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.
Mitigation of urban heat islands has become a goal for research and policy as urban environmental heat is a rapidly growing concern. Urban regions such as Phoenix, AZ are facing projected warming as urban populations grow and global climates warm (McCarthy et al. 2010), and severe urban heat can even lead to human mortality and morbidity (Berko et al. 2014). Increased urban heat may also have social and economic consequences such as by discouraging physical activity, reducing outdoor accessibility, and decreasing economic output (Stamatakis et al. 2013; Karner et al. 2015; Obradovich & Fowler 2017; Kjellstrom et al. 2009). Urban heat islands have been well documented in academic literature (Oke 1982; Arnfield 2003), and anthropogenic waste heat is often a major factor. The American Meteorological Society (2012) has said that anthropogenic waste heat may contribute “15 – 50 W/m2 to the local heat balance, and several hundred W/m2 in the center of large cities in cold climates and industrial areas.”
Anthropogenic waste heat from urban vehicle travel may be a notable contributor to the urban heat balance and the urban heat island effect, but little research has quantified and explored how changes in vehicle travel may influence local climates. Even with recent rapid improvements to engine efficiencies, modern automobiles still convert small amounts of fuel to useful energy. Typically, around two-thirds of energy from fuel in internal combustion engine vehicles is lost as waste heat through exhaust and coolant (Hsiao et al. 2010; Yu & Chau 2009; Saidur et al. 2009; Endo et al. 2007), and as much as 80% of fuel energy can be lost to waste heat under poor conditions (Orr et al. 2016). In addition, combustion of fuel generates water vapor and air pollution which may also affect the urban climate. Figure 1 displays where a typical combustion engine’s fuel energy is used and lost. There has been little research that quantifies the influence of vehicle travel on urban anthropogenic waste heat. According to Sailor and Lu (2004), most cities have peak anthropogenic waste heat values between 30 and 60 W m-2 (averaged across city) and heating from vehicles could make up as much as 62% of the total in summer months. Additionally, they found that vehicle waste heat could account for up to 300 W m-2 during rush hours over freeways. In another study, Hart & Sailor (2009) used in situ measurements in Portland, OR to evaluate spatial variability of air temperatures on urban roadways. They found that air masses near major roadways are some of the warmest in the region. Although some of the warming is attributed to pavement characteristics (imperviousness, low albedo), an average increase of 1.3 C was observed on weekdays relative to weekends along roadways. The authors offer increased weekday traffic density and building use as the likely contributors to this discrepancy. These previous studies indicates that vehicle related waste heat could be an important consideration in the urban energy balance. If significant, there may exist viable strategies to reduce anthropogenic waste heat from urban vehicle travel by increasing the fleet fuel economy and shifting to electric vehicles. This could offer cooling in urban areas around roadways were pedestrians are often found. Figure 2 visually demonstrates waste heat from vehicles (including an electric vehicle) in two thermal images.
With potential for automobiles to cause air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions relative to other modes, there is concern that automobiles accessing or egressing public transportation may significantly increase human and environmental impacts from door-to-door transit trips. Yet little rigorous work has been developed that quantitatively assesses the effects of transit access or egress by automobiles.
This research evaluates the life-cycle impacts of first and last mile trips on multimodal transit. A case study of transit and automobile travel in the greater Los Angeles region is developed. First and last mile automobile trips were found to increase multimodal transit trip emissions, mitigating potential impact reductions from transit usage. In some cases, a multimodal transit trips with automobile access or egress may be higher than a competing automobile trip.
In the near-term, automobile access or egress in some Los Angeles transit systems may account for up to 66% of multimodal greenhouse gas trip emissions, and as much as 75% of multimodal air quality impacts. Fossil fuel energy generation and combustion, low vehicle occupancies, and longer trip distances contribute most to increased multimodal trip impacts. Spatial supply chain analysis indicates that life-cycle air quality impacts may occur largely locally (in Los Angeles) or largely remotely (elsewhere) depending on the propulsion method and location of upstream life-cycle processes. Reducing 10% of transit system greenhouse emissions requires a shift of 23% to 50% of automobile access or egress trips to a zero emissions mode.
A corresponding peer-reviewed journal publication is available here:
Greenhouse Gas and Air Quality Effects of Auto First-Last Mile Use With Transit, Christopher Hoehne and Mikhail Chester, 2017, Transportation Research Part D, 53, pp. 306-320,