Sustainable New 2030?

Mayor Bloomberg took another step in building his sustainability plan for NYC last week as he delivered an address to city leaders at the Queens Museum. Streetsblog has a good summary of the press accounts of the speech here.

There are many very good and far reaching proposals, such as reducing NYC's greenhouse gas emissions by 30%, increasing parkland, upgrading NYC's aging infrastructure and building new housing on brownfields near transit. He was also downright dour about the consequences of inaction, saying that we risk a breakdown in basic systems that keep the city functioning and a deteriorating quality of life for its residents if we don't act NOW.

This is exactly what I and many other people have dreamed about for quite some time. It's a little overwhelming to consider how well this could be done and worry greatly about how badly this could be botched.

Bloomberg also says that he will be engaging in a serious period of listening to what the people recommend on making the city more sustainable. So what advice would us Oil Drummers give to Mayor?

I've often thought about their being two paths to building a sustainable New York: Big Bang or incremental. It's the sort of debate that urban planners have about Robert Moses v. Jane Jacobs. But that Mayor seems to be taking a nice middle path. He has a vision of the whole system and what's possible, but he also understands that many of the solutions will come from the bottom up.

One major issue that the mayor will quickly run into is that many of the easy proposed fixes to infrastructure, improving mass transit, building thousands of Green Building, etc will cost Billions of dollars that the city does not have. Our public debt has already increased dramatically under Bloomberg's tenure and there is little additional money available from the MTA or Port Authority. However, changing the patterns of current and future expenditures will have an impact over time. Moreover, changing tax incentives can leverage much larger resources in the private sector.

But perhaps the largest source of power to make New York more sustainable is political will to stand up to special interests that will fight major reform efforts toward sustainability. They will either try to defeat or seriously compromise the efforts that would make New York more sustainable. By bundling many of the easy wins like "More parkland and playgrounds" with something more controversial, like "less free on-street parking" on the many diverse issues that impact sustainability, the Mayor might be able to enact the plan within the three years he has left in office.

The City Council is very "green minded" at this point too. Many of them want to have something concrete accomplished before the next election or to use as a platform to run for higher office after term. The two councilmembers in my area have very strong pro-environment views that are probably a bit ahead of their constituency in many ways. The mayor's sustainability initiative will give councilmembers a chance to educate their constituency and bring them up to speed.

If ever there was a moment to put together the political will to serious address environmental sustainability, it is now. And I believe the way to do it is to engage in a series of neighborhood experiments to spur innovation in public policy to try solve a set of issues in different ways and see if they work. For instance, the "Green a Block" initiative is a wonderful experiment to see how to renovate existing housing stock, educate apartment dwellers and local businesses and see how much impact there is on energy efficiency. Other experiments are needed to start building truly bike friendly neighborhoods with grade separated bike lanes and secure indoor bike parking.

One set of conservative institutions that will need serious education and horizon widening are the city's 59 community boards. These local boards have typically been very parochial, NIMBY oriented and tend to defend the status quo on most issues. While this served a useful counterpoint during the days of heavy handed Robert Moses behavior by City Hall, they now seem more concerned about protecting every last parking spot in the city - hardly a plank in the sustainability platform. It is incumbent on every city council member and borough president to review who they nominate to the local community boards and ask one simple question: "Is this person open-minded and shows a willingness to experiment?" If not, they will be an obstacle to experimentation and innovation in public policy rather than a positive partner for community input into city policy.

I've written for the last year and a half on what I think should be included in making NYC more sustainable. In many cases I have found policy ideas that would be fairly cheap to implement and I believe are truly win-win-win, like more greenmarkets, more sidewalk space and bike lanes. The main obstacle to implementation are unfounded local fears of change and that continues to be the main reason they remain undone. In addition to the many specific proposals that many people will offer, I think creating a culture of local community experimentation offers the best bang for the buck in building a more sustainable city.

A big problem with city governments is they tend to worship economic growth.  They tend to be more responsive to business interests, ergo they protect the status quo, parking spaces, etc.  Getting councils to accept zero growth economies is probably the single biggest obstacle to sustainability in any city.  Tax and land use policies that favor local, walkable communities are usually at odds with merchants who want to increase their market exposure.


Except local, walkable communities are actually better in a city like New York, where most people get around by public transportation. And taking up lots of space for parking is bad for growth, because parking just isn't a productive use of land. That's why all those parking lots and gas stations are getting replaced with buildings.
Turn it around.

Local governments tend to be dominated by NIMBYism.  For example, many outer suburbs of NYC have lobbied to be zoned exclusively for single family dwellings.

Metro governments may be for economic growth, but local forces are dead set against it.

I dunno DK. Merchants want to generate traffic to their stores. Most merchants in the the more dense walkable areas of the city rely almost exclusively on customers by foot, bus or subway. They benefit most when their area is seen as a desirable "Destination" for shoppers on foot. Enlightened self interest should drive local businesses to want their area to be a shopping destination.

For NYC this is OK. Moving more people into NYC is a huge environmental win regardless of anything else. NYCers don't (in general) have cars, and don't drive them much if they do. They have small to medium sized apartments surrounded on 5 sides by other apartments at roughly the same temperature.

Moving people into dense cities will do more for the environment than any sort of "green" work done on the suburbs.

In any case, realistically, just force all cabs (and busses) to be hybrids, ease zoning restrictions to get more housing built in the city, and try hard to expand the subways. That would be an excellent start.


FWIW, if he's talking about targets for 2030 he should save his breath.  Won't ever get done.  Take smaller targets closer in time.
Sustainable? Puh-lease... What do they actually produce there? Food? Fuel? So a 30% reduction in carbon emmisions is sustainable? Greenwashing BS. Lets see them commit to a flat or declining budget for city tax revenues for the next 23 years. Thats what they are looking at to even attempt to level out. Maybe its California green (you know, just put all the nasty coal power plants in Nevada so we can all pat ourselves on the back)


More smoke and mirrors.  Sounds good though eh?  Let's vote for him.  Sustainable? How is that even remotely possible?
Don't underestimate the efficiency of urban centers as a place for raw materials, goods, people, capital and markets converge.

It's by far the most energy efficient way of housing millions of people. It's much easier for a farmer to send one truck (or train) to NYC where they have a huge market, rather than sending trucks in every direction.

It used to also be where most of the nation's manufacturing occurred. And it can return if fuel prices continue to increase and transportation becomes more expensive.

And we may have a flat to declining budget in real dollars as inflation runs away. Just because the dollars are going up doesn't mean they are worth the same amount.

This is why I'm advocating for low cost community based solutions that simply require political will to implement. The cost of installing bike lanes, greenmarkets, separated Bus/HOV lanes, closing off streets and roads is fairly little compared to the Second Avenue Subway, but politically requires more trade-offs that politicians hate. They would rather just add than trade-off...

"CA green" means 6,732kWh used per capita (#50 in the list of all states) vs. an average of 11,997kWh for the US. New York City, on the other hand, seems to be half of CA... that is pretty green... in my books... :-)
I wouldn't be so hard on California. Didn't the Governator signe SB1368 so Californa cannot use dirty, out of state coal power?
Notice Bloomberg didn't mention reducing the 1.4 BILLION gallons of sewage they create each and every day.
The recently approved "Green Building" rules do encourage waste water recycling, better roof collection of storm water and there have been some small intiatives to start using more semi-permeable surfaces to reduce the storm surges from overwhelming the sewer system.

And I think this is the most important point - we need to make sure that as little sewage makes it out into the surrounding waterways. On this point he did speak directly:

Despite the gains we have made over the past two decades our aging sewer network still discharges two billion gallons of sewage into our waterways every year.

He then later sets the goal of

opening 90% of our rivers, harbors, and bays for recreation by reducing water pollution and preserving our natural areas.

London style congestion tax. Every avenue in NY is a superhighway belching toxins into millions of New Yorkers. My health has dramatically improved after leaving that hell.
If you don't believe me, look at an 70 year old New Yorker living on the East side vs a 70 year old Californian (outside of LA).
On the other hand I had some of the worst allergies in my life when I lived upstate - I had to go on an inhaler it got so bad. Within a month of moving back to NYC, it completely went away. Perhaps my body, for better or worse has adjusted and formed an equilibrium with NYC's air.

Still, our rates of asthma and lung disease are incredibly high and the air needs to be cleaned up quite a bit.

I grew up in upstate NY also and had my allergies disappear in NYC.  It was great for a few years until the annual brochitis and other problems set in. Don't kid yourself. The city is one of the most toxic places to live other than downwind of a coal power plant. I've heard that Stratford, Ct is downwind of the city and gets their unfair share of the pollution. I'd bet good money cancer rates are higher there.

I have photos of myself in my last year in the city with dark circles and a pastey face. After five years in California, I can actually think more clearly and feel ten years younger. All my NY friends couldn't believe the change when I went back.  

I loved New York and I left because of a family emergency. I had no idea how hard it was on my health and I would encourage all New Yorkers to demand better mass transit and a 80% reduction in cars. Life in the city would be awesome. In the meantime, enjoy the rat race!

Just playing devil's advocate, are you sure it's the pollution that was responsible?  It could have been other things.  For example, you moved from NY to LA.  NY is at a high latitude and you probably were not getting enough vitamin D.  Vitamin D comes from exposure to the sun, and you'll always get more of it when the sun is shining more directly on you.  In the far North (or South) the angle of the sun in the winter is such that you can't produce any vitamin D at all.  That is not true of LA.  That's just one of many possibilities.  Another is that your brochitis was caused by cold weather and the weather is warmerin LA.  

Pollution could very well be a part of the problems you were experiencing, but at the same time LA is not renowned for its clear blue skies.  

Agreed - We are working very hard on this issue.
How about just... reducing the space available to cars. Widen sidewalks where necessary so that people don't have to walk in the street, make buffered bike lanes on major corridors, and convert bridge and tunnel lanes to subway, light rail, or busway use. Oh, and put tolls on the East River bridges, to pay for their continued maintenance costs as well as all the improvements that can be made to them. Then instead of slightly fewer cars moving a lot faster, you get far fewer cars, more pedestrian space, and better transit service.

Remove all on-street parking. If you have a car, you can afford a garage. It would discourage people from driving in the city, and do away with most of the traffic congestion that causes the pollution. The few things that do need to drive in the city (busses, delivery trucks) would be moving along quickly rather than being stuck idling in traffic.

Also, ban diesel anything, or at least require better emissions standards. I made the mistake of sitting near a bus route outside a cafe once. Every time a diesel bus rolled by, my water was full of black specks. Hybrid busses, nothing.

Triple the number of commuter express buses. After doing subway slog for 10 years, I welcomed a confortable express bus. These were started by private companies which have been finally taken over by the city. Why not add more? It  would cost very little and probably generate a profit after a few years.

HOV lanes on every anvenue. Make life for solo drivers a living hell.  Make people share cabs as well to enjoy the lanes. If they fill up, then make 2 HOV lanes.

The biggest expense in operating any form of transportation (in this country) anyway is salaries. An express bus can transport about 1/10 to 1/20 as many people as a subway train. So the cost of wages for the operators is 5 to 10 times higher per passenger. And then of course there's the fact that they use expensive diesel fuel. And it's only because NYCT has made the subway so godawfully slow that express buses provide any speed advantage at all. On the other hand, they work very well for commuters in the outer boroughs which are beyond the reach of subway service.
A vehicle the size of a bus could easily be dual-mode, road AND rail.  Operating on rail, it could be powered by electricity (and off-rail, by batteries at least part time).

Imagine your express bus loading up at anyplace convenient, driving to the rail siding, catching up to a train of similar buses going by and cruising into town at 70 MPH.  Once there, the buses pull up their rail wheels and, with batteries fully-charged, head to their destinations over the pavement.  This would allow non-stop service between any two points within several miles of a rail siding, and it could be up to 100% electric.

You could do it, but why bother? Rails aren't all that expensive, and it's ever so much simpler to just build trolley lines to all those places, or else have feeder bus routes until the trolley lines are built. Or else just have trolleys and buses connecting to a subway line. One place where the express-trolley system would work well, I think, is on Staten Island, running like the express buses do today, over the Verrazano Bridge, down the Gowanus Expressway and then taking over one tube of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel from cars.

Oh, and if you want an electric bus, the way to do it is not batteries. Those are rather inefficient, take a long time to charge, and are made of things like lead, which are both really heavy and not at all good for the environment. Instead you can just string up overhead wires along the route of the bus, and have the bus run directly off the power grid, at which point it gets called a trolleybus. These things exist in Boston, Philadelphia, Dayton, Seattle, and San Francisco, and by all accounts work pretty well.

While you're carping, it's being done in Japan:
apan's Hokkaido Railway Co. (JR Hokkaido) has announced a new minibus based vehicle which has the capacity to run on both road and rail. The so called dual mode vehicle (DMV), which has been in development since 2002, can switch from steel-wheeled rail mode to rubber-wheeled highway mode in 10-15 seconds, a transition which is designed to take place at rail stations. A trial service using the vehicle will begin in April 2007 on the Senmo Line between Hamakoshimizu and Mokoto stations in Hokkaido.
If you read the article further, it's a vehicle designed to save rail lines with a daily ridership of under 500. Useful there, perhaps, but not so much in the New York area where rail lines are busy and the investment in rail infrastructure is justified, and ends up being cheaper overall than fancy new vehicles. And what they're building sounds an awful lot like a roadrailer bus.
That's exactly what it is.  All it needs is a pantograph for power from overhead lines, and it can go all-electric.

It takes lots of money and time to extend rail to new areas.  If you can achieve door-to-door service with a dual-mode vehicle, even if it only goes a mile or two off the rail network, it's a huge advantage.

Okay, and where in the existing rail network would you fit these? You still need to build new rail lines into Manhattan for these things to use, because all of the existing subway and rail lines are at or near capacity, and none of them would really do well with having this railbus running on them. And door to door service is just much less capacity-efficient than funneling everyone onto a single subway train, because with the bus, the people going to area A will take up one bus, regardless of how many there are, the people going to area B will take up another, etc. but with a subway train, the people will take up exactly the space they need. Even if all the buses are coupled into a 10 car train, it would still be a less efficient use of track capacity for moving people.
If you look at the fraction of a track covered by commuter trains vs. the fraction of road covered by cars during rush hour, it's obvious that there is a huge opportunity to expand the traffic on train tracks.  The major limit is the conflict between streams of traffic at grade crossings.

Tacking on a "train" of 20 buses following a commuter train wouldn't increase traffic much, but when you consider the buses' ability to fragment "car" by "car" in a way that trains can't, it would greatly increase the effective capacity of the system.  Express buses using rail to bypass road congestion would increase their lure; if they were powered by electricity, they would be better on every measure of efficiency I can think of.

The main difference between road and rail transportation is that rail transport is safe, and road transport is not. Trains are always a minimum braking distance apart, so that even if a brick wall suddenly pops up in front of a train, the train behind it will be able to stop in time. This has been a basic principle of railroad signalling pretty much since its inception, and has very good reasons for existing and shouldn't be messed with. Now with that in mind, the peak capacity of the East River Tunnels is somewhere around 20-24 trains per hour per tunnel. Between the LIRR, Amtrak, and New Jersey Transit, the tunnels are near their full capacity already. And the ability to fragment into smaller subunits actually HURTS capacity compared to transferring people from 20 buses to a single subway train, because a subway train will be more or less evenly packed, whereas the 20 different buses will be filled differently depending on the popularity of different destinations.
And all that is assuming the technology even works, and works cost effectively. Oh yes, and if you're talking about peak oil, electric rail is about 20 times more energy efficient than diesel road vehicles, of which a factor of about 8 is the difference between rubber tires and steel wheels.
You're missing a few things:

  • The road vehicles would be needed anyway.
  • Running one vehicle from end to end eliminates transfers and makes the process far more time-efficient.
  • Allowing passengers to pick up a bus instead of driving a personal car to a station increases energy efficiency and allows parking to be replaced by better uses of land.
  • Allowing express buses to hop on rails and go crosstown makes them more attractive than cars.
  • A train being followed by a bunch of buses is, for control purposes, just a longer train.  Unless it goes across another signalling block it doesn't have to affect traffic.

Extending the reach of rail networks with dual-mode buses creates economies of scale and fosters further growth of the system.  By moving the loading and unloading process off the rails, it increases the throughput.  We're going to need these advances, especially if cities get a lot more dense.
Passengers can already pick up a bus to the station. It's a matter of state policy that the money gets spent on building bigger park and rides rather that on expanding bus service, but there's no reason not to do it the other way. And allowing express buses to hop on rails and go crosstown does make them more attractive, but the problem is, a subway (or commuter rail) train on rails is specifically designed for the purpose of being a high-capacity rail transport system, and the hybrid bus thing is not. When you have traffic density as high as NYC does, you need to have segregated traffic and hybrid systems don't work well. During rush hour, even the "bus on highway" system doesn't work well: both the Lincoln Tunnel and Gowanus Expressway have dedicated rush-hour express bus lanes. Look again at where the railbus system is being designed for: very low ridership lines in rural Japan. And even the tram-train systems in Germany all operate in relatively small cities with relatively light traffic density. There's a good reason for that.
Oh yes, and one last problem that was so obvious that I forgot to even mention it. Road vehicles such as buses have a noticeable tendency to get off schedule, arrive in clumps, and so on. That does not at all play nice with railroad timetables, especially if 20 buses arrive late, and all at once. So you end up either with a completely unreliable schedule on your railroad, or else enough padding in the schedule that you might as well transfer.
I just don't see this as a problem, so long as trains don't have to wait for the buses.  If the buses cruise slightly faster than trains until they catch up with the next train, you'll wind up with no schedule impact at all.  Depending on the drive method (rubber tires on rail has better traction than steel-on-steel) the buses could run with considerably smaller assured clearances than the trains, and form a "virtual train" running in sync but without contact once the buses catch up.  GPS would also work for synchronization.

The big advantage is the elimination of transfers.  This isn't just the difficulty of synchronizing the arrival of a bus and allowing enough time to switch, but the train's loading time and the exposure of passengers to weather conditions.  Getting on a bus a short distance from home and not having to get off until in front of the office would eliminate all that and make the rail-bus far more convenient than a car and perhaps even more comfortable (no walk from parking to the office).

You're thinking about problems, and nothing but.  Can't you think of any ways around difficulties, or reasons to try?

Rubber tires on rail also has an efficiency something like 8 times worse than steel on steel. There are also reliability issues with stopping when there's snow or ice. There's a reason Montreal's rubber-tire subway is 100% underground or indoors. As for running "virtual trains" guided by electronics... well, regular trains with good old hard couplings work just fine. The thing is, a lot of these things have already been tried and found lacking, though the current experiments with dual-mode buses in Japan might prove otherwise. Until then, the solutions we already have work well, and are here now, and it really doesn't seem like there's any problem with getting people to take commuter rail and subways. More like a problem of providing enough subway and commuter rail capacity for all the demand.
Rubber tires on rail also has an efficiency something like 8 times worse than steel on steel.
That's why most of the weight is on the steel rail wheels unless e.g. panic stops are required.  The use of the road tires for drive saves the weight and expense of a second power path.
There are also reliability issues with stopping when there's snow or ice.
Which the conventional trains have too.  Everything slows down under those conditions.
regular trains with good old hard couplings work just fine.
But they can't provide the kind of service or efficiency I'm talking about.  However, hard-coupling the buses to the trains after docking isn't a bad idea.
it really doesn't seem like there's any problem with getting people to take commuter rail and subways. More like a problem of providing enough subway and commuter rail capacity for all the demand.
Thus my mystification at your refusal to consider a method of increasing the available "rolling stock". ;-)
Okay, your system might be better. But we don't really know, because nobody has built it yet. It's not me you should be convincing of its usefulness, it's the MTA. And if the MTA doesn't sound very convinced, it just might be because they know how to run railroads, and have a good idea of what would work and what wouldn't.
Anyway, rather than arguing that your system won't work, how about I explain the basic safety principle of railroads: that trains must always be a minimum braking distance apart. This ensures that no matter what, a train will be able to stop before hitting the train in front of it. Yes, it decreases througput compared to highway-style operation, but it also greatly decreases the chances of collisions, which is important, since trains, unlike cars and buses, are confined to their linear track.
Now, this safety criterion is normally enforced using some manner of block signal system, where the track is divided into sections called blocks, and the rule is that only one train can be in a block at a time. Thus, when a train enters a block, its wheels complete a circuit through the rails, and the signal behind it turns red. So that the train behind has time to stop, there is a yellow signal before the red one. The LIRR and Metro North use a variant of this system where instead of (or in addition to) little colored lights next to the track, the signals are transmitted by coded electrical signals through the rail. There is equipment on the train to decode the signal, display it to the driver, and to ensure that the train is going at the appropriate speed. Some very modern systems have tried to do away with blocks entirely and have the train communicate its position to some central computer, which then tells the train how fast it can go. This can either be done via induction loops along the track, which seems to work, or via radio transmission, which seems to not work, at least in the case of the L train and BART, both of which seem to have given up on the system.
Yes, they may be more comfortable that the subway, but express buses have a number of problems. First, they are capital inefficient. You drive a bus one way in the morning, park it somewhere all day, and drive it back out again in the evening. The subways are in use all day. They also create particulate-heavy ground-level fumes and the very type of pollution that you were right to deplore above.

Electrify transportation.

I agree about electrifying much of the existing diesel driven rail, but I think first establishing the on street Right of Way is a good first step for new lines.
I agree that we need electric buses and trams to reduce urban pollution but in the intervening 10 years, lets establish the routes with natural gas powered buses and reduce the number of cars going into the city. It will be a net reduction in pollution and c02 emissions.
Long term, NY will only be sustainable if they build a seawall all the way around it to keep out the rising waters.  
Precisely. The new reports are indicating several FEET (about 4.5 if I recall correctly) of sea rise by 2100. New York is toast. And once again several scientists are pointing out that the new forecast failed to account for several positive feedback loops so it is likely (once again) that this forecast will be too conservative.

Sustainability is not something that can be done locally only - not when GHGs are continuing to rise at accelerating rates.

So what would TODder's tell New Yorkers? This TOD reader tells them to move away.

Ok - where would you put 8 million people. How many square miles of suburban housing would it take to house them all? How much more fossil fuels to heat and electrify those homes?

What about all the other coastal cities? Are you really suggesting abandoning hope now?

New York City is worth fighting for. So is the planet. I'm not ready to surrender.

At 20,000 people per square mile, you could put all of them in a space of about 400 square miles.

20,000 people per square mile is less than the density of Manhattan or Hong Kong, but is pretty comparable with, say, Toronto (downtown).

Looking at what happened to New Orleans, perhaps they will move to Houston ;-).

Oh it's a lot worse than that.

5 feet is around consensus, I think.

But the speed of degradation of the Greenland Ice Cap has picked up, there is some thought it could be 10 feet by mid century ie 2050.

The latest indicators are all pointing in the wrong direction-- things are worse than we thought.  Quite a bit worse, potentially.  It's the radicals (ie the pessimists) who have so far been proven right.

(sitting in the warmest English year since records began in 1659... ;-).
(6MB file!)

p26 gives a feel for the extent of flooding possible by century end.

Just a few references for those wondering:

Oceans may rise over 4 1/2 feet by 2100

Oceans could rise by nearly 5 feet by 2100

Note that the IPCC forecast has a low forecast of 9cm and a high forecast of 88 cm. This new forecast has a low of 50 cm and a high of 140cm. That 50cm is about 20 inches (1 foot 8 inches). That 140cm is 55 inches (4 feet 7 inches).

Something sustainable should last more than a few decades. New York is going to undergo catastrophic change over the next several decades no matter what New York itself does because of the rest of the world's emission of GHGs.

Sustainability for coastal cities requires global cooperation on the GHG problem. Good luck on that.

We'll do our part and build the walls if necessary. I don't underestimate the challenges, but I'm not giving up on New York.
Please note that IPCC is wildly off the mark when it comes to calcualting CO2 emissions. This because they wildly overestimate the amount of oil and gas available to burn.

You wouldn't want to bet the fate of the planet on that.

In any case, from memory, 2/3rds of the CO2 waiting to be emitted comes from coal?

If oil and gas run low, we will burn more coal (and more tar sands oil, synthetic oil etc.).  So Peak Oil (and worse, Peak Gas) compounds the Global Warming problem, not lessens it.

I am betting money on it, peak oil I mean.

I look at it like this. Oil is so valuable it will all be taken out of the ground and consumed, no matter what. The same is probably true for gas.

My easy and cheap solution for global warming is just banning new construction of coal, oil, and gas fueled power plants and industries. Those things are entirely optional. Just look at Sweden where I happen to live. No coal or gas. Oil is almost exclusively used for tranpsortation.

If we cut fossil burning for power and industry we could afford to increase CO2 emissions from tar sands, liquid coal etc.

But as this is such a cheap and reasonable idea, it will of course not be implemented.

Sweden has a lot of hydro electric, and can import from Norway.

Sweden also has ample biomass for energy: most countries don't have that ratio of usable trees to human beings.

Sweden is from memory 50% nuclear, but there is no political consensus (or even a hope) behind building a new generation of nuclear resources-- that gap will have to be filled, somehow.

Without international cooperation, banning fossil fueled industry will simply move it to another country (5-10% of world greenhouse gas emissions come from cement plants).

I agree Sweden is an exemplar to the rest of us, but I don't think the Swedes have 'cracked' the CO2 problem any more than the rest of us.  And Swedes like to go on vacations to warm places, taking the plane, too.

Sure plenty of hydro around here, but if we didn't have it we would have more nuclear instead. Like in France, where it's 80 % nuclear.

Plenty of biomass to, mainly used in the energy system for district heating. The same effect could be had by utilising the waste heat from a few nuclear power plants. Hot water can be piped in well insulated pipes a lot longer than most people think without major energy loss.

Nuclear power is nowhere as popular as in Sweden. More than 80 % support the current fleet, and while support for new construction is lower (30-60 %, depending on how you count) the support for new nukes will increase strongly in the event of an energy crisis. The opposition to nukes is mainly in the elite, but democracy will deal with that.

A decision on new nuclear construction will likely be taken some time in the 2010-2014 period.

International cooperation is not at all needed as industry will not move. Why? Because nuclear power is cheap. Sweden has a very big energy intensive industry and they recently said they'd like to spend €7-10 billion on new nukes. They aren't going anywhere as long as the nukes stay.

Swedish (and French and Swiss) per capita CO2 emissions are  around 6 tons, compared to 9 tons in Denmark and Germany and 20 tons in the US. If people did what I told them the industrialised world could cut emissions to 6 tons per capita and year. And it wouldn't cost a thing.

But oh no, Kyoto will destroy the economy blah blah blah.  

Reading the comments below.... you can't seriously think that this something that is EVER going to happen -or should happen.  Who would pay for it? New Yorkers?? Fugeddaboudit. There aren't enough of you.  Ex New Orleans taxpayers?? Yeah, right... One breach, just one little break, and Long Island Sound is in your bedroom.  

The Dutch have been setting the standard for walling out the ocean for hundreds of years (meaning they have a leg up on anybody this side of the Atlantic), and the most likely net result will be that before their current generation of pre-schoolers reaches middle age, most of them will be involuntary refugees in other countries.  NYC and a whole host of other seaside cities and towns all over the world are history.  

Dude, new york is above sea level. In fact, the vast majority of the city is more than several feet above sea level, often 10 feet or more.

This is not New Orleans, which is 10 feet BELOW sea level, and sinking at 1 inch a year. Even if you can fix that city, in 100 years it'll be 20 feet below sea level. Not really a sustainable solution. NYC is going the other way, as construction debris actually adds land, and adds height to existing land. :-)

Think about a bad North Atlantic storm, though.

I agree Harlem should be OK (the Blockhouse in Central Park is on a promontory-- an old fort there to secure the northern half of the Island).

But when the sea comes in, Lower Manhattan, Rockaway, Brighton Beach and a few other places will probably have serious flooding.

This I'll grant. Probably 10% of the city is in danger of serious flooding in case of a major hurricane. That's what the emergency maps say at least. However, to fix this it just takes a little bit of work. When construction goes on, try to back fill and raise street level a few feet, then make sure that the shoreline is fully shored up, pun of course intended. Manhattan's shoreline is all concrete anyway, and the paths and parks are about 5-10 feet above the level of the water, making that 10-15 over the course of the next 100 years is not entirely unreasonable.
I wouldn't worry too much about those who wish to protect every last parking spot in the city.  If driving is unsustainable, it won't be sustained, and will die of its own accord.  Focus instead on creating the public transit.
NYC is going to need nuclear power, but good luck finding anywhere on Long Island, Connecticut, or New Jersey to allow new plants to be built.  And remember, no matter how bad things might get in NYC, it is going to be much worse on Long Island and New Jersey.  
Build half a dozen big reactors in upstate New York on Lake Ontario, or in Canada on the northern side of the lake.

There is such a thing as power lines.

Remember the good ole days when most everything was closed on Sundays? How 'bout that for a start... close all non-emergency businesses (yes, even the resturants), limit all non-emergency travel to mass transit (or bike, walk, skate) and turn off all the lights in Times Square for one day each week.  I dare someone to come up with a more simple, easy to implement idea that has the bang for the buck as this.  I currently live in San Francisco and my partner and I do not drive on the weekend and even though we have great resturants, we've cut back on that too.  Ultimately I believe there are many solutions we as individuals can do on our own NOW.  Here's another one: don't flush the toliet every time you pee.  You'd be amazed how many times two people doing this adds up.  Need other ideas?... how many of us use Ziploc bags?  Eliminate as much throw-away behavior as you can.  Stop buying bottled water.  The list is endless...
Bottled water is a particularly good one. NYC has one of the best municipal water supplies in the world, and there is absolutely no reason to buy bottled water.
Edgy,  have already implemented pee,(how the heck did man survive with chamber pots for centuries HA)  major ziploc reduction (back to using containers), and no bottled water (Still use filtered water just refill) these should be no brainers for everyone.
As a NYC resident looking to move, I'd be more impressed if Mayor Bloomberg said eight million people in the five boroughs is too many and, for all the people taking public transporation, there are too many cars.
There are a few things the Mayor could do that would make a difference long before 2030:
  • Promote PHEV taxis.  Wire taxi stands for charging and engine-off AC/heat operation.
  • Persuade more people to get out of their cars by making it easier to get a taxi; at least triple the number of taxi medallions, auctioning them off to new entrants (with 80% of the proceeds going to existing medallion holders as compensation for lost monopoly value).
  • Promote zero-energy retrofits by preferences in building permits.  If a building receives enough sun to heat and light itself, it shouldn't need any fuel or electricity for the purpose.  This immunizes the local economy against future energy price increases or shortages.
As someone who lived in NYC for 25 years, but had to leave because it's impossible to live for under $150,000/family of four in a decent school district, I wanted to add a few, admittedly, rather ambitious questions to the excellent post of Glenn's:

  1. I've heard that Donald Trump's father made millions providing cheap, Federally-funded housing to returning vets after WWII in Queens. I totally agree that NYC is much more energy efficient than any other part of the country owing to density.  So shouldn't publicly-funded housing (and more money for schools) be part of a sustainability agenda?

  2. NYC used to have an excellent trolley system.  How about replacing buses with one lane of light rail on all big avenues, each way, and on big cross-streets, starting in Manhattan?

  3. NYC had the first electrical system in the world (Edison's on Pearl street), how about the world's first municipal wind and solar energy system?  Subsidize solar on most if not all buildings, a la some towns in Germany?  Wind farms, maybe outside NYC -- water comes from far, why not wind? And with an upgraded electrical grid?

  4. How about closing down some streets to traffic, I believe Norman Mailer ran on this platform for mayor in the 1960s, but more to the point, this may be a great way to make the city more sustainable.

  5. And within car-free areas, how about trying some serious urban farming?

I've never understood the antipathy toward the big city, in general, in terms of its environmental footprint.  If all of America lived in about 30 NYC's, we'd have no problem overcoming both Peak Oil and global warming.  OK, enough with Utopias, but I thought I'd put it all out there.

Thanks for the post!

The key is zoning.

There has been a lot of work done on this.  Until 1970 or so, America by and large generated enough new housing that real housing prices rose more or less in line with incomes.

So New York was always expensive, but people could find a place to live.

What has happened since 1970 is that local neighbourhoods have gained control of their zoning.  And they fight to keep new buildings of a size and scale commensurate with existing ones.

If that had not happened, in the case of Manhattan for example, then the townhouses which were replaced in 20s by apartment blocks on the Upper East and West, would have been replaced by 50-80 story buildings in the 90s and 00s-- think modern Hong Kong.

Similarly the single, detached house suburbs would now be covered in 12 story apartment blocks.

But in coastal American cities in particular, that has not been allowed to occur.

Real housing prices in the coastal zones (Southern California, the Bay Area, Portland, Seattle, Boston, Washington DC, metropolitan New York) have therefore tended to rise much faster than real incomes.

The schools problem has been going on for a long time, and is a key factor in 'white flight' ie the flight to the suburbs (same thing has happened in predominantly black suburbs of Washington DC).

Edward Gleaser at Harvard University has published a lot of excellent work on this.  See his webpage.

Thanks!  That's an interesting situation.  There may be areas of NYC that could have large scale development -- maybe on the "far west side", for instance.  We lived on West End Avenue, just residences, 25 story apartment buildings, one block away from broadway, shopping and transit paradise, so something like that might work?  I know J.H. Crawford in "car-free cities" advocates just 4 or 5 stories (think brownstones), but I think higher is ok.
The Brooklyn superblock is one of the developments trying to address this-- of course it is so huge, it is being opposed.  Frank Gehry or not, you can see the makings of a future slum.

(there is a neighbourhood in Toronto, St. James Town, which has a density of 100,000+ per square mile (18k people in total on the site). Despite all the best intentions when it was built, it is a slum (a vibrant aspirant immigrant slum, as well as the 'left behinds' but a slum).

I think the pre 1950 'streetcar suburb' model of houses mixed with low rise apartment buildings, duplexes etc. has a lot going for it.  You can get population densities of up to 20,000 per square mile, at which point public transit is competitive with private vehicles.

Much of Brooklyn, I think, conforms to that model, ex-ing out the 1960s horrors of urban redevelopment (Bushwick).

Make NYC, or at least Manhattan,  America's first car free city.  The only reason anyone would want to drive in NYC is to be separated from the "riffraff" (See Donald Trump). The super rich, like Trump, can continue to fly their helicopters. Making it car free could also free up a lot of land for some additional housing,green space, and bicycle paths.

Most New Yorkers don't travel by car anyway, so the car would not be missed.  One could still retain some public vehicles for emergencies and police vehicles.  Because streets would be car free, this would actually enhance emergency response times.

In addition to expanding the subway, provide free shuttles every five minutes up and down all major thoroughfares.  

Or, alternatively, just continue to poison yourself to death. It's your call.

The city could be a truly wonderful place. It is the auto which makes it so unpleasant, noisy, polluted, and wasteful.

Is this utopian?  Probably.  But one must start with the ideal.  This ideal could be scaled back here and there depending upon the circumstances.  

Thanks tstreet! I completely agree. I can't believe we continue to let almost 1 million cars into the city every day...
Yes, cars are bad, and getting rid of all cars is a great ideal, but there are a few problems with your plan. First of all, what about the New Yorkers who actually need their cars, for example to get to work in places such as New Jersey where public transportation just isn't very effective? Second, what about cabs? True, they are used by rich people as a quick way to get around, but at the same time they are incredibly useful if you want to, for example, go to Penn Station with a large amount of luggage.
And then there's the issue of trucks: we need them to make deliveries and pick up our garbage and so on, but at the same time they're loud and polluting and have a tendency to run over people. You need some alternative to trucks before you can abolish all motor traffic from Manhattan. Perhaps a combination of regular freight rail and freight trolleys will do the trick, but a lot of infrastructure needs to get built before such a system is feasible.
So I think the real goal is not "we want Manhattan without cars", but rather, "how do we minimize the number of cars in Manhattan and their impact on our daily lives?"
I think if you read "Carfree Cities" by J.H. Crawford, that you will find answers to most of your objections.  The key is to start with a goal and figure out ways to address objections like you have brought up.  As far as luggage goes, think about those people who park in lots near the airport and then take a shuttle to the airport. Obviously, they take their luggage with them onto the shuttle.  People take subways and buses all the time to airports and take their luggage with them.  Obviously, there is a limit to the amount of luggage, but then I think most people have already figured out how to live with that reality.

The concept here is that there is a defined geographic area without private vehicles that still allows emergency vehicles such as ambulances and police vehicles. People are free to keep their car outside that area, in New Jersey, for example. The government could even assist in constructing multi level parking lots outside of the car free area so that people could take transit to the lots and then take their cars to the hinterlands. Alternatively, they could engage in some kind of car sharing scheme outside the city or rent vehicles if their needs were occassional.

Eventually, you could find a way to minimize or eliminate the need for trucks as you could expand the underground or surface rail system to accomodate local freight.  A system of depots could be created throughout the city that would serve different local areas.  Hand trucks or small electric trucks could then be used to deliver goods to their final destination.  This is a crude summary of such an approach, but you kind find a more detailed explanation of the solution to the problem in the book that I have referenced above.

Elimination of private passenger vehicles could be phase one. Phase 2 could be the virtual elmination of commercial vehicles.  Perhaps even after phase 2, one could retain some electric commercial vehicles for some local delivery.

Yes, this will require a lot of infrastructure, but this could be implemented over a couple of decades.

One problem I have with plans to minimize the number of cars is that the rich get to continue to drive their cars regardless of schemes like congestion taxes.  Create a system where cars are not an option and then one eliminates the problem of social inequity.  

I think we can continue to take a so called "moderate" and "reasonable" approach to all these energy related problems.  I also think that these so called moderate and reasonable approaches will fix absolutely nothing.  

I will admit, however, that part of this is based upon my own personal experience.  I spent a lot of time in downtown Frankfurt during the 80s, which was largely carfree.  It was the most pleasant part and entertaining part of the city, full of life, activity, and largely free of the noise and pollution that you typically get in the city center. Even if I had had a car, it would never have occurred to me to actually drive down to that area.


Congestion taxes favor the rich, yes, that one is a problem. That's why you minimize the number of cars the much simpler and more direct way: by taking away their road and parking space. The less space there is left, the fewer cars will remain. And the more space is taken away from cars, the more can be given to alternatives, and the more attractive these alternatives become. You need both push and pull to really get people to switch. And reverse-commute park and rides are a good idea: most park and ride lots currently prohibit overnight parking.
The problem with congestion charges is they make it easier for the remaining drivers to drive.  It's congestion that puts off a lot of drivers, not cost.

So it's very hard to get a meaningful reduction in traffic.  In London, traffic is down 10-15% but by much less than that during rush hours.

In Third World cities, they have jitney taxis: effectively minivans.  If the licensing issues could be resolved, then I would think that could make a significant difference to New York-- a fleet of rolling, 7-8 passenger vehicles running between Midtown and downtown.  Never wait more than 2 or 3 minutes for one-- pay maybe $6 for a ride downtown.

However given the price of a New York cab license, I would expect the New York cab owners to fight and make the introduction of such a system impossible.

No, absolutely no to the "jitney taxis". They exist and are profitable primarily because they operate under the radar with no licenses or safety and maintenance standards. If 40 people riding in a bus at $2 each don't make it profitable, then what makes you think 6 people riding in a minivan at $6 each will? Having seen how this operates in a Third World city, the main purpose of the these "jitney taxis" is to either provide a public transportation system where the government is unwilling or unable to, or else to compete the existing public transportation system into the ground, leaving people with no safe reliable option at all.

It would seem to me, if you could license them, you could enforce the minimum quality standards.  It might be as simple as allowing existing taxis to take multiple occupants-- they would then convert to minivans.

I have taken such a beast: $13 from the airport to midtown, it seemed easier (for one person) than catching a cab (JFK).

I'm looking for solutions that don't involve a big expansion of the government sector, because I don't think that is either feasible, nor would it be acceptable.

In some specific cases, such as airport to Midtown, yes, it can work, but in general it's not going to be a good form of mass transit because it can't compete on price with buses unless it's unlicensed and unregulated, like the dollar vans. And you just end up replacing efficient high capacity buses with lots of low efficiency, low-capacity vehicles that take up more space. I just don't see any need in the transportation system for something like this, beyond maybe the aforementioned airport to manhattan run.
Probably Zipcars is part of the solution.

People need cars, but they don't need them all the time.

You would still need delivery vehicles, taxis, etc. but a permitting system could enable that.  Say you pay $30 a day to drive in Manhattan, when you drive.   Certain avenues could be reserved for cross town traffic (bridge to bridge etc.).

The key is to increase the average speed and frequency of the buses.  Subways are inflexible and have decades long gestation periods, buses are highly flexible and scalable.

London has arrived at the world of the all electric car.

whether they could be made to work in NYC, where having working AirCon and heating is important, I don't know.

100 mile range on a full charge, 40mph max speed (downhill with a tail wind!).

But there is the ultimate car of the future-- no internal combustion engine, low noise, small, low impact.

Early days, but in that, I think, we have seen the future of the automobile, at least in cities.

A few points:

You cannot eliminate the car completely, but you can minimize its use.
*Robotic parking garages with many times the volumetric density of a normal parking garage.  ESPECIALLY at suburban mass transit used by commuters - where your goal is to stop as many suburbanites at the city's border as possible.
*Elimination of long and medium duration streetside parking:  this restricts parking use primarily to taxi/bus/streetcar/bikes (with the appropriate monthly permit).
*Reclaim many of those parking lanes as bike/bus/streetcar lanes, treed sidewalk.
*Free(emphasis on conveniance) electric streetcars and/or trolleybusses.  With dedicated lanes on avenues.
*Congestion pricing ONLY on routes with alternative means of transport

Water is a precious commodity:
*Mandate that all new-construction bathrooms contain toilets using only runoff from a green roof and/or greywater.  No more fouling potable water.

Insulation is one of the cheapest energy efficiency measures available:
More of it.  On all new construction.  And consider subsidizing retrofits.

Walkability is a good thing:
*Mixed use zoning.  Everywhere.  Streetlevel shops under apartments should be the norm.

Air pollution is a bad thing:
*Petrodiesel contains particulates that are abusive to an urban environment.  Biodiesel doesn't.  Encourage gas stations to pump high-% biodiesel rather than petrodiesel when the weather allows.
*Explore whether photocatalytic paint on directly sunlit areas produces significantly better air quality

Nuclear is necessary:
*Plan on revamping Indian Point by replacing its 30 year old reactors with newer (and much, much safer) 3G+/4G units by 2015.

Density is a good thing near transit:
*Don't you dare build a parking lot or suburban-style housing on an accessible brownfield.

Global warming is scary:
*Frame new large building fronts for potential renovation of the second level in case the first goes underwater, or simply very high ceilings on the first level.  Galveston rebuilt after a Katrina-like event by ratchetting their buildings into the air and infilling with dredged sediment, lifting the town many feet.  You can't do that with a skyscraper.  But you can raise the road surface a bit.  Seawalls will be built, but they don't last forever.  Minimize open below-sealevel structures.

Less fans, more people:
*No more tunnels that require elaborate active ventillation systems so that people can breath alongside internal combustion engines.  Deep tunnels are for electric vehicles - especially trains.

I think Indian Point is basically blocked from getting a license extension, at least if we take Eliot Spitzer at face value.

There is another plant, up on Lake Ontario?  Possibly you could expand that.

Even better would be to jointly build new hydro plant with Quebec Hydro.  However I believe lobbying by Native Canadian groups led to Gov Cuomo pulling out of that.  Also Hydro is seasonal power, in the sense that if you have a lack of snowfall, you have a lack of power in the summer months.

Coal methanation project in New York .....

"the plant would be one of the first of its type in the country. It would produce enough natural gas to supply 16 percent of all residential use in New York."

License extension is not up to Spitzer but up to the NRC which will of course grant it, thank god.

There are several nuclear plants at Lake Ontario. FitzPatrick, Ginna and Nine Mile Point (two reactors) on the American side, the four reactor Darlington plant and the eight(!) reactor Pickering plant on the Canadian side.

It seems two of the Pickering reactors are shut down and will not be refurbished, so it's a six reactor plant.

Well, as I wrote in 2001, greenroof with recycled materials would be a damn good start. There's an awful lot of heat island effect, energy usage, biodiversity, particulate matter levels, and waste management costs that this would address.

And it could be very cheap.