Transportation in transition

"What's in your wallet?," says the credit card ad. Last weekend the answer would have been "Less," because gasoline prices reached an all-time Memorial Day high in southern California at an average rate of $4.29 per gallon. Despite some recovery as four local refineries come back online following maintenance closures, this trend is not likely to reverse itself in the near future. Make that EVER.So southern California--perhaps the most car-happy spot on the planet--faces, along with the rest of the world, the necessity of developing new technologies and alternative fuel sources in order to get people from place to place. Four fundamental circumstances are recognizable as possible reasons to move away from gasoline and diesel: 1) fossil fuels create greenhouse gases which contribute to climate change; 2) the burning of fossil fuels creates toxic pollutants, jeopardizing human health; 3) non-renewable petroleum resources are becoming depleted, requiring ever more extreme extraction efforts; 4) many petroleum supplies come from countries with whom the United States has tenuous relationships, or as John McCain was prone to say during the 2008 presidential campaign, "countries that don't like us very much." Perhaps you're in the camp that sees irreversible anthropogenic climate change as a planetary scourge that will visit horrible adversity on humankind within the next 100 years. Maybe you're one of those who knows that asthma has increased 75% in the U.S. since 1980, and that childhood asthma rates in our region are exceptionally high, especially among Hispanic and African-American children. Maybe you're disturbed by the long-term impact of the BP Gulf oil spill or the potential adverse environmental effects of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline. Or maybe you just don't like forking over big bucks to our enemies. In any case, there should be plenty of motivation all around to shift away from fossil fuel. For example, we have been extolling the virtues of bicycling and walking in this space for the last few weeks, partly because May is National Bike Month, but more importantly because bicycling and walking--commonly known by advocates as "active transportation"--are two of the simplest and most beneficial fossil fuel alternatives out there. Again there's a list of reasons why: 1) both are among the most energy-efficient transportation modes available; 2) they're essentially non-polluting; 3) biking and walking are indefinitely renewable, given decent health and three square meals a day; 4) in an era of epidemic obesity, they provide a means of activity for an all-too-sedentary culture. As a matter of fact, if you're walking or bicycling even part of the way to school or work, you're multi-tasking, getting there in fine style while burning some of those pesky calories along the way! Indeed, biking and walking are just two of an array of transportation choices presenting ever more attractive options to the old gas-guzzler. Among these choices for automobile are various types of electric and hybrid electric cars. One subset of the Electric Vehicle (EV) is the "NEV," the Neighborhood Electric Vehicle, designed for slower speeds in urban areas or residential neighborhoods--a little bit like a leading-edge golf cart. Another increasingly popular urban option is car-sharing, which is developing a following nationwide, where car ownership is no longer a necessity, and accessible hourly rentals are immediately available at parking stations dotted around the community. Most of these cars are currently hybrids, though increasingly an EV infrastructure for car-sharing is developing in forward-thinking urban areas. Another option is public transportation, mass transit, which offers some futuristic petroleum-free possibilities such as commuter trains powered by magnetic levitation, as mentioned by Bellflower resident Joe Cvetko in a recent Letter to the Editor in The Downey Patriot. We will return to discussions of these innovations in future articles, but for next week, let's plan to talk about what you do with your garbage.

********** Published: May 31, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 07