Notes from a conference: ‘The need for road research’

There was a seminar yesterday morning jointly organised by TCD + UCD titled “The need for road research”, and held in Foster Place.

Overall, it was biased in favour of transport by private vehicle with insufficient recognition of the capability and future role of simple and cost effective solutions, namely cycling, walking, and public transport. Indeed references to walking, cycling and public transport – when they did come – came largely from the floor, or prompted by questions from the floor.

Not a few loose assumptions were cast around, some of which I had the opportunity to question. There is a clear need to get to these events and ask questions: the frequent omission of resource peak, climate change impact, and omission of normative considerations (i.e. striving for what we should be doing rather than what most economists think might happen) is disappointingly all-too-apparent. I think a diminishing number of people are unaware of these realities but the questions are still too sparse! (If anyone went the Engineers Ireland conference (regarding motorways) held on Wed night and took notes could they post them up here? )

Prof Convery, head of Comhar, believes the economy will grow by approx 3 per cent in coming years, despite the adverse consequences, and appears to divorce this from what we should be doing. This contrasts from the situation in the UK, where the head of a body created to champion sustainability (Tim Jackson) takes a more goal-oriented approach, emphasizing the need to embrace resource equilibrium, before we end up with even more sharp global growth/collapse cycles. I think Comhar has the flexibility to take a more benign stance here, as Tim Jackon, and indeed Adair Turner, has shown across the water.

The conference was open-invite. Please forgive the blunt nature of the notes and the bullet point format.

PANEL SPEAKERS (Foster Place, 20 May 2010)

Maurizio Maggiore, Scientific Officer in DG Move (ex DG Tren) gave a presentation focusing mainly on electric vehicles (EV). Frank Convery (UCD / Comhar), Ken Jordan of Dep of Transport, Albert Daly of the NRA, and Eugene O’Brien of UCD responded to his paper, with questions from the floor after that.

40,000 people die on Europe’s roads a year
He talked up small, light cars; the ‘Super Light Car’
20 – 41 per cent weight reduction is possible, and he showed a clever 3 wheel car/motorbike hybrid
In response to a question re heavy cars/vehicles he said he believed such SUVs / cars should be forced to have a crumple bummer to ‘defend’ light cars.
Re freight, at least 50 per cent of the space on the avg truck is empty; better to combine loads as it’s hard to cut co2. Short-range EV delivery vans are possible.
Research scoping is vital as “the safest way to lose money is to give it to an engineer”!
“The US car industry shows that not taking into account energy efficiency is … risky”
Voluntary limits on industry didn’t work for co2: witness the failure to reach 140 g /km by 2008
Supercredits (tax/VRT etc) should be put in place for sub 50 g/km vehicles
China has 95 per cent of the rare earth material which is needed for electric cars; in sept 09 Chinese gov announced it would limit export of same.
2,100 p.a. EVs produced in China in 2008; 500,000 is its target for end 2011
Lack of graduates trained in EV in Europe. Common Standards yet to be agreed across EU
Emphasis should be on public fleets (eg utility companies)
In the Japanese experience “[some] ladies don’t plug in” after driving an electric car!! Put gently, in Japan a greater need to persuade lady drivers to charge (as against switching over to petrol drive) has been identified in hybrid EVs.
One prob in EU is Germany has no speed limit… the makes it difficult to measure success / failure of measures with impact on speed/s.

He wonders about the carbon implications of EVs – is the work being done?
He flagged his upcoming lecture series [e.g. “Understanding the Icelandic Ash Cloud” – 4 june 2010 – by Chris Bean, UCD]
He sees a “transformation role that roads have to play …[i see a] dramatic step-change in access from regions to Dublin”, and a “substantial health and safety dividend”.
“limiting access [to the motorway network]” is important
Later on he acknowledged the costs of dispersion, and acknowledged that the road system encourages that
He claimed there was a reduction in emissions per km travelled due to motorway construction!! I queried this later and Convery conceded that the most efficient speed to drive is 80kph and in effect admitted his contention was based on intuition.
He also said vehicle size would increase with more motorway.
He mentioned modelling the impact.

96 per cent travel to work by road
Background is greenhouse gas issues, lifestyle issues
Stressed ports

NRA is the body responsible for the planning + operation of national roads and has now started taking over responsibility for a body of non-national routes. He commended a potential merger with the RPA. NRA has 144 staff, one of worlds smaller roads authorities.
In 2010 NRA will spend 1.15bn of public money + 200m of private money
NRA has spent 14bn since 1993 + 2bn of private €
Research strategy involves a spend of €1 – 2m p.a.
In response to a question, he said they are investigating the issue of when as a authority they have to alter their planning practice (“start doing something serious”) about climate change.
In response to a question viz the change in traffic levels in ’08 and ’09, he said there is a revised National Roads Needs Study in progress and the data is being collated for that.

Freight is doubling every 20 years. Do we want to double the size of vehicles or double the number of roads, or what?
He made the point that the EU is unwilling to properly cost transport for fear of suppressing economic growth: the Lisbon agenda commits EU countries to never-ending growth, although this is not physically possible, as the planet is finite.

Ken Jordan said cars were down 1 – 2 per cent with trucks downs 12 per cent in recent years with final data awaited.
What about the need for transport in rural areas? Convery suggested the answer was tied in with ag: “It looks like dairying has a future but beef doesn’t”. “We need to cluster development”.
From the floor: Electricity is only 35 per cent efficient; not great for transport.
Kieran Simms of TCD engineering dept: we don’t map accident locations. Ken J passed to Albert D who passed it on, saying it was the RSA’s responsibility.
Ciaran McDonough, UCD: is there a vision for EV infrastructure construction in the EU? M Maggiore responded: EV is feasible if you accept the range limitations. There has been some hype. The natural market is fleets (post office, gas co, electricity company) and people that live c. 30k from the city. [There was a UK study that showed the cable from the charging point didn’t reach (many) garages and there was no suitable extension chord available on the market.]
Evidence in the US showed that a great many charging points are going unused. Return on investment analysis for EV is uncertain. A Japanese study shows that electric cars are coming back empty of charge when fast chargers are provided.
London ambition to provide one charge point per car; i.e. over-provision is built-in. EU can only provide baseline guidance and the rest is down to local factors. Eugene O’B criticized the EU for lack of a long-term strategy but M Maggiore responded saying interest in EVs died in the 1990s and yet the EU persisted with battery research etc; the work has been on-going, he said.

Embodied energy – is it being considered? Yes claimed Maggiore.
David Timoney: what do we need to specialise in Ireland?
Lithium – heavily salted water in Bolivia, Chile and Argentina is the cheapest way to make it but not the only way. But it’s not just lithium that’s needed. Rare earths are needed for magnets – in fact this is a bigger prob than lithium. China and Inner Mongolia have the largest deposits and these rare earths are also needed for new windmills. As they have the best magnets China + Mongolia is set to completely shape these markets.
Albert D: half of cement in nra projects must be white cement.

Quoting the Wuppertal Institute 2007 study, I said the manufacturing of a car accounts for two-thirds of its environmental impact over its entire life, and that should prompt eco-drive campaigns (eg drive at 55 mph / 80 kph) to make the most of existing cars. [Maggiore disputed the 2007 Wuppertal study so I’ll send it on to him. ]

I said I was unconvinced electric cars could gain real market share. Even leaving aside the resource issues, their light weight means it will be difficult for electric cars to get a high safety rating (NCAP). Because we will always have a mix of heavy and light vehicles on the roads, what is the future for those of lighter weight? I noted that in the UK the electric cars which qualified for the gov subsidy cost more than STR 50,000, meaning that the 5,000 subsidy the UK is giving these purchasers raises real social equity questions.

What will be the most competitive countries? Dutch cities (eg Groningen) and Odense in Denmark are approaching 50% of journeys under 10km made by bike. In Ireland what progress is being made on electrification / hybridisation of the bus fleet? We have one EV bus out of a thousand in the Dublin Bus fleet at the moment; is that even enough for pilot study assessment?

40 per cent of our housing output is in rural areas: for rural transport Duncan Stewart has suggested removing the centre line and painting cycle lanes 1.5m from road edge, with motorists then left with the responsibility to drive with due care and attention. Simple solutions should not be rejected because they are simple and cost-effective.

In response (Light v. Heavy vehicles), Maggiore said in an accident the heavier vehicle should pay for it and there should be a crash absorption panel on the front of SUV and heavier cars.
Frank Convery said that 67 per cent of emissions from the car fleet in Ireland come from rural areas – more work needs to be done here.

There was no response at all on the social equity issue, or at least I garnered no attempted response.

Re trucks it’s basically impossible to make electric HGVs (as they shift up to 44 tonnes, and more in Nordic countries). Industry wants bigger trucks – EU has no view on this other than to acknowledge that different countries have different views. Bigger carbon levies are needed, but this will not happen while the EU remains committed to growth said Eugene O’Brien, who added “if we keep on growing and growing we will overrun the planet”.

Frank Convery: In response to a question, flights will come under EU ETS but shipping will continue to get a free ride.
M Maggiore: There is an attempt to extend carbon limits to trucks within the EU. Light vehicles will come first; 95 euro per gram limit by 2020 with a penalty for in excess of that is what is expected, he said.

Albert D: NRA and RPA should be united with other transport providers.
Frank Convery “Irish Rail doesn’t have an innovation budget … we need to embed it [commitment to research and innovation] across society”.

Description of event:

From: Earth Sciences Institute
Date: 11 May 2010 17:11:32 IST
Subject: ‘The Need for Road Research’, 20 May, 09.00
Reply-To: Earth Sciences Institute
INVITATION “The Need for Road Research” Thursday 20th May 2010, 9.00 – 11.30 TCD-UCD Innovation Academy, 2 Foster’s Place, College Green, Dublin 2 (map attached) Across Europe transport demand, both for passengers and freight, is growing strongly. To meet the economic growth targets of the Lisbon Agenda and to facilitate the economic integration of the European Union, the European transportation network needs to cater for a continuing medium-term growth in demand. However, transport growth using the technologies of today is unsustainable – it is estimated that traffic jams currently cost the European economy €135 billion each year. New technologies and processes need to be developed which deliver transportation systems that are both cheap and sustainable. In the past two decades there has been a revolution in electronic sensor and processing technologies, creating potential for new innovative uses in all kinds of ways. Initiatives such as the Green Cars scheme have been launched to reduce the environmental impact of transportation, but a vision is also required to transform the way in which we build and manage our transport infrastructure. Given that research budgets are currently under significant pressure, the need to identify the factors that will deliver a step-change in our transport networks is clear. Keynote address: Maurizio Maggiore (European Commission, DG Research, Sustainable Surface Transport) Panel members: Pat Mangan (Assistant Secretary, Department of Transport) Albert Daly (Research Manager, National Roads Authority) Frank Convery (Professor in Environmental Policy, UCD & Director of UCD Earth Sciences Institute and UCD Urban Institute) Eugene O’Brien (Professor in Civil Engineering, UCD) Feel free to pass this information onto anyone you feel may be interested. Attendance is free and open to all. Organised as part of the TEAM Marie Curie Initial Training Network in association with the UCD Critical Infrastructure Group

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