Sunday, February 21, 2010

The only green road is a dead road

Planetizen linked to an Environmental Leader story about a new proposal for rating the "greenness" of roads, with a PDF of the proposal. The thinking behind this is so shallow that it just boggles my mind.

There's nothing in the proposal about the environmental impact of encouraging people to drive instead of walking or taking transit, or of encouraging people to drive further than they would otherwise. The authors write, "Decisions regarding the location, type, timing, feasibility or other planning level ideas are excluded. While planning is fundamental to roadway and community sustainability, these decisions are often too complex or political to be adequately defined by a point system."

If that's the case, maybe the point system is not appropriate here. But it seems pretty easy: would this road compete with an existing transit line? Zero points! Would it facilitate sprawl? Zero points! The problem is finding a road plan that wouldn't get zero points.

The authors also go on a lot about rating the "sustainability" of roads. But since roads contribute to environmental destruction by their very existence, I'm thinking that unsustainable roads are friendlier to the environment in the long term. Think of the Central and Embarcadero "Freeways" in San Francisco, the West Side Highway here in New York, and the plans to remove the Alaskan Way in Seattle. If these highways had been sustainable, they might still be around, cutting off access to neighborhoods and waterfronts with ugly, noisy elevated structures.

There's no such thing as a "green" strip mine or a "green" subdivision in a desert, and there's no such thing as a "green" road. Some roads are necessary evils that we tolerate for the greater good. Maybe it's nice if they're made with reused, permeable materials instead of oil and rocks fresh from the ground. But they're still roads, and the only way to call them "green" is greenwashing.


BruceMcF said...

I find your rating scale quite unpersuasive.

I would only place a rating of zero on a road that is one shared full lane with a reverse direction cycle lane, with the direction of the traffic lane reversing ever one to four blocks.

Beyond that, the ratings would go into the negative numbers.

Jonathan said...

Rating scales say more about the rating agency than the rated sites. Nice post.

Chris said...

What's most disgusting is that "scenic views" give as many points as bikability or walkability

Helen Bushnell said...

Trains are always best for seeing and preserving "scenic views". Roads take up too much space, and create too much pollution. And you can't really see anything very well.

Good post, Cap'n Transit.