Tag Archive | "transportation"

Painting of Gradma's house

To Grandmother’s Condo We Go?

“Over the river and through the woodsPainting of Gradma's house

To Grandmother’s house we go.

The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh

Through the white and drifted snow. Oh!”

This classic winter song belies our traditional demographics and settlement pattern wherein young families live in urban centers and make holiday visits to their aging parents and grandparents living in the country.

Today, those demographics are generally turned on their head.  Young families – in search of the American dream and drawn by decades of cheap houses, cheap gas and ubiquitous roads – typically settle in the suburbs and exurbs.  Cheap land allowed rampant development to push well over the river and clear cut the woods to make way for subdivisions and big box retail.

This unbridled development has wreaked havoc on our natural resources and consumed habitat at an alarming rate.  The National Resources Inventory estimates that we have now developed more than 111 million acres, and 40 million of those acres were developed between 1982 and 2007.  That means more than one-third of all land that has ever been developed in the lower 48 states was developed during the last 25 years.  That is an increase of 56 percent in just the time that MTV has been on the air.

Unbridled development is the evil stepchild of rampant road building.  Driving has grown by three times the rate of population growth over the past 15 years and is expected to grow by 40 percent by 2030. Not because driving is an American pastime, but because communities are built and not planned, leaving people with no other option but to drive everywhere. Those multi-lane highways make it possible for people to commute to well-paying jobs from further and further away where houses and yards are bigger and bigger.  More people move there, creating more pressure for more housing.  More people mean more cars. More cars mean more traffic. Traffic worsens, creating more pressure for more lanes.  Rather than solving the problem, more lanes attract yet more people, causing yet more congestion in what is called “induced traffic,” and the cycle continues.

Meanwhile, Grandmother has had enough. She has long since lost her small town and is moving back through the woods, to the other side of the river, back to the city.  Grandmother’s house is now more likely Grandmother’s condo.  Empty nesters are flocking back to urban centers where they can enjoy easy access to the culture, open spaces, a sense of community and the many services of the city in a walkable setting.  Baby boomers are giving up their station wagons for bicycles and leaving traffic behind for the comfort of transit.

In response to this new trend, many cities, like New York City are making efforts to become more “age-friendly.”  According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and age-friendly city is “an inclusive and accessible urban environment that promotes active ageing.”  WHO statistics show the global proportion of people aged 60 and over will double from 11 percent in 2006 to 22 percent by 2050.  For the first time in history, there will be more older people than children.  By 2030, the number of New Yorkers age 65 and over — a result of the baby boomers, diminished fertility and increasing longevity — is expected to reach 1.35 million, up 44 percent from 2000.  Cities have the economic and social resources to become more age-friendly and are better equipped to undertake the necessary changes for a changing society.

Maybe more people should follow Grandma’s lead.  Cities are better equipped to serve the needs of people of all ages in the most efficient, environmentally friendly way. Denser development means we leave more wild areas wild and more natural resources available to provide services like clean air and water.  As of 2007, over half of the global population now lives in cities. By 2030, about three out of every five people in the world will live in cities.

So before you move “over the river and through the woods,” remember Grandma’s wisdom.  If we want to keep healthy, functioning rivers and woods, we need fewer people moving there.

Posted in Energy, Fossil FuelsComments (0)

photo of what the wildlife crossing at I-70 might look like

A new design for Nature?

photo of what the wildlife crossing at I-70 might look like

One finalist's design for the I-70 wildlife crossing

Earlier this week, the ARC International Wildlife Crossing Infrastructure Design Competition unveiled the five finalist designs for a next generation wildlife crossing, to be built at West Vail Pass on I-70 in Colorado.  This first-ever international competition asked designers from all over the world to imagine solutions to the age-old problem of moving wildlife across the landscape while keeping them out of harm’s way on our highways.

Five finalists were chosen from 36 team submissions from nine countries, representing more than 100 firms worldwide.  The finalists showed great innovation and creativity, including the use of an inverted arc shape that creates a valley floating above the highway.  One design team chose laminated timber for building material, rather than concrete and steel.  Another design incorporates a bright red bridge to attract the interest of drivers as they pass under, yet remain unremarkable to color-blind mammals as they pass over.

“Collectively, the designs have the capacity to transform what we think of as possible,” said Jane Wernick, ARC juror and structural engineer, director of Jane Wernick Associates, London.

The five designs are now available for public viewing at http://www.arc-competition.com/finalists.php. The winning design team will be announced at the Transportation Research Board 90th Annual Meeting in Washington, DC on January 23, 2011.

Posted in Imperiled Wildlife, Northern RockiesComments (0)

Photo of deer crossing a road

Is America on a crash course with wildlife?

Photo of deer crossing a roadEvery year, State Farm releases their top ten worst states for deer vehicle collisions.  The 2010 list held no surprises with West Virginia in the number one slot for the fourth year in a row. Drivers in West Virginia face a 1 in 42 chance of hitting a deer sometime in the next 12 months.  The list is perennially dominated by Midwestern states, including Iowa, Michigan, the Dakotas, Wisconsin and Minnesota.  Montana, Pennsylvania and Arkansas – also states with abundant white tail deer – are also there.

America has had a long standing love affair with cars. Ninety five percent of American households have at least one car and we spend about 20 percent of our income on transportation. We’ve built more than four million miles of roads, providing us with unprecedented access and mobility.  But our mobility comes with a price, for both people and wildlife.  Wildlife vehicle collisions claim the lives of 200 Americans and result in 29,000 human injuries every year. Recent estimates indicate between 725,000 and 1,500,000 animals are struck on our roads annually and when we include smaller species such as amphibians and reptiles, the body count goes up to a million vertebrates a day.

Roadkill is nothing new, but statistics show the numbers are increasing dramatically. While the number of auto accidents has remained steady, the number of wildlife vehicle collisions has increased by 50 percent over the last decade. The miles traveled by U.S. motorists increased just two percent in five years, but the number of deer vehicle collisions jumped 20 percent in that same time period. Wildlife-vehicle collisions now represent one out of every 20 reported motor vehicle collisions, and they occur every 26 seconds.

Wildlife vehicle collisions put a dent in our wallets too.  The average property damage cost of each accident is $3,103.  When you add in the loss of work and medical costs, those numbers rise even higher.  The Western Transportation Institute estimated a collision with a deer costs an average $7890, while an elk hit costs $17,100 and a moose hit costs a whopping $28,100.  Add to that the costs of law enforcement, emergency services, road maintenance crews and wildlife management personnel and the total annual cost associated with wildlife vehicle collisions is nearly $8.4 billion.

Are wildlife vehicle collisions a necessary evil?  As long as there are cars on the road, we may never completely eliminate accidents, but we can take measures to reduce the frequency and severity.  Just like many of our roads now include guard rails to prevent cars from veering off, we can include structures to allow wildlife to move safely across the landscape without endangering passing motorists.  Wildlife underpasses and overpasses allow animals to get where they need to go by passing under or over highways without entering the right of way.  Some transportation agencies have begun building wildlife crossings but we have a long way to go before it is standard practice.

Congress can help state transportation agencies make that transition by adding wildlife-friendly provisions in the upcoming highway bill reauthorization. With the midterm elections behind us, many believe the highway bill is one of the few bipartisan efforts with a chance for success in a contentious Congress.  As luck would have it, two of the State Farm top ten states have congressional delegates in key positions on the committees in charge of reauthorizing the highway bill.  Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) chairs the Environment and Public Works committee and Congressman Nick Rahall (D-WV-3rd) is expected to claim the ranking member position on the House committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.  They have a tremendous opportunity to help their states and American motorists across the country by instituting policy changes to reduce wildlife vehicle collisions and avert a crash course with wildlife.

Posted in Imperiled WildlifeComments (0)

dotWild is the blog of scientists and policy experts at Defenders of Wildlife, a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.