCA conclusions generally lack information about who or what controls different parts of the system, where and when the processes' environmental decisionmaking happens, and what aspects of the system (i.e. a policy or regulatory requirement) would have to change to enable lower environmental impact futures. The value of the combined institutional analysis and LCA (the IA-LCA) is demonstrated using a case study of passenger transportation in the Phoenix, Arizona metropolitan area. A retrospective LCA is developed to estimate how roadway investment has enabled personal vehicle travel and its associated energy, environmental, and economic effects. Using regional travel forecasts, a prospective life cycle inventory is developed. Alternative trajectories are modeled to reveal future "savings" from reduced roadway construction and vehicle travel. An institutional analysis matches the LCA results with the specific institutions, players, and policies that should be targeted to enable transitions to these alternative futures. The results show that energy, economic, and environmental benefits from changes in passenger transportation systems are possible, but vary significantly depending on the timing of the interventions. Transition strategies aimed at the most optimistic benefits should include 1) significant land-use planning initiatives at the local and regional level to incentivize transit-oriented development infill and urban densification, 2) changes to state or federal gasoline taxes, 3) enacting a price on carbon, and 4) nearly doubling vehicle fuel efficiency together with greater market penetration of alternative fuel vehicles. This aggressive trajectory could decrease the 2050 energy consumption to 1995 levels, greenhouse gas emissions to 1995, particulate emissions to 2006, and smog-forming emissions to 1972. The potential benefits and costs are both private and public, and the results vary when transition strategies are applied in different spatial and temporal patterns.

Growth of the Los Angeles Roadway Network

Los Angeles is often presented as the epitome of post-automobile sprawling urban growth. There tends to be a somewhat unclear understanding of why the city has grown the way it has. We explore the deployment of infrastructure as an enabler of growth, for better or worse. Presented below is an animation of the deployment of the Los Angeles Roadway network, from 1990 to present. This is part of a research project that is exploring the cost, energy, and greenhouse gas impacts of transportation systems and how embedded infrastructure enable unsustainable emergent behaviors. Over the next few months, we will update this video as we finalize our cost, energy, and greenhouse gas results.

Growth of the Los Angeles Roadway Network from Mikhail Chester on Vimeo.

Growth of the Phoenix Roadway Network

The growth of the Phoenix roadway network developed through a combined roadway link and travel analysis zone statistical assessment of building ages. Infrastructure has been constructed ahead of and in concert with sprawling edge growth. Half of the current roadways were constructed after 1979 at the edges of the urbanized area (i.e., the 101, 202, and 303 loops)..

Life-cycle Assessment for Construction of Sustainable Infrastructure

ASCE Practice Periodical on Structural Design and Construction, 2014, 19(1), 89-94, doi: 10.1061/(ASCE)SC.1943-5576.0000187.

The architecture-engineering-construction (AEC) industry faces increasing demands on its projects while budgets appear to be shrinking. Building owners and operators seem to want their buildings to do more for less cost. Although this may seem counterintuitive, it aligns nicely with a sustainable-architecture approach of less is more. Moreover, in a shift from exclusively considering first costs for a project, the AEC industry seems to be moving in the direction of life-cycle cost considerations, furthering the opportunity for a more sustainable built environment. Often sustainable is synonymous with achieving certification [e.g., Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and Infrastructure Voluntary Evaluation Sustainability Tool (INVEST) certification]. Whereas the authors acknowledge that certification can improve particular aspects of sustainability, it is necessary to take a broader approach and consider economic, environmental, and social dimensions of sustainability. In this paper, the authors explore each of these dimensions and present examples of how the AEC industry can measure, balance, and monetize them.

Infrastructure and Automobile Shifts: Positioning Transit to Reduce Life-cycle Environmental Impacts for Urban Sustainability Goals

Environmental Research Letters, 2013, 8(1), 015041, doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/8/1/015041.

Public transportation systems are often part of strategies to reduce urban environmental impacts from passenger transportation yet comprehensive energy and environmental life-cycle measures, including upfront infrastructure effects and indirect and supply chain processes, are rarely considered. Using the new bus rapid transit and light rail lines in Los Angeles, near-term and long-term life-cycle impact assessments are developed, including reduced automobile travel. Energy consumption and emissions of greenhouse gases and criteria pollutants are assessed, as well the potential for smog and respiratory impacts. Results show that life-cycle infrastructure, vehicle, and energy production components significantly increase the footprint of each mode (by 48-100% for energy and greenhouse gases, and up to 6200% for environmental impacts), and emerging technologies and renewable electricity standards will significantly reduce impacts. Life-cycle results are identified as either local (in Los Angeles) or remote and show how the decision to build and operate a transit system in a city produces environmental impacts far outside of geopolitical boundaries. Ensuring shifts of between 20-30% of transit riders from automobiles will result in passenger transportation greenhouse gas reductions for the city, and the larger the shift the quicker the payback, which should be considered for time-specific environmental goals.

Figures and Data:
Figure Data
Figure 1: Life-cycle per Passenger Mile Traveled Results for Average Occupancy Vehicles
Figure 2: Environmental Impact Schedules and Resulting Paybacks
Figure 3: Transit Energy and Environmental Payback Speed with Automobile Shifts
Figure 4: Life-cycle Door-to-door Greenhouse Gas Comparison

Media Coverage and Related Documents:
Environmental Research Web: Public-transit systems improve urban environment
Policy Brief
LA Metro's Blog The Source
ERL Perspective by Matt Eckelman: Life Cycle Assessment in Support of Sustainable Transportation

Parking Infrastructure and the Environment

Access Magazine

Little is known about how parking infrastructure affects energy demand, the environment and the cost of vehicle travel. Passenger and freight movements are often the focus of energy and environmental assessments, but vehicles spend most of their lives parked. Abundant free parking encourages vehicle travel and is thus a major incentive to auto travel and urban congestion. Abundant free parking also discourages public transit, walking, and biking. The technique of transportation life-cycle assessment (LCA) allows us to understand the full costs of travel including the energy use and environmental effects of parking infrastructure. Past LCAs, however have focused on evaluating the resources used for travel and have ignored resources use for parking. This focus is understandable given the diversity of parking spaces and the lack of available data on parking infrastructure. For example, consider the great differences in energy use and emissions associated with a curb parking spaces, multi-story garages, and private home garages. Furthermore, because causality between parking supply and automobile travel flows occurs in both directions, determining the energy use and environmental effects of a specific automobile trip (say a strip mall) is not possible. We develop a range of estimates of the U.S. parking space inventory, determine construction and maintenance energy use and environmental effects, and evaluate these results in the life-cycle of automobile travel. We find that the for many vehicle trips the environmental effects of the parking infrastructure sometimes equal or exceed the environmental effects of the vehicles themselves.

(Note: this article focuses on the policy implications of our Environmental Research Letter's publication Parking Infrastructure: Energy, Emissions, and Automobile Life-cycle Environmental Accounting)

Parking Infrastructure: Energy, Emissions, and Automobile Life-cycle Environmental Accounting

Environmental Research Letters, 2010, 5(3), doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/5/3/034001

The US parking infrastructure is vast and little is known about its scale and environmental impacts. The few parking space inventories that exist are typically regionalized and no known environmental assessment has been performed to determine the energy and emissions from providing this infrastructure. A better understanding of the scale of US parking is necessary to properly value the total costs of automobile travel. Energy and emissions from constructing and maintaining the parking infrastructure should be considered when assessing the total human health and environmental impacts of vehicle travel. We develop five parking space inventory scenarios and from these estimate the range of infrastructure provided in the US to be between 105 million and 2 billion spaces. Using these estimates, a life-cycle environmental inventory is performed to capture the energy consumption and emissions of greenhouse gases, CO, SO2, NOX, VOC (volatile organic compounds), and PM10 (PM: particulate matter) from raw material extraction, transport, asphalt and concrete production, and placement (including direct, indirect, and supply chain processes) of space construction and maintenance. The environmental assessment is then evaluated within the life-cycle performance of sedans, SUVs (sports utility vehicles), and pickups. Depending on the scenario and vehicle type, the inclusion of parking within the overall life-cycle inventory increases energy consumption from 3.1 to 4.8 MJ by 0.1–0.3 MJ and greenhouse gas emissions from 230 to 380 g CO2e by 6–23 g CO2e per passenger kilometer traveled. Life-cycle automobile SO2 and PM10 emissions show some of the largest increases, by as much as 24% and 89% from the baseline inventory. The environmental consequences of providing the parking spaces are discussed as well as the uncertainty in allocating paved area between parking and roadways.

Environmental Assessment of Passenger Transportation Should Include Infrastructure and Supply Chains

Environmental Research Letters, 2009, 4(2), doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/4/2/024008

To appropriately mitigate environmental impacts from transportation, it is necessary for decision makers to consider the life-cycle energy use and emissions. Most current decision-making relies on analysis at the tailpipe, ignoring vehicle production, infrastructure provision, and fuel production required for support. We present results of a comprehensive life-cycle energy, greenhouse gas emissions, and selected criteria air pollutant emissions inventory for automobiles, buses, trains, and airplanes in the US, including vehicles, infrastructure, fuel production, and supply chains. We find that total life-cycle energy inputs and greenhouse gas emissions contribute an additional 63% for onroad, 155% for rail, and 31% for air systems over vehicle tailpipe operation. Inventorying criteria air pollutants shows that vehicle non-operational components often dominate total emissions. Life-cycle criteria air pollutant emissions are between 1.1 and 800 times larger than vehicle operation. Ranges in passenger occupancy can easily change the relative performance of modes.

(Note: the results of this study supplant those presented in "Life-cycle Environmental Inventory of Passenger Transportation Modes in the United States" as well as vwp-2008-2 and vwp-2007-7.)