Category Archives: Transportation

Quantifying Jeff Speck

Jeff Speck, the author of Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time, is one of my heroes.  Back in October, his TED Talk entitled Jeff Speck: The walkable city debuted, which is also available on YouTube.  At 14:09, he makes the statement that “Changing all your light bulbs to energy savers saves as much energy in one year as moving to a walkable city does in a week.”

Slide2While I trust Jeff Speck and his statement makes perfect sense to me, as I have mentioned it to my colleagues and classmates, they’ve basically told me “Show me the numbers!”  So, earlier this week, I set out to actually quantify his statement.

The first thing that I had to do was establish a relationship between gasoline and electricity.  After some searching on Google, I found a nifty table created by the Alternative Fuels Data Center explaining the relationship among various fuels.  Basically, the relationship is established by converting each fuel into British thermal units (BTUs) or, in other words, finding out how much heat each unit of energy produces.  Burning one gallon of gasoline produces 116,090 BTUs.  Applying one kilowatt-hour of electricity to a heating element produces 3,414 BTUs.  This results in one gallon of gasoline equaling 34 kilowatt-hours of electricity.

Slide3The next step is to examine household lighting consumption.  I found an interesting report from the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy that outlines average household lighting consumption.  When it comes to incandescent bulbs, the average household bulb is 48 watts.  There are an average of 67 bulbs per household.  On average each bulb burns for almost 2 hours a day.  This totals around 5 kilowatt-hours per day or 1,878 kilowatt-hours per year.  Assuming that compact florescent bulbs use 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs, this drops the average household bulb wattage to 12 watts.  The average of 67 bulbs per household burning for almost 2 hours a day remains the same.  This results in about 1 kilowatt-hour per day or 469 kilowatt-hours per year.  Subtracting the two annual consumption amounts results in a savings of 1,408 kilowatt-hours per year.

Slide4The final step is to examine household gasoline consumption.  I found a useful table from the Energy Information Administration, which states that the average household gasoline consumption is 1,143 gallons per year or roughly 22 gallons per week.  This translates into 741 kilowatt-hours per week.  Let’s assume that the “walkable city” imagined by Jeff Speck allows its households to significantly reduce the amount of driving necessary by allowing its citizens to complete most of their travel by walking, biking, and riding transit.  Let’s say it’s a 95% reduction.  The result would be reducing the household gasoline consumption to 57 gallons per year or just over 1 gallon per week.  This translates into 37 kilowatt-hours per week.  Subtracting the two annual consumption amounts results in a savings of 704 kilowatt-hours per week.

Slide5So in conclusion, the 704 kilowatt-hours saved per week by moving to a walkable city is only half the 1,408 kilowatt-hours saved per year by switching to energy-efficient light bulbs.  But wait!  There’s more!  Upon taking a second look at that useful table from the Energy Information Administration, I discovered that the average annual household gasoline consumption is actually per vehicle.  A quick search reveals that there are almost two vehicles per household according to this study also by the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.  In the end, Jeff Speck’s statement that “Changing all your light bulbs to energy savers saves as much energy in one year as moving to a walkable city does in a week” is accurate!


Gulfport, Mississippi

(I’ll be on vacation through August 10th, so this will be my last post for a while.)

For the final project of my Introduction to New Urbanism class, I had the opportunity to critique the Mississippi Renewal plan for the city of Gulfport.  In August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated several communities along the coast of Mississippi.  In October of 2005, the Governor of Mississippi called upon leaders from the Congress for New Urbanism to lead the Mississippi Renewal Forum as an effort to create a plan to rebuild and revitalize the region.  Below you’ll find my critique and the slides I used for my presentation in class earlier today.  WARNING: I have never been to Mississippi, so my knowledge of Gulfport and the surrounding region is based on what I gathered from reading the Mississippi Renewal plans and other sources online.

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More Albuquerque

Yesterday’s post got me thinking about more aspects of population and metropolitan areas.  I decided to examine the relationship between the population of metropolitan areas and the population of each area’s core city.  Basically, I wanted to know how Salt Lake City‘s population of 189,314 comprising only 8.1% of the Salt Lake City metropolitan area’s population of 2,350,274 ranks among other metropolitan areas.  I put together the following table of metropolitan areas exceeding a half million in population and figured out how much of their populations were comprised of their core cities.  Some core cities, like Colorado Springs, El Paso, San Antonio, and Corpus Christi comprise more than 60% of their metropolitan area populations.  Surprisingly though were some of the cities on the other end of the spectrum.  Atlanta, Miami, and Boston each comprise smaller portions of their metropolitan areas than does Salt Lake City.

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I’m writing this in response to a tweet by Brad Bartholomew, candidate for City Council District 1 in Salt Lake City.

(For purposes of consistency, all populations listed will be based on the July 1, 2012 estimates from the US Census Bureau.)

I’m actually surprised that Salt Lake City was regarded in a category as high as Albuquerque.  Often people use the wrong demographic methods when trying to formulate some kind of ranking.  As far as population within city limits goes, Salt Lake City is a mere 189,314 compared to Albuquerque’s 555,417.  On a list of US cities ranked by population, this places Albuquerque as number 32, while Salt Lake City is way down the list at number 124.  Unfortunately, many so-called experts inappropriately use this type of ranking when making comparisons.

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Wealthier Motorists More Likely to Drive Like Reckless Jerks


Experiences in life have led me to wonder if this were the case, but now there’s research to support the notion that there’s an inverse correlation between the cost of one’s automobile and the politeness with which one drives.  In other words, people with pricey cars drive like jerks.  A study titled Higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States actually presents research to support what we’ve all known for years.  Thanks to Angie Schmitt at Streetsblog Capitol Hill for pointing out that wealthier motorists are more likely to drive like reckless jerks.  Among the conclusions drawn by the authors are two quotes worth mentioning:

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Cheap, Convenient, Plentiful: Parking Can Never Be All Three

I serve on the University of Utah‘s Parking and Transportation Advisory Committee.  We met today to decide on a proposal to increase parking fees at metered parking spaces and at pay lots, where drivers pay by the hour.  The problem is there is not enough parking available on campus for visitors.  A large part of the problem is that too many students and employees, who despite having permits for the permit lots, are choosing to pay to park in visitor lots as it is cheap and convenient to campus.

As explained by Alma Allred, Director of Commuter Services, there are three conflicting dimensions to parking: cheap, convenient, plentiful.  If parking is in demand, only two of the three can ever be satisfied simultaneously.  If parking is cheap and convenient, it will not be plentiful.  If parking is cheap and plentiful, it will not be convenient.  If parking is convenient and plentiful, it will not be cheap.

The University of Utah has many visitors coming to campus daily.  The bookstore, the library, colleges and departments, etc. can offer validations to visitors, so that they don’t have to pay in the pay lots.  (Those entities are able to purchase validations from Commuter Services for $0.75 each.)  The problem is that since parking in pay lots is cheap and convenient for students and employees, it cannot be plentiful for visitors.  The goal we are striving for is to have convenient and plentiful parking for visitors, which means that it cannot be cheap for students and employees.

The proposal is detailed in the PDF below, which is not yet set in stone.  Of course the University of Utah continues to offer the UCard, which gives virtually all students and employees unlimited rides on the buses (except for ski buses), TRAX light rail, and FrontRunner commuter rail of the Utah Transit Authority.

Thoughts on the Completion of the Transcontinental Railroad

Last Friday afternoon, I had the pleasure of visiting the Golden Spike National Historic Site at Promontory Summit, Utah.  This is the location of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad on May 10, 1869.

When the idea of a Transcontinental Railroad was first suggested by Asa Whitney in 1830, the concept must have been just as far-fetched as suggesting in 1930 that we’d be walking on the moon in 1969.  Yet the vision of a Transcontinental Railroad took less than 40 years to come to fruition.  So why is a nation-wide, high-speed passenger rail system such a difficult vision for people to support today?  And how do we get citizens to support it?

The Upside-Down Pyramid

1I’ve been thinking of a way to visualize how transportation modes should be prioritized. One way of looking at it is to think of a pyramid with a solid base consisting of walking and biking. Right above that comes public transit. In the middle lies everything else. And right at the top are cars. This places the most efficient transportation modes at the foundation of society’s transportation system and minimizes the role of automobiles in society.

2Unfortunately, sprawl necessitates that cars be given priority, while public transit and walking and biking are neglected. The question facing us is how long until the upside-down pyramid topples!

(I’ll be attending a family reunion for the rest of the week, so this will likely be my last post of the week.)