The classic Ford model T; made from 1908 to 1928. Note the high chassis, soft suspensions and light wheels; this car was designed for running on unpaved roads. With asphalt - made from crude oil - becoming more and more expensive, are we going back to this kind of vehicles?

One problem is the increasing costs of maintenance. A report of the University of Minnesota shows the progressive increase in the costs of maintaining roads which are paved with what is called "hot mix asphalt", HMA, the kind of paving which we came to consider as normal for all public roads. Asphalt comes from crude oil. It is made from bitumen which is a heavy and viscous form of petroleum; normally the residual of the distillation of crude oil. Could it be that with peak oil we don't just have a problem of availability of fuels and of energy, but also of bitumen for paving roads?

That doesn't seem to be the case. If it is bitumen that we need, there is plenty of it. Just the Canadian tar sands are made mostly of bitumen and are said to contain at least one trillion barrels of it - probably more. To this amount, we can add Venezuela's tar sands, with at least half a trillion barrels. With tar sands, the main problem is to obtain liquid fuels, but if it is bitumen that we want, it is much easier. At present, bitumen doesn't seem to be lacking in the world market and some projections for asphalt indicate that production may be rising in the coming years.

The problem, as usual, is not one of quantity, but one of energy . With minerals, we are not running out of anything except of the energy needed for extraction. It is the principle that I called the universal mining machine. Bitumen doesn't seem to be an exception; we are not running out of bitumen, but we have increasing problems in being able to afford it; just as with a lot of other minerals. For this reason, the proposal of substituting conventional bitumen with products not coming from crude oil doesn't appear to be very practical. There has been talk of "bioasphalt;" made from a bitumen that could come from such products as sugar, molasses, corn and vegetable oil. But bioasphalt has the same problem of biofuels: there are limits to what we can get from an agriculture already heavily strained to produce enough food and which depends heavily on fossil fuels. We can pave a few roads with molasses, but we can't expect bioasphalt to substitute oil derived asphalt everywhere. Another alternative material for paving roads is concrete, the kind used for buildings. Concrete doesn't directly depend on fossil fuels - the problem is that it takes a lot of energy to make it. So concrete turns out to be more expensive than conventional asphalt. It may last longer, but don't expect it to become as commonplace as asphalt is today.

In the end, the problem seems to be that peak oil - arriving or already arrived - is placing a tremendous strain on the world's economy. Because of this strain, the kind of money used for maintaining roads is quickly disappearing and the result is the return of unpaved roads. It may be planned or not; the end result, in any case, is the same. So, it is likely that in the coming years we'll see more and more roads returning to gravel, as it was commonplace in the Western World up to about 50 years ago. When most roads were not paved, cars and trucks had much softer suspension systems and lighter wheels; we may see a comeback of this kind of vehicles which, by their nature, are not made for high speeds. After all, gravel roads don't mean the end of transportation. We'll just have to slow down considerably, and that may not be a bad thing.

Below: image from allaguida . Some modern streets in Italy, such as this one in Rome, are starting to look like archaeological remnants of the Roman Empire.

With asphalt - made from crude oil - becoming more and more expensive, are we going back to this kind of vehicles?



This question is easy. The answer is yes. Something like the Model T, with high clearance and a tiny, energy efficient engine. It should be good for the first phase after oil peaks.

Non-sense, the problem of road ware has more to do with the use of long distance trucks on highways and roads. Trucks are, if I recall correctly, 8 times less energy efficient than rail transportation. As the price of oil rises, tucking will be driven out of the freight business by the more efficient rail roads. The as long distance trucks leave the highways, damage to roads will lesson. In addition higher gasoline prices will mean few cars on the highways and roads. In the long run the cost of maintaining roads will probably drop.

Then why do oil based asphalt parking lots that don't see truck traffic still need replacing/redoing every so often?

"Then why do oil based asphalt parking lots that don't see truck traffic still need replacing/redoing every so often?"

A lot of times it is related to extremes of temperature. We get a *lot* of potholes here in Chicago. More so when one gets rapid freeze-thaw cycles in winter.

The rapid expansion and contraction of the material due to temperature changes causes cracking, which then doesn't take a lot of pressure to become a large hole.

The problem is compounded by water entering cracks, freezing and expanding as ice. widening the existing crack.

deleted ,I was under the influence of a mushroom I shouldn't have picked. it could be that I am lucky not to be in the hospital or morgue.The problem now is that since I have already eaten it, I don't know for sure what it was.

Yes extremes of temperature are certainly the problem here in Devon. Much trouble with potholes in the roads following this year's hard weather. As for concrete a section of the nearby M5 motorway was laid with concrete slabs rather than asphalt but it was not a success. It did not last very long under heavy traffic and was very noisy to boot.

I used to work at an asphalt/aggregate/concrete company. Quality issues at road work was not uncommon. The most common reason for problems with asphalt or concrete roads is poor dirt work. If the dirt work is sloppy, then the quality of asphalt and concrete along with the quality of the concrete workers is irrelevant.

Another case was familiar with was a mall with a very pothole ridden parking lot. The cause there was the asphalt was laid in too cold a weather conditions. We told the GC not a good idea, but he had a deadline, and decided to finish the project on cold days.

I would not be so sure on the trucks helping. A possible outcome would be fewer trucks with higher weight limits. This is a political call.

As to asphalt wearing out, well, i can't give the chemistry, but over time, the elements break down the liquid AC (bitment) and it decays. Asking why it wears out, is like asking why my wooden fence wears out. The answer is that everything is eventually broken down by the environment.

Damage to the road goes up as roughly the fourth power of the weight increase. That is, doubling the weight per axle results in 16 times as much road wear. At least in the US, few states charge registration fees for big trucks commensurate with the damage that they do to the roads -- yet another subsidy for transport of goods by truck. The usual threat made by the trucking companies when a state considers raising the fees is that they will relocate to a neighboring state with lower fees. The threat of lost jobs is usually sufficient to bring the politicians in line.

Unfortunately, road wear has a lot to do with water, and the hydraulic pressures that vehicles place on the road surface during rainy periods. These pressures have a lot more to do with speed of the vehicle than weight, though admittedly, the heavier vehicle traveling at the same speed will cause more hydraulic pressure. Weight has a lot to do with the breakdown of the base, but usually does not cause a lot of damage to asphalt, which is relatively elastic. Sun, weather and vegetation can quickly reclaim asphalt surfaces in the absence of vehicles. I don't see the cost of maintaining roads dropping anytime soon.

I live in a rural area with very little traffic but the bad weather turns them to gravel in just a few years.

This is a picture I took today of "Old Hwy 64" in western NC. It was the major US highway through our county until they blasted out a new road higher up the mountain in the 1970s. The last maintenance was performed in 1978 (according to the highway dept) when the road was abandoned to the forest service. Zero maintenance for 32 years. As you can see, the pavement has held up quite well. This area receives nearly 2 meters of rain per year and undergoes multiple freeze/thaw cycles. The forest floor is encroaching on the sides of the road, yet with only light traffic from campers, bikers, hikers,etc. the asphalt has held up remarkably well. You can still see the yellow lines.

While this picture is typical of the 5 mile long section I explored today, there are sections that haven't held up as well,

Had this section of road been subjected to heavy (truck) traffic it would certainly be in worse shape. I have to wonder how many thousands of gallons of "ethanol" (moonshine) were carried over this stretch of road ;-)

In many countries like Costa Rica, the roads in remote areas are unpaved, dirt roads, not even gravel. The primary vehicle to drive around coastal towns is an ATV. The mpg is only about 15. The model T got about 25 miles per gallon. I would agree we need something new for this purpose, and maybe the Model T is a better prototype than the ATV?

Re: bike--I saw a dirt bike that had been converted to run off a large battery while at a solar workshop in Colorado. It was more useful on bad roads than an electric bike.

Costa Rica is like that. Big primary roads, like the Panamerica Highway, and major regional roads are paved. Most everything else is gravel. I never made it to San Juan, so I don't know what the city streets are like.

Because: Most everyone would need to switch to SUVs. Gravel roads (and their bumps) just destroy cars. They also need to have a road grader run down them every few weeks to smooth out the washboards and holes. Some towns, like Playa Nosara take a tanker truck full of molasses (yes, you read that right) and spray the road down. The ants go crazy for a day or so, then it dries. It makes a hard cap that keeps the dust down. Eventually, the molasses (biodegradable road, no less) breaks down, and they have to do it again.

The only way it would save oil, is if most everyone moved to a town or city, and just didn't drive nearly as much.

When I was in Costa Rica in March 1995, I spent the weekends in San Juan, and the roads I rode around on there were paved. Not in the best shape to be sure, but no worse than some of the county roads in my area now (central VA).

I know a car collector with a 1925 Model T, a single man who rarely uses the car, keeps it because it was his father's first car, circa 1930. I used to know of two others, used by married couples for tours. One couple died when they rolled the "T" at the corner of 29th & C" in Sacramento. The other couple was permanently separated when they ran over a few cobbles on Highway 89 near Silver Lake. Wife survived, thrown out. Hubbie kept death grip on steering wheel and got his wish. Does the venerable "T" hold the record for traffic casualties as well as longevity of years in use?

Effort to perpetuate private vehicles for everyone at puberty drives misplaced R&D, effort that would be better devoted to replacing network of railways as seen on the US transport map circa 1920. Rail comments creep into TOD but are far outnumbered by the car and bicycle enthusiasts, sort of a gangplank syndrome of wheelmen snobbery. That is exactly how we got where we are now with regards to using up the oil in the first place, boys & girls.

It is easier to see the sustainability of the Union of States on parallel bar therapy, than on individual scooters... One can also envision a constant stream of stories about riders of small vehicles being set upon by brigands and bored teenagers looking for a free ride. Of course many will go along with this gag about rubber tire freedom this time around, it will have to play out. This time, without means to keep up/expand SMOOTH pavement, the outcome of the wheelmen movement will be different. Mountain style bicycles will be with us. Societal & Commercial Cohesion shall require railways.

The exploits of bicycles in the hands of determined Viet Cong are legendary, some loads up to 1/2 ton were achieved, heaved over the Ho Chi Minh trail. Try to remember, however, these epic trips began at Haiphong seaport or a railhead. See James A. Van Fleet's "Rail Transport & The Winning Of Wars". See also Swan's "ELECTRIC WATER".

US Rail Map Atlas Volumes are found at spv.co.uk and will help the ones with initiative. Identifying US legacy rail corridor is necessary for systematic rehab of dormant rr branches. Gravel roads can have ties laid upon them, and we can get past this strange time of denial.

There are a couple of things I wanted to mention. Refiners have the ability to produce slightly more or less asphalt in the mix of products they produce, depending on the price of oil. So if the price of oil is very high, refiners will tend to make less asphalt--thereby pushing its price up asphalt higher than otherwise. I had been told this by API, back in the 2007-2008 price spike. Comparing the California Department of Transportation indexed time series of asphalt prices with an indexed series of WTI spot prices does indeed show the expected relationship:

The asphalt prices go a little higher in the peaks. The prices also dropped a little lower, when prices dropped in 1999. So unless oil prices go back down again, high asphalt prices look here to stay.

The other thing I might mention is that as far as I know, we do not import any bitumen in the form of bitumen from Canada. Instead, we import Synthetic Crude Oil (SCO), a relatively light oil made from bitumen. We also import "Western Canadian Select Blend" made by blending bitumen with SCO. It seems to me that it would be relatively difficult to start importing bitumen as bitumen, because the system isn't set up that way now--we import liquids through a pipeline, not solids by, for example, rail.

Presumably it would be relatively easy to adjust the refining of Western Canadian Select Blend to give more asphalt, but this would probably make extraction non-economical, because asphalt is one of the least expensive parts of the mix of products that comes from a refinery.

How will our large tanker and freight trucks manage on gravel roads? We have such roads in this part of the country and often, when wet, they are impassable, even with a high clearance 4 wheel drive vehicle. I can imagine I-70, between Grand Junction and Green River, asphalt severely deteriorated, during a summertime gully washer. States are broke as is the Fed Gov't and if asphalt is too expensive, then I can't imagine that maintenance for a long lonesome stretch of four lane gravel interstate will be affordable either. Best from the Fremont

Perhaps we will just rip up our bitumen roads, gassify the bitumen to NG and power our cars on the gas. We then drive on dirt roads that were once bitumen as we continue the slide down the PO descent.

IMO it depends where you live - it's more likely to be burned to heat the house or cook food if you live somewhere that needs heat and has inadequate alternate natural energy sources.

Your alternative is to replace things with concrete - but that would only happen if there was some kind of new, cheap energy.

But lets say there was cold fusion (cuz its cold) - you still have the conversion of electrical energy into heat via work. Fusion/Fission/Zero point - all of that would increase the heat load inside the Earths atmosphere so if global warming is "the problem" - you'd have to find a way to shunt heat to space in the long term. Geothermal - that would change crust expansion/shrinkage and hasten the collapse of the magnetic field when the code stopped being molten.

It might just be better to accept that transport will become slower or not at all in some cases. That is how it used to be.

The capilary road network in Sweden with very heavy timber truck traffic is all gravel. But heavy trucks on fairly simple gravel roads require frequent maintainance. The roads get paved to save maintainance and increase the comfort for other traffic. Before the car era were bicycle traffic one of the main reasons for better comfort. I have no problem imagining a future with gravel roads with slow and heavy traffic next to narrow paved bicycle roads.

I also consider the possibility of the Rails and Trails movement, with simple 'roads' for cyclists built in tandem with raillines. Some of our Bike/Hike Trails here are up on Boardwalks. Prone to wood's decay, no doubt, but also very easy to replace/maintain.

Of course, Train ROW's (Right of Way) are also very convenient for biking, as they have generally tamed the hills, or found the most level routes.

my daughter found out the $3000 way-- control arm & when it curled the tire around a component damaged the transmission internally--- had to be replaced, & it turns out the frame was a tiny bit racked so camber/caster couldn't be perfect but was within specs.

i asked the mechanic if this was a problem he was seeing; he showed me a new toyota -front frame, & several other vehicle bent frontend parts.

When i grew up in rural arkansas, it was common to drive on gravel roads at no more than 10 mph, and often parts had to go 5mph. If cities do not maintain the roads over many years, people will need to learn to drive real slow again.

If cities do not maintain the roads over many years, people will need to learn to drive real slow again.

Well, yes. But you have to wonder, if they're spending all their time driving 5mph, when do they earn money to pay for all the fancy expensive government mandates that have been piled on in the last few decades.

The road trains of Australia operate on dirt roads but not at freeway speeds. Instead of pulling one 40 ft trailer at 70 mph they pull five trailers at roughly one third freeway speed. Over the course of a year the slow road trains haul more tonnage per tractor-mile than those on the freeway. Here in Iowa 18-wheelers are common sights on unpaved roads and even out in the fields loading corn directly from the combine.

The Cdn oil sands operators are looking to pipe more and more heavy oil to US refinieries. The raw bitumen from the oilsands used to trade at a 20-30% discount to light/synthetic crude, but now this is just 10%. This is a quote from a press release from Syncrude, the 2nd largest oil sands operator "Bitumen on its own is too thick to flow through a pipeline: at room temperature, it has the consistency of old molasses. But Syncrude plans to employ a new system that uses a solvent to remove what Ms. Fisekci called the "nasty" part of the bitumen. That system, which Syncrude operator Imperial Oil also intends to use at its Kearl oil sands mine, will allow the bitumen to flow without needing to be upgraded."

This is why most of the upgrader projects (to make synthetic crude from the bitumen) have been cancelled, they just don't need to do it now.

Pumping bitumen: It is possible to pump bitumen (or any very viscous liquid that is immiscible with water) through a pipeline by skinning it with water. I believe this technique has been used to transport heavy oils in Venezuela. Not suprisingly it is well described in an expired Shell patent from back when Shell was seriously in Venezuela: http://www.freepatentsonline.com/3826279.html

Heavy trucks on gravel roads: It depends greatly on rainfall, slope, and local hard rock availability. The people who tend to know a lot about these issues are the forestry and oil & gas communities. Moving a drilling rig to site in a high rainfall, soft rock, hilly area is difficult and the access road can become as big a difficulty as even a HPHT well. Designing a gravel road is not quite the same as designing a sealed road: water management has to be handled very carefully but differently.

Small Mercedes SUV: Setting aside the Geländewagen (which is exceedingly rare in USA) I don't think Mercedes make anything that could be classed as a small SUV. The model T may well be appropriate for gravel roads, but put a Mercedes SUV next to it and you'll be suprised at the difference. Try winching a Mercedes out of mud and you'll develop an interest in lighter vehicles. The older Toyota Hilux is a 3rd world gravel road SUV that is a better model for the future in this respect.

Hmm, that reminds me: don't African rebels always use Toyota pickuptrucks because they're so reliable? Top Gear had a piece on this.

Canada currently exports about 400,000 barrels per day of bitumen to the United States, and there is pipeline capacity for an additional 1 million barrels per day of bitumen coming on stream soon.

The bitumen is all diluted with condensate or synthetic oil to allow it to flow through the pipelines.

The reason for so much bitumen going to the US is that US oil refineries are suffering a shortage of heavy oil because of declines in heavy oil from Venezuela and other places. Heavy oil refineries can be modified to handle bitumen relatively cheaply. Building new synthetic oil plants in Canada would be significantly more expensive.

The normal asphalt cuts from these bitumen blends would be rather large, but the refineries would prefer to convert it to gasoline and diesel fuel instead.

The normal asphalt cuts from these bitumen blends would be rather large, but the refineries would prefer to convert it to gasoline and diesel fuel instead.

Yes, this is now the biggest driver of asphalt supply and pricing. The refiners in the USA have installed coking units over the last decade -- instead of getting rid of the bottom of the barrel, asphalt has to compete with gasoline and diesel. I haven't determined at what price it will become competitive but it is already beyond what governments can afford. Without stimulus spending, there would have been no money for road repair in the USA. In my medium-size state alone, we received $500 million dollars from the Federal government for roads last year.

Asphalt + Road oil demand is centered around summer months when road work is at its peak, obviously. Supply will rise when governments have discretionary money to spend again.

thanks for the charts, but it would be real nice to have the units for the vertical axis. firkins per fortnight? hogsheads an hour? ;-)

The other thing I might mention is that as far as I know, we do not import any bitumen in the form of bitumen from Canada.

Actually we do import asphalt/road oil, 25 kb/d in 2008, almost all of that from Canada. U.S. Imports of Crude Oil and Petroleum Products Other sources are Venezuela, Virgin Islands, Netherlands, Spain.

Thanks, Gail, I had some numbers about bitumen prices, but I didn't have such a nice graph. In any case, the situation is always the same: the prices of mineral commodities go together and I think it is reasonable to say that oil is the master of prices. So, oil costs more, bitumen costs more and then asphalt costs more. But you have also an interesting point that I missed in my post: transporting bitumen is expensive. It is a solid (well, nearly a solid), and transporting solids is much more expensive than transporting liquids. So, that may be another reason for the problems we are seeing

Energy in general, and oil particular, are not a big % of mining costs. The reason commodity prices move together? The business cycle, and the general boom & bust cycle of commodities.

Don't forget about the huge amounts of energy that goes into smelting, shaping and transport of all of the copper, steel, aluminum and iron that the mining equipment is made from.

Now, certainly aluminum is highly energy intensive to smelt, but that's the big exception. Iron takes a significant amount, but much less. Anyone have stats?

No, it really doesn't. It mostly tracks back to labor. You can think of labor as a form of energy, but it's not really fungible these days with extra-somatic energy, so I think that will mislead you.

This is like saying only a small percentage of good health is related to oxygen intake. Just try removing it for a few minutes and see what happens?

IIRC there was a potential reporocessing refining step usually called choking, that converts some of the heavier byproducts (like asphalt) into lighter fuels. I would think that as the price of oil goes up, that such "advanced" refining would become more common, driving down the prive of asphalt. If that is true, then asphalt might be priced by its energy content (as the feedstock could have been turned into valuable fuel). Only a relatively high price of asphalt would then be enough to get refiners to keep producing it in quantity.

typo? It is coking - as in process for producing (Petroleum) coke, as a by-product of thermally cracking long chain hydrocarbons into the shorter ones used for diesel and gasoline. The extra carbon atoms got to go somewhere, so they're deposited in coking towers.

That is what goghgoner was referring to above: more coking units -> more heavy stuff turning into diesel and gasoline, thus less heavy stuff (asphalt, roal oil) on the market.

n.b. one reason for more coking units (besides higher demand for diesel/gasoline) is the decline in availability of light crude, it would be interesting to see when the peak of light crude oil was.

Ugo, thanks for an excellent post! One factor that's amplifying the collapse of the road system here in the US, at least, is the rising tide of financial trouble swamping state and city governments -- and this follows decades of malign neglect affecting a great deal of the national infrastructure. The result is an interesting study in the way the synergy of a systemic crisis can overwhelm supposedly omnipotent market forces: rising energy costs, by making mining bitumen more expensive and making it more cost-effective to turn bitumen into an oil substitute, raise the price of bitumen, even though the slumping ability of governments to pay for bitumen ought in theory to be forcing the price down. I hope railroad advocates are taking notes; railroads don't need bitumen -- you can lay track very nicely on gravel -- and in the absence of some form of effective national transportation network, pressures toward separatism in this country may spiral out of control fairly rapidly.

A century ago, the norm for rural areas was a few blocks (perhaps) of paved road in the town (which had a railroad station, and the "wrong side of the tracks") and gravel on major roads out of town. But these petered out into just dirt roads with ruts.

Railroads were every 40 miles or so in farm country (further in ranch country) and provided all but the "last mile" in transportation. That last mile was by mule or horse drawn wagon (oxen were too slow).

In can remember in 1974, in Austin Texas, when the new liberal mayor and city council devoted almost all of the road budget to paving the side streets of East Austin (black & Hispanic). Yes, till the 1970s, a major state capital had unpaved streets !

Given that a well built bicycle path will last almost forever, we may see paved bicycle paths almost everywhere in town and nearby, but gravel for trucks and cars.

I remember seeing "market roads" in rural Illinois that were paved on the lane leading into town, and gravel on the other lane. The idea was that farm vehicles laden with grain would need the better paving heading toward town, but since they were empty for the return trip home they figured that gravel would do.

I suppose that emergency vehicles could just take the left lane if they had their lights and sirens blazing.

Such a "half & half" approach could cut road maintenance budgets and asphalt supplies needed considerably, while still maintaining at least one asphalt-paved lane to a lot of places.

Plenty wide enough for bicycles both directions. Larger vehicles would have to slow to a crawl and put one wheel on the shoulder when passing a bicycle or another larger vehicle going in the opposite direction.

If most traffic is 2 (or 3) wheeled OR very narrow (see some Japanese mini-cars & "trucks"), 11" of paved surface could do a lot if there were, say, >10 larger vehicles/hour. Max speed for larger vehicles of 25 or 30 mph (lower in curves).

I grew up in farm country, and the "last-mile" is to a degree what we had. Gravel roads out where we were. Yes there was dust - make no mistake. But they generally did a good job of maintaining the gravel roads so we never really had problems getting around.

If we were traveling any distance, we would catch the train and go wherever. But by then the major highways were all paved, so we could have driven had we wished to. I think the deal back then was that you went through every little town and you had to slow down in each one. The interstates were still under construction at that time.

Essentially an auto-industry propaganda film that advocated building more roads. The video runs about 22 minutes..

Maybe in some mythical land, but here it is only early April and we're already forgetting that phenomenon called "winter". Whatever the paving material, the slightest crack fills with water and is expanded every night when it freezes, eventually breaking up the pavement. And even without "winter", the weeds push slightest crack apart, again eventually breaking up the pavement, or even, as happens with some of the less-used recreational trails, converting the trail to an impassable mess of weeds. There is no "almost forever" without continual maintenance (except maybe, one might speculate, in the driest deserts.)

Maybe in some mythical land, but here it is only early April and we're already forgetting that phenomenon called "winter".

It's funny but we just had our biggest snow this "winter" this weekend (Coast Range Mountains in northern California). There's around 15" in our orchard. I was just out putting the chains on the 1 ton 4x4 so I can "explore" our mile long private road. I'll be sure to take the chainsaw since it's likely some limbs came down.

Paul; I'm not forgetting winter. Even if you try to convince me to EVERY time bikes are mentioned. My buddy Matthew is a Mapmaking Professor at the University, bikes all year through, (has spiked snow tires) and shows up at church with a Tandem, plus Tagalong, plus Kid Trailer.. all-in-one! Dad and 3 girls, scooting through town! GREAT numbers of people could play this game, as long as the streets are made safe for it.. or more trails are made at all.

The Portland trails have weathered several winters just fine. Like any road, they need to be built with good drainage and a decent substrate.. but they are spared a very significant source of wear, which WILL make them a good value for communities, even ones with winter and weeds. Repaving will be required, but it's a far cheaper prospect (Less area times far less wear) than the current system.

With reliable bike paths, I'm sure that even many old folks who are often restricted in mobility will be able to use various kinds of Trikes to both get around, and get some much needed exercise. Speed could be almost completely at one's discretion, and 'granny gears' are called that for a reason.

"Several winters" is hardly "almost forever" as asserted in Alsn's original post, which seems to be based on winter-free (though not weed-free) New Orleans. And the use or non-use of studded tires has nothing to do with weeds and ice breaking up asphalt or other pavement, so I have no idea where that came from except maybe a reflex based on sliding around on the ice, which was not the topic here. And yes indeed, due to weeds and ice, "repaving will be required" just as you correctly say - because the pavement will not last "almost forever".

And yes, one can obtain large cogs and install them on trikes, but that, too, has little direct connection with weeds and ice breaking up pavement.

So there's little or no argument here. However, there are a number of "Portlands" across the country, the larger ones being in Oregon and Maine. I'm assuming that yours is the one in Maine, since the cool season for the one in Oregon doesn't normally resemble real winter.

One factor that's amplifying the collapse of the road system here in the US, at least, is the rising tide of financial trouble swamping state and city governments -- and this follows decades of malign neglect affecting a great deal of the national infrastructure.

Local governments have also been underfunding their pension obligations and thus overpromising what they can actually pay retired workers. I think that we are headed toward something like a virtual civil war between current and retired civil service workers on one side and taxpayers on the other side. In many cases, if local governments attempt to pay off their pension obligations in full, it would take the majority of the budget.

True for some states, not for otheres. NC has fully funded its public employee pensions, both state and local. Fully funding as the obligation is initially incurred is the right way to do things, and should have been done by everybody all along.

But of course this is dependent on there being enough exported oil available to generate the economic activity necessary to generate the corporate earnings that the stock market is expecting and to generate the funds necessary to pay off various debt instruments.

Yes, but that is a risk that exists regardless of whether the pension fund is initially fully funded or not. Failing to fully fund adds another, imprudent, risk on top of that.

I agree that even fully funded state and local pension funds like NC's are going to get hit by losses that will make it difficult to pay out 100% of what is owed. That being the case, it is surely a lot better to at least be fully funded to start with than to also have that unfunded gap to cover.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/05/somethings-got-to-give-ma_n_525...'Something's Got To Give': Massive Pension Fund Shortfalls Threaten To Bankrupt States

A report titled "The Trillion Dollar Gap" from the Pew Center on the States last month called renewed attention to the pension shortfalls. The title reflects the gap "at the end of fiscal year 2008 between the $2.35 trillion states had set aside to pay for employees' retirement benefits and the $3.35 trillion price tag of those promises."

But as NPR and others noted, that $1 trillion figure is unrealistically low. 
Experts like Joshua Rauh, an associate professor of finance at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, say pension funds are using exaggerated assumptions about investment returns.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/09/business/09pension.html?pagewanted=allPublic Pension Funds Are Adding Risk to Raise Returns

Last year, the North Carolina Legislature enacted a measure to let the state pension fund invest 5 percent of its assets in “credit opportunities,” like junk bonds and asset-backed securities from the Federal Reserve’s Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, an emergency program created to thaw the frozen markets for such securities. The law also lets North Carolina put 5 percent of its pension portfolio into commodities, real estate and other assets that the state sees as hedges against inflation. A summary of the bill issued by the state’s treasurer and sole pension trustee, Janet Cowell, said it would provide “flexibility and the tools to increase portfolio return and better manage risk.”

“It doesn’t pass the smell test,” said Edward Macheski, a retired money manager living in North Carolina. “North Carolina’s assumption is 7.25 percent, and they haven’t matched it in 10 years.” He went to a recent meeting of the state treasurer’s advisory board, armed with a list of questions about the investment policy. But the board voted not to permit any public discussion.

According to Mish, it's interesting North Carolina & South Carolina have the lowest investment return assumptions (most states use 8% or more):

It is ludicrous to believe that 8.5% returns or even 7% returns can be had when short-term treasury yields are 0% and 10-year treasuries are yielding under 4%. Moreover, we are on the heels of a 70% stock market rally, stocks are more than priced for perfection, and corporate bonds spreads to treasuries are extremely tight.

Yes, the 7.25% is way too high, but at least it isn't something so insane as 8+%. Simple questions: If you are a taxpayer, which state's public employee pension program would you be least uncomfortable being on the hook for? If you are a public employee, which state's public employee pension program would you most want to depend upon?

this is dependent on there being enough exported oil available to generate the economic activity necessary

People who are pessimistic about dealing with Peak Oil wonder: so many things run on oil, can we possible replace oil in all of these applications?

The answer is yes, primarily through electrification of surface transportation and building heating. Aviation, and long-haul trucking can be fully replaced with electric rail and water shipping, if necessary, though that may not be necessary, as there will be some oil for quite some time, and it will always be possible, though expensive, to synthesize fuel.

This will proceed through several phases. The first is greater efficiency. The second phase is hybrid liquid fuel-electric operation, where the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) is dominant - examples include the Prius and, at a lower price point about $20K, the Honda Insight. The 3rd phase is hybrid liquid fuel-electric operation, where electric operation is dominant. Good examples here are diesel locomotives, and the Chevy Volt. The Volt will reduce fuel consumption by close to 90% over the average ICE light vehicle. This phase will last a very long time, with batteries and all-electric range getting larger, and fuel consumption falling.

The last phase is, of course, all electric vehicles, which are are slowly expanding, and being implemented widely (Here's the Tesla, here's the Nissan Leaf). Electric bicycles have been around for a long time, but they're getting better. China is pursuing plug-ins and EV's aggressively.

Nick; I agree with the tools you propose, but there is good reason to ask whether our current system is more like a train running out of power, where it will just slow down and stop, or if it's more like a jetliner running out of power, energy which it crucially needs to have a safe landing.

I don't pretend to promise either answer is the Right one, and feel that most likely, it'll be a mix depending on many factors, location, culture, industry.. but there are a lot of systems, particularly finance and food (IMO) that could create very quick devastation to our daily operations, and keep these sensible transitions from being able to happen that way.

There are some very tricky balances bewteen politics, communications, labor, logistics, public-calm ... it's fine being good-natured and energized to make it work out, but don't forget all the oily rags in that box by the furnace.

if it's more like a jetliner running out of power, energy which it crucially needs to have a safe landing.

Well, at least in the US, there's so much energy used for things with very marginal value that we have a very big cushion.

It's true - a transition away from oil will put stress on a lot of institutions. But, isn't it good to know that there technical solutions?

Why are you so sure that the technologies you're looking towards WILL be solutions? As I agreed above, they MAY, but theres precious little time to find out at this point.. And a lot of stress on a lot of those institutions CAN break many of them.

I have a dear friend who's a Broadcast TV Engineer, and in the early 90's, when he'd only just started looking at having a PC, he heard me bitching about flighty hard-drive configurations, dos mixups, endless reinstalling of OS's .. and this guy who works not only with high $$ equipment every day, but in particular the BROKEN stuff, is flabbergasted, saying "Computers are supposed to be smart.. I didn't think they were supposed to BREAK!"

SOME of this technology will help, some will fail, Some humans and institutions will be brilliant and heroic, others will disappoint.

"Well, at least in the US, there's so much energy used for things with very marginal value that we have a very big cushion."

If that is supposed to align with the Jetliner Metaphor, don't forget that piloting a jet on deadstick might not be able to land on this cusion. Sure, there's tons of low-hanging fruit in efficiencies and expendable energy sinks out there, BUT, there's also the tendency for emergency situations, and accelerated transitions to become extreme energy hogs, too. Do they wash each other out? Who knows? How clearheaded and carefully can we make this transition if we've waited too long and suddenly find governments and societies in fear, fingerpointing and turmoil?

It's maybe a little like the difference of being on a capsizing ship that merely HAS enough lifejackets, as opposed to having already found and put yours and your families ON before you find yourself in the water.

I seriously doubt we've even designed the lifejackets yet, much less sent an order to the manufacturer, or a downpayment.

Why are you so sure that the technologies you're looking towards WILL be solutions? ...I seriously doubt we've even designed the lifejackets yet, much less sent an order to the manufacturer, or a downpayment.

These technologies are old and proven. EVs are 100 years old: Volts and Leafs just have some new engineering to take advantage of the latest tech, but there's nothing unproven.

This might help you a bit: http://energyfaq.blogspot.com/2010/03/can-we-really-transition-from-oil-...

, there's also the tendency for emergency situations, and accelerated transitions to become extreme energy hogs, too.

Emergencies - Berlin Airlift, Haiti Response, Katrina, Rescuing someone from a crevasse on a mountaintop, my best friend, who just slid down a ravine in California.. compound Tib-Fib snaps.. (9 rescue workers to drag, carry, lift him out, multiple vehicles, surgery, healing, money, employment lost..) forest fires, Y2K, Repairs from ice-storms..

A serious energy rebuild in this society could EASILY suck up an ungodly amount of energy and money, time and attention from people who had other important things they were ALSO supposed to be doing, and more if it's a rush job.. (and I'm betting it's a rush job at this point)

'His Tech 50 years old..' His Tech was being reinvented every year .. Betacams and 1/2" Broadcast tape setups were barely 10 years old.. the control systems and circuitry were a whole new ballgame by the early 90's.. but either way, he had glowy dreams about computers being 'unsinkable', while working with very similar gear that was also clearly 'merely mortal'..

EV's are great.. they are simple and seem very durable, but don't fixate on just a couple bb's. It's bigger than that. (And while I'm encouraged by a FEW Nimhs that are out there.. the batteries are still a Very big deal) We have a ton of areas to deal with in this, generation, transmission and metering, manufacturing, chemicals, appliances, Lifestyle(!).. besides the much more complicated mechanics of simply starting and coordinating such a multi-faceted transition with a society that doesn't buy it at all. You can't wave that off and think it's not your department, and otherwise, it'll be easy. There are 'possibilities' out there, but you've been batting at this on the thread like 'no problem, what's everyone so worried about?' - Sorry, there are a lot of things that can go very wrong in this.

If I may but in here, you're both right. Nate says there is a lot of mature technology that can soften the blow of transitioning away from fossil fuels. Cool says that a lot of things can go wrong. As one who was an early adopter of alternatives, it's hard not to be smug and call humanity a fool's collective. Wind and solar are mature technologies, known quantities, and we understand the implications of nuclear, natgas and coal, etc. The problem is us. If we had taken heed during the Carter years we could have spread the payments out, reducing the pain and resistance.

The scale of the problems has grown exponentially since JC (and others) tried to warn us, and I agree fully with Cool; we face the mother of all energy transitions. Combined with other "limits to growth" and the limited time to respond/adapt: "Sorry, there are a lot of things that can go very wrong in this."

Collectively, we're not focused, too distracted. Too many feel entitled. Too many hungry and homeless. Too many, period.

I would note that most of the potential limits to growth discussed on TOD are often over-estimated. For instance, we have lots of coal (unfortunately), lithium, and phosphorus, to name some of the ones that get more attention.

Yes, there are some potentially very large ones: war, a large natural disaster (like earthquake, volcano) and climate change. We have to hope for a bit of luck...

A serious energy rebuild in this society could EASILY suck up an ungodly amount of energy and money, time and attention from people who had other important things they were ALSO supposed to be doing, and more if it's a rush job.. (and I'm betting it's a rush job at this point)

If we can transition over a long period, the additional cost will be very small. Wind power is about the same coast as new coal or nuclear, and the lifecycle cost of EVs will be lower than for ICEs. Now, the more we rush it the more expensive it will be, but not as much as you might think. 50% of VMT comes from vehicles less than 6 years old, so turnover is higher than you might think.

Yes, I see what you mean. OTOH, IBM compatible PC's in the 90's aren't a very good example: they were designed to be cheap, non-proprietary and flexible, so they were an endless nightmare to maintain. IBM mainframes and Apple desktops are better examples, as they kept a tight grip on everything. Utilities keep pretty tight control of their systems, as do car makers.

EVs are more than a bb: in various forms they're the primary solution for oil-based transportation. Transportation consumes the large majority of oil - fix that, and the remaining PO problems are small.

Not really. Li-ion is pretty mature at this point, and costs are falling fast. It's worth keeping in mind that even lead-acid would work.

We have a ton of areas to deal with in this, generation, transmission and metering, manufacturing, chemicals, appliances, Lifestyle(!)..

Again, transport is the big kahuna. OTOH, generation, transmission and metering are fairly straightforward. Wind is happening; we know how to do transmission; smart meters are here and being installed in large numbers; demand side management is old and well understood. Manufacturing is mostly electrical. Chemicals are a bit more difficult, but a relatively small portion of oil consumption - we have lots of time to move to biomass and other substitutes.

Not on the technical side. As Ghung notes below, the tech really is pretty straightforward and affordable. The social side is the hangup.

Westexas, true enough. It varies from state to state, and sometimes from city to city, but much more often than not, pensions for public employees were set on the basis of short term political expediency (as in, "can I get the union to back me?") rather than a realistic notion of what could be paid for. The results are not going to be pretty.

In addition, every time there's a bit of fiscal tightness, governments retire large cohorts of employees on extremely generous pensions at absurdly young ages. That's more politically expedient than doing a normal layoff, but the longer term cost is astronomical.

Just as oil exporters only (net) export after domestic demand is met, various government entities only spend money after current pension obligations are paid (in many cases this is the law). With declining revenue and rising pension obligations, less and and less money will be "exported" out of various governments in the form of government services and aid to residents.

And just as exporters with high levels of consumption have more rapid net export declines, governments with large underfunded pension programs will have more rapid declines in non-pension related government spending.

And just like ELM, this is non-linear: at a certain point, government will make changes. At a minimum, they'll move to a two-tiered system for new hires with a defined contribution rather than a defined benefit, which will allow accounting/actuarial adjustments to their pension contributions.

For instance, the State of Illinois, with perhaps the worst pension problem of any state in the US, is now moving to a retirement age of 67, with no early retirement options.

Yes, John; this is a very interesting point - the lack of bitumen and perhaps of rubber for tires may make for a return of railroads. But it is not so simple. I don't have the numbers at hand, but I know that laying down new railroad tracks is awfully expensive, much more than paved roads. So, I am not sure that we are seeing a return of railroads. That, at least, as long as people insist on super-high speed railroads which are not just expensive, are out-of-this-world expensive. Then, maybe simple tracks and trains that run at normal speeds, that yes.....

Numbers? It would be interesting to know what the difference is between high speed and regular lines.

Ugo, I don't expect to see a huge number of new lines built -- and you're quite right that the current obsession with high-speed rail is barking up the wrong stump. I live in an old railroad town, on the line from Washington DC to Chicago; the railroad's still one of the largest employers in town, and trains come rattling through at all hours of day and night, including daily passenger service to points east and west.

It would take a fairly modest program of investment in track upgrades and new rolling stock to dramatically increase the amount of goods and people that could move along what was once one of the nation's busiest rail lines. Equally, there are plenty of old spur lines going to other cities and towns nearby that are currently used only for freight, and then not often; those lines could be upgraded and used for passenger traffic as well. All this could be done for a lot less money than would be needed for new track -- much less new track suitable for high speed trains.

One of the biggest problems with rail transport is the inconvenience factor. Except for a very few applications, rail travel is much slower and less useful than personal autos. I think a large part of the reason for that is the way we run rail traffic, still basically using systems from two centuries ago, eg. rail cars bound into large trains which can't "whistle stop" at every junction because it damages their schedule too badly. In Europe and Asia a lot of effort is going into fixing this with faster travel between points, but that just makes the points further apart and still inconvenient. Given we should be electrifying rail, we should also be developing intelligent self-powered electric cars which can individually separate from a train, stop at a station, drop off passengers, then accelerate back onto the main track and join up to the tail end of the next train coming. With doors between coaches, people wanting off at the next stop must all collect into the last coach with a conductor, people going onward go into coaches further up the train. A couple of miles before a station, the last coach separates, and the conductor slows it down, the main train speeds on through the station on the main line, and a switch moves to shunt the stopping coach onto siding tracks where it stops, drops off passengers and picks up others, then accelerates back out onto the mainline to join up with the next train coming along.

Actually, my understanding is that the exact opposite is true. Certainly a lot depends on the nature of the right-of-way being built. Is it in a tunnel through bedrock or elevated on stilts? Or is it at grade? A four-track rail tunnel built through bedrock will of course be more expensive, mile-for-mile, than an at-grade two-lane asphalt road.

As you say, the costs are highly variable, but I think in general the costs of building one track of rail are about the same as building one lane of highway. The significant difference is that a two-track rail line can carry as many passengers as a 16-lane highway, if you can persuade enough people to take the train.

The usual problem with these comparisons is that people are trying to skew the data, and compare the costs of building a two-lane highway across the plains of Kansas against the costs of building a two-track tunnel through solid granite under a major city.

For a siding extension inside a chemical plant or refinery (flat, no ROW costs, low speed but high axle loads, moderate traffic levels, long design life i.e. VERY low derailment risk) a foot of track cost $100 to $110.

Even good highways can take a 6% grade (from memory). One streetcar line in Pittsburgh (snow & ice) was 14% grade (but only in "up" direction, too dangerous going down. Amazing youtube video) but modern light rail is limited to 6% grade (safety).

However, freight rail is more economic at grade <1% and no high volume line that I know of is 2% or higher. The delta is the # of driven axles. Powering every axle gives quite good traction (and sand is dropped in front of the wheels on the steepest parts).

The SD160s which are in use in Calgary and numerous other cities in North America can handle a 6% grade. The ability to climb grades cuts the costs of tunneling and elevated structures, and cutting costs is the basis of light rail.

Of course you can always build a vehicle to handle a steeper grade. If you had to descend a 14% grade, you could use magnetic track brakes to slow vehicles. However, that would heat up the tracks. Most transit systems would do tunneling and structures to avoid that kind of grade.

There was an interesting old picture in a Calgary drugstore of a streetcar on its side, sticking out of the front window. The driver had lost the brakes on a steep hill. He offered a quick prayer that the switch at the bottom was set a for straight through run, but didn't pray hard enough. The switch was set for a right-angle turn, so the streetcar went into the drugstore.

As we can all agree, intercity rail will be much cheaper than inner city rail. But inner city rail is where the real transport energy savings can be made.

The recent Canada Line in Vancouver (partly elevated, partly tunnel, one underwater tunnel) is 13mi and cost $2bn, or $65m/mile. Seattles last one was $180m/mile, and the proposed new elevated train (a Sky Train, I think) is estimated at $280m/mile.

These are all Cadillac projects, and unless cities can get the costs down, few projects will get built, and will not be a good investment.

Calgary used every trick in the book to get the capital cost down to $24m/mile. They used existing rail ROW's, did not underground or elevate through the city centre, did not go overboard (until recently) on building fancy stations, etc. It is not a Cadillac system, but it still gets very high ridership - in short, very, very good value for money

IF some of these cities were prepared to be a bit more realistic, and creative, they could achieve similar results, and more of them.

The French plan to build 1,500 km of tram lines (rarely grade separated but often on private ROW) for 22 billion euros.

Those damn French! Trams don't have quite the capacity of trains, but at a 90% discount to what projects are costing here, I'll take it, a long as the writing is in English.

"Trams" in EU parlance, can be either streetcars or Light Rail (two to four cars together in a train).

1) Efficiency of Scale. All of the major car builders (Alsthom, Siemens, Bombardier, Breda) have a "French" model that can be reskinned for a given city but is the same underneath.

Also true of civil works. Standard plans ready for duplication as needed. Apparently co-ordinated buys of special track work (switches, etc.)

3) Trams first the lanes they want from the streets. cars are secondary. The big controversy in Toronto in giving a busy streetcar line it's own private ROW (taking a lane from the street) would be unheard of. When needed, the French do share tram lanes with cars, but the tram lane is paved with rough concrete or cobblestones to discourage car use.

Is that really a good idea? I can just hear Robert Moses, saying approvingly "none of those pesky locals, interfering in my plans...".

"Stereotype" new French tram line. Candidate for mayor gets elected promising a tram line "from here to there". Local funding is a French transportation tax on payrolls of all companies with ten or more employees (can also be used for roads, buses, etc. as locals decide). They get matching national funding.

Mayor cuts ribbon 5 weeks before next election, where he or she is on the ballot for re-election. This time he/she is promising another tram line from "Here to another there".

Canada has two official languages, but that doesn't make the whole country bilingual. All federal government services, signs etc are bilingual, but no one else is required to be. In fact the only truly bilingual province is New Brunswick. Quebec says it has to be in French, English is optional, and any signs, the English can't be in bigger writing than the French part. Out here in the west, you are more likely to find someone speaking Mandarin or Punjab than French!

Your four reasons make sense, particularly the lack of studies, and standardisation. When something is a 'custom job", it is usually triple the cost.

if it can be done that cheap there, it should be able to be done for double here, instead of 10x, but clearly, it's not happening. I think some people here would rather give up their first born than a traffic lane!

That's highly exaggerated. If they'd do what they should do - raise taxes and borrow a little - they'd be fine. It's the irrational resistance to properly funding local government that's the problem.

Illinois and California are competing for the title of worst managed state budget, but both could afford to raise taxes - it's the political resistance to balancing the budget that's the problem.

The real problem, for California at least, it that is has been spending too much, and often on the wrong things. State gov employees have had huge pay and benefit increases in the last decade. Part of their argument was that they need them to be able to afford to live with the high property values. Of course, they don't want to give up one penny now that property values are down. Ultimately, they have to realise they can only get paid what the rest of the people can afford to pay them, and right now, that is something less than what it was three years ago.

Ultimately, governments (and employers in general) should get out of the pension planning business). Planning for retirement is an individual responsibility, when people leave it to someone else, they make ever increasing demands, and do not save/plan for themselves. GM was at the point when it was paying more to people who were not working than those who were. Some local governments may soon find themselves in that situation, if they aren't already.

Rather than raising taxes and borrowing, a better approach would be to freeze/lower pay and benefits, and take a closer look at what programs they should, and should not, be doing.

Rather than raising taxes and borrowing, a better approach would be to freeze/lower pay and benefits, and take a closer look at what programs they should, and should not, be doing.

It's always a good idea to have proper levels of pay, benefits and services. But, from a macroeconomic point of view, when the economy slows down government should keep spending in order to counter-balance reduced private-sector spending.

No, individuals do a terrible job of investing and planning for retirement. Pensions shouldn't be excessive (especially early retirement provisions), but that's different.

Nick, not disagreeing about proper levels of pay, my point is that in California, they are way above "proper". The taxpayers are paying more for the same level of services. Fed stimulus money was used to pay (overpaid) teachers who would otherwise have been furloughed, instead of fixing potholes or other things that actually created new jobs and lasting value.

The government should not spend just to fill the gap of private industry. In hollywood, if the movie studios decide to make less movies, or make them elsewhere, should the tax payers of the City of Hollywood, or even the State, have to pay for public spending to counter balance this? If a lumber town is suffering because the lumber industry generally is down, should the local taxpayers have to reach into their already empty pockets so the government can spend their money? if people have been borrowing and spending in excess, which is what they have been doing, and then stop, which they have, does that mean then that government should borrow and and spend to excess just to prop up the over inflated economy?

Now, it IS a good time for governments to do projects that they were going to do anyway, as they can get them done cheaper.

As for retirement, the governments contribution should be little more than making sure people don't starve or end up homeless on the street. if you want retire in a nice way, you should plan it yourself. Only when people take responsibility for themselves, will this business of the nanny state end. Today, it's just to easy to ride on the backs of everyone else.

Fed stimulus money was used to pay (overpaid) teachers who would otherwise have been furloughed, instead of fixing potholes or other things that actually created new jobs and lasting value.

I realize that you're arguing that these teachers are overpaid (I'd be curious for sources on that, if you happen to have them), but are you arguing that education doesn't have "lasting value"?

If a lumber town is suffering because the lumber industry generally is down, should the local taxpayers have to reach into their already empty pockets so the government can spend their money?

This is a macroeconomic question: if the overall economy is in a slump, that means that someone is unemployed, and someone else is saving their money pointlessly. "pointlessly"? What does that mean? It means that when someone saves their money, they assume that it's invested somewhere, creating value which will eventually pay back the loan with interest. If no one invests that money, the economy just slows down - no value is created, and instead someone is unemployed for no good reason. The Keynesian response is that government needs to find a way to get that money invested. If bankers are afraid to lend, and business are afraid to invest, then government has to tax or borrow those savings, and spend them. Ideally, they'd be spent on investments, like rail and EVs, but anything is better than nothing.

if people have been borrowing and spending in excess, which is what they have been doing, and then stop, which they have, does that mean then that government should borrow and and spend to excess just to prop up the over inflated economy?

I seriously don't think the economy can be described as "over inflated", when we have 17% unemployed or underemployed.

the governments contribution should be little more than making sure people don't starve or end up homeless on the street.

First, we're talking about employer sponsored pensions for their employees, not Social Security. 2nd, are you arguing that retirement is a bad idea, and that no one should do that? I don't think many people agree with you, if so - the question on the table generally is whether defined contribution plans are better or worse than defined benefit, not whether pensions are a good idea. 3rd, on the question of whether employees are good at making savings and investment management decisions, rather than their employer: research has shown that employees do an impressively bad job at it. Some things should not be left to chance, and the random winds of people's lives.

I realize that you're arguing that these teachers are overpaid (I'd be curious for sources on that, if you happen to have them), but are you arguing that education doesn't have "lasting value"?

A stat average of $67k, plus all their other benefits, and months of holidays, seems very cushy when many private sector employees are seeing pay decreases or unemployment, and , possibly, tax increase to pay these State costs. I am saying the State employees should share some of the pain too, and not just through higher taxes. Teachers are not suffering double digit unemployment rates

I am not suggesting that education does not have lasting value, I am saying that it should not be considered a "stimulus" candidate. Education is an essential public service, and the State should provide it regardless of economic conditions, If that means reducing teacher pay to continue, then so be it. If the stimulus money means that they can avoid the hard decision to reduce teacher pay, then how many jobs has it created? Stimulus should be for things that would not normally get done, or are being put off because of low gov revenues, like public works. Then it helps get unemployed trades etc partially back to work, and things get built cheaper than they do in a boom.

I do not agree with the Keynesian view of taxing/borrowing savings to stimulate the economy. If I have paid taxes on my income, and have saved my post tax money, I don't think the government has the right to tax/borrow it, and spend it as it sees fit - they can ask me, for sure, but I object to them taking it, which is what taxing it is. As for anything is better than nothing, I could not agree more. You end up with corrupted projects, money is spent with little real value to show for it.

As for an over inflated economy, how could you describe the 06-07 economy as anything else? All the current talk about recovery, and "getting consumers back to the mall" is about trying to get back there, it was unsustainable then and is now, and we should not be spending to try to reclaim it.

Now, on to retirement. I don't mid employer sponsored retirement plans, what I object to is employer obligated plans, which does come down to defined contribution v. benefit. Why is it the employers long term risk as to how retirement plans perform? Their obligation is to fairly compensate their staff, not look after them in perpetuity.

Agreed that people do not manage their retirement that well, but why should the employer be obligated to do so? Admittedly, I don;t understand the US system very well, but given that all these employers have these "underfunded" pensions, clearly, they have an obligation. Why can they not just pay a third party, similar to health care. "underdelivery" by the health insurer is not the employer's obligation.

As a self employed person, I have no choice but to look a=out for my own future, and what I observe is this reliance by employees on their employer taking care of it all for them leads them to become very detached from the process, and then they buy their boats and things and complain about their pensions not providing what they said it would.

It is a huge disincentive for a company to take on staff when you have to then fund their retirement. That is why manufacturers have automated so much or left, retiring a machine is much easier, so you employ machines in preference to people.

I do not agree with the Keynesian view of taxing/borrowing savings to stimulate the economy. If I have paid taxes on my income, and have saved my post tax money, I don't think the government has the right to tax/borrow it

Nick, I think what ends recessions/depressions is that all the bad stuff comes out. All the weak companies fail, the bad loans are written off, etc. I liken it to a bout of flu or similar, you can take pain relievers that will make you feel better, but you n=might still be contagious, and you won't be truly better until your body (the economy) has worked it all through.

I don;t have a problem with governments doing recession spending, though I do not think it is an excuse to plunder national savings. Properly done, they will get good value for money on their projects. Unfortunately, we know it is not properly done. The Fed gov has to "approve" the projects, which means state/local gov have to waste time preparing applications. Approval of projects is often done to satisfy political ends, so many places miss out. Much better to simply give the money to each gov on basis of population, with ionly one string attached - it cannot be used to pay any of their existing staff. I.e. it must be for new hires or contract projects.

Because they are rush government contracts, they are often colluded/padded etc. One project I worked on in Cal, the gov required that we hire only licensed trades, at the Government Rate ($90/hr). The job was the equivalent of changing light bulbs - an electrician can do it, but so can anyone else. WE could have used guys at $30/hr and got three times as much done,and employed three times as many man hours, but not allowed. So did the gov/taxpayer get good value for that stimulus money? Money is spent putting up signs saying the money is from gov stimulus. A year later those signs are taken down - did this really create lasting value? This happens everywhere (US, Can, Aust, Britain), money is spent, but lesser value is obtained.

As for the in between economy, yes, that is exactly what we want. But now all gov employees are on high times pay, and will not give up pay or jobs. In private sector, we are now on average/bad times pay, and many have given up jobs is it right for government to vote themselves high pay and benefits (and associated taxes/debt on the people) while the people at large are going backwards? If I recall, there was some kind of war over this sort of thing in 1776.

A government job should not be a "set for life job", I think they should share the pain, not be insulated from it.

what ends recessions/depressions is that all the bad stuff comes out. All the weak companies fail, the bad loans are written off, etc.

That didn't work for the Great Depression. In fact, all those failures only made it worse. The only thing that ended it: WWII, and it's command economy.

Much better to simply give the money to each gov on basis of population, with ionly one string attached - it cannot be used to pay any of their existing staff. I.e. it must be for new hires or contract projects.

Actually, that's a very bad string. That slows things down greatly, and prevents local gov from using the money to replace lost tax revenues, which is exactly what you want them to do.

A government job should not be a "set for life job", I think they should share the pain, not be insulated from it.

A LOT of local gov employees are getting unpaid days, and frozen salaries. Just google throughout the country.

Nick, while i think we are on the same page as to the results we'd like to see, we obviously differ on the details. I don't think you can have a meaningful recovery with propped up companies. You say letting them fail made the depression worse, my view is that anything less just prolongs the real bottom.

neither do I think stimulus money should be used to replace tax revenues. A town has a major employer (factory, mine, mill) shut down, and loses a lot of it's tax revenue - that revenue is not coming back, or not for a long time. Not only that, the town was operating for a larger economy, and possibly population, than it will have in the near future, so to maintain staff levels is pointless. My own town is trying to do that with it's schools right now, keep all three open, with declining student populations even though the largest could accommodate all students, and is only an 8min bus ride from the farthest school and walking dist to the second. So the school board will own, operate heat and maintain three buildings, grounds, etc, when they could get by with one - they are spending a lot on facilities and less on students. Giving them "stimulus money only prolongs this in the hope it will change. To me, a better use would be to close the other two schools, and then use to stimulus money to re-purpose those buildings.

I'll try again with the link - I'm not that great with html.http://www.sacbee.com/2008/07/16/995141/see-how-well-your-school-distric...

Giving the employees unpaid days is only a band aid solution too, and salaries are frozen at high levels - the administration is avoiding taking the medicine. The two largest employers in my town have laid off half their staff - was that or close. But whole town is having to wear a tax increase to pay for municipal workers, none of whom have been laid off, nor had a pay cut - union has threatened to strike at any suggestion of staff cuts and refuses to even acknowledge idea of pay cuts. I would like to see the admin ask them whether they would prefer a 10% pay cut, or 10% chance of losing their jobs. Until they are willing to accept a contract pay/benefit change, like so many private sector people have, they are not sharing the pain. Quite simply, the people of the town are going backwards supporting the municipal employees, and is the same at most other towns, and at provincial and federal levels. I don't see how that is justified for any length of time, and it has already been over a year.

A town has a major employer (factory, mine, mill) shut down, and loses a lot of it's tax revenue - that revenue is not coming back, or not for a long time.

Your local situation, while certainly not unusual, is really not the norm. Most local government is suffering from a cyclical downturn, not a secular, long-term decline.

a tax increase to pay for municipal workers, none of whom have been laid off, nor had a pay cut - union has threatened to strike at any suggestion of staff cuts

Layoffs are perfectly normal things for union employees - if what you say is true (and it's a bit hard to believe) this kind of union behavior is very unusual. Really - just google across the country for large cities like Chicago, where most unions accepted a 12% pay cut, while a few chose layoffs instead, but all of the unions got serious cuts of some sort.

I looked at your link. I don't know how to evaluate the overall level of salaries, but I'd note this: "Districts laying off less-experienced, lower-paid teachers accounted for almost all of that increase." That certainly makes it look like teacher layoffs are indeed happening across the state.

NIck, I am happy to hear about 12% cuts, that is a reasonable accommodation, in my opinion. Nothing of the sort has happened in Canada, but that is not your fault or problem. The provincial government (BC) is negotiating with the public sector unions for a wage freeze, and the unions will only take if if there are guarantees of no layoffs - any person made redundant must be re-employed somewhere else in the govt - quite silly, really.

AS for the Cal teachers, why are they laying off any teachers? does that mean they have less kids to teach, or the class sizes were way too small? By laying off the junior staff, and keeping the higher paid ones, the taxpayers and parents are getting less teachers per dollar - how is this good for the kids.

Education must carry on regardless of the economy, and regardless of whether there is stimulus money or not, it is too important to have kids being sent home because the teachers won't give anything up. It is not a business, it is an essential service, if they have to provide it with less money, then so be it. The Chicago style 12% cut would have solved this problem, and would not (should not) be an unbearable burden for the teachers.

One of several reasons for choosing my 1982 Mercedes 240D (manual transmission). It works reasonably well on bad roads, including gravel. Not quite Model T clearances 9good for washed out gravel roads, but "good enough".

In New Orleans, some streets are still cobblestone and many more have an overlay of asphalt on top of cobblestones (and public Works has a mountain of cobblestones that we have pulled from streets over the decades). With labor, we could go back to cobblestones on most streets. Concrete on others.

No doubt...I put my old 240D stickshift down roads some trucks had trouble with...I dragged the muffler off a few times, a local shop would tack it back on with a spoot weld or two and away I would go again...:-)

I think the all around idea vehicles will be produced soon...all wheel drive by way of electric hub motors, a lithium or some even more advanced battery pack and a very small CNG, propane or Diesel engine used as a charging motor for range/performance enhancement. Think of a vehicle about the size and road clearance of Kia Sportage or the small Mercedes sport ute fixed up this way, with plug recharge capability at night...it would be as near to perfect as we have been automotively speaking :-)

I used to live in Europe, and I was always amused to see that the asphalt topped roads around my office would wear down to the century old bluestone cobbles underneath every year. Each spring, guys would come down and lay down another layer of asphalt.

One day, I traveled over a cobblestone road, with no asphalt topping, in a heavy truck. It was a tooth shaking ride, and we weren't even going that fast. The maintenance on the cobbles is labor intensive, also. They can't just spread a layer of asphalt down, they have to dig up the cobbles, relay the sand bed and wedge the cobbles back in so tightly that they don't move around under traffic.

I dug out my Road Engineering text and 1 huge multi-axle truck trip = 18,000 automobile trips in terms of road wear.

Felicity Street (semi-major street 2 blocks away) is cobblestones and rides OK (in my old M-B). Slow down 5 mph.

In a redeveloped area (old housing project) at end of Felicity, they made the roads between intersections asphalt, the stop area in brick and the intersection itself in cobblestones. Looks nice and is probably safer and longer lasting.

High wear areas in brick & cobblestones, balance in asphalt for residential area. Once installed, long lasting.

Recently I was revising the Transport section of a council's Code of Practice and (with my PeakOiler's hat on) I started drafting a section that required any contractor who was engaged to do work (say build a motorway section) beyond 1 January 2012 (for want of a better date) to confirm as part of the tender documents that they will have sufficient vehicle fuel, oil and lubricants (POL) physically on hand to ensure that the works will be able to be completed.

But when I started to push that concept up the supply chain it became just too silly. Was I expecting the lead contractor to have fuel in on-site tanks to fuel the home-work trip of the consulting landscape architect's tea maker's mate? Did I mean that we had to store the bunker oil for the cement ship, or even worse the diesel for the trucks mining the coal to make the cement? Or the oil to put in the sump of the compressor that inflates the tires of the car that brings home the groceries that feeds the girl who pays the man who drives the truck that carries the coal that makes the cement that goes in the ship that makes the bridge that Jack Makes....

Sure, bitumen, asphalt; the price will go up, and the supply will go down. But only as part of the overall Great Descent. Maybe one day it will be that bitumen supplies are impeded because there is not enough bitumen, other days because there is no diesel for the bitumen tankers, or oil for the burners in the tankers to keep it hot, or kerosene to cut the bitumen with or petrol for the foreman's ute.

I used to live down a 0.6 mile gravel road and go hiking occasionally in a place that's up a 9 mile gravel road. They suck. Badly. Gravel roads also require a lot of maintenance if they see a fair amount of traffic, or were built in a bad place. Traffic will put washboards anyplace a car slows for a hill or turns a sharp corner. Low lying areas become feet-deep puddles of doom. So a few times a year a grader has to come along and scratch the hell out of the surface to keep it from turning into a mud hole, and every few years a new layer of gravel has to be put down because it simply sinks away over time. When you get nice, fresh gravel down there is a good possibility of punching a big ol' juicy hole in your tire so bad you just have to replace it. Add on top of that the dust which gets kicked up and plasters every surface of your car, gets drawn into the engine (no filter is perfect)...finds every hole it can to get inside and chokes your lungs full of dirt. If you only encounter gravel roads occasionally they might seem quaint, but on a day to day basis - they're crap.

They all deteriorate very quickly especially in wet weather and or heavy use. And car damage wow, fuel & brake line perforation, sump and fuel tank holes and ripped tires.

I only have 5 miles of dirt to my place, the last 2 miles are never maintained. It takes 10 minutes to do that 2 miles unless we have heavy rain then you need a 4X4 or a 40 minute detour (also on a bad dirt road).

Gravel roads (and poorly maintained bitumen roads) are a deterioration of PO funded infrastructure and are a symptom of social decline.

Substrate, a comment worthy of your moniker! Someone above mentioned trucks moving on gravel highways. I have spent a fair amount of time traveling the US and Canadian West in the summer months, when the time for road work there is optimum. One has to proceed very slowly on loose gravel roads, because the trucks, even with mud flaps, will throw gravel and small rocks at higher speeds. Those will end up cracking windshields, and in the worst case, you'll lose an entire windshield. Gravel sucks with trucks, if you're driving a smaller vehicle with lower profile. Slower travel will be very important for general safety.

I lived on the end of a gravel road for 6years. Didn't mind it. It would have been nice if people didn't exceed maybe 25mph, as the dust is a rapidly increasing function of speed. I never did understand why new "gravel" was always a mixture of gravel and clay, with more clay than gravel, it seems the clay part made things slightly moddy when wet and dusty when dry. Why not only pure gravel? One big advantage was that gravel plus packed snow can never get as slippery as packed snow/ice on pavement. I think the biggest issue is controlling vehicle speed, if you can keep them below say 30mph the problems are greatly reduced.

I don't know how familiar you are with the mesh size of gravel. But around my area there are basically two "meshes." The first is "road base" which is 3/4" minus and the second is 1 1/4" minus - the "minus" being the crusher fines.

You need something to bind the gravel or it would just kick away as vehicles drove over it. Also, and I don't know if you have run a road grader, but pure gravel would be difficult to grade.

The problem is finding the right balance - too many fines (or in your case clay) and the base doesn't last; too few and everything is kicked out. This year we put down about 80 yards to cover about 1/4 of a mile of our road...need more next year...been doing this for over 30 years.

Well, correct me if I am wrong, but OIL SAND, isn't that about the same as asphalt? Why bother to extract pure oil for it an then mix it with sand to make asphalt, using 1/3 of the extractable energy in the process?

Well, correct me if I am wrong, but OIL SAND, isn't that about the same as asphalt? Why bother to extract pure oil for it an then mix it with sand to make asphalt, using 1/3 of the extractable energy in the process?

However, companies would prefer to convert as much of the bitumen from oil sands to gasoline and diesel fuel as possible, and only sell the heavier fractions as asphalt. The price of gasoline and diesel fuel is much higher than asphalt, and more than justifies the additional costs of upgrading it.

I would agree that the OIL SAND, with nothing done to it, might work as a road paving material. I believe it has been done before, probably in Canada, not too far from where it is found. But as RockyMtnGuy says (and I said up above), that is not what is being done now. The economics "work" if the material is refined to other products; it is not at all clear that just digging out the material and transporting it works.

One problem is that it is a low-value material. If you have to pay the price for it that you pay for refined oil, paving roads would be way too expensive.

Perhaps you could move it through pipelines, mixed with water during the warm parts of the year--but then you would have to build more pipelines, and you would still have a problem the rest of the year.

Digging it out and transporting it by rail car would probably work better, but then you need rail transport. Of course, most of the oil sand is at too deep a level to dig out in the first place. That is why "Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage" (and other deep techniques) are being used for most of the newer projects.

Exactly right. The problem is that the weight and bulk of the aggregate that is mixed in with the bitumin would result in a prohibitively high freight bill if it were to be shipped any distance.

A thought on a somewhat similar line, though: I've long thought that the day will come when we have crews with pick axes, shovels, and wheelbarrows, mining the long-abandoned expanses of asphalt parking lots surrounding all the malls and big box stores. That asphalt will be a lot more valuable if used to keep major streets and roads in a state of minimal repair.

I've wondered if this is another situation wrought with positive feedback, although the results are of course negative. Plateauing production leads to higher priced oil, causing economic slowdown, which in turn reduces revenue for repaving, which reduces the speed of transport and causes more wear and tear i.e. expenses associated with transport including more fuel consumption, which in turn reduces productivity and efficiency, in turn reducing GDP and revenue to repave roads.

Could it be that the very roads we drive on are a direct indicator of the health of the economy, and a reflection of the increasing cost of oil due to peak oil? Thus, all one need do to assess peak oil is look at the quality or lack thereof of the surfaces we roll on as we move on down the road of life.

They lent character to the land without dominating it. When we got full tar roads the effect was to alienate one from the environment.

This is a great example of a "side effect" of peak oil. While some of the previous posters have commented about gravel roads being impssable in wet weather, it need not always be so. A gevael road, if desgned and constructed properly, can be just as reliable and all weather as paved. In the Hunter Valley region in Australia, several coal mines are connected to their customer power stations by a dedicated network of haul roads - all gravel. These roads use road licensed semi trailers, who drive them 24/7, rain hail or shine. They have been contstructed to a similar level of quality as an Interstate, and work fine. Normal gravel roads are just the material that was there, with some gravel added and then compacted, but they can be built much better.

An interesting alternative is segmented block pavements, using heavy duty version of interlocking pavers similar to those used for landscaping. Properly built, these pavements can handle very heavy loads and traffic - just not high speeds. They have been used for container ports, roads, plazas, carparks,etc in Australia, for over 30 years. You could look at them as a modern version of the paved Roman roads, properly built, they will last a long time.

This is an ideal method for urban/suburban non arterial roads, where high speeds are not required. When I was doing road design in my civil engineering undergrad days, we looked at these, and they had a lower life cycle cost than asphalt roads. But, back then (late 80's) with oil at $11/barrel, asphalt was just dirt cheap, so the upfront cost was lower. I doubt that is the case today.

The biggest barrier to acceptance was a perception that these roads were of lower quality, because everyone has seen block paved driveways etc done poorly, and assumes roads will be the same.

They also have the unique property that, once the sub grade and base is compacted and prepared, they are laid by hand - using people instead of expensive machines. Any community that has the ability to make either bricks or concrete, can make paving stones, and you can, of course, make these without needing fossil fuels!

Any community that has the ability to make either bricks or concrete, can make paving stones, and you can, of course, make these without needing fossil fuels!

I'd swear there was a TOD mention that cement plants were closing due to the high price of fossil fuels with production moving to places like the KSA.

"I'd swear there was a TOD mention that cement plants were closing due to the high price of fossil fuels with production moving to places like the KSA."

Is the high cost of fossil fuels really the cause? Or is simply that KSA is finally taking advantage of their situation as raw material providers and integrating finished product into their line up, rather than let the "value added" American firms make the money on it? "Vertical integration" it used to be called, and to me KSA has been very irresponsible in not doing it many years ago. The oil was coming out of the kingdom, going halfway around the world to American concrete plants, being converted to concrete and going halfway back around the world to China and India.

This is what I keep talking about, the logistical idiocy is ASTOUNDING. We could remove an easy half of world oil and natural gas production if we would just cut out the idiocy! I will not believe there is a real crisis until I see some of these wasteful (to the point of being almost criminal) practices stop. Hopefully KSA is beginning to reform some of this nonsense...

Cement plants do need a source of high heat for the process. It would be difficult to imagine them not being built to depend on fossil fuels for the past 80 years.

Some cement plants are fueled off scrap tires and waste lubricating oil today. I can think of several alternative sources from BAU in the future.

True enough, and those plants are probably going to be the ones that succeed going forward, but they have very much been the exception.

"Tires contain much higher concentrations of lead, arsenic, zinc, and chromium than does coal. Metals do not burn. Many will attach to particulates exiting the stack. Many states have seen extremely high increases in particulate emissions (over 85%), by substituting tires for less than 20% of their coal. Many recent studies on particulates show small increases in particulates (1-2%) to be responsible for observable increases in disease and death."

Cement plants prefer to use coal to produce cement, due to the coal dust (fly ash) being a valuable part of the ending cement, and coal generally be an economical fuel source.

Eric, the process of making the red brick was invented by the Romans for building the coliseum in 70AD. They also learned how to heat lime to make an early form of cement. The fuel - wood! You can make modern Portland cement using many non fossil fuels, biomass, landfill gas, sewage sludge, municipal waste etc.

Key point is that a process that just needs heat, as opposed to specifically requiring oil, can easily be done with non fossil fuels. That aside, they can, and are, mainly done with coal, and we will have plenty of coal long after we run out of oil.

And with the long lifespan of these roads, compared to re-surfacing ashpalt, even if the block are made with fossil fuel fired cement, the life cycle fossil fuel usage will be far lower than an asphalt road.

As far as I know most cement plants will burn everything as long as it's cheap! I know of one plant which actually made money from burning everything except for fossil fuels ;) Fly ash is a waste material and i did a project to built a silo for this.

Further I know that in Russia still a lot of plants operate on a "wet" process. first they mix lime stone with water to make a slurry then they evaporate the water to burn it to cement and they use gas! for the process....

This is a fine article which highlights a major facet of infrastructure deterioration under peak oil. Roads, bridges, sewer and water pipes, buildings, and just about everything else you can think of are degrading rapidly, and they won't all be repaired because energy is more expensive than it was was all of this was built. Even America's Smithsonian is falling apart. This situation should be a wake-up call.

Finally, I have to agree with the poster who says that when properly engineered and maintained, gravel roads are quite servicable. I've been on a lot of gravel roads. Especially in the winter under icy and snowy conditions, the gravel is frozen in place, and the rough surface provides better traction than pavement.

Just for the record, the pothole situation in the UK is now so bad that I fear it will not be remedied with the incompetent local and national govts. Please report any potholes in the UK:

Well yes, if roads get worse then bikes will get heavier and harder to ride. What is the benefit in that?

Modern off-road bike frames are lighter and easier to ride on than the road bikes I grew up with, even at moderate price points.

My current main rider is "hybrid" style, which is in reality just an off-road bike with street tires. Very easy riding.

I have to agree - as a cyclist, there's nothing as sweet as a long, smooth well-laid road. On my skinny-tired road bike I plan routes to avoid rough roads.

On the other hand, I commute on a mountain bike, with either knobby or smooth-but-fat tires, and ride without even thinking about it on roads that I avoid on the road bike. Speeds are a little slower, but not much - its still a matter of saving life-changing amounts of time over walking.

If the roads were regularly worse or back to gravel, no big deal. I'd probably just shell out for some better tires (like Schwalbe Marathons) and still enjoy the ride.

A well built interstate highway in a northern climate has some four feet of layered sand ,gravel and or crushed stone base courses covered with up to twelve inches of HMA. This aided by the complete drainage system below it are what spreads the loads from trucks down to the native soils below them. The gravel and stone are what does the work. The pavement seals it which helps keep the gravel and sand dry and prevents the stones from being dislodged by tires and water. As costs go up thinner pavements can be used. As little as three inches will work if the base courses are right. Going to zero pavement though will cost more on any road with more then a thousand vehicles per day on it. Imagine the gas mileage you will get with your new 45 mpg. Obama car if you can't get out of second gear due to the pot holes and wash boards.

Converting roads to gravel is already happening in the US in depopulating rural areas. There was a flurry of stories about rural Michigan roads reverting to gravel a while back. Here is one: http://www.autoblog.com/2008/03/26/solving-michigans-decrepit-roads-by-g...

Michigan, as the home of the automobile, is road crazy and has too many roads that are simply used for joyriding or other recreating, they serve no practical purpose.

I am from Northern Michigan, where they are turning some roads back to a packed down gravel that is relatively immune to potholes. It's a smart move.

Northern Michigan gets a lot of snow, a lot of cold weather, and accordingly the pavement sees more abuse then say a road in Florida or even Ohio.

Complicating the problem and adding to the cost is that most paved roads are not considered "seasonal" and thus must be plowed by the counties. Giving up some of these roads is a prudent idea, especially when for long stretches they have no homes on them. If a homeowner can afford to live in a modern home in the middle of nowwhere most likely they can pay a private company to plow their stretch and their driveway.

I hardly see this as a major sign of doom, simply a common sense decision when local governments can no longer pay to maintain an excessive amount of road. In boom times, such as Post WW-II to 2008 or so, it was wasteful but not hurtful, well now cutting the waste is a good 1st step towards scaling back an excessively car based infrastructure.

The road for bringing the Saturn V:s and then the Shuttle from the assembly building to the launch pad is a gravel road since the tracked wehicle for carrying the heavy load would tear up paving.

A well built gravel road and a bed for a railway track are basically the same thing. The difference is that a wehicle road can have sharper bends and steeper declines and a gravel road is topped by a mixture of coarse and fine particles and shaped for water to run off to the sides while a railtrack bed is topped with a layer of very coarse gravel that water seeps thru and the main job for the gravel is to keep the rail ties in place in a firm but slightly flexible way.

High axle loads and temperatures changing manny times around freezing and thawing is the main problems for roadways. Smaller trucks with more wheels could save a lot of maintainance.

High quality paving is a wise post peak oil investment in a functioning society since it makes it easier to bicycle and use very small and light cars and scooters. Its a way to trade high quality fuel for bitumen to lower the overall resource use. But you do of course not want to have long mass commutes by car.

I can see local govt.selling/reusing on busier roads the old asphalt that serves a couple of homes in a section or only reworking half or less of a section and turning the other back to gravel.

Good point, Ugo. Eventually, asphalt might even be re-used as a source of liquid fuel: Some time ago I checked the oil content of asphalt. It is just about half of the oil content of Athabasca "oil sands", which contain about 10% bitumen. The rolled asphalt concrete used for road surfaces has around 5% added bitumen. The mastic asphalt used for things like waterproofing contains even about 7...10% bitumen.

Considering the shorter distance to the consumer market a thermal re-use of asphalt and down-sizing of under-used roads is supposed to be an option in the post-peak world.

This is even more probable as the cost of maintenance is one of the things often overlooked by decisionmakers. This is what I heard recently from a real estate expert. He said that for example half of the cost to be accounted for a building is maintenance, but decision makers often only consider the building investment - and forget about the rest. From another expert I learned that about the same applies for the development of new settlements, including the building of new roads and streets: New research found out that often (local) governments have an exaggerated (or simply irrational) expectance of the revenue from e.g. new roads, whereas the maintenance costs are frequently overlooked. So if full lifetime costs would be taken into account many unprofitable investments wouldn't have been made. However I fear that it will take some time until decisionmakers learn that they should twice before investing just anything that looks like "a progress". And so far they will keep believing in the success stories told by the building lobby groups.

We had many discussions on the cost of concrete versus asphalt roads. We generally agreed upon these points:

4) We made more money supply asphalt to build a road now, and do a major overhaul every 10 years or so, than we would make supplying concrete to a road that might last 30 to 50.

5) It was unwise to spend marketing and sales dollars on educaton of the benefits of concrete roads. We should just supply the customer what he wants, even if not best product.

“At some point it will become economically impossible to step backward into the internal combustion engine."

On Tarmac? Not necessarily, these guys have really put these trikes through their paces. I'm a true believer and would like to get one and be a rep for their company.

The Model T was designed to also operate on heavily rutted pre-gravel dirt roads, so as you see in the photo above, velomobiles operate on gravel roads.

I normally use an electric motorcycle to go to work. It is no good for unpaved roads - too heavy. Electric vehicles are usually somewhat heavier than conventional ones; it is because of the weight of the batteries. But I am sure an electric vehicle could be designed for running on unpaved roads. So many things we have to redesign.... my gosh...

Tarmac used to be made from the bituminous byproduct of the town coal-gas works. The advent of continuous welded-seam pipe construction allowed for natural gas to be shipped across continents, thereby making coal gas obsolete.

We'll still have plenty of bitumen, and the ability to make it from coal (particularly as natural gas continues to stay favorable for new generating capacity over coal and coal producers seek new markets). I don't see it as being peak asphalt, but I think the larger issue is that we'll likely just have fewer cars overall. For example, the expansion of the use of rail freight over truck freight makes it possible for more passenger rail services, much like how people traveled before widespread auto use. I think the same calculus that will make long-distance freight shipping by truck less economically viable will serve to push people out of cars and planes and onto trains.

I think the reduction in automobile use that will follow peak oil will have a much more profound impact on our transportation infrastructure and development patterns than a lack of construction material for the roads themselves.

Coal-tar is unfortunately fairly poisonous. I would rather investigate concrete or cobblestone paving made with plasma arch heated rotating kilns and electric stone cutting machinery.

Actually, the majority of Americans buy cars like this: And these vehicles are better suited to drive on gravel roads than Ford model T's.

But my guess is that people will switch to more efficient cars before they switch to gravel roads as orders of magnitudes more oil is needed to drive millions of people in gas-guzzlers than to fix asphalt roads...

And without oil at all, there's also this option:http://thekneeslider.com/archives/2007/11/19/quantya-usa-launches-fmx-el...

More important than the asphalt is the power to run the big machines that create and repair roads. Very large machines can be run on electricity but only tethered to a nearby power source. We are still working on small electric cars. Where is the electric dump truck, road roller, etc etc. As far as transport where is the electric 18 wheeler. Running out of gasoline to drive on roads will coincide with running out of fuel to power repair equipment. So when you invest in an electric car make sure it is one that can run on deteriorating roads. Of course once we run out of gasoline it won't be long until no more solar panels or windmills are made so the end of the electric car may well coincide with the break up of current roads.

So that seems to be running from electricity from above. So to use that would we need to run electric lines over all our highways?

Another factor is fuel (electricity) efficiency. Rubber tires on asphalt/concrete are MUCH less efficient that steel rolling on steel.

Alan, there must be other factors at work for the 5:1 difference. No question that steel is better than rubber, but trolley buses have to move in general traffic all the time, go up and down steeper grades, accelerate and stop faster, and never get preferential signalling or their own ROW.

I would be interested in learning more about this too. Toronto's Queen St. streetcars positively groan as they accelerate from a full stop whereas, by comparison, the Bay St. trolleys feel like nimble sports cars.

Paul, All I can offer there is that there is a problem with those streetcars! The electric buses are quiet and smooth, the C-Train (Calgary) is quiet and smooth, as is the Sky Train (Vancouver). I'm guessing it is a less than ideally maintained streetcar. I'm sure even Alan's vintage streetcars in new Orleans are quiet.

As for the energy consumption, I think it has a lot to do with the slow speeds and flat gradients for streetcars. Also, with having their own lanes, they are not slowing down/speeding uo witht he vehicle traffic like the bus is. Would be interesting to see a comparison of a trolley bus and streetcar on the same route, I would expect maybe 2X for the bus, but not 5x.

Fullness is unrealistic. Bus systems have to operate 24/7, in both directions. That guarantees low utilization.

It's less important whether it's mass transit or personal vehicle transportation, and more important whether it's electric.

They don't have to operate 24/7, and many cities don't, and of course, run reduced frequencies outside of peak hours.

Agreed that it is more important that it be electric, and really, electric is easy, and century old technology, it's just wireless electric that is difficult/expensive

They don't have to operate 24/7, and many cities don't, and of course, run reduced frequencies outside of peak hours.

Sure. But, as a practical matter, they have to run late into the evening and start early in the morning, run on the weekend, and they have to run both ways even if people are only commuting in one direction. Statistically, buses aren't very efficient.

That's century old too. Batteries couldn't compete with dirt cheap oil, but oil has gotten more expensive, and batteries have gotten cheaper. Now, EVs can compete just fine, once they get production volumes up into a normal range (which will happen very soon).

"Now, EVs can compete just fine, once they get production volumes up into a normal range (which will happen very soon)."

I agree, Nick. We (my family) are into day thirteen on solar/battery only in our home. We use all of the same appliances, do laundry, dishwasher, name-brand fridge, PC, TV, etc. Yet I still run into folks who say it can't be done, or it is too "inconvenient". We've even been cooking with the electric burner, as we have a surplus of solar electricity this spring and a robust set of batteries. Saves propane.

I have posted several times that EV battery tech should be standardized and portable/hot swappable. The advantages would be huge.

I also agree with Fred, Alan, and others here that there should be a big push for electrified mass transit. We can do both (electrified personal and mass transportation), but the political/social/economic will must be there. We don't need to reinvent the wheel. We need to improve existing technology, sure, but this isn't rocket science. It's a lack of enlightened leadership and a reluctant-to-change populace. People shun what they don't know. Most folks in the US have little experience with quality mass transportation and no experience with EVs. That needs to change. But God forbid they'll have to walk a little more. Look how hard folks will compete for a good parking space at Walmart.

It's a lack of enlightened leadership and a reluctant-to-change populace. People shun what they don't know.

People are afraid of change, and with good reason. When new tech arrives, companies move staff, companies shrink, whole industries shrink and shift. Old careers become obsolete. People lose jobs, or their careers stagnate. Other people gain jobs, and do better, but there are winners and losers.

Just one example: Oldfarmermac recently wrote that coal mining jobs pay 3x as much as anything else available in the area. Despite the risks, and the environmental devastation, you won't convince most West Virginians that shrinking coal mining is a good idea.

Does that mean we shouldn't fight to eliminate coal? No. But it does mean we should be realistic about some people fighting back. We need to be compassionate, see their realistic fears, and find ways to help them, and convert them to...not allies, perhaps, but at least something other than enemies who will fight to the death with any weapon (votes, lies, etc).

I have experienced Bus Rapid Transit systems that only ran during rush hour. If you want off-peak service, you have to take the clunky local bus, which doesn't run nearly as often. It's all about matching service to passenger load.

The Calgary C-Train that Paul mentioned only operates 20 hours per day, despite the fact it carries over 250,000 passengers per day and only costs about $160/hour to operate the whole system.

Fullness is realistic. Overfullness is also a possibility. Have you never been on a real transit system that had too many passengers and not enough vehicles? This is somewhat unusual in the US, but is a common enough experience in other countries. In third world countries, passengers often ride on the roof because there is no room inside.

It's true that many bus systems have pretty limited hours. It's also true that most bus systems are a very slow way to get around. If they get overcrowded, they get to be a pretty miserable experience.

On average, IIRC, bus systems in the US use more fuel per passenger-mile than a Prius with one passenger. Paul Nash tells us that a typical 40' city bus weighs around 12 tons empty, and can carry 60 passengers. IIRC, such a bus gets about 1.5 miles per gallon, so it would have to carry 33 passengers to equal a Prius's efficiency: that's more than 50% utilization, which is much higher than you'll get with any kind of decent off-hour coverage.

Add a 2nd passenger to a Prius and you're way ahead. Of course, that's my memory - anyone seen good overall stats on this to confirm it?

Well, buses in general are not a really great riding experience, which is why people tend to prefer light rail systems if they have them available. The vehicles are faster, smoother, quieter, and don't throw you down the aisle when accelerating and decelerating.

Only if it has 4-inch armor plating, mounts a 40 mm cannon, and all the passengers wear body armor and carry M-16 rifles. In general, city buses get about 4 mpg, and highway buses about 8 mpg. The passenger-miles per gallon depends on how full the buses are. Greyhound claims its highway buses average 184 passenger-miles per gallon. Naturally, if your city transit system runs empty buses around everywhere, the passenger-miles per gallon rating will be much lower. Running empty buses is something of an American phenomenon; in other countries they run mostly full. However, I think Seattle averages around 10 passengers per bus, which would give them about 40 mpg on average.

However, to get back to the post-peak oil scenario, electric buses get the equivalent of about 20 mpg. This assumes that you're not burning diesel fuel to generate electricity. Let's assume you're using wind power because you can no longer get fuel for your diesel buses. Also assume you're averaging 20 passengers per bus because nobody else can get fuel for their vehicles, either. This gives you an average of 400 passenger-miles per gallon, and none of it actually requires any oil products. So, in a post-peak oil scenario, electric buses look pretty good.

The aforementioned Calgary C-Train already uses wind turbines to generate its electricity, and only requires 1 driver per 3-unit train carrying up to 600 people, plus 1 person in the control center to run the whole system, so it is really, really efficient. With operating costs of $160/hour and 600 boarding passengers per hour, its operating costs are around 25 cents per boarding passenger, including electricity, labor, and maintenance. No I'm not kidding. It's really a model for the post-peak oil world.

Of course, capital costs are much higher to buy new electric buses and electric trains than simply running diesel buses down existing streets, but the operating costs are extremely low.

I agree: any form of electric transportation will be good, including personal EVs like the Volt and Leaf. Which is where we started...

Well the mpg ratings of city buses were all over the chart, from 3.5 to 4.5 mpg depending on city, so I picked 4 mpg as a general average.

If you want test results, here's some from Transport Canada. Évaluation de l'implantation de l'autobus à plancher surbaissé à la STCUM Fortunately only the title is in French, but the measurements are in metric (which might be a challenge to some here). Basically, they tested the "Classic" bus against the "Nova" low floor bus under New York Conditions. The "Classic bus got 68.0 L/100 km (about 3.4 mpg) and the "Nova" bus got 44.6 L/100 km (5.3 mpg), mostly due to its newer engine. Then they tested under Montreal conditions, where the "Classic" bus got 61.1 L/100 km (3.8 mpg) and the "Nova" bus got 56.7 L/100 km (4.1 mpg).

Yes, but I have a feeling that the wheels are going to fall off the electric car (again), and people are going to find 1) they can't afford them, 2) they aren't available anyway, and 3) there isn't any way to recharge them even if they had them. So, if they don't have an electric train running through their neighborhood, people will find they have a choice between bicycling and walking. Or just staying home and drinking.

Why's that? Everything but the battery is cheaper than an ICE; li-on battery costs have fallen to $350/KWH, and are still falling; if you want cheap, lead-acid would still work; and the Nissan Leaf is affordable. The Leaf is priced at 33K, which is only a little over the $28K average US new car price: depreciate it over 5 years instead of 4, and the annual cost is the same. Plus, the US gives a $7,500 credit, and California gives another $5k. By the time those credits run out, Nissan will have sold enough to reduce their costs through economies of scale.

90% of cars in the US have off-street parking available - the majority have private garages. Heck, Canadians are pretty familiar with engine-block heaters - the principle is the same.

My hope is that EVs will succeed this time, yet Rocky may be right. One of the sites I used to visit, current home page:

You see, now that really large manufacturers like Nissan and GM are really getting serious about EVs, smaller operations like Zenn don't really have a chance. Even Tesla will really struggle competing with the Leaf, and the Acura version which is planned later.

Tesla kickstarted the Volt, and undoubtedly helped get the Leaf started, but consolidation is the rule when new industries really start to grow and mature.

All of the EVs you mention are out of the price range of most likely adopters (at this time). I've posted about the GreenVehicles "Moose" van a few times. Under $20k, retail price. We need more affordable EVs like these: http://www.greenvehicles.com/ in the price range of a subcompact. I'm actually thinking hard about one of these little vans. Charged from my PV system, it could meet about 90% of my transportation needs (if it performs as advertised).

The Leaf is extremely affordable. It's $25K, which is $3K less than the average new car, plus it will cost $1,000 less per year to run.

I think you folks are missing an important dimension to this argument. Rail projects can actually help to densify a city, whereas EV's do not. Rail (and, to a lesser extent, buses) also remove cars from the roads, so they improve traffic flow and the fuel efficiency of those that remain. Over a longer period, rail encourages development around stations, and more people start to live and work near stations - they re-arrange thei life so as to not need a car every day, and rent cars or use Zipcar when they need to. So, with a functional rail system (especially grade separated) you ultimately need less miles of road (built and maintained) for the same population.

A large scale switch to electric cars will save oil and improve air quality, but it will not resolve any of the traffic problems that choke cities, or end the urban sprawl - it will actually prolong it. And urban sprawl is the root cause of high transport energy consumption. Changing passenger miles from gasoline to electric is good, but reducing them is even better, and ultimately, probably cheaper.

The indirect energy savings from Urban Rail (via changes in urban form) exceed the direct savings by substitution. This is where Nick goes wrong with "it's all good as long as it is electric".

I understand that many here fixate on urban issues, but know this: there will never be electrified light rail, etc. for many people. We don't live in cities or suburbs. Since over 20% of us (in the US) live in areas that are unlikely to see any form of mass transit, electrified personal transportation likely will be an important part of our lives. Those who suggest that we all need to move to the city haven't thought this through very well.

I don't plan to hitch up the team every time I need to get to town or work. And I really don't want to ride a bike on cold, rainy winter mornings as I reach my "golden years". My left knee won't have it. I see a PV charged EV (PVEV) in my future.

As for urban/suburban transportation, societies need to make personal transportation (excepting pedal power of course) more expensive and less convenient, and we'll see change.

In the more densely populated rural areas of 1920 (~1/3rd total US population of today, but ~40% rural back then), electric inter-urban rail was a major transportation means. Often with flag stops (stand on ROW and flag down train).

We both live in urban areas, and mostly use electric rail. We feel that rail is safer, more gracious, efficient for the majority of travel. We think that oil, roads and highways have grown excessively large due to large indirect subsidies, and advocate eliminating those indirect subsidies. We believe that urban living is both a good way to live,and good for the environment (both via efficiency and via preserving wild habitat).

Advocacy of rail as the primary solution for Peak Oil is misdirected - it's unrealistic politically, economically and physically.

Rail doesn't have the political support of personal transportation because people like personal transportation (and for some personal travel they have good reason); rail takes a while to build; Transit Oriented Development takes longer, and is very expensive; Rail can only reduce personal travel, not eliminate it (NYC, for instance, has reduced personal travel by 50%, not 100%); EVs are fast to build (50% of VMT comes from vehicles less than 6 years old), and eliminate oil directly; and EV charging supports wind and nuclear power as replacements for coal (because EVs have storage, while rail does not).

Rail can be, and should be (with bicycles) , the primary focus of a response to post-Peak Oil with EVs a secondary or even tertiary response. Let EVs make it on their own without gov't subsidies and support since they are a mixed blessing.

EVs will significantly increase coal burning, not decrease it. Due to reduced battery life and the risk of being low on fuel when a car is needed, EV batteries will not feed the grid in large numbers (especially after the early adapters).

Suburban construction and infrastructure will need to be either repaired or replaced. A better long term strategy is to replace (demographics work against large Suburban homes as well).

LEVs will significantly increase coal burning, not decrease it. Due to reduced battery life and the risk of being low on fuel when a car is needed, EV batteries will not feed the grid in large numbers (especially after the early adapters).

Not really. First, until batteries get bigger and cheaper, most EVs will be hybrid plug-ins, like the Volt and the Prius plug-in, which eliminate "range anxiety", thus allowing people to relax, and charge at night. People who have range anxiety will avoid pure EVs, those that don't...won't.

I know you're skeptical about people waiting to charge - you suspect they'll come home and plug right in, adding to the evening peak. Well, keep in mind that we have flat pricing for power, so there's no reason for people to do any different. But, where charging is time-of-day, people respond and move their useage to times when it's cheap. Don't forget, this process will be automated, so people won't have to think about it at all. When Ma Bell charged more for day and evening long-distance, people paid attention. Now that cell phones charge by time-of-day, people pay very, very close attention - you know they do...

2nd, you're thinking of Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) - where cars send energy to the grid. V2G isn't necessary - all you need is 1) for people to charge more at night than day, which is inevitable, because cars are used more during the day, and 2) dynamic charging, using smart meters so that cars charge more when electricity is cheap, and less when it's expensive. That's easy, requires no new tech, and is being implemented now. OTOH, V2G will happen, because utilities will be willing to pay very high prices for small amounts of power during the relatively rare times when significant power is needed in milliseconds.

But, let me say it again: don't fixate on V2G. That's a distraction. It's a nice bonus, and it will happen, but it's not necessary. The important thing is dynamic charging.

Let me say it a 3rd time, because it keeps coming up - V2G is not what we're talking about here. Car companies are nervous about warrantee issues, EVs are still new to most people, standards are still being developed, so broad use of V2G isn't going to happen right away. OTOH, V2G isn't necessary -it's not what we're talking about.

First, that's a very long-term strategy. The US just finished a housing bubble, right? We're not going to be building in really large numbers any time soon. 2nd, urban housing is much more expensive than suburban housing. The additional costs are much, much greater than any savings. Heck, a large suburban house is cheaper than a small urban condo, and if people really, really want to save money, why wouldn't they build small suburban condos instead, and really save money??

That's quite a long period: Transit Oriented Development needs both more rail, which is slow, and new residential construction, which is even slower, and very expensive.

This conflates oil and electricity into "energy". We need to reduce oil consumption, and we need to reduce coal production. EVs do both of those and they do it faster. Rail only reduces oil consumption, and it's much, much slower and much more expensive.

Changing passenger miles from gasoline to electric is good, but reducing them is even better, and ultimately, probably cheaper.

No, it's far more expensive - it requires new residential construction, which is several orders of magnitude more expensive.

That's quite a long period: Transit Oriented Development needs both more rail, which is slow, and new residential construction, which is even slower, and very expensive.

The changeover of the car fleet to EV's will be a long period too. Hybrids have only captured 3% of the market after 10yrs Plenty of time for redevelopment to occur around train stations. You just rezone the areas, to allow infills and higher density construction, and it will happen. Inner city residential construction is typically cheaper per residence than suburban. New roads, water, sewer etc are generally not required. The land is more expensive, because it is more desirable. Property price trends in the last two years have confirmed this, as the suburbs/exurbs ahve suffered greater decreases.

We need to reduce oil consumption, and we need to reduce coal production. EVs do both of those and they do it faster. What evidence is there that EV's will reduce coal consumption?

When Calgary built their LRT in the 80's it cost $750m to build (today's dollars) , and today it carries 150,000 people a day (300,000 trips each way), for a daily operating cost of $3500, or 2c/person/day. It has now had over thirty years operation, the original fleet is still running, though it has been expanded. To put all those people in electric cars would need 120,000 EV's and at $20k each that is $2400m, so 4x the cost. At 1 ton/ev, that is 120,000 tons of materials, including expensive stuff for the batteries, whereas the fleet of trains, 160 cars at 30tons each, weighs only 4800 tons and has no expensive batteries. You would also need to expand the road system to accomodate those EV's, which would probably exceed the cost of the train line itself, but lets say $750m, for a total capital cost of $3.1bn. Then, to run these EV's, you need 250Wh/mile, assuming an average daily round trip of 20 miles, that is 600,000kWh/day, add the charging efficiency factor, and you have 700,000/day. At $0.10/kWh, that is $70k/day for electricity, compared to $3k for the train.

So, in this example, putting people in EV;s costs (at least) 6x as much to implement, and, 20x as much to operate, and uses 20x the energy, and consumes 60x the materials, and still encourages urban sprawl. The EV's would likely have had to be replaced at least once in this 30yr period, so you could say 100x the materials, allowing some recycling. So, how, exactly, do EV's reduce coal consumption faster than a well laid out train system?

And if you are in favour of maintaining passenger miles, instead of trying to reduce them, then we are simply trading one energy dependence for another. Residential densification will happen, and yes, it costs, but the benefits are permanent. European and Asian cities have reaped the benefits of density for centuries, or millennia, in some cases. The investment in rail lines and (dense) housing lasts for over a century. Cars average a decade, and then need to be replaced. if you eliminate/reduce the need to have them , you do not need the energy and material to make and replace them, or to power them.

BTW, one overview; one well built TOD condo is equal to or greater than 10 vehicles and a century plus of their annual VMT.

one well built TOD condo is equal to or greater than 10 vehicles and a century plus of their annual VMT

To start, that assumes getting rid of your vehicle. Alan, you still have your car. I also live in Transit Oriented urban Development, but I still have a car. The only place where people who can afford cars get rid of them is NYC, where a 500 Sq Ft studio costs more than a 5,000 SF exurban single family.

Finally, EVs can last just as long as rail cars, or longer (they might need a little bodywork to deal with rust, if you live in the northern salt belt...). Jay Leno's 1909 EV is running just fine, on the original battery.

Think carefully about what you're proposing. You're proposing to abandon suburban housing. Not just sell it to someone else, as happened post-WWII, but abandon or demolish it. That means all of those suburban homeowners lose their hard-fought equity, which is most of their life savings, and then go deeply into debt to buy an urban condo which will be half/third the sq ft, or 2x-3x the price. How are you going to convince them that's better than choosing an EV (whose life-cycle costs won't be any higher than their current ICE)????

My roommate does not have a car. One car, middle class couples are normal here. When I was deciding whether to buy another car, the deciding factor was the ability to self evacuate in front of a hurricane (about every 5 years).

My car is 28 years old and, absent accidents, should last me till I can no longer drive (now age 56). Durable car + low VMT.

Said Suburban McMansions will decline in value as their embedded future transportation costs increase. Add to this the shift in demographics (smaller households), the cost of maintaining the structure and the supporting infrastructure.

The value of a home is not what one paid for it, but what someone else will pay for it now or in the future.# A decent % of Suburbia is underwater and more will likely follow.

As noted earlier, the industry standard for new housing is to 1) meet code and 2) build to last 20 years (down from 30) before major repairs are required.

Hopefully, we will see a population shift from Suburbia to TOD (some of which will be in what are now Suburbs). Well built TOD will take significantly fewer resources to build than McMansions, so building Suburban replacement housing is quite plausible.

# You seem aghast that we might abandon Suburbia. I am not. We did it once before (1950-1970) when we trashed virtually every prime commercial property (called "downtowns") and well built established, convenient neighborhoods (called "inner cities"). We can do it again.

Given the profound negatives of Suburbia (obesity, social isolation, Climate Change and more) I will not be displeased when "Suburbia" and "Inner City neighborhood" swap their respective cultural meanings.

That's great. But...they still have a car, and I would guess that the average rate of car ownership for middle class owners is rather less than a 50% decline from the national average. You've suggested that NOLA is perhaps the best spot in the country for transit, and...they still have a car. Transit is only a partial solution, and you can't count in dramatic savings from reduced car ownership.

The lifecycle costs for EREV/EVs is no higher than than for ICE vehicles, at $3 gas. No matter how expensive gas gets, EV costs don't rise, so $10 gas will only make them more attractive.

Add to this the shift in demographics (smaller households), the cost of maintaining the structure and the supporting infrastructure.

Oddly enough, people are willing to pay the costs of McMansions. Beats the heck out of me, but they are. Very slightly higher energy costs won't change that.

That has very little to do with energy costs - as I noted before, exurbs were newer construction, with lower income buyers - buyers priced out of the city market, who were then especially hard hit by the recession and sub-prime bubble.

Hopefully, we will see a population shift from Suburbia to TOD (some of which will be in what are now Suburbs).

We did it once before (1950-1970) when we trashed virtually every prime commercial property (called "downtowns") and well built established, convenient neighborhoods (called "inner cities").

Existing suburban housing is more energy efficient than city housing - that's unlikely to change, as new construction in both places will be more efficient.

If TOD housing allows going from 2 cars to one, then my claim that building TOD eliminates cars is true.

Thus your claim that the savings are very small is simply wrong. 2 cars to 1, with, say, 1/6th to 1/10th the VMT is a VERY substantial savings for both the individuals and society.

If comparable standards on construction apply, the home with fewer sq ft, a less complex surface area and perhaps shared walls (or even two vs. 1 story) will use substantially less energy.

I very much doubt your EV vs. transit #s. Today, labor is expensive and electricity cheap, so transit agencies will not downsize trains mid-day, but they easily could.

I look at Switzerland. From memory, 3% of transportation energy is electric rail, yet it provides 30% of VMT and 40% of tonne-km.

Exurbia's failure is directly related to the cost of transportation. Housing + Transportation >45% of income is unaffordable.

The materials to build (well) TOD housing will likely be LESS than McMansions per sq ft. Fewer exotic shapes, some shared walls, multi-story saves on roof materials/sq ft., etc. bathrooms and kitchens (expensive and material intensive/sq ft) will take a higher % of the sq ft in TOD, so that may increase the average materials/sq ft.

And it is NOT unrealistic. The USA did it once (1950-1970) so we can do it agian. And MUCH better reasons to do so, and greater forces, the second time.

Our mission should NOT be to "electrify transportation" but move to the most sustainable, lowest impact way of life as fact as we can.

Several orders of magnitude less than our fleet of 35 1923/24 Perley Thomas streetcars (which I will be boardibng in @ an hour) and our 1897 Ford, Davis, Bacon workcar.

Well, most modern rail cars have stainless exteriors, so rust is less of a problem, but rust can be handled - our 23 year old Corolla (housed outside, and driven in a high-salt city) had some bodywork, but the cost amortized over it's lifetime was very low. Our 20 year Accord (housed outside about 70% of it's life) has a touch of rust, but has needed no bodywork yet.

Any vehicle can be kept going forever, with the proper inspections and preventive maintenance. The cost of doing so is much lower than buying new. That's why commercial vehicles are kept so long: they're kept until they're functionally obsolete (meaning, their design is sufficiently out of date that they're no longer useful).

Oddly enough, most people strongly prefer new cars. You and I aren't really among them, but that overwhelming social preference means that most cars are junked (or exported to S. America) long before the end of their functional life.

The changeover of the car fleet to EV's will be a long period too. Hybrids have only captured 3% of the market after 10yrs

You have to reverse your frame of reference: 15 years ago, 3% market share would have astounded everybody in the auto industry. Gas prices were dirt cheap during most of that period, and they're still not high. Meanwhile, in the US rail appears to only account for 1% of miles traveled ( http://www.bts.gov/publications/transportation_statistics_annual_report/... ), so hybrids are carrying 3x as many people.

Plenty of time for redevelopment to occur around train stations. You just rezone the areas, to allow infills and higher density construction, and it will happen.

In my observation, that zoning is already in place: what is missing is sufficient buying demand for that to happen in large enough numbers to make an overall, noticeable difference.

Not per square foot, certainly, and I'd be surprised if they're actually cheaper per residence - do you have sources for that?

Yes, exactly. Which means that most people are priced out of the inner city. People buy in exurbs because that's what they can afford. Buying a more efficient vehicle will always be far cheaper than moving to the city.

The exurbs were newer construction, with lower income buyers - buyers priced out of the city market, who were then especially hard hit by the recession and sub-prime bubble.

When Calgary built their LRT in the 80's it cost $750m to build (today's dollars) , and today it carries 150,000 people a day (300,000 trips each way),

"In the fourth quarter of 2009, the C-Train system had an average of 266,100 riders per weekday" ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calgary ). Calgary has a population of about 1M, who drive an average of 50M miles per weekday. If the average C-Train trip is 5 miles (the 3 lines are only 10 miles long, on average. Plus, there are a lot of short intra-city hops in the free downtown zone), then the C-Train has a market share of 2.5%.

To put all those people in electric cars would need 120,000 EV's and at $20k each that is $2400m, so 4x the cost.

Do you have a source for that daily cost? That doesn't look right. Calgary bought the cheapest cars they could (no A/C, for instance), so I suspect it doesn't have regenerative braking.

Your costs are 10% of the actual, and don't include the necessary supporting buses, which are much more expensive and less fuel efficient than a Prius: "cost per LRT passenger is CDN$0.27, compared to $1.50 for bus passengers in Calgary." ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C-Train )

No, they really don't. Cars last for as long as you want to maintain them, and EVs are much lower maintenance than ICE vehicles. Cars on average are junked after perhaps 20 years because their market value has fallen below the (low) cost of repairs - market value drops because of...fashion. That's a choice - we kept our last car for 23 years, and then gave it to a homeless guy so that he could make a living (he's still driving it, 3 years later...). Our next car we bought in 1990, and it's still going just fine. Jay Leno's EV was bought in 1909, and it's still running on the original battery.

No, it eliminates it. If your vehicle fleet doesn't use oil, how can an oil consumption problem still exist?? OTOH, rail is at best a half measure: NYC, for instance, still has 50% of the VMT.

OK, lets get things sorted about Calgary, The best place for info about the train system ishttp://www.calgarytransit.com/html/technical_information.html And some other information about Calgary is atwww.thecalgaryfoundation.org/documents/VS_Snapshot_FINAL.pdf

The train system is 30 miles long, and carries 248,000 per weekday, 22,000, or less than 10% are in the fare free zone, so we'll go with 226,000 commuter trips, or or 113,000 people per day - for a city of 1million people, I would call that 13% market share, but the % of drivers is probably closer to 20% The average commute in Calgary (all modes - car, bus train) is 8.2km, or 5 miles (from Calgary foundation doc.)

So, the (paying) train passengers do 90%x248,000x5 = 1.1million person/miles per day, or 400million/year. The trains use 3.5kWh/km, and average 30km/hr, for 105kW average. They carry 610 passengers per revenue hour, so we have 170Wh/passenger. Assuming the 5 mile commute, we get 34Wh/passenger-mile. This works out to 37,400 kWh/day

Now, an average EV is 275Wh/mile (incl charging loss), and with 1.25 occupants, we have 220Wh/person-mile, or 6.5x that of the train. The total daily person miles is 1.1 million, so the Ev's will use 240,000kWh/day

Lets assume if all the (paying) passengers were drivers, doing 1.1million person-miles/day, with 1.25pp/car this is 880,000vehicle miles/day. With an average of 20mpg, that is 44,000 gallons/day, or 1.47m kWh (at 33.4 kWh/gal). So if we go to EV's our oil usage goes to zero, but electric is up by 240,000kWh, or 1kWh/person/day If we go to trains, out oil usage goes to zero, and our electric usage goes up 38,000kWh/day, or 0.17kWh/person/day

So, trains result in much greater energy savings than EV's, in addition to the densification benefits, which have been happening in Calgary.

I have not addressed the issue of whether or not the train passengers still own cars, but I do know from personal experience (I lived in Calgary for four years - great city) that there are many families that are a one car family purely because one of them can take the train.

So, both trains and EV's eliminate the oil problem, but trains save much more energy. And the densification of the city saves more still, over time. if we look at a 100yr "life" of a train system, we will have had a complete changeover of the housing stock, so densification will have occurred. The trains will be replaced 3x, and the EV's 5x (at least), and many people in the later years will not needs cars at all. The EV's will have used a lot more energy over that time. Since this whole exercise is about trying to chart a sustainable future, trains are clearly a better choice.

Finally, if you have a look at this graph (about 2/3 of the way down in this essay)http://www.newworldeconomics.com/archives/2009/041909.html You will see a good comparison of transport energy use of various cities. This is from 1989, but it wouldn't have changed too much today NY is 60% that of LA, but all the European cities are 20%, and Asian ones about 10%, no ev's required. All the Euro and Asian cities have higher density, and transit oriented development. And, if you have been to a few of them, they are generally much nicer places to be - full of people, not cars, and that generally makes for happier people too, irrespective of their energy use.

Don;t get me wrong, I am a fan of EV's, but a city with a good train system, not only do we save energy, but owning a car becomes an option, not a necessity. If government is going to subsidise electric transport, it's dollars are much better spent on trains, which can be used by everyone, not just car buyers.

That works out to about $560,000 per year, assuming 50% less on weekends, and $.05/KWH.http://www.calgarytransit.com/html/technical_information.html gives: Average annual power costs: $4.8M (2006), so your calculations are off by about 10x. In the US, transit rail uses about .35 KWH/pax-mile, which is consistent.

So, EVs use less power than rail, and don't forget those buses, which use more fuel per pax-mile than a single-passenger Prius.

That's great. But...they still have a car, and I would guess that the average rate of car ownership for middle class owners is mucl less than a 50% decline from the national average. The C-train is said to be one of the best transit systems in N. America, and...people still have cars. Transit is only a partial solution, and you can't count in dramatic savings from reduced car ownership.

if we look at a 100yr "life" of a train system, we will have had a complete changeover of the housing stock, so densification will have occurred

My point exactly: transit is a very, very, very slow solution. Light vehicles turn over 50% in just 6 years, so they're about 8x faster.

NY is 60% that of LA, but all the European cities are 20%, and Asian ones about 10%, no ev's required.

Well, it appears the street cars in question weigh 36,745 kg (81,000 lbs), empty, so there's a bit of heft to haul about (source: http://transit.toronto.on.ca/streetcar/4504.shtml). Not sure how much the old trolley buses weighed. I use to take the Bay St. #6 to work each day (http://transit.toronto.on.ca/trolleybus/9105.shtml) -- damn shame they're all gone now.

Paul, I couldn;t find any specs online for the electric trolley buses, but Vancouver does have 200 new ones! A typical 40' city bus weighs around 12 tons empty, and can carry 60 passengers, so 200kg/passenger. The streetcar is 37t for 155pp, so 238kg/pp. A bit heavier, but not outrageous. A typical car, is 1300kg for four pp, so 225kg/pp and an SUV is 2000kg for five (or seven) so 300-400kg/pp. Of course, most cars, most of the time, have 1.2 pp, so the real weight is about 1000+kg/pp. Add to this the stop/start speed/slow traffic and it's easy to see why they use so much more energy than a streetcar, even of they are electric vehicles.

As Nick points out, an empty bus/streetcar/train is very inefficient, but the real value is that during peak times, they can move a lot of people fast, and they have taken that many people off the roads, so the roads move faster too. Basically, it;s all good!

The problem there is that Toronto insists on ordering their own custom-designed streetcars. They don't even use the same track gauge as anybody else. Off-the-shelf generic light rail vehicles can accelerate faster, have a higher top speed, and cost less.

If you want to custom design your own vehicles, you can design ones that can accelerate as fast as you want, and go as fast as you want. It's just a matter of using bigger electric motors. Of course, it's always cheaper to order off-the-shelf units.

So you run trains for long distance and create 15 mile radius road distribution centers from your rail depot hubs. BTW a circle with a radius of 15 miles is about 700 square miles of area...You can put a lot of industry in that circle.

Built as a demonstration project co-funded by the Port of Los Angeles and South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), and designed specifically for short-haul or “drayage” operations, this unique electric tractor designed and produced exclusively for the Port by Balqon Corp. was the result of nearly a year of development and testing. The heavy-duty electric short-haul drayage truck -- the first of its kind at any port worldwide -- can pull a 60,000-pound cargo container at a top speed of 40 mph, and has a range between 30 to 60 miles per battery

Trains for long hauls makes sense - both for people and products. Of course if we don't have diesel we will have to convert our existing train lines to electric which apparently can be done. Then we could just abandon our interstates and not have to worry about paving them which would leave more asphalt for local roads.

I worked out the cost once from some figures I found of it being done in Europe. And to have enough electric power for all the things we are going to power in addition to all the electricity we now use we need to upgrade the grid. The money costs of this (some say $1 trillion just for the US grid) represents energy. If we are already at peak the only way to divert energy to upgrading the grid and converting the rail lines would be to ration it for the general public. I think that would be just fine but we always butt our heads against the reality of politics especially here in the US.

At any rate its 30-60 mile limit means it will not be used for long trips that 18 wheelers now do and thus past the age of oil electric trains would be necessary for such transport so the question of asphalt becomes less important.

Sooner or later politics, even in the US, will butt it's head against reality. Tea Party rallies notwithstanding.

And Hubris is the fatal flaw. We thought our dreams and hopes were enough to get us anything we wanted.

If we are already at peak the only way to divert energy to upgrading the grid and converting the rail lines would be to ration it for the general public.

Short of actual rationing, there could be more forceful efforts at efficiency. People still aren't putting in CFLs even when they are for sale at the dollar store. And of course, there's always rationing through higher prices...

Absolutely. If prices rise, those who are upgrading the grid and converting the rail lines will just pay the higher prices, and light vehicle drivers will reduce their consumption. They'll buy Priuses, Leafs, Volts, and maybe carpool a little more.

Nick, I don't know what planet you live on but it's not the same one I live on. Or maybe the poor and the unemployed aren't part of your "THEY"...

The poor and unemployed will drive less, if at all. That would be the other face of demand destruction.

The average new light vehicle in the US costs $28K. A Prius costs about $25K. So, a Prius is cheaper. A Leaf and a Volt will eventually cost in the same range.

It's worth noting that people in the lowest 20% of income don't usually own cars these days. The working poor will be hurt the most - they don't have the capital to upgrade quickly, and their lives are often chaotic, so that carpooling will often be painful.

PO will be be painful for the poor, in the US and more so in poorer countries. Still, some additional misery for the poor is a far cry from social collapse.

As good a demonstration as this is, for a vehicle that works all day, this range will be quite limiting, and will require constant changing of battery packs. A better solution is to string overhead wires, like the electric trolley buses use. If the truck still has it's battery pack, and the lines run only on the major roads in the industrial/port area, then the truck will have mainline power more often than not, and this is constantly recharging batteries.

This would be a very easy retrofit - the main roads in Vancouver already have trolley wires everywhere and it's no big deal. If the vehicles have battery autonomy, then you don't need to electrify every side street, or mess with expensive switches, etc, really becomes quite simple. The more truck traffic, the more economical it becomes compared to battery only operation.

A note of irony: There are still Model Ts for sale. They are available on e-Bay, and surprisingly cheap. I've seen quite a few of them in the $10-20K range, a few (probably needing some work) for less. I understand that they will even run on bioethanol with far less problems than most modern cars. I keep wondering if maybe I should get one while the getting is good. . .

For rough roads the most important thing is wheel diameter, which is why few vehicles in the days before paved roads had little wheels. With a small diameter wheel it drops farther into every rut, so in order to move the vehicle laterally you must continually raise the vehicle vertically, fighting against gravity. A larger diameter wheel provides lower rolling resistance and better ride.

The issue of decaying road infrastructure is one reason I find the many designs for fragile super high economy vehicles so pathetic. For carrying goods locally, big wheels and slow speeds will be the way of the future, whether powered by hooves or electric motors. In the last 10 years the vehicle for personal transportation has been perfected - the modern mountain bike is an amazing machine.

There is no need to develop new technology to deal with our once and future roads. What needs development are our expectations.

Many of the 54,663 bridges on the Interstate highway system will soon be restricted to just car traffic if they don't get replaced soon (a quarter were built after WWII and are due for replacement). One old bridge and an entire stretch of highway becomes unusable to trucks.

We may see the bridges shut down the Interstate system faster than the roads themselves. Bridge replacements — especially when one has to keep the traffic flowing — are expensive, time consuming projects.

U.S. Interstate Highway System Fast Factshttp://www.artba.org/mediafiles/transportationgeneralfastfacts.pdf

We, in the US, are already seeing more prioritizing of highway funds nationwide. We have forced roads through areas where they don't belong, requiring huge outlays of capitol to keep them open. How can we replace deteriorated/unsafe bridges when we have to clean up messes like this:

Interstate 40 in NC, near the TN border has been closed since Oct. 25, 2009 because of this rock slide. It seems that as soon as they remove the debris, the mountain above just keeps giving way. The detour adds over a hundred miles to westbound trips.

Another very long detour, delaying commerce and travel. As they try to remove these slides, the mountains just keep coming down. Watch the second slide occur here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUXhjPkGBtU

How much funding do incidents like these take away from general repair work? In a State with some of the highest highway fuel taxes in the region, we have been seeing prioritization for years. The Highway Dept is behind on most every project. One of the busiest bridges in our county was condemed in 1985 and has yet to be replaced. The answer was to make it a one lane bridge and limit the weight.

The problems with our roads are financial. Peak oil will make things worse, but the decline has been evident for years. As with most things, we have overbuilt and the bills are past due.

Members of Congress are trying to force yet another major Interstate through the ancient, environmentally sensitive southern mountains. Their idea of progress:

Some of the original Trans-Continental railroad tunnels are still used. In some areas, they double tracked a better grade when they double tracked the line in the 1920s.

We have forced roads through areas where they don't belong, requiring huge outlays of capitol to keep them open. How can we replace deteriorated/unsafe bridges when we have to clean up messes like this:

Part of the bridge's strength and reliability came from the fact that each cable was replaced every year by local villagers as part of their mita public service or obligation. In some instances, these local peasants had the sole task of maintaining and repairing these bridges so that the Inca highways or road systems could continue to function.

Maybe some of the Tea Party folk would be willing to roll up their sleeves and lend a helping hand... "Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country" Nah, never mind, a bunch of people working for no financial gain to benefit the common good is just too socialistic a concept to fly. Let the bridges collapse!

Before they paved our rural road (most of it) it used to get baddly washboarded and potholed long before the state got around to regrading it. Our neighbor would use his old motorgrader to keep it passable until the state fixed it. I see this as our future meme. Locals will be doing much of the maintanence if they want to keep using their rural roads. Paving won't be an option for most. It'll be back to locally maintained gravel/dirt roads for many of us. Any funding will go to keeping major highways passable.

Kennedy is a horrible example, he almost caused a nuclear holocaust. The Tea Party folks are just one manifestation of a nation in decline.

My comment wasn't intended to be political and it doesn't much matter that it was Kennedy who uttered that phrase, it might as well have been Mao Tse-Tung. The point was that communities will only survive if the members of said communities get past their petty ideological differences and get to work doing what needs to be done. It won't much matter that some will want to slap the hippie or communist label onto the endeavor. It's just gonna be plain old survival...

“We think too small, like the frog at the bottom of the well. He thinks the sky is only as big as the top of the well. If he surfaced, he would have an entirely different view.” Mao Tse-Tung

Interstate 40 in NC, near the TN border has been closed since Oct. 25, 2009 because of this rock slide. It seems that as soon as they remove the debris, the mountain above just keeps giving way. The detour adds over a hundred miles to westbound trips....

I-40 through Western NC and Eastern Tennessee is reputedly the most expensive section of Interstate to be built to date. There have been several dozen major rock slides during its 30+ year history. It reminds me of the notorious Culebra Cut of Panama Canal fame. I suspect that to have built I-40 properly to begin with would have cost several times what the original price tag was, but would have saved more over the long term. A typical case of shortsightedness born of political needs to keep the budget down.

A more modern example of a vehicle built for bad roads is the Citroen 2CV, built from 1939 (mass produced only from 1948) until 1990 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citro%C3%ABn_2CV).

Compared to the Ford Model T it has a much more comfortable ride, handles better, has better brakes, has a higher top speed and cruising speed, and uses about half as much fuel. The Model T probably has a greater load capacity, though both vehicles behave fairly benignly when grossly overloaded. Like the Model T the 2CV has good ground clearance and large wheels, but has much more sophisticated suspension with much larger wheel movements.

I have driven both a Model T (we had one as our family car when I was a small boy, and I drove it on the farm as a teenager) and a version of the 2CV (a Dyane, which I owned for two years in the 1970s).

A more modern example of a vehicle built for bad roads is the Citroen 2CV, built from 1939 (mass produced only from 1948) until 1990 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citro%C3%ABn_2CV).

Yep my sister used to own one in Germany and I got a chance to drive it. I wouldn't want to drive it on the Auobahn but around the village it was just fine.

I also grew up in Brazil and drove the old 1.2 liter air cooled VW bugs on some really treacherous dirt roads out in the boondocks. I remember driving the Rio Santos highway in one when it was still a dirt road and many of the bridges were literally just two giant trees over the river with one side hewn flat by hand. There were no guard rails so you made sure your tires didn't have any slippery mud on them before you headed over to the other side...

I also grew up in Brazil and drove the old 1.2 liter air cooled VW bugs on some really treacherous dirt roads out in the boondocks.

I've put many a off-road mile on VW Bugs. I drove from LA to Costa Rica in one in the 1970's (My passport says I was also in Panama, but I don't remember being there). Also a great snow car, as many Sierra and Montana winters proved.

I was perusing the CIA factbook and noticed an odd comparison between Canada and the USA. eg. the ratio per capita of paved roads is about the same, but of expressways is over double (eg. Cda 0.00051 km/person vs. US 0.00024 km/person), which I wouldn't have expected.

All of the solutions discussed, and provided, all require lots of energy and high-tech manufactured products. I always find this discussion to be a dichtomoty in regards to the realities of a low-energy world. Carbon-fiber bicycles, machined high-strength aluminum, synthetic rubber.... lots of energy is neeeded to produce these items. Lots of mining and raw materials. The future, after peak oil and the decline will not look like some high tech hippie paradise, it will be dirt paths, humans walking, and if they are wealthy, having horses (or the like) to ride on. Human population will be vastly diminished, as it should, and needs to be. A better hope is that we don't drive ourselves to extinction. Until we face the fact that human beings have overshot Earth's carrying capacity, and needs to be reduced, we will never progress. It is a terrible fact, but one that must be obvious to all... i.e. the high level of discomfort today... and the terrible results that will befall unless human beings allow the population to decline by restraining themselves. We stand at the edge of an abyss that no amount of technology will save us, unless we practice self-restraint!

All of the solutions discussed, and provided, all require lots of energy and high-tech manufactured products. I always find this discussion to be a dichtomoty in regards to the realities of a low-energy world. Carbon-fiber bicycles, machined high-strength aluminum, synthetic rubber.... lots of energy is neeeded to produce these items. Lots of mining and raw materials.

Right! However building a bicycle with a small electric motor is by orders of magnitude less energy intensive than building an SUV. We are not going to completely run out of all energy overnight and I fully expect there to be some industry somewhere that will survive for a very long time to come.

Most people fully expect to continue on living in their McMansions and driving their Cadillac Escalades far into the future. I don't! Though I'm pretty sure that I still have the means to go into the future with one of those solar powered trikes.

BTW I don't think that high-tech manufactured products mean what you seem to think they mean. Building electric motors, and aluminum bicycles is not really all that high tech. You can even grow your own frames out of bamboo if need be leaving more resources and energy for motors gears and such.

Sure we might be in for complete collapse and devastation but I'm betting that isn't exactly how things will go down, at least not quite yet...

concrete turns out to be more expensive than conventional asphalt. It may last longer, but don't expect it to become as commonplace as asphalt is today.

Highway engineers and trade literature say this is not correct: life-cycle costs of concrete are not higher than asphalt. The upfront cost is higher, but the greater life compensates for that.

We have plenty of electricity, and we always will. The problem is PO (and climate change from coal), not peak energy. http://energyfaq.blogspot.com/2010/03/can-we-really-transition-from-oil-...

The largest machine in the world for removing overburden (for coal) runs off electricity. Slow moving machines are better controlled with motors, compared to using internal combustion. I saw a quote in businessweek that over 1000 companies are involved in defining the standards for plugging in electric vehicles. There's much more forward thinking going on than is usually given credit here.

Whether a dragline runs off of electricity is immaterial. It has thousands of parts that are dependent on a logistics system that runs on oil.

Forward thinking is great, but we are far behind the 20 window mentioned in the US DoE report "Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation, and Risk Management". And we are not implementing the measures cited to do the "Apollo Project" that would get us there in 10 years without too serious of an economic contraction. The tiny measures we are taking are too little, too late.

Btw, the forum for defining standards for plug-in cars is the NIST working group on this topic, and there is nowhere near 1000 participants in it.

You mean, it has parts that must be transported. But, that transportation doesn't use much oil - both water and rail are very efficient, and long-haul trucking can be replaced by rail pretty easily. There are a lot of unemployed truckers who'll tell you that process is well underway.

That Hirsch report is remarkably poor quality. It didn't even consider electric vehicles (let alone carpooling!). Obviously, if you're going to depend on CTL, producing a lot of fuel is going to take a while.

The US freight transportation is currently extremely oil intensive. I am a strong supporter of transitioning to rail and barge, though that will not be quick or simple.

At the time the report was written, there were too many uncertainties remaining for Hirsch to automatically assume that a complete shift over to electrics during the 20 year cycle would take place. 6 years later, the number of electric cars on the road is still far below 0.1%. As a previously active member in the Electric Vehicle Association of America (back in the 1990s), I find this to be disturbing.

He did note "...hybrids might reach roughly 10 percent on-the-road U.S. market share by 2015". We are only at about 3% now, so there is still a long way to go. So with respect to electric vehicles and hybrids, his cautionary outlook has so far been proven true. I am one who wishes those percentages were over 50% and climbing, but the American buyer has shown their cultural bias to something other than significant fuel efficiency.

After thoroughly reviewing it and seeing a number of additional analyses by Hirsch on this topic, I must say I have a totally different opinion than you on this topic.

Rail really uses very little. Air freight transport uses surprisingly little (fuel is only 10% of Fedex's budget). Trucking uses a significant amount, but that can change, and that change is already moving reasonably quickly. Even trucking's consumption is only 27% of surface non-rail transport: Personal transportation is by far the big user, that's mostly optional.

Inter-modal rail is big, and growing fast. I don't see much of a move to barge - do you think it's needed? I would have thought rail would make more sense.

At the time the report was written, there were too many uncertainties remaining for Hirsch to automatically assume that a complete shift over to electrics during the 20 year cycle would take place.

His report should not have been an analysis of what was likely, but of what is possible. To neglect EV's the way he did rendered his report irrelevant.

6 years later, the number of electric cars on the road is still far below 0.1%. As a previously active member in the Electric Vehicle Association of America (back in the 1990s), I find this to be disturbing.

I agree. OTOH, it's not at all surprising: the car industry really, really didn't like EV's. Further, once they decided to really develop them, that development had a significant lead time. Now, EV's really are "here".

Sure. Carpooling, especially for someone who hasn't been doing it for a while, can be extremely inconvenient. And, of course, fuel prices are still way too low. If you're primarily concerned about fuel costs, it's much easier to just buy a Prius.

It's his report and he can make it the way thinks will provide the most value. Other people can provide a different point of view and then we can compare. Besides, there are are plenty of breathless reports on alternative technologies that discuss how we'll all be driving electric vehicles by such and such a date and they arrive like clockwork.

I would say that Hirsch's report was a sensible look at the topic that moved the conversation forward. I don't like the idea of all that fuel from coal he discusses but I understand why he approached it that way.

I would say that Hirsch's report was a sensible look at the topic that moved the conversation forward.

I'd say it was a superficial look, that focused only on alternative sources of liquid fuel, and distracted people from the important solutions. Even worse, lately he's been making "breathless" pronouncements that PO will cause economic disaster, with no solid basis.

He approaches it that way in part because he makes very inaccurate assumptions about the turnover of existing vehicles. It's just an unrealistic, misleading report.

I encourage my previous town to use more concrete. The hidden cost of asphalt is much more frequent delays due to road repairs. All this discussion and no one pointed out that in most western countries, class I roads are concrete.

Roads? pssst This is how I prepare for peak oil:http://www.trucktrend.com/roadtests/ultimate/163_0510_unimog_u500is/phot...

When someone says "Roads? pssst" The least I expect is something like this....http://www.verticalmag.com/

But my truck works as a tractor too on the farm. It has many implement attachment points. The downside is that driving a "tonka toy" with 4' wheels draws too much attention. There's only 180 of these in the U.S.

In the US, our roads are much wider than in Europe. This can change. At the last revision of our local city general plan, I tried to propose narrowing of roads from the current standard of 50 feet, including curb gutter and sidewalk, but nobody was interested yet. Dropping two lanes from four and six lane highways will probably be an option. Chip Seals and Macadam surfaces are options to put a smooth surface on a road, using less oil. They are more suitable for light vehicles and light to moderate traffic, in areas with minimal freeze-thaw problems. Another Citroen model suitable for both highway and bad roads was the DS. It had a hydraulic suspension with adjustable clearance, for better highway economy.

One of the basic objectives of reducing street width is to slow traffic down. If you give people 50 foot wide streets, they will drive much too fast for the safety of pedestrians, children, and dogs.

As a basic rule, you can allow 10 feet for a driving lane, 6 feet for a parking lane, and three feet for a sidewalk. If you allow 2 driving lanes, two parking lanes, and two sidewalks, you can get away with as little as 38 feet.

However, on side streets, a useful concept is the "queuing street". It has only one driving lane which goes both directions. This concept works very well at reducing vehicle speeds, because if two vehicles meet, one of them has to pull into a parking lane while the other creeps by. This actually works very well once people get used to it, and residents get to enjoy meeting speeders head to head and forcing them into the parking lane. A minimum width for 1 driving lane, 2 parking lanes and two sidewalks would be 28 feet.

If you want to cut it down even farther, you can use 1 driving lane, one parking lane, and 1 sidewalk for a two-way street with a minimum width of 19 feet.

Personally, I would go for a different concept, with 1 (two-way) driving lane, 1 parking lane, and 2 sidewalks which are 5 feet wide. 5 foot wide sidewalks allow people to stroll down them arm-in-arm. This gives you a street which is 26 feet wide (of which 10 feet are sidewalks) and allows people to stroll down the sidewalks side by side, talking to their neighbors, while traffic attempts to creep through the neighborhood very, very slowly. My favorite kind of neighborhood.

A new trend in New Orleans is to use the 20' (6 m) or so of parking lane next to an intersection that cannot be used for parking and build bulb-outs. If it is a bus stop, put in a bench (sometimes facing the street, sometimes facing the buildings). Otherwise put in bicycle parking. In a couple of places, bulb-outs were added mid-block as well (in front of restaurants & ice cream parlors for al fresco dining).

Also "roll up" curbs, basically curbs at a sinusoidal 30 degrees and not 90 degrees. Easier to get strollers, rolling carriers and bicycles over the curb and makes the street seem less isolated from the sidewalk.

Alan, good to see New Orleans catching up on things like this. Those kerbs are called mountable kerbs, have been widely used in Australia since the 70's. Not only are they better for bikes, strollers, etc but they are more resistant to damage from vehicles.

So too the bulb outs, along with chicanes in mid street. Plant something in them and it completely changes the street character.

I still maintain the best thing is to have no parking at all, though this is not always possible. On a visit to Portland, Oregon last year I was walking down one if the streets, next to the streetcar lines, trying to work out what was different. It was of course, that there were no cars parked along the street at all, just people everywhere.

My old town in the Cdn rockies (a lakefront, holiday) finally discovered the bulb outs, and allowed the restaurants to take over the parking spaces in front of them for outdoor seating in summer (they had to keep the sidewalk trafficable). Unbelievably, some of the locals complained about not being able to park in front of said restaurants when they wanted to go to them!

When I was studying traffic design in my civil engineering undergrad, our prof told us that before the age of the car, there were no pedestrians, there were just people. His opinion (and I am inclined to agree) is that using pedestrians dehumanizes people and makes the planners and engineers regard them as a "problem" to be "managed" or "solved", so as to minimise disruption to "traffic" When we start with People, you end up with People Friendly Design - quite a radical concept, really.

And the end result of people friendly design often ends up looking like old European towns, which of course, were built by people, for people, long before the age of machines. The ski resort company I used to work for had studied this model very carefully, and made the "pedestrian village" the central platform of all their resort designs. The end result, being master planned, was a bit Disneyfied, but it is much better than dealing with cars.

Changing existing cities to this format can, and should, be done, but there is alway lots of opposition to it, as you well know But the results are always worth it.

RMG, I would take this a step or two further. ideally, you do away with the parking altogether, so that people see other people and houses, not cars. I have seen this done is some Sydney areas that have rear lane access.

But, if you must keep the parking, why not go for really wide footpaths, 10 feet or so, (even if only on one side). This is wide enough for people, cyclists, skateboarders, roller bladers etc.

Or, you do what most of the old European and Asian cities have done for thousands of years, and just have 10-15'wide streets that have no distinction between cars and people, it makes you not want to drive them at all, or if you must, you do so at walking pace.

I lived for a while in narrow street parts of London (Oxford Circus) and an English country town. It is a very different feeling to walk around, you feel comfortable because it is made for people, not cars.

Changing the street width is good, but you are still left the the problem of the houses being so far apart. If they were only separated by 15' instead of 50- 80', towns would be half the size! I have seen a proposal, which I kinda like, for increasing density by building a new line of houses down the street, and using the two sidewalks and the green strips, as new narrow streets. Imagine this done in the Mission/4th St area of Calgary, (I used to live there) it would make it a great neighborhood.

yes, you lose the "green space", but I have to agree with Nathan Lewis on this, that when there are no cars, you don't need it to separate houses/footpaths from them. Regular community gardens, mini parks, or "commons" do a much better job of providing useful and interesting greenery that you can actually wander through, not past.

Finally, I did see one street in Sydney that was changed to a one lane, one parking lane street, but what they did was alternate the side of the parking lane every 100m, so the driving lane became a serpentine, with many semi-blind curves. It makes you slow right down, and certainly not go down that street unless you absolutely have to. It was proposed as an alternative to dead end streets to stop people shortcutting down residential streets, and it worked. Traffic dropped, and the residents loved it.

Once you make the the prime purpose of residential streets is to benefit the people that live on them, not those that drive through them, everything changes, for the better.

I was trying to keep this in the North American context, so I was relatively generous in my estimates. In Europe, of course, the streets might be so narrow it is impossible to actually drive on them.

And I could have elaborated on the one driving lane, one parking lane concept. Of course you can alternate the side the parking lane is on every 100 m to mess up the drivers even more. You can also get rid of stop signs and lights, and put a tiny little roundabout in every intersection to slow the cars down and improve safety even more.

Other ideas include making front porches mandatory and establishing a maximum setback (rather than a minimum) of, say 10 feet from the sidewalk. If you do this, people will tend to sit on their front porches and talk to their neighbors as they walk by, arm-in-arm.

I once lived in an old house on a 25x95 foot lot in a neighborhood that had 24 foot wide streets. We had a very active community association. We blocked off most of the access roads and turned the street system into a labyrinth. We banned front driveways and made front porches mandatory. We would close the streets completely whenever we had a block party, and for the annual lilac festival. We put in lots of pedestrian and bicycle paths. When I left and sold my house, I made a fortune. You wouldn't believe how much people will pay to live in a neighborhood like that.

I don't know why most people don't think in those terms, but apparently they don't. They seem to think that people who are driving through a neighborhood should have more rights than the people who live there. We did our best to disabuse them of that misconception.

RMG, agreed on all fronts. many of the old terrace (row) houses in Sydney have about that 10ft max setback, and all have front porches, just the right size for sitting out on and having a beer in the evening. You're either on your porch, or walking along past the other people on theirs.

Where was that community, not in Calgary, it take it, though it has a good Lilac festival.. You are spot on about the value of making the community people friendly instead of car friendly, it makes for a great "hood". It seems to me that areas of cities that have held their value the best in the last two years are the ones that come closest to that sort of model.

Where I live now on the BC Sunshine Coast is a sad example of the opposite. The main road (hwy 101) runs right past the best, sunniest, sandiest beach on the coast, separating the houses, shops and hotels from the beach by a trunk road and a continuous line of traffic in summer. The hwy used to run one block behind, but in the 60's they moved it to the beach lane (then a pedestrian promenade), so that "the visitors could see how nice the beach is!"

And it is nice, until you get out of your car and then it you realise how much nicer it would be if the cars weren't 15' from the water, and destroying the view from the shops and hotels, noise etc.

Somehow the motorist is king of our collective castle, and until that changes, we can never, really become oil independent

Actually, it was in Calgary: the Parkhill district, immediately south of the Mission district you mentioned. (I don't like to be too specific about where I lived, in case the guys with dark glasses and silenced 9 mm automatics find me. I really should be more careful what I say around here.)

In any case, it was hard to navigate in the first place, so we put up concrete barriers, closed a few streets, made a few others one-way with no street going the other way, and in general made it impossible for cars to shortcut through without secret information that only the residents knew. It was extremely popular and 80% of the residents indicated high satisfaction. We didn't have to narrow the streets because the widest ones were only 24' wide, and the narrowest ones were nearly impassible to cars - it had been laid out in pre-automobile days. We also put in a lot of bicycle paths and pedestrian paths, built a bunch of little parks, and otherwise made the place people-friendly

It helped that we got the a light-rail transit station put in nearby, so drivers couldn't argue they had no alternatives. The city traffic engineers for some reason resisted the concept of putting stop lights across the major thoroughfare between us and it, but one of my ex-girlfriends caused a 6-car accident walking in a completely legal fashion across the 6-lane thoroughfare to visit me. I had a car crash into a light post trying to avoid me, while I was walking across there myself. You have to be aggressive to get your rights as a pedestrian. Fortunately, they changed their mind and put in lights before we had to get nasty about it.

It was the sheer stupidity of the traffic engineers that amazed me. They just didn't seem to realize that cars are not everything and that the people can get what they want, and block what they want, if they just get organized, which we were. It helps to have a lot of lawyers on the Committee, which we had.

As an aside, I managed to rename a lot of the streets in the area. Parkhill Street, Parkhill Place, Erlton Street, Erlton Place - they were all my suggestions. It's amazing what you can do if you just show up for meetings.

I visited my old neighborhood a while ago, and it had gone so far upmarket that I got a nosebleed just looking at it. I couldn't afford to buy my house there now, but fortunately I have the money from selling mine. I live in Canmore, now, half a mile from the Nordic Centre. I couldn't afford to buy here, either, but fortunately I already have clear title to the place.

So, I'm actively involved in narrowing the streets in my new community (very popular), building bike paths, telling big-box stores where they can shove their plans, and otherwise improving the neighborhood. Anybody here could do the same, if they really wanted to.

I actually move from Mission to Rideau Place, on top of the hill there, used to walk through Parkhill area regularly. What threw me from your description was the front porch part, as I recall, not all the houses had them. But yes, a great little area. As indeed is the old part of Canmore. Three Sisters seems a bit disneyfied to me, but overall, Canmore is a great town. I always thought the (old) main street, (8th?) St should be turned into a mall, a bit like Stephen ave in Calgary.

Agreed that most any town can be improved by such things. When people start walking around them, they wonder why these "new" ideas weren't incorporated in the first place.

Actually, you're right. Front porches were optional in Parkhill. When I remarried and moved to my wife's place in West Hillhurst, front porches were mandatory there. However, her neighborhood was considerably upscale from my old one. New duplexes there ran to about $1 million per side.

We both could walk to work from her place - in different directions - she worked at Foothills Hospital and I worked downtown. It was quite a scenic walk. I used to take a different route back every day just to see what new extravaganzas the architects had come up with on different streets.

Her half duplex was considerably cheaper than most in the area because it was older and a biker had lived in it with a pot bellied pig and a python. He had run a pot growing operation inside and did a lot of damage to the place. However, she fixed it up and got about $1/3 million for it when she sold, which was not too bad.

Canmore is a lot nicer, though. We can get up each morning and watch the sun rise over the Rockies. Often some random kind of wild animal will wander past as we are having breakfast (there is a designated wildlife corridor nearby, but they can't read signs). A few athletes will roller-ski down the street, training for the Olympics (we're just below the Nordic Centre). Then my wife will walk downtown to yoga or guitar lessons, while I go down in the basement to work on the plumbing for the new bathroom. Wait a minute! There's something wrong with that scenario!

Well, some of the (new) 1/2 duplexes in Parkhill are not much under $1m these days, like the ones facing out over Stanley Park. Teardowns were $500k!

The area is gradually re-inventing itself. MY big idea was to "cover over" the lower part of Mission Rd, (The Mac Tr end). It is such a wide street, below the level of the houses, lots of wasted space. I though you could narrow it to just 2 lanes and built a structure over it, and then do a nice courtyard housing cluster, with a garden area over Mission Rd. Would have been great but far too out there. Really enjoyed living up in Rideau towers, quick walk down to 4th st. Actually, I really enjoyed it on 23rd Ave too, on the river side of the old Holy X hospital. Backyard of the apt building backed on to the river, looking across at Lindsay Park. In summer it made for a good swimming hole, even had a rope swing off one tree, in winter would just walk across the frozen river, and we scraped out a skating rink, pretty good for the middle of a 1m person city!

Canmore is great, although the stuff on the north side of the highway is a bit dreary. I did some work for the Town a few years ago, they seem pretty progressive, and determined to keep the small town feel. I've had many a good beer at the Drake. I think the best thing that could happen to Canmore now is a passenger train service to Calgary, but ti think that will be awhile coming.

Well, I'm glad to hear my old neighborhood has become even more affluent since I left. I only got $300k for my old teardown.

It was interesting that, when I first moved there, I had the only two-story Victorian house on the block. Everything else was 50ish looking ranch style. When I left, the whole block looked like my house, except that mine was 100 years old and theirs were brand-new. And then, the people who bought my house didn't tear it down like I expected, they renovated it. Actually, based on the size of the dumpster, I would say they ripped out the interior right to the outside walls, and replaced it all.

The city did narrow Mission Road to two lanes, but that was just by painting lines on the pavement. What they really needed to do was tear up the outer two lanes of pavement and introduce some sinuosity to the road to slow traffic down. I think covering it over would be much more expensive and reduce the ambiance of the walk along it. Bicycle and pedestrian pathways would be more friendly

The swimming holes and the tree swing I'm sure were a lot of fun for the kids, but they did drown a few of them. The trouble is that even a small river like the Elbow has a lot of hidden hazards that you only find out about by falling into them.

I always thought that the North side of Canmore was too much like a slice of suburban Calgary. That's why I live here on the South Side. We don't get nearly as much sun as the other side because the mountains block it, but there is a certain intrinsic funkiness to the urban landscape.

A lot of it is caused by the old mine shafts, which prevent developers from building on the surface. Behind my house is a cul-de-sac that they built, paved, installed services to, and then discovered there was a mine shaft under. So, they trucked in topsoil, covered it over, and planted grass. Native wildflowers reintroduced themselves later. The old pavement is still there, under the grass and flowers. It makes a nice meadow for strolling through.

...And, you might ask, what is the relevance of this rambling discourse to this thread? Well, in general there is a lot of potential for tearing up and burying old asphalt. We have far more of it than we need.

My question would be how expensive is a gravel road versus paved and dirt roads? Gravel is not as cheap as some might think; I have a long driveway on my farm and putting gravel on it costs several thousand dollars each time. Gravel is not a one time application either. Then there are the surface mines to break the rock and huge trucks to transport it.

How cheap is gravel? You have to answer that one with local data. Of course, asphalt surfaces won't last without a base of gravel, so the question may be academic.

Good question. However, it's not only the expense of gravel, but how much good gravel is left in any given locality. At least here in my region of Maine most of the truly good natural gravel, that packs into a good solid surface, is gone. Most good packing gravel is now "manufactured" from crushed stone, fine gravel, and maybe a little clay to keep it together. If it's made right it can be even better than natural gravel but, obviously, requires a lot of energy, mostly in the form of oil.

I think there was a link earlier in this thread that gave some examples on a few Maine communities going back to gravel. But, based on what I've seen, maintaining gravel roads may end up being as difficult as maintaining asphalt.

My question would be how expensive is a gravel road versus paved and dirt roads? Gravel is not as cheap as some might think;

It depends. There was a highway construction project near here that involved a big cut through a hill. They started excavating the hill, and guess what? It was almost entirely composed of gravel! You could see the big grins on the faces of the engineers as they revised their cost estimates.

In general I would say, and this is a Scientific Wild Ass Guess (SWAG), gravel roads cost about 1/10 as much as paved roads. But it varies. Locally here (in the Canadian Rockies) we have no end of gravel lying around everywhere in the form of glacial moraines, so gravel roads are much cheaper than paved ones.

We also have large amounts of bitumen in the form of oil sands, but Americans are willing to pay much more for it in the form of gasoline and diesel fuel than we are in the form of road paving, so I think we are going to have to live with gravel roads. At least until the Americans run out of money. After that, we'll pave all the roads.

I forgot where I read this and posted the link the 1st time but here it is again:http://envirotechfertilization.com/Information.html

Anhydrous ammonia being one our major sources of nitrogen fertilizer, is one the writer finds most distasteful. Anhydrous was used extensively in World War II, as a method of making soil hard for airplane runways. This was accomplished by the breakdown of the soil structure. Any ammonia type fertilizer added to soil has the devastating effect of dissolving the stable humus and placing it in the liquid portion of the soil.

They should be using what's left to built a superb network of cycle lanes - cycling on gravel won't be a lot of fun. Not for miles and miles and ....

I did that a lot as a teen, even on a ten speed. It's not too bad when you find that magic speed. Not too slow or friction wears you down or too fast, and you may have the front tire slip out.

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The city center here is cobbled. Long lasting and looks good although you have to be a bit careful if its wet.

I was out walking the other day with a friend who explained to me that the dirt track we were walking on used to be the main highway between Maastricht and Liege! Great for walking on foot, with donkeys, or a cart, but you wouldnt never get a truck along it.

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