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About this blog: I grew up in Los Angeles and moved to the area in 1963 when I started graduate school at Stanford. Nancy and I were married in 1977 and we lived for nearly 30 years in the Duveneck school area. Our children went to Paly. We moved ...  (More)

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More Cars do not mean More Pollution

Uploaded: Apr 17, 2016
On Monday April 18 the council will review the city’s sustainability and climate action plan (S/CAP). I support many of the proposals and am proud to be a resident in a city that takes global and regional issues seriously.

And I hope the discussion can take place in an atmosphere where people who drive cars are respected. I have never been able to drive and support sensible public and private sector mobility/transportation investments and improvements (many are sensible but not all). But I believe great improvements can be made in the air quality and emission characteristics of cars and believe in freedom of choice.

I was recently shown a petition that had the headline

MORE LANES=MORE CARS=MORE POLLUTION

The first part is correct but could also be written


MORE LANES=MORE MOBILITY
The second part is simply false—false on history and false as a guide to policy. More cars need not and have not historically meant more pollution.

Here is a link to the California Air Resources Board mobile source strategy. Look especially at page 6.

ARB link. The report notes
California has made significant progress in improving air quality through existing State and local air district control programs.

But the main point I want to make is that while policy is working to provide alternatives to driving, the thrust of state policy is to 1) improve fuel efficiency, 2) increase the penetration of lower emission vehicles, 3) reduce the emissions of existing fossil fuels, 4) reduce the emissions at refineries and 5) a strong emphasis on the use of technology to improve mobile source efficiency.

Note also that while transportation remains a major source of pollution and emissions, that transportation includes trucks, airplanes, and ships as well as cars and for these last three categories all the emphasis is on increasing efficiency not lowering the use of these vehicles.

While I support many transportation investments and initiatives public and private including land use initiatives to reduce car use, I put even greater hope in reducing the negative environmental effects of existing mobile sources.

One of the reasons I am hopeful about the S/CAP is that it too places great emphasis on increasing efficiency in our buildings, in our daily life and in the way we design and organize our city.

As a final note I hope we can replace the language of transit oriented development with “mobility oriented development”. For example our experience of living downtown increases my mobility substantially without ever taking a train or bus and the same is true for people who are given ways to make biking a more attractive mobility option.

Thanks Gil.

Comments

 +   12 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Apr 17, 2016 at 1:13 pm

"More cars need not and have not historically meant more pollution."

So the tailpipe emissions of a new internal combustion engine powered car added to the fleet do not count as pollution? Tell me, are all economists scientifically/arithmetically challenged to this degree?


 +   15 people like this
Posted by Robert, a resident of another community,
on Apr 17, 2016 at 4:34 pm

@Curmudgeon

Not to detract from your snark, but the number of cars in the area has doubled in the last 30-40 years while air pollution has been greatly reduced...


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin, a resident of Professorville,
on Apr 17, 2016 at 5:56 pm

Steve:

While I'm sympathetic to (what I think is) your direction in this piece, I believe you need to make a better case for it.

You stated "More cars need not and have not historically meant more pollution." Well, in the past they certainly have. A short, readable history is here: Web Link

What changed the correlation between cars and pollution was a heavy dose of regulation, with some incentives mixed in -- the sort of things you mentioned in a subsequent paragraph -- plus enough time to turn over the types of cars in the fleet. Without both of those ingredients, if you have more cars, the physics guarantees that you'll have more pollution as well. In the short term, that's the reality we're facing.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Apr 17, 2016 at 11:54 pm

"Not to detract from your snark, but the number of cars in the area has doubled in the last 30-40 years while air pollution has been greatly reduced..."

Adding another polluter increases pollution. That's not snark, it's basic physics and math.

Yes, internal combustion engines emit less HC and CO and NOx now than they used to, but in the last few years another pollutant has been added to the list: CO2. It is a much, much less tractable one.

CO2 is an unavoidable product of hydrocarbon fuel combustion. And, unlike being a short-lived local problem like the classical pollutants listed above, it is a global menace with a very long lifetime. Burning more hydrocarbon fuel inan automobile equates to emitting more CO2. It's that simple and that inevitable.

Every additional automobile adds pollution. Electric cars cloak their pollution at electric power generator sites, but they inescapably contribute their share to global climate change.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Apr 18, 2016 at 7:16 am

mauricio is a registered user.

This is so in line with the urban ideologues. According to this logic, population increase does not create more density. We should probably add a million residents and a million cars to palo Alto and end up with lots of space, less traffic, less pollution and more peace and quiet. 'More cars do not mean more pollution':Not even the most clever developer could have come up with that one.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Resident, a resident of St. Claire Gardens,
on Apr 18, 2016 at 9:57 am

Steve is right that car drivers should be respected. Mobility should be prioritized so there's less congestion. Stop scapegoating cars and don't obsess so much over pollution.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Apr 18, 2016 at 10:59 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

Highlights of the 2015 California’s Progress Toward Clean Air report include:

"Since 1990, California’s population has increased by 29 percent, the number of vehicles on California roads has increased by 32 percent, and the economy has grown by 83 percent, yet statewide emissions of smog-forming pollutants have decreased by over 50 percent;"

This is from the state Air Resources Board.

The report cited in the blog notes


"California has made significant progress in improving air quality through existing State and local air district control programs."

The article that Alan Akin cites above says the opposite of what he claims. From his article.

"California still has some of the worst air in the country. But “worst” isn’t as bad as it used to be. Ozone levels in Los Angeles are just 40 percent of what they were in the mid-1970s, and that’s with more than twice the number of cars."

So yes while each additional car may bring more pollutants, measured over time in recent history and going forward, more cars and driving is consistent with less pollution as technology and regulation improves fuel efficiency, reduces pollution from the production and use of fossil fuels, reduces wasteful driving by, for example, helping people find parking, find the less congested routes and improve traffic flow.

Of all places we here in Silicon Valley should appreciate what a "can do" attitude can accomplish.

That is why, though I do not endorse everything in the S?CAP as practical, i applaud Gil and our council for the can do approach to sustainability and climate action.

I just think it can work without making cars and drivers evil doers and with respecting the usefulness of cars while we work hard to provide alternatives.

Unlike the poster above, I do worry about pollution but find many ways to improve our air as we have been doing now for decades.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by My Fair Neighbor, a resident of another community,
on Apr 18, 2016 at 12:05 pm

I think the true factor in the pollution equation is number of people, not number of cars.

Who cares how many cars I own if I am only able to drive one car at a time ?

You can either: make my car 30% more efficient or less polluting. or
Get rid of my neighbor and his car, and you've reduced pollution by 50% (assuming we drive identical cars and miles).

China would not have such a horrible pollution problem (even though they are dependent on Coal) if they did not also have a population of 1.6 billion.

Cut down on the population growth and you will reduce the rate of pollution increase.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by My Fair Neighbor, a resident of another community,
on Apr 18, 2016 at 12:38 pm

And "Yes"... Getting rid of me works too.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by biker mom, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Apr 18, 2016 at 1:46 pm

I grew up on in the east bay looking over the bay. We had beautiful view of S.F. and sunsets. We probably only witnessed about 2-3 smoggy days a month. Now, when I hike the dish I can barely even see the east bay let alone S.F. on probably 15-20 days out of the month. My sight is proof. Just look at the population increase in the past 20 years (which also means more drivers on the street.) How absurd are you in your thinking that more cars don't equal more smog. And sugar is super healthy for you!


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Allen Akin, a resident of Professorville,
on Apr 18, 2016 at 2:41 pm

Steve:

I made the following claims: (1) In the past, more cars HAVE meant more pollution. (2) Reducing the amount of pollution produced per car required substantial new regulation. (3) After regulation is imposed, it takes considerable time for newer, cleaner cars to replace older ones and achieve a net reduction in pollution.

For those who don't have the time to read it carefully, the article explains how the increase in the number of cars in LA during the 1940s and 1950s was accompanied by an increase in smog and after considerable research it was determined that emissions from cars were responsible (supports my point #1). The article goes on to describe how public reaction to the deteriorating air resulted in an ever-increasing set of regulations to reduce emissions, starting with inspections and ramping up to the Clean Air Act of 1970 (supports my point #2). The article notes that the major technological improvement spurred by the new regulations, the catalytic converter, was finally required on all new cars in 1975 (roughly 30 years after the increase in pollution from the increase in cars had begun to have serious effects). The article goes on to conclude that now, 40 years later, ozone levels are 40% what they were, even though the total number of cars has doubled; but particulate pollution remains a problem. (This supports my point #3.)

You wrote that "The article that Alan Akin cites above says the opposite of what he claims." I think we can all see that in fact the article supports what I actually claimed. Also that my name is spelled "Allen" rather than "Alan". :-)

You titled your piece "More Cars Do Not Mean More Pollution". I appreciate there's artistic license involved there, but the title is misleading. Simple math guarantees that more cars of the same kind means more pollution (not to mention more traffic, among other things). You can offset that by increasing regulation and waiting for the resulting technological improvements to reach consumers, so your article might more honestly have been titled "More Regulation Means Less Pollution Even With More Cars". When you add cars without new regulation and new technology, you have to live with the consequences to the air for a long time, just as LA did for more than 30 years.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Apr 18, 2016 at 4:08 pm

"Ozone levels in Los Angeles are just 40 percent of what they were in the mid-1970s, and that’s with more than twice the number of cars."

That might impress a technically naive audience, but others may smell a scam. Let's presume the numbers are correct: contemporary per-vehicle ozone-making auto emissions are 20% of what they were in the mid-1970s.

Now consider the arc of that progress. The emissions of new vehicles are determined by the present technology, not by its cumulative accomplishments, which historically tend to occur mostly near the beginning of the effort. Today's emissions mitigations depend on how rapidly ozonogenic emissions are being reduced today. That trend must, in turn, stay ahead of vehicle additions to the area.

Maybe Mr. Levy can rebuild his case by showing us the ozone-generating emissions data at five-year intervals from the mid seventies to today.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Allen Akin, a resident of Professorville,
on Apr 18, 2016 at 5:03 pm

"Maybe Mr. Levy can rebuild his case by showing us the ozone-generating emissions data at five-year intervals from the mid seventies to today."

Yes. And the number of vehicles at each point.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Apr 18, 2016 at 5:21 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

If we keep increasing Palo Alto's population, we will have more traffic, more car trips, hence more pollution, regardless of any clever wordings by those who support population growth and development. This article is just a clever little ploy to push population growth through more development, without alarming residents, by claiming that more cars do not mean more pollution. Yes, more cars do mean more pollution, even if emission control technology keeps advancing. it will just means that the pollution wouldn't be as high as it would be if emission technology hadn't advance in the last several decades.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by chris, a resident of University South,
on Apr 18, 2016 at 6:33 pm

One way to reduce emissions is to reduce the number of auto trips and to shorten the remaining auto commutes in distance.

Also note that miles driven decreases as gas prices go up and when the economy is in a recession. Increasing the gas tax would incentivize less driving and provide more resources for alternative modes of transport.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter., a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Apr 18, 2016 at 8:17 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

biker mom:

I moved here in 1971. During the summer you couldn't see the hills (I lived in Sunnyvale). It was that way, well into the 80's. It has only continued to improve since then. The air is FAR cleaner now than then. More cars don't equal more pollution, given there are far more cars here now than there were then, yet we have less pollution.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of St. Claire Gardens,
on Apr 18, 2016 at 8:26 pm

I don't mind constructive ways of trying to to reduce excess driving. But this should be up to the individual.
Using punitive measures against car drivers like gas taxes is a violation and its totally unacceptable.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Allen Akin, a resident of Professorville,
on Apr 18, 2016 at 8:39 pm

@Menlo Voter: Help me understand this way of thinking. If we add 10,000 more cars to the Bay Area next month, will there be more air pollution, less, or the same?


 +   7 people like this
Posted by Ben Luftkopf, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Apr 18, 2016 at 9:36 pm

"If we add 10,000 more cars to the Bay Area next month, will there be more air pollution, less, or the same?"

Less, of course. Menlo Voter and Steve both showed us the negative correlation between pollution and the number of cars. What more proof could you want?


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 19, 2016 at 11:05 am

Well, it’s a semantic argument obviously. Yes, if vehicle efficiency increases faster than the number of vehicles, then net emissions might drop. It’s analogous to arguing the two Priuses emit less than one Hummer: it’s true as phrased, but not interesting. Two Priuses still emit more than one Prius. It’s a stunt argument, that yields a snappy headline and not much else.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Apr 19, 2016 at 11:32 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

Resident,

You are right that 2 Priuses emit more than 1 but i disagree that this is a stunt argument,

Yes the head=line is provocative but it is exactly the point.

If there are 10,000 more cars next year, there can and will most likely be LESS pollution. Allen Akin is correct that technology and regulation can offset an increase in the number of cars.

That is exactly the point just as technology and regulation can result in more refrigerators using less electricity.

The idea that we can (and under SB375, AB32 and federal law are legally required to) add more people and vehicles while reducing pollution and emissions is the practical, historical and legal reality.

It is at the heart of the S/CAP at the heart of Plan Bay Area and at the heart of state climate policy.

What you call a semantic argument is the heart of our policy choices. A can do proactive attitude and policies can offset the impacts of growth.

To me that is a good result and a powerful call to action.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Alan, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven,
on Apr 19, 2016 at 1:21 pm

The appropriate comparison to make is not between past and present, but between future options.

It's a given that cars are becoming cleaner. Sometimes, newer cars are so much cleaner than older ones, it makes sense to replace an older model.

However, we have to make decisions for the future. Where we can support *practical* options that allow us to effectively replace the use of a car with a cleaner option (mass transit, bicycling, transit oriented development, whatever), we should favor the less polluting option.

I wouldn't want to live in a place as densely populated as Hong Kong. However, having spent some time there, you have to be struck by the how effective the mass transit options are, without introducing the use of a car for most trips. There's times you want to use a car in Hong Kong, but it's usually completely unnecessary, and actually less practical. There's something to learn from them.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin, a resident of Professorville,
on Apr 19, 2016 at 2:41 pm

To sum up: At any given time, more cars does mean more pollution; the math is simple and inescapable. Over a sufficiently large amount of time, you can offset that increase by implementing regulation (or other incentives) that create cleaner new cars and then replacing older, dirtier cars with cleaner ones. Both of these observations are confirmed by actual history in California.

Steve wrote "If there are 10,000 more cars next year, there can and will most likely be LESS pollution." No. If there are enough dirtier cars REPLACED by cleaner ones, then there will be less total pollution from cars next year. 10,000 additional cars simply make that result harder to achieve, by adding new polluters that didn't exist before. Again, there's no way around the simple math.

Finally, in my first paragraph above there's an important condition: "...Over a sufficiently large amount of time..." In California's history, that turned out to be decades, not years. In the meantime, thousands to millions of people suffered from unhealthy air. Growth isn't free; it has costs that people deserve to know so that they can make their own decisions about how much of it to support. Let's not mislead them.

PS: Spare the Air Days reached annual lows in the early 2000s; on average they're higher now. It would be interesting to know if that's significant, and why. Web Link


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Apr 19, 2016 at 4:34 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

The headline reminds me of the NRA argument that more guns in the hands of the public would actually result in less gun violence. Both are factually and morally wrong. More cars will inevitably result in more pollution. The rate of increase would depend on how new and how large the additional cars would be, and on how many trips they would make. The pro development and population density increase lobby is very well aware that air pollution is an argument that will always work against them, so they are attempting to head it off.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Ben Luftkopf, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Apr 19, 2016 at 6:10 pm

"If there are enough dirtier cars REPLACED by cleaner ones, then there will be less total pollution from cars next year. 10,000 additional cars simply make that result harder to achieve, by adding new polluters that didn't exist before. Again, there's no way around the simple math."

Of course there's a way. Steve showed it to us: "A can do proactive attitude and policies can offset the impacts of growth."

Have faith and believe, brother. Just make some policies and everything will be all right.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Harry Merkin, a resident of Ventura,
on Apr 19, 2016 at 6:23 pm

It's even easier to clean up the fleet if you got the right software, dude. VW had really clean cars for years until those WV (neat palindrome pair, huh?) students broke the code.

And, jeez, no silicon valley fingerprints anywhere, just those German geeks' and some coalminers' kids'. One more poke in our local bubble.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Apr 20, 2016 at 11:48 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

The Bay Are Air Quality Management District reports that

for 1980-84 the region had an average of 38 days that exceeded the federal ozone standard. Population in 1980 was 5.1 million.

In 1990 population grew to 5.9 million and there were 19 days (1990-94) that exceeded the national standard,

By 2000 the region had 6.6 million residents and just 12 days on average above the federal standard for 2000-04.

And the 2010 regional population grew to 7.0 million while the days exceeding the federal ozone standard fell to 5.

So population increased from 5.1 to 7.0 million and days out of compliance fell from 39 to 5.

So we can and have had more people and driving while air quality has improved. And that can continue.

Would even fewer cars lead to less pollution, sure, but that does not contradict the point of the blog. We have more appliances but rising energy efficiency has offset the growth. It is a simple point and very relevant to evaluating policy options.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by An Engineer, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Apr 20, 2016 at 12:26 pm

"And that can continue."

Only a person who has never designed something and made it work, with their paycheck depending on the outcome, could make that naive generalization. Every engineer has experienced the limitations of what nature permits. Past rates of progress are absolutely no guarantee of future advances.

The prevailing Valley kool aid is merely the latest incarnation of the 19-th century railroad euphoria, followed by steel, oil, automobiles, radio, aircraft, and the space program. All have transitioned from the dizzy hype that accompanies initial rapid progress to a mature state of incremental improvements.

Heresy alert: Silicon Valley has crossed that point. Most of what we get now is residual hype.

Can continue? Who really knows. Just don't bet the town or the area on it.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Apr 20, 2016 at 3:20 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

@ an engineer

did you look at page 6 of the web link. there are a whole set of strategies already in law or planned.

Of course the past record does not guarantee future success, my case about the future depends on the policies developed by engineers and scientists and adopted already.

If you think these policies will not be effective, take a look and respond to the specifics.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Allen Akin, a resident of Professorville,
on Apr 20, 2016 at 4:49 pm

Yes, there's lots of good work in the ARB report. Two observations, though:

1. As I mentioned above, improvement takes time. The goals are set for 15 years from now. If you ramp up the number of cars more quickly, for many of those 15 years air quality will be worse than it could have been. That matters for those suffering from current air quality levels.

2. The ARB plan requires a reduction in growth of vehicle miles travelled. Adding more cars works directly against that.

With respect to air pollution, the headline is still busted; you're always better off if you don't add cars. If you want to add them anyway, I think you need to present the cost/benefit numbers to make your case.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by An Engineer, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Apr 20, 2016 at 6:42 pm

"If you think these policies will not be effective, take a look and respond to the specifics."

OK, I read it. Lots of nice words and good intentions. No visible substance. Seems harmless, though, so why not humor them?

Policies are only statements of intent. Anybody with access to PowerPoint can make policies. They have nothing to do with physical realizeability.

Can I prove their negative? No, no more than I can disprove the existence of leprechauns. I'll let time refute them, as it has so many utopias.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Robert Neff, a resident of Midtown,
on Apr 21, 2016 at 12:03 am

It depends what you mean by pollution. Ozone and smog?

My nose on foothill expressway says -- New cars are great, new diesels, not bad, old cars, and especially old diesels, yuck. Fireplaces are worse than any of these. (bikes are usually excellent, but depends on diet.) When I am stuck in traffic waiting at a light around new automobiles, I notice the heat, but cannot detect other pollution.

But if you consider greenhouse gas emissions as pollution, then anything with an internal combustion engine is bad, and, depending on where you plug in, electrics are no panacea.

The big difference in the last 10 years is that now CO2 counts.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 21, 2016 at 8:23 am

Mr. Economist Levy should move to Beijing and tell us about the less pollution there.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Allen Akin, a resident of Professorville,
on Apr 21, 2016 at 8:34 am

There's a timely article in today's Merc: "Air pollution: San Jose area gets F in new ratings" (Web Link)

One line that jumped out at me: "Climate change, and the drier, warmer conditions it has helped bring to many parts of California, has largely negated California's 'groundbreaking clean air and clean energy laws, and local air pollution control programs' that had helped bring positive changes, the report says." This is consistent with the observation that Spare the Air Days have increased since the early 2000s, though not consistent with the decline since the 1990s.

As you'd expect, the recommendation is to drive less: "The public needs to start making changes, like getting on their bikes, using transit, carpooling," she [air quality district spokeswoman Lisa Fasano] said Tuesday.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Stephanie Klein, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Apr 21, 2016 at 10:30 am

While gains have perhaps been made in reducing the air polluting nature of automobiles, I think there are more aspects to consider. Even if cars could be made completely clean in terms of emissions, they have are other serious impacts on the environment. The highway network supporting the automobile has fragmented the natural environment resulting in the isolation of wild species in small patches and a decline in biodiversity. The materials and the space needed to accommodate all of our cars have impacts on groundwater recharge and clean water, owing to their impermeability. In addition the ever-widening roadways required to allow an onslaught of cars to get from point A to point B make for very pedestrian- and bicycle-unfriendly suburban environments. And we don't yet know the true environmental costs of electric cars or clean internal combustion engines. I think there are already growing piles of spent car batteries, potentially contributing to habitat fragmentation and pollution of ground water. And the catalytic converters which have helped reduce air polluting emissions spew nitrogen onto the areas surrounding the highways, which can change their biotic make-up, as has happened at Edgewood Park and other serpentine habitats in the Bay Area.

The costs of maintaining immediate access to mobility, I think, are just too great. There are other, more pleasant, ways to get around -- walking, biking, even riding the bus or train -- which will only be enhanced by reducing the number of cars on the road.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Apr 21, 2016 at 10:42 am

In the early to mid-70's, there were days where we had "smog alerts". I recall many of my HS water polo teammates vomiting during practice due to the air quality. We don't have that level of smog today; even on the days where there are alerts and/or no-burn days.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Johnny, a resident of South of Midtown,
on Apr 21, 2016 at 11:41 am

An Engineer is 100% correct. Not only is applying punitive measures to car drivers totally unacceptable, it isn't even guaranteed to work/waste of taxpayer money. Then becomes a source of revenue for the government and the entire incentive becomes warped so let's stop living in do-gooder fantasy land.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Apr 21, 2016 at 2:37 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

@Allen Arkin and Stephen Levy
Stephen, you are correct on the historical facts you present and Allen is also correct in saying your article was improperly titled. I like his suggested title on his 2:41 PM post.

It's good to have these online back and forth discussions, but let's keep it civil. No snarky attacks and comments. They don't help. I think all of us have the same common goal to reduce our carbon footprint and reduce pollution. I've lived here long enough to remember those terrible smoggy days back in the 70's and 80's, but we, being smart people most of the time, recognized the problem and set out to work on it and solve it. I think we've done a pretty good job so far.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by More Cars = More pollution, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Apr 21, 2016 at 2:41 pm

Steve is looking at just one part of the equation.

Here are the others:

Most cars are parked 21 hours of the day. (Woohoo not polluting)... except that those parking lots represent paved over land that:

1. do not generate revenue - no retail

2. do not house humans ( unless you count the homeless )

3. interfere with businesses expanding - Milk Pail's big problem was finding parking that the city required.

4. encourages people to drive - "oh I have my car with me i will just drive to run some errands during lunch"

5. stormwater runoff carrying oil and grease and garbage into the sewers.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Red Queen, a resident of another community,
on Apr 21, 2016 at 3:46 pm

"More Cars do not mean More Pollution"

I have tried and failed to believe this particular impossible thing before breakfast, even though I warmed up by believing six impossible things one day, seven the next, and then eight. This impossibly impossible thing has utterly defeated my facility to believe any and all impossible things.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Amateur Hour, a resident of another community,
on Apr 22, 2016 at 9:46 am

This is called tailoring things only to meet your argument, not to represent all the facts. As a scientist, it was comically sad to read this, but I'm not positive he believes himself. It's more likely he just wants what suits him, to be right, but again, scientifically he is very wrong.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace,
on Apr 22, 2016 at 12:07 pm

Quite unusual to read that there may yet be some people in this area who do not automatically vilify automobile drivers - or try to wish them out of existence. Jumping tracks a bit, if we are serious about reducing our carbon footprint, why do we continually add to it by importing fruit and vegetables from faraway places when this state has a grower-friendly climate? We take various conserving measures in our home "just because" but are under no illusion that our small contributions have much positive impact on the big picture, regardless of what S/CAP requires.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by pickpocket, a resident of Palo Verde School,
on Apr 22, 2016 at 12:25 pm

I think a number of you are stating the obvious: more cars=more pollution (of course) and more efficient cars pollute less (yes again.)

But a more interesting flaw in the MORE LANES=MORE CARS=MORE POLLUTION petition (which was put forth by people objecting to adding more freeway lanes in Santa Clara County), is that MORE LANES could result in LESS POLLUTION, directly. Traffic moving on 101 is less polluting than stop-and-go. And faster trips improve quality of life as well as air.

I'm all for improving transit options in the Bay Area. But the reality is still that the majority of us must use cars for commuting and shuttling the kids and getting to the store and getting to the airport.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Apr 22, 2016 at 6:46 pm

"...but I'm not positive he believes himself."

That is at once the most charitable and likely correct conclusion. Steve is normally a pretty smart guy, so we have to look for other motivations.

My favored rationale comes from his involvement in Palo Alto Forward, our main pro-development lobbying group at the moment. The developers behind PAF desperately want Palo Alto's fifty foot height limit rescinded so they can build more office space on smaller footprints, to minimize land acquisition costs.

They cloak that objective behind a facade of providing housing. Many well-meaning people who find that prospect appealing have signed onto the height repeal impetus. An essential element of the housing cover story is that greatly increasing the local population is painless, even beneficial. That's where this thread comes in.

The motivation depends on whether this blogger is privy to PAF's true objectives or not. He may not be.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Apr 23, 2016 at 10:07 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

Hi all,

I do absolutely believe that technology and regulation have and will continue to more than offset the additional pollution that an added car brings. The fact that the Bay Area added 2 million people while out of compliance for ozone days dropped from 38 to 5 is pretty strong evidence as is the evidence from ARB, confirmed by EPA, that overall pollution levels are much lower than 20 or 40 years ago.

And policy is about choices. So while Allen Akin is correct that offsetting measures take time to implement, it is likewise true that any major expansion of driving alternatives through transit is very expensive and most likely will take more time.

I favor both but I see no reason to ask people not to drive until we provide good alternatives and am simply pointing out that we can and have had more people and care along with less pollution both in our region and most significant in LA where I grew up. And to be historically correct, the improvements in LA came well before major public transportation investments although are surely welcome and helpful now.

As to all of the silly allegations about motives, my blog comes from my professional experience working for air quality agencies in understanding the options and economic impacts of reducing pollution and state true facts.

It would be interesting to have posters share their views on regional pollution control strategies and what they would do about driving until more credible and widespread alternatives are available. I continue to favor policies that will make existing driving cleaner.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by An Engineer, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Apr 23, 2016 at 8:37 pm

The California Air Resources Board is a respected agency with a solid record of achievement. Thus I cannot believe it would accept the proposition that increasing the number of automobiles reduces pollution.

Carrying that proposition to its logical limits, we find that an auto population that grows without bounds would cleanse the air to an arbitrary degree of purity, while removing all autos would give us air so opaque we could not see across the street. That is plainly ridiculous.

Progress has been made, but it must be regarded within its total scientific context, not cherry-picked to support a favored political objective.



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