Transportation and Land Use

Time-based Life-cycle Assessment for Environmental Policymaking: Greenhouse Gas Reduction Goals and Public Transit

Transportation Research Part D, 2016, 43, pp. 49-58, doi: 10.1016/j.trd.2015.12.003

As decision-makers increasingly embrace life-cycle assessment (LCA) and target transportation services for regional environmental goals, it becomes imperative that outcomes from changes to transportation infrastructure systems are accurately estimated. Greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction policies have created interest in better understanding how public transit systems reduce emissions. Yet the use of average emission factors (e.g., grams CO2e per distance traveled) persists as the state-of-the-art masking the variations in emissions across time, and confounding the ability to accurately estimate the environmental effects from changes to transit infrastructure and travel behavior. An LCA is developed of the Expo light rail line and a competing car trip (in Los Angeles, California) that includes vehicle, infrastructure, and energy production processes, in addition to propulsion. When results are normalized per passenger kilometer traveled (PKT), life-cycle processes increase energy use and GHG emissions up to 83%, and up to 690% for smog and respiratory impact potentials. However, the use of a time-independent PKT normalization obfuscates a decision-maker’s ability to understand whether the deployment of a transit system reduces emissions below a future year policy target (e.g., 80% of 1990 emissions by 2050). The year-by-year marginal effects of the decision to deploy the Expo line are developed including reductions in automobile travel. The time-based marginal results provide clearer explanations for how environmental effects in a region change and the critical life-cycle processes that should be targeted to achieve policy targets. It shows when environmental impacts payback and how much reduction is achieved by a policy-specified future year.

Policymaking Should Consider the Time-dependent Greenhouse Gas Benefits of Transit-oriented Smart Growth

Transportation Research Record, 2015, 2502, pp. 53-61, doi: 10.3141/2502-07

Cities are developing greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation plans and reduction targets on the basis of a growing body of knowledge about climate change risks, and changes to passenger transportation are often at the center of these efforts. Yet little information exists for characterizing how quickly or slowly GHG emissions reductions will accrue given changes in urban form around transit and whether benefits will accrue quickly enough to meet policy year targets (such as reaching 20% of 1990 GHG emissions levels by 2050). Achieving GHG reductions through integrated transportation and land use planning is even more complicated for cities because changes in emissions can occur across many sectors (such as transportation, building energy use, and electricity generation). With the use of the Los Angeles, California, Expo Line, a framework was developed to assess how financing schemes could affect the rate of building redevelopment and resulting life-cycle GHG emissions from travel and building energy use. The framework leveraged an integrated transportation and land use life-cycle assessment model that captured upfront construction of new development near transit and the long-term changes in household energy use for travel and buildings. The results show that for the same amount of development around the Expo Line, it is possible either to meet state GHG goals by 2050 (if aggressive redevelopment happens early) or not meet those goals by 2050 (if significant redevelopment does not start for decades). The time-based approach reveals how redevelopment schedules should be considered when strategies for meeting future GHG emissions targets are set.

Transit-oriented Smart Growth Can Reduce Life-cycle Environmental Impacts and Household Costs in Los Angeles

Transport Policy, 2014, 35, pp.21-30, doi: 10.1016/j.tranpol.2014.05.004

The environmental and economic assessment of neighborhood-scale transit-oriented urban form changes should include initial construction impacts through long-term use to fully understand the benefits and costs of smart growth policies. The long-term impacts of moving people closer to transit require the coupling of behavioral forecasting with environmental assessment. Using new light rail and bus rapid transit in Los Angeles, California as a case study, a life-cycle environmental and economic assessment is developed to assess the potential range of impacts resulting from mixed-use infill development. An integrated transportation and land use life-cycle assessment framework is developed to estimate energy consumption, air emissions, and economic (public, developer, and user) costs. Residential and commercial buildings, automobile travel, and transit operation changes are included and a 60-year forecast is developed that compares transit-oriented growth against growth in areas without close access to high-capacity transit service. The results show that commercial developments create the greatest potential for impact reductions followed by residential commute shifts to transit, both of which may be effected by access to high-capacity transit, reduced parking requirements, and developer incentives. Greenhouse gas emission reductions up to 470 Gg CO2-equivalents per year can be achieved with potential costs savings for TOD users. The potential for respiratory impacts (PM10-equivalents) and smog formation can be reduced by 28–35%. The shift from business-as-usual growth to transit-oriented development can decrease user costs by $3100 per household per year over the building lifetime, despite higher rental costs within the mixed-use development.

Assessing the Potential for Reducing Life-Cycle Environmental Impacts through Transit-Oriented Development Infill along Existing Light Rail in Phoenix

Journal of Planning, Education, and Research, 2013, 33(4), 395-410, doi: 10.1177/0739456X13507485

There is significant interest in reducing urban growth impacts yet little information exists to comprehensively estimate the energy and air quality tradeoffs. An integrated transportation and land-use life-cycle assessment framework is developed to quantify the long-term impacts from residential infill, using the Phoenix light rail system as a case study. The results show that (1) significant reductions in life-cycle energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, respiratory, and smog impacts are possible; (2) building construction, vehicle manufacturing, and energy feedstock effects are significant; and (3) marginal benefits from reduced automobile use and potential household behavior changes exceed marginal costs from new rail service.

Integrating Life-cycle Environmental and Economic Assessment with Transportation and Land Use Planning

Environmental Science and Technology, 2013, 47(21), 12020-12028, doi: 10.1021/es402985g

The environmental outcomes of urban form changes should couple life-cycle and behavioral assessment methods to better understand urban sustainability policy outcomes. Using Phoenix, Arizona light rail as a case study, an integrated transportation and land use life-cycle assessment (itlulca) framework is developed to assess the changes to energy consumption and air emissions from transit-oriented neighborhood designs. Residential travel, commercial travel, and building energy use are included and the framework integrates household behavior change assessment to explore the environmental and economic outcomes of policies that affect infrastructure. The results show that upfront environmental and economic investments are needed (through more energy-intense building materials for high-density structures) to produce long run benefits in reduced building energy use and automobile travel. The annualized life-cycle benefits of transit-oriented developments in Phoenix can range from 1.7 to 230 Gg CO2e depending on the aggressiveness of residential density. Midpoint impact stressors for respiratory effects and photochemical smog formation are also assessed and can be reduced by 1.2–170 Mg PM10e and 41–5200 Mg O3e annually. These benefits will come at an additional construction cost of up to $410 million resulting in a cost of avoided CO2e at $16–29 and household cost savings.

Transit-Oriented Development Deployment Strategies to Maximize Integrated Transportation and Land Use Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Reductions

ISSST, 2013, doi: 10.6084/m9.figshare.805094

Urban sustainability decision makers should incorporate time-based impacts of greenhouse gas emissions with life cycle assessment to improve climate change mitigation strategies. As cities develop strategies that move development closer to transit systems and encourage households to live in lower energy configurations, new methods are needed for understanding how upfront emissions of greenhouse gases produce long run radiative forcing impacts. Using an existing assessment of the development potential around Phoenix’s new light rail system, a framework is developed for deploying higher density, lower energy use, and more transit-friendly households near light rail given financing constraints. The case study compares development around transit stations in Phoenix against continued outward growth of single family homes. Using this case study, the significance of greenhouse gas (GHG) radiative forcing discounting is assessed. The radiative forcing benefits of different levels of financing aggressiveness are shown. A comparison of payback on upfront construction impacts for long run benefits is developed between the GHG accounting approach and the radiative forcing approach, the latter of which accounts for time-based GHG impacts. The results show that the radiative forcing approach puts more weight on upfront construction impacts and pushes the payback on initial investments out further than when GHG accounting is used. It is possible to reduce this payback time by providing a larger upfront financing resource. Ultimately, policy and decision makers should use radiative forcing measures over GHG measures because it will provide a measure that discounts GHG emissions at different times to a normalized unit.