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Transit Projects Take Time to ‘Pay Back’ Carbon

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

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It’s common sense that, on the face of things, mass transit is more eco-friendly than a model in which individuals all drive their own cars wherever they need to go. But how much does the actual construction of mass-transit infrastructure eat into the environmental benefits the planet reaps?

That’s the question University of Toronto professor Shoshanna Saxe has set out to investigate in a number of research projects, including her recently published study, “The Greenhouse Gas Impact of the Sheppard Subway Line.”

The paper, published in the March edition of Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment and co-authored by Eric Miller (of the University of Cambridge) and Peter Guthrie (also of the University of Toronto), looks at the greenhouse gas emissions the construction of the subway line created, and how quickly that impact would be recouped by the line’s positive environmental impact.

Based on ridership numbers and other data from the first nine years of the Sheppard Line, which opened in 2002 in Toronto, Saxe concludes that the best case is that it took 11 years pay back the impact of greenhouse gas emissions from the construction of the 3.4-mile subway line. A worst-case calculation puts the payback time at more like 33 years, meaning the line wouldn’t begin to benefit the planet in terms of net greenhouse gas reduction until 2035.

Construction Emissions

Carbon emissions in a big infrastructure product like the Sheppard Line come from a number of sources, including mineral extraction, mining and processing, Saxe told the Toronto Star. Cement production is known to be a major producer of carbon dioxide.

The point of the research isn’t to discourage the construction of mass transit. Saxe says her project is aimed at finding how developers and designers of big infrastructure projects can better tailor projects using knowledge that wasn’t available previously.

“I love design, it’s amazing,” she told U of T Engineering News. “However, when you’re building things that people are going to use, you have to stay well within the limits of what you know for sure. I was curious about questions that we didn’t already know the answers to.”

To drive home the point that infrastructure isn’t the enemy, Saxe tweeted on March 11: “Building more of all kinds of public transit is needed (subways, LRT, BRT, etc). We need the appropriate technology in the right places.”

 

   

Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Colleges and Universities; Construction; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Environmental Protection; Infrastructure; Latin America; Mass transit; North America; Program/Project Management; Public Transit; Research

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