Better methods are necessary to fully account for anthropogenic impacts on ecosystems and the essential services provided by ecosystems that sustain human life. Current methods for assessing sustainability, such as life cycle assessment (LCA), typically focus on easily quantifiable indicators such as air emissions with no accounting for the essential ecosystem benefits that support human or industrial processes. For this reason, more comprehensive, transparent, and robust methods are necessary for holistic understanding of urban technosphere and ecosphere systems, including their interfaces. Incorporating ecosystem service indicators into LCA is an important step in spanning this knowledge gap.
For urban systems, many built environment processes have been investigated but need to be expanded with life cycle assessment for understanding ecosphere impacts. To pilot these new methods, a material inventory of the building infrastructure of Phoenix, Arizona can be coupled with LCA to gain perspective on the impacts assessment for built structures in Phoenix. This inventory will identify the origins of materials stocks, and the solid and air emissions waste associated with their raw material extraction, processing, and construction and identify key areas of future research necessary to fully account for ecosystem services in urban sustainability assessments. Based on this preliminary study, the ecosystem service impacts of metropolitan Phoenix stretch far beyond the county boundaries. A life cycle accounting of the Phoenix’s embedded building materials will inform policy and decision makers, assist with community education, and inform the urban sustainability community of consequences.
An inter-temporal life cycle cost and greenhouse gas emissions assessment of the Los Angeles roadway network is developed to identify how construction decisions lead to embedded impacts and create an emergent behavior (vehicle miles traveled by users) in the long run.
A video of the growth of the network and additional information are available here.
This report is the consolidated work of an interdisciplinary course project in CEE494/598, CON598, and SOS598, Urban Infrastructure Anatomy and Sustainable Development. In Fall 2012, the course at Arizona State University used sustainability research frameworks and life-cycle assessment methods to evaluate the comprehensive benefits and costs when transit-oriented development is infilled along the proposed light rail transit line expansion. In each case, and in every variation of possible future scenarios, there were distinct life-cycle benefits from both developing in more dense urban structures and reducing automobile travel in the process.
Results from the report are superseded by our publication in Environmental Science and Technology.
Study Background: Researchers at ASU have determined that significant energy and environmental benefits are possible in the Phoenix metro area over the next 60 years from transit-oriented development along the current Valley Metro light rail line. The team evaluated infill densification outcomes when vacant lots and some dedicated surface parking lots are repurposed for residential development. Life cycle building (construction, use, and energy production) and transportation (manufacturing, operation, and energy production) changes were included and energy use and greenhouse gas emissions were evaluated in addition to the potential for respiratory impacts and smog formation. All light rail infill scenarios are compared against new single family home construction in outlying areas.
Overview of Results: In the most conservative scenario, the Phoenix area can place 2,200 homes near light rail and achieve 9-15% reductions in energy use and emissions. By allowing multi-family apartments to fill vacant lots, 12,000 new dwelling units can be infilled achieving a 28-42% reduction. When surface lots are developed in addition to vacant lots then multi-family apartment buildings around light rail can deliver 30-46% energy and environmental reductions. These reductions occur even after new trains are put into operation to meet the increased demand.
There is increasing evidence that vehicle travel in developed countries may have peaked, contradicting many historical travel demand forecasts. The underlying causes of this peaking are still under debate and there has been a mobilization of research, largely focused at national scales, to study the explanatory drivers. There is, however, a dearth of research focused at the metropolitan scale where transportation policy and planning are frequently decided.
Using Los Angeles County, California, as a case study, we investigate the Peak Car theory and whether social, economic, and technical factors, including roadways that have become saturated at times, may be contributing to changes in travel behavior. After peaking in 2002, vehicle travel in Los Angeles County declined by 3.4 billion (or 4.1%) by 2010. The effects of changing fuel prices, fuel economy, population growth, increased utilization of alternate transportation modes, changes in driver demographics, income, and freight are first assessed. It is possible, and likely, that these factors alone explain the reduction in travel. However, the growth in congestion raises questions of how a constricting supply of roadway network capacity may contribute to travel behavior changes.
There have been no studies that have directly assessed how the maturing supply of infrastructure coupled with increasing demand affect travel behavior. We explore regional and urban factors in Los Angeles to provide insight into the drivers of Peak Car at city scales where the majority of travel occurs. The results show that a majority of the decline in VMT in Los Angeles can be attributed the rising fuel prices during the 2000s. While overall roadway network capacity is not yet a limiting factor for vehicle travel there is some evidence that suggests that congestion along certain corridors may be shifting some automobile travel to alternatives. The results also suggest that the relative impact of any factor on travel demand is likely to vary from one locale to another and Peak Car analysis across large geographic areas obscures the nuisances of travel behavior at a local scale.