June 22, 2009
|APTA RAIL CONFERENCE COVERAGE
Honolulu, Chicago Seek Sustainable Solutions; Closing General Session Covers Green Alternatives
BY CARMEN GRECO JR., Special to Passenger Transport
Environmentally sustainable transit systems that work to attack climate change and global warming were in the spotlight during the June 17 Closing General Session of APTA’s 2009 Rail Conference in Chicago.
Session participants heard from Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann and Sadhu A. Johnston, chief environmental officer for the Chicago mayor’s office. The choice of speakers was no accident, as both cities are at the forefront of new transportation solutions to reduce carbon emissions in heavily-congested urban centers.
Hannemann outlined his city’s plan to build a new 20-mile light rail loop on the island. Voters approved a 0.5 percent increase in the island’s excise tax to help fund the project, which he said is finally on a fast track now that President Barack Obama is committing billions of ARRA dollars to fund new transit projects.
He said Hawaii has no choice but to build the light rail project as the area has seen its gas usage double over the past 20 years to 290 million gallons per year, pumping close to 5.8 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
“The only real choice for us is to turn to transit,” the mayor said. “There is no road space to expand from the mountains to the seas, and that inspired us to build this light rail system. We have to give the people more choices. That’s what we lack today. We have so many cars on this island. We have as many registered cars as we do residents.”
Hannemann continued: “The timing is right. We have a president who is embracing it. We ignore climate change at our own peril.”
Johnston touted Chicago’s efforts to become “the greenest city in America” by implementing new systems and infrastructure enhancements to its commuter trains and buses. Adding 12,000 bike racks at transit stations, building 120 miles of roadside bike lanes, and starting carpooling and car-sharing programs have helped the city reduce its carbon emissions by 1 percent per year since 2002, he said.
He noted that Chicago is also converting bus engines to operate on biodiesel and ethanol, establishing recycling programs on trains and buses, and repaving streets and alleys with photo-catalytic cement, a reflective material that reduces heat and lessens smog.
The cement “has a chemical reaction with the sun and the smog and it keeps the material white and reflects the heat up,” Johnston said. “It eats smog about eight feet above where people are walking. We will be the first city in the U.S. to use this material on streets and alleys.”
Twenty-one percent of Chicago’s green efforts focus on new transportation projects and programs, he said, adding: “Transit is integral to a green city. We need to promote transit-oriented development, invest more, and make transit easier for people to take. Promoting alternative forms of getting around, from walking to biking, is always important.”
Michael Townes, president and chief executive officer of Hampton Roads Transit in Hampton, VA, and immediate past APTA chair, praised the Honolulu and Chicago leaders for making transportation systems greener and adapting new infrastructure and operations for the 21st century.
“Chicago and Honolulu are leading the way on sustainability," said Townes, who presided over the closing session. “Both know what it means to take a comprehensive approach. What we do every day will enhance the sustainability of the communities we serve.”
Hideyuki Ninomiya, director, transportation systems and equipment, for Sumitomo Corporation of America, introduced Hannemann. Nippon Sharyo/Sumitomo Corporation of America sponsored the session.