Transport and environment

Transport and environment

By José Santamarta Flórez

An adequate hierarchy of means of public transport, complemented by non-motorized modes, such as walking and cycling, and new communication technologies, would allow a considerable reduction in car use.

"Worse than being sick is having a bad doctor," Quevedo wrote, and the doctor who treats transport diseases, Minister Álvarez Cascos, could not be more dangerous.

The infrastructures policy of the PP government is aimed at facilitating even more the unsustainable use of the private car, with thousands of kilometers more of highways and highways, which is like trying to treat the addiction of the junkie with a heroin overdose, applying euthanasia to the traditional railway with a deadly injection of new AVE lines. The price of the transport infrastructure overdose is the enormous cost of billions of euros, to be paid by all and to be charged by a few companies, such as Dragados y Construcciones, Cubiertas y MZOV, Fomento de Construcciones, Ferrovial or Agromán.

The historical delay of the Spanish infrastructures, period is a truth or a half lie. Against whom is such a delay defined? Against the United States, Germany and other countries of the European Community. And why not against the so-called Third World or Eastern Europe? But as any economics manual teaches, the needs are endless and the resources limited, including the sinking capacity of the atmosphere. They forget to mention the automobile multinationals and the large construction companies, but such an oversight is made by any government so busy destroying the environment in the morning and evaluating the environmental impact of the damage in the afternoon. The problem of transport in Spain is not the lack of highways, motorways, ring roads and underground car parks, but the causes that lead to the multiplication of travel needs, increasingly frequent and distant, the increase in the accessibility of private vehicles and the orientation of demand towards less energy efficient modes, such as road and air transport. The solution is not to increase the mobility and use of the private car, to go shopping at the hypermarket ruining the small neighborhood shop or to go to a job located 30 kilometers from the place of residence, leaving the railroad for some quick movement in the AVE to replace the plane to Barcelona, ​​Seville or Valencia. The solution is the reduction of the need to travel, not its possibility, and the change from heroin to methadone, from the car to other modes of transport, such as walking, cycling, buses, trams and trains.

Transport and climate change

The fleet of vehicles in Spain today reaches 24 million, of which 18 million are passenger cars, a figure six times higher than the sum of cars in India and China, countries whose population exceeds 2 billion people, 53 times more than Spain. Our motorization is 315 times that of India and China. The North American model, with 190 million vehicles for 250 million people, is not viable, since if it were to be extended to the rest of the world, the car fleet should be 4,000 million today, seven times more than the 560 million vehicles that now circulate through the roads around the world. The model is not viable, but everyone imitates it, and will imitate it until the environmental crisis is irreversible.

In the world the emissions of the transport sector to 1,300 million tons of carbon dioxide (17% of anthropogenic or man-made emissions), 120 million tons of carbon monoxide (60% of emissions), 35 million of nitrogen oxides (42% of the total), 25 million hydrocarbons (40%), 9 million particles (13%) and three and a half million tons of sulfur oxides (3%).

If current emissions were multiplied by seven, which is what the extension of the North American model and rich Europe would mean, life would be impossible and a barrel of oil would not be only 25 dollars. But no one has the right to deny Chinese, Indians, Africans or Latin Americans the consumer goods (cars or refrigerators) that the population of rich countries has. The extension of such assets is impossible, since its generalization would unleash a crisis of resources and (environmental) sinks of unimaginable proportions. Today transportation absorbs half of the oil consumed annually. If the poor of the South cannot and we, the poor and rich of the North, can, yes, with what right can we ask them to conserve tropical forests and biodiversity, or large mammals such as the tiger, the panda, the gorilla, the elephant or rhinoceros, and that they do not contribute to climate change or the destruction of the ozone layer with their refrigerators and air conditioners? Even with the most realistic scenario, not the fairest one, where those in the South are still poor except for a small elite, and those in the North rich except for a growing minority of poor, with an annual increase of the car park by 10 million of units and 5 million for buses and trucks, the number of vehicles would reach 1 billion by 2030.

Neither increased energy efficiency, nor new fuels (with the exception of hydrogen consumed in fuel cells or electricity from photovoltaic solar cells), nor new materials, will prevent the environmental crisis. The so-called green car is a clever marketing chimera with no real basis. The car that will consume three or four liters per 100 km, instead of the 9 liters on average today in the European Community, creates false expectations of solving environmental problems, without drastically reducing the use of the car. As the Commission of the European Communities itself recalls, "users who have a car cover more than four times the mileage traveled by users who do not have one." Even hypothetical cars that used hydrogen or electricity, obtained from photovoltaic cells, would not end traffic jams, nor congestion, and would still need roads and a place to park. The reductions in specific energy consumption foreseen, from 9 l / 100 km to 7.8 l / km in 2010, will not have any global impact, due to the increase in the automobile fleet; in the European Community it will go from 115 million in 1987 to 167 million vehicles in 2010 (from 381 to 503 cars per 1,000 inhabitants).

In Spain, according to government data in 2000, transport emitted 30% of carbon dioxide emissions, 3 million carbon monoxide, 620 thousand tons of nitrogen oxides, 600,000 of volatile organic compounds, into the atmosphere. 61,000 of sulfur dioxide and 31,000 tons of particles.

A mid-size car registered today, with all the advances to reduce pollution (catalysts, unleaded gasoline), and with low energy consumption, that makes about 13,000 kilometers per year and lasts 10 years, will produce, according to the Institute of Prospective and Environment of Heidelberg, Germany, the following: 44.3 tons of carbon dioxide; 4.8 kilograms of sulfur dioxide; 46.8 kg of nitrogen oxides; 325 kg of carbon monoxide; 36 kg of hydrocarbons; and 26.5 tons of waste. The report also details the contamination of soil, air and water by gasoline or diesel, cadmium, lead, copper, chromium, nickel, zinc and PCBs. The acid waste from each car will cause the death of three trees and seriously damage another 30. The car in question will shorten, on average, its life in 820 hours, due to fatal traffic accidents; one in every 100 drivers will die in traffic accidents. External costs due to pollution, noise and accidents, after deducting all taxes paid by the vehicle, amount to 4,100 euros per year ($ 3,700).

> Transportation contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, accelerating climate change, and the destruction of the ozone layer, due to the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in seat foams and air conditioning systems in the current park or its substitutes (HCFC, HFC). The car destroys ozone in the stratosphere, where it is most needed, but down here in the troposphere, where we don't need it, the car produces large amounts of tropospheric ozone by reacting nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons in the presence of sunlight, damaging the health of people, crops, trees and plants in general, and also contributes 8% to the greenhouse effect.
Transportation is, together with coal-fired thermoelectric plants, the main cause of acid rains, due to the emission of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide.

Land occupation

The production of an 850 kilogram car requires about two tonnes of oil equivalent and numerous raw materials and industrial products, such as steel, aluminum, rubber, paints, glass or plastics. The elaboration and transformation of such products has an enormous direct and indirect environmental cost; Just think of the large hydroelectric plants designed to provide the electricity necessary for the transformation of bauxite into aluminum, an essential metal for automobiles, in the steel industries (the automobile industry absorbs 20% of the steel), in the petrochemical poles that produce plastics or raw materials for their manufacture, or in refineries that produce gasoline, diesel and asphalt for roads. From 1946 to 2001 a total of 400 million cars have become waste, in the United States alone; the recycling of all the parts of the car, especially the 9 kilos of lead from the batteries or the 60 different plastics that compose it, has not been solved, despite the misleading propaganda of the main multinationals in the sector. Every year 35 million cars are produced, which in a period rarely exceeding ten years will end up as scrap metal.

The construction of a flat kilometer of 4-lane highway requires 1,500 kilograms of oil equivalent in asphalt or fuel for public works machinery.

Transport infrastructures have an irreversible impact on land occupation, the landscape and the fragmentation of habitats. 2% of the territory of the United States is occupied by the automobile (roads, streets, parking lots), and in the 15 countries of the European Community only the road network occupies 40,000 square kilometers. In Spain 7,200 square kilometers are occupied by roads, streets, parking lots, stations and airports.

The small improvements proposed in the environmental impact studies do little or nothing to help reduce the irreversible consequences of those insurmountable barriers that are highways and expressways, not only for flora and fauna, but even for people or pedestrians, whose mobility remains reduced.

The car devours the city

Mexico, Santiago, Bogotá, Athens, Rome, Bangkok, Los Angeles, Lagos, Sao Paulo, New Delhi, Calcutta, Cairo, London and Madrid are some of the cities that year after year suffer from air pollution due to car traffic , buses, vans, trucks and motorcycles. Under normal conditions, the pollutants emitted by vehicles rise with the hot gases while they encounter colder air masses. However, the topographic and meteorological conditions cause the thermal inversions: the temperature of the air layer located several hundred meters above sea level is higher than that of the air layer in contact with the ground, which it blocks, like a cover, preventing the diffusion of pollutants, a situation further aggravated when the wind stops. Then the immission rates (quantity of pollutants per unit of air) skyrocket, which at least serves to make the authorities worry for a few days, without going to the heart of the matter, that is, attacking the pollution at its roots, there where it is broadcast.

Every day our lungs filter 15 kilos of air and if we live in a big city or next to a highway, that air will contain pollutants emitted by cars, such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, particles, lead and dichloro-1,2-ethane, hydrocarbons, formaldehyde, and secondary pollutants such as ozone and peroxyacetylnitrates, some of them carcinogenic, and almost all of them harmful to human health. Carbon monoxide combines 210 times faster with hemoglobin in the blood than oxygen, forming carboxyhemoglobin, which prevents oxygenation of tissues.

Pollution is aggravated both by temporary situations, such as thermal inversions, and by congestion at peak times.

In the United States, 130 million people, almost half of the population, live in areas where pollution exceeds the levels recommended by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). In Madrid, you don't have to be a fortune-teller to know that year after year in the months of November, December and January, pollution will reach unbearable limits, without the mayor on duty doing absolutely nothing, except dictating some side and looking to the sky to see if it rains or the thermal inversion disappears.

Too many decibels

The noise caused by traffic depends mainly on the noise of the engines and the contact of the wheels with the road. Trucks, motorcycles and buses are the vehicles that produce the most noise. A truck makes a noise equivalent to that of 10 to 15 cars. The noise begins to be annoying after 55 decibels. 40 to 80 percent of the population of the so-called developed countries (OECD) lives in areas with more than 55 decibels, and between 7 and 42% of the population (more than 130 million people) live in areas with levels unacceptable, with noises above 65 decibels. Spain is the second country in the industrialized world, surpassed only by Japan, in noise levels, and the first among the countries of the European Union: 74% of the population is exposed to noise levels above 55 decibels read in curve A (to which the human ear is most sensitive), and 23% suffer from noise levels above 65 decibels. Madrid is one of the noisiest cities in the world. 0.5% of the OECD population endures noise levels above 65 decibels due to airports. In Madrid, the expansion of the Barajas airport, as well as the Torrejón airport, used until recently by US planes, have been the cause of numerous citizen protests, supported by environmental groups.

Vibrations are low-frequency movements with consequences comparable to those of noise, causing damage to buildings, streets and underground infrastructure. As a result of the increase in traffic and its consequences of air pollution, noise, traffic jams and new road infrastructures, city centers have been degrading.

In Spain annually more than 7,000 people die from traffic accidents (4,129 people in 2001, according to official statistics that only count the deaths in the first 24 hours), many of them pedestrians (about a thousand a year) or cyclists (about 150). The population has become accustomed, or they have accustomed us, to living with a stupid death that could easily be avoided, to the point that the dead have to be many to attract attention.

No terrorist group in the world, not even the terrorist attack of September 11 or the ethnic wars of the post-cold war, causes as many deaths as the automobile. Around half a million people die each year in the world from the car.

Alternatives to transportation

A decisive, clear and well-structured policy to reduce the need to travel, rather than its possibility, and to direct demand towards the most efficient modes of transport, would mean a significant reduction in energy consumption, air pollution and noise. , less space occupation, reduction in the time spent traveling, fewer accidents, lower investments in road infrastructure and a general improvement in the habitability of cities.

Reducing transport needs, both in the number of journeys and in their length, should be the north that presides over the policy in the sector, which is undoubtedly not easy, given the spatial and social segregation of metropolitan areas, inertia in life habits, and above all the interests of automobile multinationals and infrastructure construction companies.

One case illustrates the difficulty of articulating another transport policy, more in line with the interests of the majority of the population. In 1936 General Motors, Standard Oil, Firestone, Phillips Petroleum and Mack Truck, among other companies with interests in the automobile industry, created the National City Lines company in the United States.

In a few years the National City Lines bought more than a hundred tram and trolleybus lines in 45 cities, closing them afterwards. In 1949 General Motors and the other companies were convicted and fined a ridiculous $ 5,000 for "conspiring to replace electric transportation systems with buses and monopolize the sale of buses." But by then the damage was done; in 1947 40% of North American workers commuted to work by public transportation, in 1963 only 14%, and today 4.6%. Similar processes are currently taking place with railway lines, but now it is the state that determines the closures. The objective is to force that you can only go by car, or at most by bus. In Spain it takes less time and is cheaper to go by coach to most cities.

Today in community Europe a powerful pressure group, the "European Round Table of Industrialists" (ERT), whose members include Fiat, Daimler-Benz, Man, Volvo, Total, Shell, BP and Pirelli, plays a similar role. , although this time the goal is to fill Europe even more with motorways, highways, tunnels and some high-speed train lines.

The flowers of the field

As Henry Ford sentenced, "We will solve the city's problems by leaving the city ... to live among flowers away from crowded streets." Henry Ford managed to sell his cars and sent his countrymen to live among flowers, but did not explain that every day they would spend several hours between traffic jams or working to pay for the car, gasoline, insurance or taxes with which to finance the infrastructures that would take the citizen of the flowers from the attached chalet to the office. The singing of the birds and the smell of the flowers barely served to compensate for the pollution, noise, traffic stress, traffic risks or thousands of hours spent in the car or working to pay for it.

An alternative policy should do the opposite of what Henry Ford wanted: recover the city, favor the proximity between the place of residence and work, not allow the opening of a single hypermarket, revitalize the small neighborhood business near our homes and generating thousands of jobs, stopping the outsourcing of city centers, mixing activities instead of segregating them in space and curbing the tyranny of the car, recovering streets, boulevards and squares for walkers, cyclists and children. Zoning today is meaningless, since most industries and services have little environmental problems. A city with high density, with mixed housing, offices, shops, kindergartens, schools, hospitals and green areas, and drastic restrictions on car use, is the best and only alternative to current problems.

Utopia? Utopia is the generalization of the automobile with all its environmental, social and economic consequences.

The problem of accessibility

The increased accessibility of private vehicles to city centers is one of the causes of spatial segregation, and rather than responding to a previously existing demand, they create it, allowing homes to be increasingly remote from the place of work, shopping centers, education and services in general. A policy that differs from the impasse of current practice should only increase the supply of new means of transport as necessary, and within these, benefit the least harmful.

From this point of view the priority, in descending order, would be the following: the pedestrian, the bicycle, the less polluting urban public transport (tram, trolleybus), the railway, the bus, and lastly the private car and the truck. for the transport of goods. The opposite of what is now done.

The establishment of wide pedestrian areas, without underground parking in their vicinity, bicycle lanes, an urban design that favors the non-motorized (pedestrians and cyclists) and the improvement of accessibility to the points of public transport, must go accompanied by strategies aimed at avoiding peak hours, the main cause of the oversizing of the road infrastructure, and its consequent underutilization in off-peak hours, establishing the continuous working day (fewer trips) and staggering the hours of entry and exit from work, school and commercial centers, as well as vacations. A green economy, more local and less oriented towards international markets, reduces the flow of goods and the absurdity of goods produced in one place to be sold in another country, while importing an identical product from a third country, solely because wages are lower costs and low transport costs do not make the product more expensive.

Political rates

Road transport does not pay its actual cost. The State, regional governments, and municipalities have made public investments to build roads, highways, ring roads, and streets serving automobiles. On the other hand, neither vehicle manufacturers nor users pay directly for the "externalities" that we all suffer, such as pollution, noise, traffic accidents, acid rains, climate change or the waste generated by cars at the end of their life. useful life.

Such factors must be taken into consideration when talking about the deficit of the railways, metro and public transport in general. The so-called deficit of public transport cannot be remedied by increasing rates, which would only achieve an increase in the number of motorized vehicles, as such deficit is largely offset by other advantages, such as saving energy, noise, and pollution. , infrastructure and congestion.

In the case of large cities, instead of building new and expensive subway lines, more efficient tram lines should be built, as they do not require auxiliary services (escalators, tunnel lighting), cheaper (infrastructure costs less half that of the metro) and pleasant and comfortable.

The tram does not pollute and is without a doubt the ideal public transport, as the municipal governments of many cities have understood. Today more than 350 cities have modern tram systems. Added to its advantages is that of taking a bit of space from the car, which was the only reason for its disappearance in the years when the car was seen as the quintessence of freedom and mobility. The tram is the most suitable means for average densities between 2,500 and 8,000 seats / hour in each direction, while the bus is only appropriate for low densities (less than 2,500 seats / hour) and the metro should only be built when densities exceed 12,000 seats / hour / direction.

An adequate hierarchy of means of public transport (taxis, minibuses, buses, trams, trolleybuses, fast tram or pre-metro, metro, rail, transport interchanges), complemented by non-motorized modes, such as walking and cycling, and new technologies (fax, email, Internet, mobile phones, among others) would make it possible to considerably reduce car use.

Railways in siding

Spanish trains are slow and expensive, due to a policy of laziness and abandonment on the part of the Administration, thanks to which our railway is the caboose of Europe. If the current policy is followed, the railway will practically become extinct as a means of transport, with the sole exception of the AVE in high-density lines and commuter services in large metropolitan areas, such as Madrid.
The causes of the loss of competitiveness are high rates and low speed, due to the profile and layout of the lines, and the absence of double track. Only 66% of the conventional network is in a straight line, while more than 15% of the route is curves with a radius of less than 500 meters, while almost 80% is on a ramp. Only 16% of the network has double track, while in France it is 44% and in Germany 43%. Can you imagine if most of the roads had a single lane to use alternately to circulate in one direction or the other?

The railroad is the means of transport that consumes the least energy, the fastest, most comfortable, safe, the least polluting and occupies the least space, characteristics that make it the ideal transport for freight and passenger traffic. A single, simple rail track can carry as many passengers as 26 highway lanes.

The reasons for promoting the railroad are clear, and yet the government practices a systematic policy of abandonment and closure of lines, allocating the only funds available to pharaonic and unnecessary actions, but very salable to a poorly informed electorate, such as the AVE Madrid- Seville, Madrid-Barcelona, ​​Madrid-Valencia, or the new lines contemplated by the government.

Non-motorized modes

The advantages of walking or cycling are so obvious that they do not need to be justified, and yet it would seem that they are the worst alternatives, since walking or cycling is an obstacle course, and even a dangerous way of living. But for non-motorized modes to be viable, private traffic must be reduced, sidewalks widened, cars not parked anywhere, and pedestrianized and not only in certain commercial areas of historic centers. City councils must create pedestrian areas in all neighborhoods, conceived as meeting places, children's play and coexistence.

In the event of a conflict between the pedestrian and the car, the pedestrian is always right, and in this regard the design of roundabouts and certain avenues is especially objectionable, where the pedestrian has to make enormous detours so as not to obstruct the car, or the width of the sidewalks, always depending on the car, or the traffic lights that force them to cross on the run or with serious risk to the life of the non-motorized.
The bicycle can and should become part of our daily life, as in other countries; For this it is necessary to create bicycle paths, parking lots, connections to public transport stops, improve environmental conditions and above all safety.


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* José Santamarta Flórez is director of World Watch. [email protected] Telephone numbers: 91 429 37 74-650 94 90 21

Video: Forecasted EV sales per carmaker in 2020 and 2021 (July 2021).