Transportation

The Life of a Subway Car: From Mass Transit to Aquatic Habitat

diveblog1Do you ride a subway to work? Do you know anyone who lives in a city where subways or other rail mass transit systems are used? Subway and rail mass-transit systems are a very efficient and economical way to travel in a city.  Some of the largest mass transit systems in the U.S. are in the Mid-Atlantic and New England Regions of the EPA:  Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (WMATA), and Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).  Each of these transportation agencies utilizes dozens of subway and regional rail cars, replacing their fleets as they age.

As cars are removed from service, you may wonder: “What happens to the rail cars after they’re decommissioned?” The answer is that some go to scrap yards to be dismantled and re-sold to manufacture other metal structures.  Others, such as the Red Bird fleet of New York’s MTA, have been used to form artificial reefs.  Several of MTA’s Red Bird decommissioned cars were sunk off Delaware’s coast, approximately 16 miles from the mouth of the Delaware Bay, to serve as an artificial reef.  This reef was first examined by EPA’s Dive Team in June 2009 as part of an ongoing effort to determine its benefits and status.  Artificial reefs can be colonized by organisms like corals and sponges and provide nursery habitat for wide range of finfish and shellfish, which can increase regional aquatic biodiversity and coastal tourism through fishing.

With these benefits in mind, the question remains: What man-made structures create the best artificial reef habitat?  In addition to subway cars, decommissioned boats and ships have been used as reef structures.  EPA is currently determining whether subway cars remain intact as solid, sustainable structures for aquatic life.  Specifically, we’re examining whether there’s a difference in the structural integrity and aquatic life use between carbon steel cars and stainless steel ones.

diveblog2EPA completed its second survey of Delaware’s Red Bird reef site on June 2 – 9.   I was one of fifteen EPA scientist/divers who surveyed the condition and function of the subway car artificial reef.  This was my first dive survey since joining EPA’s Dive Team in May of 2010, and it was an exciting experience.  At first glance you may think that such dives are easy – after all, how difficult could it be to dive and look at a bunch of subway cars?  The reality is that these cars were sunk in 85-95 feet of water, the temperature at the bottom is 48º F, and the visibility was only about 10 feet in any direction.  This means that first we had to locate individual cars from the surface and dive to them. Once anchored to the car, we used a wreck reel and swam in each direction to find other cars, all without losing track of the anchor line.  Having been through EPA Diver Training, I found that swimming in such an environment wasn’t too difficult, but it definitely took some getting used to. Throughout the week-long survey, the team collected information on the structural condition of the cars, percent cover of encrusting organisms, and height of aquatic growth on the cars at six specific reef locations.  The team utilized video and still photos to document findings.

The data we collected will build off of initial information EPA gathered during the first visit to the sites in June of 2009.  This data will be analyzed by EPA and its partner agencies and will ultimately contribute scientific data to the question of whether more artificial reefs, using subway cars and other clean, steel structures should be created. Click for more information about the concept of artificial reefs, and about EPA’s Dive Team.

Also check out this post about other research being done on the OSV Bold on the newest EPA blog – Region 2’s “Greening the Apple.”  We’re excited to welcome them to the EPA blogosphere!

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

The Ever-Elusive, Energy-Efficient New York City Taxi

By John Martin

Although I prefer riding the train to get around town, sometimes taking a cab isn’t a bad option. If I’m with a group of people, or I’m running late, taking a taxi sometimes just makes sense. As a New Yorker, I understand the value of having cabs filling our streets, but I also recognize the damage they’re doing to our air. With car companies finally producing fuel-efficient cars in large numbers, I decided to look into what, if anything, is being done to clean up the New York City taxi fleet.

Back in February, the Supreme Court refused to allow a city plan that would require cab owners to replace old gas-guzzling cabs with more fuel-efficient models. The 2007 law would have mandated all taxis operating in New York run at an average of 30 mpg, and would have required all 13,000 of the city’s cabs to be replaced with hybrids by 2012.

Not to be deterred, Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Nadler soon thereafter introduced the “Green Taxis Act,” a federal law that would allow cities to mandate use of more fuel-efficient taxis. So far, the mayors of Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles have all come out in favor of this act, but it’s not likely this support will be enough to get it through Congress.

Now it’s not clear when, if ever, New York will get cleaner taxis. Our most popular cab model—the gas-guzzling, 12 mpg Crown Victoria—is now in its final year of production. That’s the good news. The not-so-great news is that the city will soon unveil a universal taxi to replace the 16 models currently on the road beginning in 2014. Although the three models under consideration have their advantages (including the ability to transport wheelchair-bound passengers), fuel economy isn’t one of them. The Ford Transit Connect gets only 21 mpg in city driving. The two others don’t figure to be much better.

With the average New York taxi currently getting 22 mpg (even after you factor in all those Crown Vics), and no viable plans to make our fleet more efficient on the horizon, it looks like city taxis will be burning lots of gas for the foreseeable future. Looks like the subway will continue to be my preferred mode of transportation for a long, long time.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

The Long and Winding and GREEN Road

Click here to visit the Green Highways Partnership website.The first question for most people I’m sure is “What is a ‘green road’?”  Do they paint the asphalt? What makes it green and why is it important?

Green streets and highways help mitigate the amount of pollution and damage caused by a road or highway to the environment. 

Greening a street may involve environmental practices and its surrounding habitat:

-Pervious (porous) pavement is used – This means that instead of straight runoff when it rains, the water percolates through the surface to reduce runoff- related problems and to help minimize the effect of paving an area.

-Stormwater management – Techniques such as Bio Retention and Filtration are used to minimize the impact of roads during storms.  These techniques help to re-route runoff from storm drains to specially landscaped areas on the side of the street.

-Recycled materials – By using recycled materials builders can reduce land filling, energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Many reused and recycled materials perform as well or better than their conventional/virgin counterparts.

-Street lights use clean energy (i.e., solar or wind power)

-Increased native tree canopy and forest buffers

-Wildlife crossings to give safe passage for species

To learn more about green highways visit the Green Highways Partnership.

A particular project in the Mid-Atlantic that exemplifies green streets and low-impact development (LID) is in the town of Edmonston, Maryland.  They rebuilt their main residential street (Decatur Street) to be a green street.  Edmonston was a prime location to implement a project of this kind, due to its proximity to the Anacostia River and the Chesapeake Bay.  Edmonston is at the forefront of LID, being the first town in Maryland (and possibly on the East Coast) to build something of this kind.  Visit the Edmonston city website for more information on the project.

 Have any new ideas about what can be done to help ‘green’ your neighborhood?  Get out there and put them into practice! Plant trees at the edge of your yard, have a gravel driveway instead of a concrete one or plant a rain garden at the bottom of your gutter spout.  And don’t be shy about sharing what you’ve learned with your neighbors or in the comments section below.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Building Appreciation for the Environment with the Next Generation

Every year, the Mid-Atlantic Water Protection Division does a few Earth Day presentations at local schools. We have always felt that it’s important to educate young people about protecting the environment.

In certain ways, educating the next generation is one of the most important parts of EPA’s entire mission. This year, we went to a few schools including Julia R. Masterman at 17th & Spring Garden Streets in Philadelphia. Masterman is a public magnet school that includes both a middle school and a high school with young enthusiastic teachers, who continually use their science curriculum to talk about environmental issues.

Sometimes a short presentation on the class’s Smartboard about the history of EPA is offered, including old photos of the Cuyahoga River fire which happened way back in 1969. Or we talk about the first Earth Day in 1970, and how it led to the formation of the EPA. Other times, we change speeds a bit and do a simple chemistry experiment using red cabbage juice as a pH indicator. pH is a measure of acidity or alkalinity and changes in pH can also affect the aquatic life in a stream.

For an experiment about pH, we use red cabbage juice because it changes colors quite dramatically when mixed with baking soda, vinegar or even tap water. Purple, dark green and light blue…even a bright yellow can easily be created with the right substance. Middle schoolers love looking at the different colors, and some are inspired them to ask us a few questions about the Schuylkill River or other water bodies in the Mid-Atlantic Region. Read about successful restoration of pH-impaired streams in the Mid-Atlantic states of Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

What are some of the lessons you’ve shared with young people about protecting the health of our streams and rivers? The future of our environment is in their hands.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Why Not Have a Fund-Raising Car Wash?

By Nancy Grundahl

stormdrainsWe’ve all seen them and have maybe even helped out. It’s those by-the-side-of-the-road fund-raising car washes, usually with high school or college students having a good time on a weekend afternoon soaping up cars. But, have you ever thought about where the soapy runoff water goes? Sure, it probably runs down to a storm sewer, but what about after that? Did you say, “To a water treatment plant”? If you did, you just might be wrong. In many communities stormwater empties out directly into a stream, river or wetland. That’s right. All that dirty soapy water with residues of gasoline and motor oil may be taking a short trip through some pipes into your local environment, where it could cause damage.

What to do? In planning your event investigate what will happen to the wastewater. Walk around. Are there storm drains? If so, is anything stenciled on them, like “Don’t Dump. Flows to Stream” or “No Dumping — Drains to the River”? Some communities have stenciled their drains to let people know where the water goes.

If you can’t find storm drains or if nothing is stenciled on the ones you find, try calling your local government and, if you have one, the sewage authority for your area. Ask them where the water will go and what damage it might cause.

If the risk for polluting is high, you might want to change your plans. But, if you still want to go forward:
• Use an environmentally-friendly biodegradable soap.
• Lighten up on the amount of soap you use — water is a natural solvent.
• Use buckets and dump the dirty water down a sink drain.
• Use a hose with a shut-off nozzle (this will also conserve water)
• Wash cars on a grass, gravel or other permeable surface so the dirty water will soak into the ground instead of running off.

And, check out these resources from Maryland.

Make Your Car Wash Event Eco-Friendly from the Maryland Department of the Environment

Facts About ….Car Washing Fundraisers from Maryland Public Schools

These tips are also appropriate for those of us who wash our own cars.

So, how do you get the dirt off of your car? Are you environmentally aware when taking sponge and hose in hand?

About the author: Nancy Grundahl has worked for the Philadelphia office of EPA since the mid-80’s. Nancy believes in looking at environmental problems in a holistic, multi-media way and is a strong advocate of preventing pollution instead of dealing with it after it has been created. Nancy likes to garden and during the growing season brings flowers into the office. Nancy also writes for the EPA “It’s Our Environment” blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Follow-up: What Do You Drive, and Why?

About the author: Dominic Bridgers joined EPA’s Office of Public Affairs as a summer intern.

I have a Toyota Solara, it was given to me as a Christmas present a few years ago. I love my car because it is comfortable and it is gas efficient, rounding off at about 30 mpg. I believe those should be the main reasons for buying a car these days.

Going through and collecting the stats from the June 16th Question of the Week, “What do you drive, and why?” I came up with the following. Most of the bloggers drive a midsize/sedan type of vehicle, almost half of the people that responded drive either SUVs and trucks, and a handful of people like to throw on their leather jackets and let the wind hit their face when they jump on their motorcycles, a very fuel efficient vehicle!

bar graph of SUVs and trucks: 53, midsize and sedans: 122, public transportation: 7, motorcycles: 19.Most of the bloggers responded that they drive what they drive because it is gas efficient. While some people said their vehicles suit there personnel needs, such as picking up the kids or loading luggage. I was surprised to see that a handful of bloggers said they picked their vehicle because they don’t have to spend as much on maintenance, while others chose their vehicle because it is comfortable and it is what they can afford.

Thanks for your time in responding to “What do you drive, and why?” and remember to buckle up!

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Saving Gas and the Environment

About the author: Rob Lawrence joined EPA in 1990 and is Senior Policy Advisor on Energy Issues in the Dallas, TX regional office. As an economist, he works to insure that both supply and demand components are addressed as the Region develops its Clean Energy and Climate Change Strategy.

At a recent neighborhood block party (Happy 2nd Birthday Skylar!), when a new neighbor found out that I am the Energy Advisor in the Dallas regional office for EPA, she asked, “What can I do to save gas this summer?” I imagine that is a popular concern with a lot of folks today. It is hard to keep track of the fuel prices when they are changing so rapidly, including several times a week.

Here are some basic “best practices” to reduce your gas usage as well as the vehicle emissions that contribute to ozone problems and climate change. You may have seen some of the tips elsewhere, but I can attest that putting them consistently into action will benefit your financial as well as environmental well-being.

It may sound simplistic, but reducing the amount you drive each week is a major step. Take advantage of local non-driving options like walking or biking for short distance trips or increase your use mass transit or neighborhood carpooling. A couple of things that I have done include using the most efficient vehicle in our household whenever possible. It only takes a small effort to organize trips to eliminate multiple individual trips. For example, last weekend I was able to plan my Saturday errands in a circuit (home improvement store, pet supply warehouse, dry cleaners and grocery) so that I moved from place to place rather than making multiple trips over the same part of town.

How you drive can impact your efficiency too. Maintaining your car or truck by getting the engine tuned-up on schedule, replacing the air filter, and checking the pressure in your tires are good practices. Personally, unloading excess weight like those boxes of charity donations (not the spare tire or needed safety equipment) from the trunk was helpful in improving my mileage. Finally, watching your speed will greatly enhance your efficiency and ensure that you arrive safely.

It is all about reducing the number of miles you travel and then watching how you drive when it is necessary. For more tips, check out the EPA Office of Transportation and Air Quality Web site.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Question of the Week: Do you pay attention to where your food comes from?

Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

Much of the food we buy is grown in other places and transported to markets or restaurants where we live. Some people have tried to be “locavores,” consuming only locally-grown food or products, in an effort to reduce the environmental impacts from transportation, cold storage, or others.

Do you pay attention to where your food comes from?

.

En español: Cada semana hacemos una pregunta relacionada al medio ambiente. Por favor comparta con nosotros sus pensamientos y comentarios. Siéntase en libertad de responder a comentarios anteriores o plantear nuevas ideas. Preguntas previas.

Gran parte de los alimentos que compramos son cultivados en otros lugares y transportados a mercados o restaurantes cerca de donde vivimos. Algunas personas han tratado de ser “locávoros” o “locávores” al tratar de consumir sólo aquellos alimentos o productos que han sido cultivados localmente en un esfuerzo por reducir los impactos medioambientales de la transportación, el almacenaje frigorífico, u otros.

¿Usted presta atención al lugar de donde provienen sus alimentos?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.