A lot of people appreciated my last post on the distribution of road fatalities across the region: it was featured on two Streetsblog posts, "Today's Headlines" and Streetsblog.net. Tonight I'm going to turn to another goal, increasing energy efficiency.
Our transportation system is incredibly inefficient, as you can see in this awesome infographic from Good. 75% of the 27 quadrillion BTU of energy spent on transportation is wasted. To a large extent it's because when we want to transport a 150 pound person (sometimes with a couple hundred pounds of other people or supplies, often not), we frequently use a large internal combustion engine to transport a 2-3 ton metal shell with them. When we want to transport ten thousand cubic feet of stuff, we frequently put it into containers of one or two thousand cubic feet, each with its own driver and a ton of internal combustion engine.
These cars and trucks have also allowed us to sprawl out our houses, jobs, schools, stores and entertainment, so that people who live, work or shop in newer developments often spend hours of each day shuttling between them in cars, and goods that were once transported a few blocks by backpack or handcart are now carried for miles in trucks.
The easiest way to measure energy expended on transportation is by vehicle miles traveled (VMT). Sure, some of those vehicle miles are absolutely necessary and efficient, but most of them are transporting one person and a briefcase from McMansion to office park, and others are carting a load of toilet paper from warehouse to big-box store. They also give us a sense of the counties' contributions to greenhouse gas emissions. Here is a map of VMT per capita by county for the tri-state region in 2005:
I got the data from an Excel spreadsheet that someone at the EPA helpfully posted online. The Center for Neighborhood Technology writes, "The EPA obtains VMT estimates that the U.S Federal Highway Administration collects from state bureaus of transportation. The states formulate the estimates by conducting traffic counts in each county and projecting those figures to arrive at an estimated miles traveled per year in each county." The 2008 data is available (and here are the state and county FIPS codes, so you know which files to download; they're also in the 2005 spreadsheet), but I can't find a nice spreadsheet for 2008.
I used a blank county map from the Tri-State Weather forum that turned up on Google Image Search, and colored the counties by VMT per capita: the darkest counties have over 12,500 VMT per inhabitant, and the lightest less than 5,000.
Putnam County in particular is off the charts, with 3.09 billion vehicle-miles traveled for a population of only 99,270, for 31,077 VMT per capita. Orange and Suffolk followed, with 13,171 and 12,682 VMT per person. There's a "Borscht Belt" (thanks to commenter CityLights) of milder sprawl beyond them, stretching from Warren through Sullivan to Dutchess, all in the 10,000-12,500 range, along with the raised-ranch and office-park counties of Bergen, Morris and Middlesex. The other Central Jersey counties plus Rockland, Westchester, Nassau and Connecticut are all in the 7,5000-10,000 VMT per capita range, and then Ocean, Sussex, Passaic and Hunterdon are in the 5,000-7,5000 range. The lowest per capita range includes the five boroughs of New York City plus Hudson County, NJ.
Now let's take a look at how the counties contribute to the overall energy efficiency and emissions of the region. As before, Putnam's large per-capita figure accounts for only two percent of all vehicle miles traveled. Suffolk again leads the pack with 13% of the total, despite only having 7% of the region's population. The top nine counties account for a majority of all VMT in the region: Suffolk, Nassau, Westchester, Bergen, Queens, Middlesex, Fairfield, Monmouth and New Haven.
The three counties that appeared both on the fatalities list and the VMT list are Suffolk, Nassau and Queens. I'm seriously thinking that the best thing we could do to save lives and reduce our region's energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions would be to tear up the Long Island Expressway and replace it with a new train line.