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paying off my carbon credit account

By enelson
Wednesday, April 30th, 2008 at 6:32 pm in Amtrak, BART, Bicycling, Capitol Corridor (Amtrak), connectivity, driving, Environment, global warming, rail.


So, rather than firing off one of my usual unsupported assertions on the blog, I spent way too much time yesterday trying to figure out how much carbon and other nasty stuff is emitted by the locomotive currently dragging me to work.

Regrettably, I can only say at this point that it’s a diesel electric, which means that it’s a ginormous diesel engine that doesn’t actually turn the gears that turn the wheels, like in a regular car, but turns a generator that powers an electric motor that makes the wheels turn. I have calls in to the EPA and several other entities, but the blogosphere waits not for laggards in pursuit of the truth. I’ll delay no further, and update when I (or one of you smart people) locate the data.

My assertion, in theory, was that I had done what Gov. Schwarzenegger had done, but with sweat instead of cash.

As many of you no doubt know, our green governor was called to account for jetting around the world to promote his anti-global warming campaign. To atone for his oversized carbon footprint, he paid indulgences to a “carbon forest” in the upper reaches of California. KQED’s California Report recently did a report on what the governor and first lady Maria Shriver’s carbon credits are accomplishing.

Thanks to the fact that my regular Capitol Corridor’s last stop is Oakland Coliseum, and that people haven’t caught on to the idea that it’s a convenient way to get to Oakland International Airport for those midday flights, I have the power to shrink my carbon footprint _ and the Bay Area’s _ on a regular basis

It happens when I’m the only person going to Coliseum. The train goes out of service there and returns to the yard in West Oakland until the afternoon. Thus, the entire mega-ton train, spewing particulates and carbon into the air, travels 10 minutes down and 10 minutes back just for yours truly.

Now, I ride the train in part to reduce my long commute’s impact on the environment. It’s disturbing when I’m the only thing that gets transported to Coliseum, especially after finding out that when no one is riding down there, the train will routinely go to the yard directly from Jack London Square.

So I am in the habit of asking one of the conductors, “Am I the only one?”

Some days, when I’m on a later train and simply can’t take the extra time, I have to accept my inconvenient truth and keep riding. As I exit at Coliseum, I look up and down the train, hoping to see someone else “de-training,” as they say. If I’m alone, I’m bummed, for the planet and my celestial ledger sheet.

But yesterday, I was on the right train and, in fact, I was alone. I announced my intent to get off at Jack London Square and assured the conductor, who insisted that it wasn’t necessary, that I had done this before and it was no problem.

The first time I mentioned this arrangement to Gene Skoropowski, who runs the Capitol Corridor on behalf of the multi-transit-agency CC Joint Powers Authority, I could tell he was not entirely happy. The CCJPA had gone to some trouble to build that platform at Coliseum and would like people to use it.

I couldn’t agree more. First off, people do use it, just not at the late hour that I do. Secondly, I can envision people getting off at Coliseum in good numbers throughout the day.  But right now, on Train #529, it occasionally ends up being me or no one.

And those of you who view rail as the highly inefficient tool of the privileged classes will no doubt point to this as another case proving your point. The key questions in this debate is, how many riders need to be on the train to make it more environmentally friendly than the same number of Ford Tauruses? And then there’s the marginal traffic congestion relief, which could already be making a big difference.

But for one day this week, it didn’t have to go, and that power was in my hands. It felt good. My own carbon credit, my own train-hauling locomotive, probably on the EPA’s lowest emissions tier for locomotives (as, I’m told, are most passenger engines in the Golden State), was parked and shut down for another 30 minutes on my say-so.

Until the aforementioned data comes back, I’ll guess that this single act (Am I smug? You bet!) will balance out all of my car trips in my Toyota Matrix for the rest of the month. If not from a CO2 emissions standpoint, then from a particulate emissions standpoint, since I don’t drive a diesel.

In any case, I will update this post when I find out what the actual impact of this act was.

What made it all the more satisfying was that I decided to try biking the rest of the way rather than biking to Lake Merritt BART and then from Coliseum BART to work. It won’t win me any triathelon medals or alter my carbon footprint any further, but I probably burned off half of that egg-and-cheese burrito I had on the train.

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10 Responses to “paying off my carbon credit account”

  1. John Miller Says:

    Some quick back of the envelope calculations:
    (1) The UP says that it can move one ton of freight 406 miles on a gallon of fuel. Lets Assume that the CC loco’s are about the same efficiency (probably a little high) Click here for UP’s numbers.
    (2) The CC Train Trivia page states that each CC passenger car weighs 75 tons. We will discount the weight of people and deal with the more prevalent 5 car consists (a little pessimistic)

    (3) per 2 a CC consist weighs 75*5= 375 tons
    (4) per 3 and 1 the the train gets 1.08 Miles per gallon

    (5)Desiel weighs 7.09 pounds per gallon and a good rule of thumb is that each pound of hydrocarbon burned represents a pound of CO2 released.

    (A)per (4) and (5) If you add 10 miles for the extra trip the train used and extra 10 gallons of fuel and thats 70 lbs of carbon dioxide.

    (B)Assuming 38mpg for a Toyota Matrix, you may drive 380 miles, or about 2 round trips from Sacramento to Oakland on your carbon offsets.

  2. The Overhead Wire Says:

    I agree, its silly to take the train all the way down and waste energy like that. The Colliseum station will get more use when that area gets redeveloped. Perhaps it needs a push? Why are we sprawling when there is all this land and great transit access? We need to create opportunities instead of waiting for them.

    In any event, here is data on transit modes and energy consumption from the DOE.

  3. Capricious Commuter Says:

    John, you exceed my expectations. Now that you’ve done the calculations, I may drive to Tahoe this weekend ;-).

    Seriously, even if you are right, with my commute, I’ll have used up my offset by Monday morning, having driven home yesterday, taking the train home tonight and driving home Friday.

    I guess the lesson is that I need to either start my own wind farm or move to San Leandro.

  4. Bike-a-Bit-More Says:

    May I make a bicycle commuting suggestion that will save you those 70lbs of CO2 (and some fare money) every single day? Buy your monthly ticket to the Jack London, instead of Coliseum, station.

    Every single train on the Capitol Corridor stops at Jack London (unlike the seriously sporadic Coliseum station) and there are amazing bike paths and lanes that run (nearly) unbroken from there to what I presume is your final destination: the new Trib offices.

    I commute from Martinez to a job just south of the Coliseum station, and I have tried every iteration of bike-BART-train-walk imaginable – and Amtrak to Jack London (to bike) is my favorite.

    Considering the fact that Lake Merritt is a bit of a backtrack for you, I bet you would make better overall time with the direct ride as well (which would probably clock in at between 5 and 6 miles, total – probably equating to less than 30 minutes from disembarkation from Amtrak.)

    Just an idea.

  5. Capricious Commuter Says:

    BABM, thanks for the suggestion, especially on Bike-to-Work Month. I have some serious reservations about committing to the extra time every day, but I would no doubt benefit from the extra workout. As for the ticket, it’s the same price for either station. What intrigues me is your reference to bike paths. That would be preferable to the route I took, but I’m not aware of such paths between JLS and Oakport Street. Can you tell me which paths you’re referring to?

  6. Rogue Cyclist Says:

    I think BABM was talking about the MLK Jr. shoreline trail that starts after High St. It’s the only significant bike/ped path I know of, other than some Bay Trail segments around the 16th Ave bridge and Coast Guard Island. I’m surprised how trash-free and serene it is, a nice alternative to Oakport.

  7. Bike-A-Bit-More Says:

    WARNING: This is a long post, but the I think the information is worth the read…

    First, I’ll address the money issue. I didn’t realize that longer trips don’t discount between Jack London and Coliseum – from Martinez, I would save $15 a month on a pass, or $2 per round trip on single ticket sales. While this is certainly not a fortune, it is enough to make me regret buying the longer train ticket if I take the longer bike ride enough times in a month.

    Since your trip costs the same either way, you have an advantage in that you aren’t saddled with that dilemma – you can buy the Coliseum ticket and jump off early any time you want.

    Second, let’s look at the time savings. Before you dismiss the Jack London to work ride as a self-indulgent waste of time (I exaggerate, of course), you have to take a close look at your “door-to-door” travel time.

    Right out of the gate, you save 12 minutes by getting off at Jack London instead of Coliseum. While the train sits for a two minute timed stop, you’re already on your way to work (and *not* backtracking towards Lake Merritt BART :)

    You also have to remember that the Coliseum station isn’t your final destination – work is. So the last mile-and-a-half of your Jack London ride is distance that you’d be covering from either station (a little more if you normally ride up Hegenberger, a little less if you ride up 66th Avenue.)

    This is just a guess, but I bet the actual time difference would only be about 10 minutes. On a pure efficiency basis, that’s quite a deal – you get 20 extra minutes of riding (great fun and exercise) for just 10 extra minutes out of your day. The only way you’ll know for sure, of course, is to time it yourself, door-to-door.

    And finally, the best part of your situation: a (mostly) peaceful and beautiful ride.

    From Jack London Amtrak, you continue on street (with bike lane striping, I think, or at least very wide lanes) along Embarcadero (the street that bounds the station on the south side.)

    You take Embarcadero for quite a way, passing the Jack London Aquatic Center, views of the estuary on your right, and the satisfying sight of gridlocked 880 traffic – safely separated from you by train tracks and a fence – on your left(!)

    As you continue around to the south, you will pass by the Embarcadero Cove and Union Point Marinas, along with the brand new Union Point Park (I told you this ride was going to be beautiful). There is bike lane striping almost the entire length here, and almost zero cross traffic (because you are hugging the water.)

    Embarcadero then bends east, and you will find yourself on 7th Street (no turns necessary, it happens just after the park.) This is probably the least pleasant part of the ride, but still not that bad (you have to cross over some railroad tracks, while passing a cement plant on your right.)

    You cross over a couple of major arteries here (including 23rd Avenue – which dumps off of the freeway) but you have stop lights to assist your passage.

    Continue on 7th Street through a small warehouse district (seafood and other fish on ice) about a block, and look for the short bike / pedestrian path that passes under an overpass.

    This allows you to keep on 7th Street for another four or so blocks through a residential neighborhood.

    Just as you cross over another set of railroad tracks, you will find yourself faced with a “T” intersection. This is Fruitvale Avenue.

    You have two choices here: (1) go left a short ways (a few hundred yards) and make a right onto 8th Street (just before the freeway), and continue on around past the Home Depot (and an unpleasant intersection with High Street); or (2) go a longer distance right, to make a left on Alameda Avenue (and end up back at the same intersection of 8th Street and High).

    The choice there is purely personal preference, and the only reason I’ve tried both is because traffic can be busy in that area (though not high speed.) You have to experiment a little, because a nice ride can turn ugly with time-dependent traffic pattern changes.

    Another point of interest: at the that Fruitvale intersection, you are less than a quarter mile from the Fruitvale BART station (just head under the freeway, and make your way right) which is the home of both the Fruitvale Bike Station (free bike storage, on-site mechanics, farmers markets, and now the headquarter of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition(!) If you have the time, that can make for a neat little side trip.

    Once you pass through the High Street intersection on 8th, you’re almost there. As the auto traffic starts to pick up speed and head left (onto the freeway), you will be making your way to the right. There is a “Y” split between the on-ramp and the frontage road you will be continuing on.

    As you round that curve, you will find yourself on Oakport (this ought to start sounding familiar now :)

    The traffic on Oakport can travel a little faster than I like (there’s a 40mph speed limit on the middle section), but there is almost no cross-traffic, and the views to the right are pretty darned nice (water and wetlands in the distance.)

    You continue around to the intersection with 66th Ave (Zhone Way) and head around the curve to your last straightaway. There are two choices here, too: (1) stay on the street and ride through the narrow waterway overpass (with some fast traffic), or (2) cut across that corner through the new path they’ve made as part of the Martin Luther King Regional Shoreline.

    Either way, you end up in front of the Lexus dealership, and on to the Tribune offices.

    This may sound a little complicated, but I didn’t have to dream it up from scratch. I have to put in a plug here for the East Bay Bicycle Coalition’s “West of the Hills” map (which is map one of a two map series that covers the entire East Bay.)

    It costs about $12 at local bike shops (or at the EBBC Fruitvale HQ), but you may be able to pick one up for free in conjunction with Bike to Work events.

    Either way, it is well worth the money (or effort) to get one, as this thing combines bike trails (paved and dirt), bike paths, bike lanes, and cyclist-selected favorite side roads all in one giant planning tool.

    Before I got one for myself, I used to plan my routes like a car (doing things like riding down San Leandro Avenue, because it was the straightest line between two points – even if it was a narrow-laned, high-speed death trap.) This map would usually show me how I could go one or two streets out of my way and turn a car-choked nightmare ride into the world’s most pleasant commute (see above, ad naseum :)

    With this ride as an alternative, and no financial difference for you between Jack London and Coliseum Amtrak, I would encourage you to start small – taking the longer ride once or twice a week at first – and gradually increase your confidence and mileage.

    You might even think about taking the long ride on your way to work (when you’re fresh, and the exercise will work its best magic in the office), and take the shorter (Coliseum) ride home, when you’re tired and feeling less up to it.

    Then, one day, you might start looking at jumping off at the Emeryville station, and starting this process all over again(!)

  8. Bike-A-Bit-More Says:

    And while I was composing that gut-buster of a post, I missed Rogue Cyclist’s concurrence.

    Coast Guard island is right in the middle of the marinas I mentioned (Embarcadero Cove and Union Point, and it is surprisingly peaceful in that little corner of Oakland.

    Also, my route sticks to the roads for almost the entire distance (because it is fast, and not too dangerous), but there are a couple of points at which you could diverge and take the *really* nice (but somewhat longer) bike paths along the waterway (about the last third of the ride.)

    But that’s part of the beauty of that (surprisingly bike friendly) area, there are a number of different choices you can make, depending on your time, energy, and preferences.

  9. murphstahoe Says:

    One thing never to be dismissed about getting off the train a stop earlier – you avoid that situation where something goes wrong with the train between when you could have gotten off and the next station.

  10. Capricious Commuter Says:

    Murphstahoe, I couldn’t agree more.

    Carbon saved for biking instead of riding the train alone: 70 pounds.

    Money saved by buying a ticket one stop shorter: $0.

    Calories burned from pedaling: 450.

    Getting off the train two minutes before a 90-minute delay from two freight trains fighting over right-of-way: Priceless.

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