notes from day 1 of the sustainability and public tranportation conference

30 07 2007

[By Shawhin]

We concluded our first day of the conference a couple hours ago with many interesting issues discussed, ranging from policy to project specific practices to setting international trends in sustainability.  I took about 20 pages of notes!, which I’ve condensed here.  Provided below are first a concise general-picture summary of the discussions followed by a more detailed account by speaker/session:

 General overview:

  • Attendees and speakers included elected officials (congress, mayors, regional agency board members), heads of transit and planning agencies, representatives from private firms, and other planners, lawyers, architects, engineers, and politicians.  A good mix.
  • At the outset, the conference was informally charged with 5 challenges:

1.      to fully quantify the environmental footprint of our industry (transportation and transportation planning)

2.      integrating land use with public transportation policy, as opposed to having public transportation chase “bad” development such as sprawl

3.      ways to increase public transportation ridership, with focus on weekends and non-business hour time periods

4.      developing specific goals in sustainable design and construction

5.      identify specific actions that we (as individuals, agencies, companies, etc) can commit to in the coming year toward addressing climate change and other topics in sustainability.


Now, if you’re interested in getting a more detailed glimpse of what went on and how things proceeded throughout the day, below is a bulleted list, by presentation, of ideas and topics that were discussed.   The notes may seem disparate and choppy: if you’re interested in more detail on a specific item listed below, just let me know and I can elaborate.  The first day was structured as four panels followed by concluding concurrent breakout sessions.  Each panel had a theme and comprised 3 to 5 speakers as listed below:

Opening General Session: 

First presentation – goals and overview

  • Need to also look at sustainability beyond environmental issues

  • Focus also on transportation operations and not only infrastructure
  • Importance of sustainability to communities
  • Importance of building “sustainability” reputation in and from transit industry
  • Our challenges in this conference:
    • Fully quantify environmental foot print of our industry
    • Finding ways to integrate public transit and land use development
    • Increase ridership outside of work hours
    • Specific goals on buildings, design, and construction
    • What specific actions can we commit to in the next year to address global climate change

 Second presentation – mayor of Seattle

  • Kyoto protocol wasn’t adopted by the US, but we can adopt it from the bottom up (why wait on the federal government to make the right decision): i.e. US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.
  • Need to design places (nodes and neighborhoods) that are compelling for people to be in
  • People fear what may appear to be chaotic/unplanned growth à therefore, it is important for governing/planning bodies to engage, educate, and discuss their plans with the people.
  • Be mindful of pace of growth, scale of growth, and incorporate growth that benefits existing communities
  • Grass-roots (local and people-initiated) movements are sustainable because everyone is the driving force.  On the other hand, movements led by individuals (such as legislators) may not last beyond that persons term in office

 Third presentation – federal intiatives

  • In the US, transportation is 70% of petrol consumption and produces 30% of climate changing gasses
  • Today, public transit reduces petrol consumption by 1.4 billion gallons per year, which translates to 108 million fewer cars filling up with gas and 4 million gallons of gas per day
  • Tax incentives for public transit users
  • Transit  Demand Management (TDM) programs (

Panel on Incorporating Sustainability into Transit Systems: 

Fourth presentation – Seattle’s transit agency on their sustainability measures

  • Need to educate elected officials on importance/nature of sustainability
  • Revise transit design guidelines to incorporate sustainability
  • Issued Sustainability Executive Order with target dates and measurable goals
  • Provided “green” purchasing guidelines for officials

Fifth presentation –King County’s transit board

  • Transportation and broader social interests
  • Social responsibilities of transit agencies
  • More than just busses for public transportation: ridesharing, vanpool, bike commuting, partnerships with the likes of flexcar

Sixth presentation – Utah transit authority’s transit agency

  • Good strategy is to show nonparticipating civic leaders what other leaders are doing in terms of sustainability
  • ISO 14001 certification for public agencies

Seventh presentation – Denver regional transportation district

  • Formalized sustainability program by introducing Sustainable Policy and Guidelines report; holding workshops and meetings with agency staff to document existing sustainable activities, categorizing activities and establishing goals; and finally: monitor, measure, and manage
  • Public ad campaign to educate and inform and encourage public participation

Eighth presentation – New York metropolitan transit agency

  • Top down and bottom-up approach necessary
  • Look toward New Jersey’s Transit Villages program

Panel on Strategies for Sustainable Design and Project Delivery 

Ninth presentation – Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) architecture

  • Consider all interface of all facility’s elements
  • Green facilities:  site optimization, water conservation, energy efficiency, sustainable use of construction materials, indoor air quality, lighting and views, acoustics and vibration control
  • Ambient environment sustainability requirements

Tenth and eleventh presentation – Tempe, Arizona facilities

  • Shading in bus storage areas to reduce energy needed to cool down vehicles prior to service (it’s very hot in Arizona)
  • Employed life cycle analysis on several architectural elements such as parking pavement (decomposed granite instead of asphalt), underfloor air distribution system, 100% recycled water bus wash – all analysis resulted in return on investment in about 3 to 4 years for a 30 year facility
  • “free” sustainability items such as building orientation, window placement, use  of recycled materials, site selection, regionally manufactured materials, creative thinking

Twelfth presentation – Los Angeles MTA existing facility “greening”

  • Focus on business case for sustainability
  • Savings amount to about $165,000 per year on four buildings that were “greened”
  • Use of public-private-partnership (PPP) in contracting greening constructions

Lunch presentation – 21st century public transportation and climate change

  • 80|50 initiative to reduce green house gas emissions 80% by the year 2050
  • want green communities à need density in developments à need transit to make density work; so public transportation is key
  • healthier to take busses that to drive

Panel on Sustainable Public Transportation System: New Vision for Transit and the Community 

Fourteenth presentation – framework for social and human components of sustainability

  • 1995 UN world summit on sustainable development identified 3 aspects to sustainability: economic, environmental, and social.  This was reaffirmed in 2002 summit (
  • Community interaction, involvement
  • Social justice
  • Sustainability as “ethical leadership”

Fifteenth presentation – law and policy

  • Connecting oil-independence with public transportation is how to get elected official’s interest
  • Carbon trading programs

Sixteenth presentation – characteristics of Seattle’s bus fleet

  • Hybrid busses require lower maintenance that traditional busses
  • Use re-refined oils and lubricants
  • Synthetic oils
  • Bio-diesel
  • Plug-in hybrid as up and coming technology
  • No-idling policy is hard to implement, because depends on operators’ cooperation
  • Tripper storage: efficient use and storage of busses that bring morning commuters into town from suburbs

Seventeenth presentation – Tempe, Arizona

  • Green buildings increase productivity, as measured in hospitals, schools, offices, etc
  • Important to educate people about green buildings
  • Make life cycle analysis policy and incorporate in building code perhaps

Eighteenth presentation – Miami streetcar

  • Carbon savings estimate from 25% reduction of maximum allowable parking in city is equivalent to 53,400 metric tons of C02; planting 53,400 acres of mature forest; or protection 213,600 acres of tropical rainforest from deforestation


Breakout Session – Land Use + Transit

  • Put transit at destinations (entertainment, work, hubs)
  • Modify zoning requirements with regards to minimum and maximum allowable parking spaces in urban cores toward encouraging public transportation use
  • Land use design criteria is not available in all communities – due to lack of education of elected officials: use visioning process with community; show elected official’s that they are not alone
  • Adopt statement (from Toronto) that “no citizen shall be disadvantaged by not having a car”
  • Reduce VMT (vehicle miles traveled) in comprehensive plans
  • Formally incorporate transit in land use planning – they should not be disparate procedures
  • Transit planning in conjunction with utility planning (both linear developments)
  • Transit agencies should be part of the land use approval process

… more tomorrow




One response

1 08 2007

detailed notes…nice.

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