wot are we thinking? a rant on road-building

green highway research

The phrase 'green highways' is a stumper for me.

Is that like a sterile stiletto?

I mean, sure, you can get a roadway to function better as a storm water manager or carbon sink, as some of the more innovative designs in the U.S. highway research quiver do.

Would you believe pavement materials that suck carbon? What's not to like about that concept?

Still, the ecosystem cost of making roads in the first place is so immense, it's like death, only dirtier.

I've been looking into the ecological footprint of paving materials. Would you believe the best we can say about asphalt is it's no worse than cement?

See, roads are not just places where vehicle emissions originate. They are also consumers of paving and producers of runoff.

Yes, it's possible to mitigate the most offensive features of roads and highways. Swales can help filter runoff, and alternative pavements can be more green.

Yet, even these measures will require megabucks. Is that where we want to spend heavily?

I'm not saying neglect the roads.

At the same time, we may be forced into radical roadway decisions sooner than we think.

Asphalt is, of course, a petroleum product. Last year, Hawaii already witnessed a bottleneck in asphalt supply and skyrocketing prices...right after extreme rain events trashed roads on all islands.

What if the future, for whatever roads we keep, is not about asphalt or concrete? Is there some alternative local paving solution? (Fact is, we once paved with red cinder out here...)

With all of the adaptation costs we face as global warming accelerates, there can be little justification for spending more to make it even easier to drive.

As Todd Litman says in Reframing the Transportation Question:

If you ask people, 'Do you think that traffic congestion is a serious problem that deserves significant investment?' most would probably answer yes.

But if you presented a more realistic description of choices by asking, 'Would you rather spend a lot of money increasing road capacity to achieve only moderate and temporary reductions in traffic congestion, and deal with increased personal, municipal, social and environmental costs from increased motor vehicle traffic, or would you rather create a more diverse transportation system to minimize such problems?' the preference for road building would probably disappear."

Published by Ken on January 23rd, 2007 tagged Community Initiatives, Systems Thinking

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