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Transportation and Climate Change Clearinghouse

Integration into Transportation Decision Making

3 - Transportation Planning and Climate Change: New York State

Mark P. Gaber

ABSTRACT

The transportation sector is responsible for roughly one third of US carbon dioxide emissions, making it a prime candidate for emission reductions. While no national policy to control greenhouse gases has yet been developed, many State and local governments have taken actions to reduce emissions. Twenty-eight states have adopted climate action plans, and 128 city and county governments are participating in an initiative to reduce emissions. While California has regulated tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases, New York has enacted requirements on the transportation planning side.

The 2002 New York State Energy Plan required metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) in the State to conduct a greenhouse gas energy analysis as part of the transportation planning process for regionally significant projects. This paper provides an overview of the transportation/climate change connection and its importance to New York, summarizes the requirements of the Energy Plan and examines the analyses conducted by three of the thirteen MPOs in New York. It synthesizes their findings, and assesses what effects the greenhouse gas analyses have had on the transportation planning decision-making process and the potential for achieving greenhouse gas reductions from such exercises.

Further, this paper compares the methods used by the MPOs to quantify greenhouse gas emissions and to conduct the analysis, and it recommends areas where further methodological development is needed or available for future planning documents.

With political and scientific attention increasing, the transportation sector may face some form of emission reduction targets in the future-whether mandatory or voluntary. Ultimately, this paper provides a case study on the potential for New York State's Energy Plan requirements to serve as model for gaining emission reductions through the transportation planning process.

INTRODUCTION

Climate Change and Transportation

In February 2007, the United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the summary findings of its fourth assessment report on the physical science basis of global climate change. The report strongly supports the scientific consensus that global climate change is a real and consequential phenomenon. Further, the IPCC authors have determined that "[m]ost of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations" (IPCC, 2007). The authors define "very likely" to indicate a likelihood of greater than 90 percent-a change from the former designation of "likely", or greater than a 66 percent likelihood. The new report also ties the rising global average sea level and decreasing northern hemisphere snow cover to global climate change.

The anthropogenic contributions to global climate change result from emissions of greenhouse gases into the Earth's atmosphere. Simply stated, the greenhouse gases trap excess heat in the Earth's atmosphere, thus warming the planet. Carbon dioxide is the gas emitted in the largest quantity, but others, such as methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases, contribute to the warming (Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], Climate Change, 2007). These emissions are primarily produced by the burning of fossil fuels. The US Energy Information Agency (EIA) reported that, in 2005, the transportation sector accounted for thirty-three percent of US carbon dioxide emissions-the largest contributor of the end-use sectors. Additionally, since 1990, there has been an average annual growth of 1.5 percent in transportation sector carbon dioxide emissions (EIA, 2006).

The United States is responsible for twenty-five percent of global carbon dioxide emissions (EIA, 2004), which means that the US transportation sector is responsible for eight percent of global emissions. The US Department of Transportation's (DOT) Center for Climate Change and Environmental Forecasting acknowledged the transportation sector's contribution to greenhouse gas emissions in its 2006-2010 Strategic Plan. Importantly, the DOT also addressed the potential for impacts on the transportation sector as a result of climate change. "Transportation will also be affected by climate change, which has the potential to create significant weather irregularities, including sea level rise and more intense storms that could severely affect the safety and security of national transportation infrastructure" (DOT, 2006).

New York is one of several State governments that have been pioneering policies to reduce energy consumption and to integrate climate change considerations into decision-making processes. New York City is the largest US city, and its coastal location is threatened by the potential for sea level rise, making this an important issue for the State and local governments to address.

Climate Change Impacts in New York

New York City is one of the most significant centers of business in the world. As with other port cities, New York City's location near water makes it a natural site for trade and economic activity. The city has over 500 miles of coastline, of which transportation infrastructure covers a significant portion, including transit, tunnels, roadways, bridges, and other systems (Zimmerman, 2002). A significant portion of the city's transportation infrastructure is below or just slightly above sea level, which increases the threat of damage from flooding. According to Zimmerman (2002), the city has twenty-seven transit facilities; twenty-one surface transportation facilities, including roads, bridges, and tunnels; six marine facilities; and two airports; all that are ten feet or fewer above sea level. According to the IPCC (2007), global average sea level rose at an average rate of 1.8 millimeters per year from 1961 to 2003, but with a much higher rate of 3.1 millimeters per year from 1993 to 2003. The IPCC (2007) predicted a 0.18 to 0.59 meter (0.6 to 1.9 feet) rise in sea level from 1980 to 2099.

The threat of rising sea level to the city's transportation infrastructure is broad in its economic, health, and safety effects. Submerged infrastructure is obviously not useable, but it can also not withstand submerged conditions for long, as the material corrodes and the structures are impaired (Zimmerman, 1996). Transportation infrastructure is critical to public health and safety, serving as the conduits for emergency response vehicles. The flooding and storm damage that occurred after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005 demonstrate the difficulties that emergency management officials face in reaching threatened populations when transportation infrastructure is compromised.

According to the IPCC (2007), of the twelve warmest years on record since 1850, eleven occurred between 1995 and 2006. Additionally, it reports that the best estimates for expected temperature increases over the course of the twenty-first century range from three to seven degrees Fahrenheit. One of the consequences of such an increase in temperature is increased stress on transportation infrastructure. According to Zimmerman (1996), bridges and other road surfaces withstand temperature ranges of 120 degrees Fahrenheit, from -20 degrees to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. While temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit are not uncommon in the city during the summer months, temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit are relatively rare (NOAA, 2006). As temperatures increase, however, impairment of the road facilities from heat stress could be a concern (Zimmerman, 2006).

Clearly New York City, and by extension, New York State, have a significant stake in taking steps to mitigate the threats posed by global climate change. Having been the center of the 9/11 attacks, the city is familiar with disasters. According to Dolfman and Wasser (2004), in their assessment for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 9/11 attacks resulted in over $2 billion in lost wages during the four month period following the disaster in Manhattan alone. Severe flooding and the loss of important transportation infrastructure could be expected to cause similarly significant economic, environmental, and human damage. Acknowledging the threat posed by climate change, the State of New York developed its 2002 State Energy Plan with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

New York State Energy Plan

In 2002, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) released its State Energy Plan, a wide-ranging set of policy goals aimed at providing the State with efficient, clean, affordable, and reliable energy resources. The plan details fifteen policy recommendations, including seven with environmental focuses. It places a large emphasis on renewable fuels research and use and increased energy efficiency. The Plan calls for increased efficiency in transportation through support for public transit, transportation management, intelligent transportation systems, and capital construction.

The recommendation that this Plan focuses on is to reduce the State's greenhouse gas emissions to five percent below 1990 levels by 2010 and to ten percent below 1990 levels by 2020. Specifically, the Plan calls for analyzing energy consumption of the transportation system as a part of the transportation planning process:

    Examining and analyzing the transportation system's energy consumption and air emissions when long-range plans and Transportation Improvement Programs are adopted would enhance this commitment. This examination could be on a build/no build basis and include public review. If a plan or a program increases air emissions or uses more energy than doing nothing at all, additional measures or modifications to the plan or program could be considered to minimize the increases as much as practicable. This review would be in addition to existing Federal and State requirements to address transportation conformity regulations in air quality non-attainment and maintenance areas (NYSERDA, p. 2-90, 2002).

While the Plan calls for the "build" scenarios to result in lower emission than the "no build" scenarios, it does not link this transportation planning requirement to the more ambitious goal of actually reducing greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels. Indeed, NYSERDA's 2005 State Energy Plan Annual report indicates that, through 2005, New York's greenhouse gas emissions actually increased by seven percent over 1990 levels. The State notes, however, that the actions it took to curtail emissions resulted in one-half of one percent fewer emissions than would have occurred without acting (NYSERDA, 2005).

The Plan identifies a large group of transportation planning strategies that can be included in transportation plans and Transportation Improvement Programs (TIPs) to reduce emissions. These strategies include enhanced bicycle and pedestrian programs, improved intelligent transportation systems (optimized traffic signals, incident response, corridor management), speed limit reduction, congestion pricing, transportation management planning for employers (providing telecommuting options, vanpooling, and flex time), and improved public transit.

The New York Department of Transportation carried out the directive in the Energy Plan by requiring MPOs to conduct a greenhouse gas energy analysis on their transportation plans.

GREENHOUSE GAS ENERGY ANALYSIS

Any metropolitan region with over 50,000 people is required by Federal transportation planning regulations to have an MPO. There are thirteen MPOs in New York of varying sizes. In a report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2005, ICF Consulting interviewed staff from the State MPOs about the Energy Plan requirements. According to ICF (2005), many MPOs do not view the Energy Plan requirements as mandatory, instead seeing them as voluntary actions. Indeed, some MPOs, particularly the smaller regions, did not complete analyses. In the interviews, many MPOs expressed confusion as to why they were given such a visible role in the State assessment of energy consumption, given their perceived inability to control increases in energy use. Some MPOs are resisting the requirement, as they do not believe the analyses will be used in the decision-making process-indeed, the analyses were conducted after the plans were complete. Additionally, many MPOs were concerned with the increased workload required by conducting the analyses, stating that they required two to four person weeks on average to complete. For small MPOs, this can be a significant burden.

This paper assesses the greenhouse gas energy analyses conducted by three of the MPOs of different sizes: the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council (NYMTC) based in New York City, the Capital District Transportation Council (CDTC) based in Albany, and Ithaca-Tompkins County Transportation Council (ITCTC) based in Ithaca.

New York City

NYMTC released its greenhouse gas energy analysis for its 2005-2030 transportation plan in November 2006. Table 1 presents data on NYMTC's past and future carbon dioxide emissions, gross regional product, carbon dioxide intensity, and energy intensity, as provided by ICF Consulting in a report for the US Department of Transportation.

Table 1: NYMTC Carbon Dioxide Emissions and Energy Intensity

Table 1: NYMTC Carbon Dioxide Emissions and Energy Intensity. If you are a user with disability and cannot view this image, call 800-853-1351

Source: ICF, 2005

While Table 1 demonstrates that NYMTC is reducing its greenhouse gas and energy use intensity, as measured against gross metropolitan regional product, it also shows that actual greenhouse gas emissions and energy use are increasing and are projected to increase through 2020. This indicates that NYMTC is not on track to meet the Energy Plan greenhouse gas reduction goals. To meet the Energy Policy goals, NYMTC's greenhouse gas emissions would need to be at or below 41.8 million metric tons in 2010, and at or below 39.6 million metric tons in 2020. This means that the NYMTC planning area is projected to emit 51 percent more emissions in 2020 than it would if the Energy Policy greenhouse gas goals were met.

Table 2 summarizes the greenhouse gas emissions from direct energy consumption of the "build" versus the "no-build" scenarios.

Table 2: NYMTC Daily Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Direct Energy (2005-2030 Regional Transportation Plan)

Table 3: CDTC Carbon Dioxide Emissions and Energy Intensity. If you are a user with disability and cannot view this image, call 800-853-1351

Source: NYMTC, 2006

While the Energy Plan calls for actual reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, its section on transportation only indicates that the plans and TIPs should show less emissions under the build than under the no-build scenarios. NYMTC's 2005-2030 Regional Transportation Plan meets this goal in each analysis year, with 2,466 fewer tons of daily greenhouse gas emissions projected for 2030 under the build scenario than under the no-build scenario. It is important to note, however, that the analysis indicates that there will be an increase of 13,966 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per day, or roughly 5,100,000 tons per year, from the 2002 base year in 2030 if the Plan is enacted. This represents a 14 percent increase in emissions over 2002 levels. Furthermore, NYMTC did not compare emission levels to those caused by transportation sources in 1990. Without that information, it is impossible to determine the increase that will happen relative to the 1990 levels, the year that the Energy Plan uses for its greenhouse gas reduction goals.

NYMTC concludes its greenhouse gas analysis by stating that "NYMTC's TIP and Plan are consistent with the 2002 State Energy Plan, and the forecasted reduction in future energy consumption for years 2010, 2020, and 2030 illustrate the regional focus and commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions" (2006, p. 9). This statement is true if viewed as a comparison of the implementation of the plan versus a no-build scenario, but it is not true for the Energy Plan's overall goal of actually reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Albany

CDTC released its New Visions 2025 Plan for public comment in June 2004. It included the greenhouse gas analysis required under the Energy Plan. Table 3 presents data on CDTC's past and future carbon dioxide emissions, gross regional product, carbon dioxide intensity, and energy intensity, as provided by ICF Consulting in a report for the US Department of Transportation.

Table 3: CDTC Carbon Dioxide Emissions and Energy Intensity

Table 3: CDTC Carbon Dioxide Emissions and Energy Intensity. If you are a user with disability and cannot view this image, call 800-853-1351

Source: ICF, 2005

Like NYMTC, Table 3 indicates that CDTC has reduced and is projected to continue reducing its greenhouse gas intensity. However, actual greenhouse gas emissions are projected to continue rising, counter to the goals of the Energy Plan. To meet the Energy Plan goals, CDTC's greenhouse gas emissions would need to be at or below 4 million metric tons in 2010, and at or below 3.8 million metric tons in 2020. This means that CDTC is projected to emit 58 percent more emissions in 2020 than it would if the Energy Plan greenhouse gas goals were met.

Table 4 summarizes the greenhouse gas emissions from direct energy consumption of the "build" versus the "no-build" scenarios.

Table 4: CDTC's Yearly Greenhouse Gas Emissions (New Visions 2025 Transportation Plan)

Table 4: CDTC's Yearly Greenhouse Gas Emissions (New Visions 2025 Transportation Plan). If you are a user with disability and cannot view this image, call 800-853-1351

Source: CDTC, 2004

Like NYMTC, CDTC meets the Energy Plan goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions with the implemented build scenario relative to the no-build scenario. But CDTC also indicates that actual greenhouse gas emissions will rise 37,693 tons per year from 2008 to 2025-a 5 percent increase. Like NYMTC's analysis, the CDTC analysis does not present greenhouse gas emissions for 1990, so a comparison to the Energy Plan targets is not possible from the information provided in the CDTC transportation plan.

Ithaca-Tompkins County

ITCTC released its 2025 Long Range Transportation Plan in December 2004, and it included a greenhouse gas analysis. ITCTC is one of the smallest MPOs in New York. Table 5 presents data on ITCTC's past and future carbon dioxide emissions, gross regional product, carbon dioxide intensity, and energy intensity, as provided by ICF Consulting in a report for the US Department of Transportation.

Table 5: ITCTC Carbon Dioxide Emissions and Energy Intensity

Table 5: ITCTC Carbon Dioxide Emissions and Energy Intensity. If you are a user with disability and cannot view this image, call 800-853-1351

Source: ICF, 2005

ITCTC, like the other MPOs, shows a reduction in energy intensity through 2020, but it also fails to meet the Energy Plan goals of a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions relative to 1990 levels. While it shows no increase from 2010 to 2020, this can partially be explained by the small size of the MPO. To meet the Energy Plan goals, the ITCTC planning area would need to be emitting at or below 0.38 million metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2010 and at or below 0.36 million metric tons in 2020. Thus, in 2020, ITCTC area is projected to emit 39 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than it would if it met the Energy Plan goals.

Table 6 summarizes the greenhouse gas emissions from direct energy consumption of the "build" versus the "no-build" scenarios. Unlike NYMTC and CDTC, ITCTC only conducted its analysis for 2004 and 2025.

Table 6: ITCTC Yearly Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Table 6: ITCTC Yearly Greenhouse Gas Emissions. If you are a user with disability and cannot view this image, call 800-853-1351

Source: ITCTC, 2004

ITCTC, like the other two MPOs assessed, shows a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions for its build compared to its no-build scenario. Likewise, it shows a total increase in greenhouse gas emissions from current levels to 2025 levels, in this case 16 metric tons, or a 14 percent increase. It too does not provide information on 1990 levels.

Comparison of Three MPOs

The trends of all three MPOs assessed in this paper are the same. All of their analyses indicate that implementing their long range transportation plans will result in fewer greenhouse gas emissions than would occur without the projects in the plans. However, all three envision greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sectors increasing over current, and therefore, 1990, levels. It is interesting to note that, although it is responsible for the largest share of the state's emissions, the New York City metropolitan region is significantly less energy intensive than either the Albany or the Ithaca-Tompkins County regions.

In interviews with New York MPOs, ICF Consulting found that "most MPOs see few circumstances in which these energy/CO2 assessments could influence decisions in a significant way" (2005, p. 16). Two of the MPOs assessed in this paper, CDTC and ITCTC, included their analyses in their long range plan, while NYMTC conducted its analysis after the plan was released. Thus NYMTC did not use its analysis as part of the decision-making process of which projects to include in the plan. For future planning cycles, MPOs could better incorporate climate change considerations by using the information gained in these first-round analyses as a part of the decision-making process.

Quantitative Needs

Carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas, is generally emitted in a manner directly proportional to fuel consumption. As such, the calculation of greenhouse gas emissions from the implementation of transportation plans requires determining the amount of fuel consumed by the vehicles that will use the roadways contained in the plan. While conceptually simple, it is more complex in practice and requires a model that can make adjustments based on fuel type and vehicle mix, among other factors. If these data are not available for an MPO for its facilities, then the calculation becomes more difficult (ICF, 2006). This difficulty is demonstrated by the calculations conducted by the three MPOs assessed in this paper-Ithaca-Tompkins County, the smallest MPO studied, provided the least detailed quantitative assessment of the greenhouse gas emissions expected from its transportation plan. Further, assessing the greenhouse gas emissions on a regional scale will not assist transportation decision-makers in project selection if they wish to choose projects that will result in fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Project-level emissions data, while less reliable than regional data, are nonetheless needed if MPOs are to select projects based on their expected greenhouse gas contributions.

While there are several off-the-shelf models currently available for use in quantifying greenhouse gas emission from transportation projects, the EPA is in the process of developing its Motor Vehicle Emission Simulator (MOVES) model. The MOVES model will be much more robust than current models and will be more sensitive to the factors, such as vehicle mix and fuel type, that affect greenhouse gas emissions. The official version of the model is tentatively scheduled for release within the next year (EPA, MOVES, 2007).

CONCLUSION

The New York Energy Plan is the only state plan in the country that requires MPOs to assess the greenhouse gas emissions that will result for the implementation of their long range transportation plans. As such, it has served as a pilot for how climate change considerations can be included in the transportation planning process. While the greenhouse gas analyses that were conducted show that emissions will continue to rise, and the reduction goals will not be met (at least within the transportation sector), they also show that the build scenarios result in fewer emissions than the no-build scenarios. The analyses could be better utilized in future rounds of plan updates if the information gained from this first round is used to inform the decision-making process to select a mix of projects that most minimizes greenhouse gas emissions. Overall, the analysis requirements represent an important step in bringing climate change considerations into the transportation planning process

REFERENCES

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