It’s pretty hot, which reminds me that the climate is changing

Like most people, climate change is something I prefer not to dwell on. But with multiple days in a row near or above 90 degrees, I’m compelled to remember that the climate is getting warmer, and the number of days above 90 degrees is expected to increase dramatically over the next several decades. According to one estimate, there may be 90 days over 90 degrees in Boston by 2070.

90 degree days

Climate change, and the fear of it, was what inspired me to go into public service to begin with. I still believe it to be the most intractable existential threat to civilization we face today, and perhaps have ever faced before (though the nuclear arms race would be a close second). I decided to focus my career on transportation in particular because it is the largest contributor to climate change of any sector.

transportation ghg
Source: PVPC Climate Action and Clean Energy Plan

We here in the Pioneer Valley are mostly shielded from the rising seas that threaten to eventually flood much of Boston and New York. However, we are susceptible to extreme weather events like flooding from the remnants of Tropical Storm Irene or the tornado that tore through Springfield. And more than that, it is totally possible that increasing numbers of climate refugees, possibly even from inside our country (drought-stricken southwest, flooded Florida, disappearing Louisiana) could relocate to our relatively water-rich, inland oasis.

ma heatin up
The climate in 2070 could be the same as S. Carolina’s climate today – really hot. Source: PVPC Climate Action and Clean Energy Plan 

Of course, the thing that really motivated me to dedicate my career to arresting climate change was this fact: as the winters get warmer, sugar maples aren’t going to be producing maple syrup anymore. The idea of New England without wintertime sugaring is a horrible, wretched thought – and enough to scare anyone to action.

Lighting a Single Candle

Rather than wring my hands harder and harder as I stare into the abyss of a Mad Max-esque future, I thought I would go through a list of three pretty easy things I can try to do to reduce climate change over the next two weeks:

  1. Get a Mass Save home energy audit: Mass Save is a free state program which provides home energy audits and educates home owners about available incentives and credits to make your home more energy efficient. Special bonus – lower utility bills!
  2. Eat less meat: Meat is really resource intensive, mostly from raising all that corn and feeding it to the cows. Plus, it’s not very good for you.
  3. Drive less: OK, I don’t really drive all that much right now, but there’s always room for improvement. Especially now that I have an e-bike, I really don’t have much of an excuse to drive less than three miles.

Some Closing Thoughts

It’s worth pointing out that Massachusetts is a leader in combating climate change, from the Global Warming Solutions Act  to the state’s GreenDOT sustainability initiative. Furthermore, Holyoke is a leader in the state for renewable energy use; only a little over 5% of our electricity is generated from fossil fuels. A lot of it is thanks to our hydro-power.

holyoke energy
Source: Holyoke Gas and Electric

And nationally there is a growing recognition that climate change is a real problem and one that needs to be addressed. So I have hope that enough people will take a look outside, wince at the oppressive heat, and accept that even more progress needs to happen. If we don’t, we have to ask ourselves seriously – will our children thank us for the decisions we make today? In a New England without maple syrup, my guess is that the answer will be no.

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Upcoming Presentation in Boston

presentation title

On Wednesday, I am going to be giving a presentation to the Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization’s (MPO) Regional Transportation Advisory Council (RTAC) alongside Shannon Greenwell from the MassDOT Office of Transportation Planning. This is an open meeting, and all are welcomed and encouraged to join. The agenda for the meeting is here, and details of the presentation are:

Title: “An Autonomous World: Planning the Future of Transit”
Date: Wednesday, August 10th
Time: 3:00 PM – 4:30 PM
Location: State Transportation Building Second Floor, Conference Room 4, 10 Park Plaza, Boston, MA

This presentation builds off of the original version we did at the 2015 Southern New England American Planning Association Conference. In it, we discuss the long-term implications of vehicle automation (AKA self-driving cars) on the transportation system, with a particular emphasis on how it could impact public transportation.

Some questions posed in the presentation:

  • Will we need more parking with automated vehicles, or less?
  • If trucks and buses become automated, what will happen to professional drivers?
  • Will there be a quick adoption of automated vehicles (think smartphones), or very slow (think hybrid-electric vehicles)?
  • What will it mean if high-income transit users start using Uber-type automated vehicles, while everyone else still uses the bus?

As a reminder as to what an MPO is, I wrote a blog post about them and why they’re pretty important to transportation wonks; the RTAC is an advisory body to the MPO. According to the Boston MPO website:

The Regional Transportation Advisory Council (Advisory Council) is an independent body that brings public viewpoints and advice on transportation planning to the Boston Region MPO. Its membership (pdf) (html) includes municipalities, professional organizations, transportation advocacy groups, neighboring MPOs, and state agencies.

I’m glad to be presenting this to the MPO Advisory Council; this is an important topic, and one that isn’t going away. It’s almost certain to be a transformative development, one that will probably only happen once in a generation. I know that my employer, the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority, is keenly aware of the technology developments going on – every transportation professional is well-served to do the same.

My E-Bike Game Changer

I’ve already posted about my dedication to active transportation, and in fact got a bunch of coverage during Bay State Bike Week because I bike 18 miles round trip from Holyoke to Springfield on most workdays. It’s to save money, and my health, and the environment that I am so dedicated to bicycle transportation. I must admit, though, it’s gotten a bit grating.

There have been so many days during this hot summer where I have been on my feet all day at work, I hop on my bike with the sun beating down on me, and a strong wind out of the north blows against me as I chug my way home. Add to that the hills of Chicopee and long climb from the river, and it makes for a tough 9-mile bike commute indeed.

But above all it’s the cars. I’m just tired of drivers passing me too close, squeezing between me and oncoming traffic because they can’t be bothered to wait an extra 10 seconds to pass me safely. While I have generous shoulders for 90% of my commute, that 10% is genuinely exhausting.

It was in the context of this burgeoning bicycle burnout that I had a chance encounter with a leisure rider on the Manhan Rail Trail by Abandoned Building Brewery. He was on an electric bike, and suggested that I take it out for a test spin.

Game. Changer.

In addition to the pedal assist, which in itself let me fly like the wind, there is a throttle for when I’m feeling especially lazy, or low energy, or have a sports injury, or whatever. I realized as I was zipping around the Abandoned Building Brewery parking lot that this little electric motor was going to transform my commute. As the owner of the e-bike told me, the electric motor, “evens out the hills.” Exactly what I was looking for.

The EBO Phantom

Due to money constraints, I decided to go with an e-bike kit rather than purchasing a whole new bicycle. I got the EBO Phantom Bike Kit, which runs at around $1,000 – definitely expensive, but less than the $3,000 – $4,000 that you pay for a whole new e-bike. After a lot of false starts and some compatibility issues I eventually worked around, I finally got the bike up and running.

I’m going to reiterate: Game. Changer.

20160728_125529
Here is my lovely e-bike; the battery is hanging in a string bag because I don’t have water bottle cage mounts on this frame, one of many compatibility issues I had to work around. 

The kit shaved 15 minutes off of my commute time (previously 45 – 50 minutes one way), and made climbing those hills – especially in the afternoon, against the wind, through the heat – a joy. I can better keep up with traffic, especially through those shoulderless choke points. Even better, I can still get my exercise if I turn off the electric assist (and, in fact, since the kit added 25 pounds to my bike, it’s even better exercise).

I’m also working on getting an old Lemond Tourmalet frame retrofitted with some frame mounts, head tube supports, and new beefed up fork – I’m going to transfer the kit over to the Lemond once it’s done. (For anyone interested in getting some custom bike work done, Pioneer Valley Frameworks is amazing and Niall has been great to work with. They’re located in the Eastworks building in Easthampton, a great makerspace and worthy of a blog post all its own.)

lemond3
A frame similar to the one I’m going to convert into an e-bike with the help of PV Frameworks. Courtesy of  bikeforums.net

 

A Gateway Bike

Some people might call me a wimp, or a sellout, or whatever. Sure, I’m not 100% human powered when I bike to work these days, but the e-bike has opened my eyes to its use as a bridge technology. Commute distance and time are definitely barriers to a lot of people interested in utilitarian biking. E-bikes offer an alternative to cars that are:

  1. Way more affordable;
  2. Better for the environment (both local air quality and global climate change);
  3. More accessible to those who have physical limitations;
  4. Still encouraging of physical activity.

In short, I’m totally sold on e-bikes now, and highly recommend them for folks interested in doing more bike commuting but worried about the distance, or time, or sweat. Most people are willing to ride their bikes 2 – 5 miles; an e-bike could double that range, rapidly expanding the number of people going by bike.  I don’t know why they haven’t caught on in the US, but I’m totally converted.