DaimlerChrysler: How Does a Global Corporation Tackle Sustainability?
Digging into the Mechanism for Carbon Monoxide Catalysis

Seattle Commission Turns in Recommendations for Meeting Kyoto Targets; Focus on Transportation

Seattle’s GHG emissions and Kyoto target. The 2012 column represents the business-as-usual scenario.

The Green Ribbon Commission on Climate Protection convened by Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels has delivered its recommended actions for meeting or beating the greenhouse gas emissions-cutting goals of the Kyoto Protocol in Seattle.

Of the 18 recommendations, eight deal directly with transportation issues, accounting for a projected 54% of the additional total reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

The Kyoto Protocol targets a 7% reduction in greenhouse emissions by 2012, relative to a 1990 baseline. Seattle’s reaching that target would require a reduction of emissions by 683,514 tons, the equivalent of taking about 148,000 cars off the road.

The Commission calculates that the results from fully implementing its recommendations, combined with the reduction actions already being taken (such as through the adoption of the California CO2 restrictions on cars), would result in a total reduction in 2012 of 721,100—exceeding the Kyoto target.

Nickels convened the 18-member commission in February 2005, at the same time he launched the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. (Earlier post.)

In the introduction to the report, the Commission notes that:

It’s clear that meeting or beating the Kyoto target will be difficult for a number of reasons. One, the timeframe is short; 2012 is less than six years away. In addition, our electricity supply is already climate neutral, thanks to Seattle City Light’s commitment to zero net greenhouse gas emissions.

That puts more of the focus on the complex challenge of reducing motor vehicle emissions. And, it means that success will require a deliberate, sustained, community-wide effort.

Because our emissions come predominantly from the transportation sector, our climate strategy must be regional in scope. Nowhere is this dynamic more obvious than in the area of motor vehicle emissions. Seattle’s government and community are leading the way, but success will ultimately depend on intelligent growth management and public transportation systems at the regional scale.

The recommendations fall into five primary categories, two dealing with policy:

  • Reduce Seattle’s dependence on cars. Projected reduction: 170,000 tons.

  • Increase fuel efficiency and use of biofuels. Projected reduction: 200,600 tons.

  • Achieve more efficient and cleaner energy for homes and businesses. Projected reduction: 316,000 tons.

  • Build on Seattle’s leadership.

  • Sustain the commitment.

Only by driving fewer cars and fewer miles can we meet our Kyoto target. But like most American cities, Seattle is car-dependent. Each year, Seattleites drive more than 20 times the distance to the sun—and back—and spend more than an average work week just sitting in traffic. The cost of this is enormous—wasted time, wasted dollars, and the largest source of Seattle’s global warming pollution.

This must change. We must accelerate and intensify our City’s progress in planning, funding and building housing, businesses and infrastructure that encourage alternatives to driving—walking, biking, and convenient public transit. And we need to launch a comprehensive public information campaign that communicates these messages.

To achieve some of those goals, the commission recommended eight specific actions:

  1. Increase the Supply of Frequent, Reliable and Convenient Public Transportation. The commission call for funding for new public transportation infrastructure and improve existing services.

  2. Expanded Bicycling and Pedestrian Infrastructure .The recommendation calls for the doubling of the number of striped bike lanes on arterial streets, completing the urban bike trail system, increasing bike parking, and encouraging or requiring new commercial construction to include bike racks, lockers and showers. The report also calls for improvements that would support walking, including the creation of a Pedestrian Master Plan.

  3. Regional Road Pricing System. This recommends establishing a regional tolling system, a portion of the revenues form which would fund transit services.

  4. A New Commercial Parking Tax.

  5. Create Compact, Green, Urban Neighborhoods. The report notes that creating such neighborhoods is a critical element of reducing urban sprawl and protecting the climate.

  6. Improve the Average Fuel Efficiency of Seattle’s Cars and Trucks. The 400,000 registered vehicles in Seattle are the city’ss single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. In 2005 Washington State joined other states in adopting California’s CO2 regulations.

    The Commission calls for a regional partnership to create and implement a targeted public awareness campaign focused on reducing driving and increasing fuel efficiency and use of biofuels, and to increase the use of car-sharing. Furthermore, the City should work with the appropriate agencies to improve the fuel efficiency of the taxi fleets.

  7. Substantially Increase the Use of Biofuels. The report calls for collaboration between the City, the Port of Seattle, the Clean Air Agency and the Clean Cities Coalition to promote biofuel use, particularly in freight-handling and trucking operations. The City and the Port should also require contractors to use biodiesel for large projects and create incentives for developers who use biodiesel.

  8. Significantly Reduce Emissions from Diesel Trucks, Trains and Ships. The Commission recommends the establishment of shore power facilities at port facilities for use by cruise ships. The Seattle Department of Transportation, the State Department of Transportation and the Port should work together to improve the efficiency of key truck corridors. The Puget Sound Regional Council should provide more funding for transportation projects that reduce climate pollution. And, the City, the Clean Air Agency, the Port, Washington State Ferries and marine and rail terminal operators should partner on programs to reduce diesel emissions.




Seattle to Portland is 180 miles. I'd bet that drive happens all the time.

Perhaps a legit high speed rail line between the two -- on the order of 90 miles per hour average speed. If folks could travel between the two in two hours (plus time at rail terminals) instead of 3-4 hours in a car, they just might do it.

Of course, the price has to be right. $20 round trip would do it. Otherwise, a tank of gas might be competitive with the ticket.

For it to be successful, rail has to be faster, cheaper, and more reliable. That's a tall order, but if Washington and Oregon worked together (and got some federal help), I'd bet it could be done, and I'd bet it would really help to reduce CO2.


^ In addition to reducing the driving miles, it might even help to reduce the airline emissions. Few daily flights between Portland and Seattle could only reduce emissions, right?

Chris Roberts

The most ironic part of this whole thing is that Seattle had an easy solution in its hands recently that they let slip away. Less than five years ago, Seattle voters voted to fund a monorail system that could have substantially cut greenhouse emissions. Unfortunately, the project was managed miserably and before any construction even took place, an initiative was put on the ballots to scuttle the monorail system. It passed.

I applaud Seattle for taking a lead on reducing emissions, but it could have been a much easier goal to reach had the monorail committee not so badly bungled the entire operation and had the voters not been so short-sighted in their scuttling of the concept.

Jason Marshall

We also have the Light Rail system under development, which at least goes out to the airport (it's too bad they just got done building all that extra long-term parking out there, though). That should help a bit. I agree though that the monorail would have been a good thing. I don't believe we can solve the at-grade congestion problems with at-grade solutions. We need to go up, or down.

I noticed that the 'old landfill' contribution (apparently, we have ten) to the emissions is also a significant fraction of the target reduction. I wonder if these aren't compatible with the landfill gas system that's been deployed at the county landfill.

(I also wonder why these pages very carefully avoid mentioning where the city's landfill material goes. Hmmm.)

There have been changes to building code to both increase the size of downtown (expanding into what was essentially an ocean of parking lots northeast of downtown), and decrease the requirements for number of parking spots per tenant, in order to increase urban density, and decrease car usage.

Then there's the green roof program...


You can build all the light rail systems with public funds that you want.

You can't make people ride them.

I'd rather that money go for school funding, thank you.

Rafael Seidl

The biggest problem, of course, is the urban sprawl that has come with decades of motorized transportation. Setting up a regional light rail system is expensive and takes time, cp. BART in California. The appeal is greatly exhanced if there are connecting bus services. In the Netherlands, you can buy a flat-fee voucher for taxi service to your destination along with your train ticket. Click on the "English" tab for info:


Folding bicycles with small wheels should be permitted at all times, regular ones outside of rush hour (capacity permitting). For those who dislike using public transport, an electric bicycle with all-weather capability is cheaper than a commute car and lets you get in a workout, too:


Most commuters, however, will likely continue to insist on driving to work. Seattle should consider waiving the proposed road tolls for vehicles that get sufficiently high MPG (based on EPA estimates). Btw, Austria uses low-tech annual vignettes to levy a freeway tax for cars. Trucks have to buy and install small boxes with RFID chips on the inside of their windscreen - they are automatically identified by beacons installed on the freeways every few kilometers. Operators are invoiced for the accumulated distance at the end of each month.

Rafael Seidl

I wonder if CARB would allow carmakers satisfy their ZEV quotas with electric-assist bicycles with all-weather enclosures - especially if they were manufactured in the US.

Granted, it's a long shot, for CARB as well as carmakers. But then, so are fuel cells. The research dollars saved could be used to keep their cost down, and the environmental and health benefits would come much sooner.

Joseph Willemssen

For people who don't know much about Seattle, I thought I'd put together a little snapshot of some facts about the area to keep in mind when discussing this.

The first things that need to be kept in mind is that Seattle as a city is only a small part - both in population and in land area - compared to the metro area as a whole. I think we're talking about 85 square miles of land area and maybe around 580,000 people. The Seattle-Taocma metro area, by contrast, is about 5,900 square miles and around 3.8 million people. So, it's less than a sixth of the region's population and about 1/70 of the land area.

Again, this is probably obvious stuff, but it's generally wet and cloudy most of the year (except usually from July 4 to Halloween), is a very hilly city, has fairly modeate temperatures throughout the year (with some need for winter heating and very little need for summer cooling) and has a great deal of surface transportation bottlenecks that are created by the relationship of the water to the land (and by poor design choices, like the constricted width of I-5 beneath the Convention Center). So a good deal of congestion is created simply because roadways across water (including I-5 over the canal and the two bridges across Lake Washington, as well as the troubled Viaduct/99 on the west side of the city) have a fixed capacity. Then there's a good chunk of commuting traffic that goes on via ferries.

Contrary to popular conceptions, Seattle metro has one of the highest vehicle ownership rates among major metro areas -- about 2.4 per household. Anchorage has the same number, and the only one higher is the Twin Cities (at 2.6). It's probably attributable to poor public transit resources outside the urban core (which has fairly decent transit by US standards), along with a favorable affluence to living cost ratio (at least historically).


The region as a whole has a dearth of insolation, but is blessed with very good hydro resources because of decent precipitation in the Cascades. The city also owns the public utility, so that combined with the cheapness of hydro gives them very cheap electricity which is climate-neutral as far as marginal production goes.

So, off the bat, because of the city's decent density and abundance of neighborhoods that have good services (eg, grocery stores, coffee shops, etc) along with the climate and geography, their baseline greenhouse gas emissions are going to be relatively low to begin with. It's noble that they take the task of meeting Kyoto targets seriously, but on that basis it's mostly symbolic and a case of making a low emission city even better.

Since the city's research is showing a substantial proportion of the emissions coming from transportation, I'm wondering how much progress they can make.

The two main solutions to that have been the voter-approved funding for Sound Transit (and specifically the multi-billion dollar light rail line from the UDistrict to the airport, with a good chunk of the expense because of tunneling needs, primarily through Capitol Hill) and the well-discussed extension of the monorail line (which seems to be caput for now).

King County was a leader in developing a quasi-public arrangement with Flexcar to help launch the first truly successful carsharing operation in the United States, and they seem to still be growing quite well and have now been taken over by Steve Case, co-founder of AOL.

Eric S. Johansson

for public transport to win against cars, it must be cheaper and faster than cars. for example here in the boston rural-urbs a car takes about an hour to get to most cambridge/boston locations in non-peak time. public transport takes 1.5-2hrs to make the same trip.

2 wheeled transport is useful around here (New England) between march and october. I would love to see a covered bicycle that will stay upright in four or 5 inches of wet heavy snow and that will provide comfortable riding when it's 10°F and a 30 mile an hour wind.

two wheeled transport is also useful only until it is stolen or vandalized. This suggests another requirement for public transportation is the ability to accommodate all forms of two wheeled transportation so that it can be used for transportation both on and off the public transportation system.

public access bicycles are only useful if you're of average height (not too tall, not too short) and are willing to put up with the groin nerve damage caused by traditional uprights. Personally, I will never ride an upright again, it's recumbent only for me.

personally, I I'm planning on getting a motor scooter for fair weather trips around here. I would love to make electric but until I can pour in a can of electrons and an accurate gas gauge, I'm sticking with gasoline.

Ed Danzer

Several things need to be considered with mass transit. What is the actual emission generation per passenger mile, including the people operating the system, construction and maintenance?
Washington is famous for dumb zoning that increases commute time and distance, and is slow to add lanes to reduce congestion, which will increase average fuel economy for all commuters.


the other thing to remember is that most of the miles are put on by commuters and, because of the structure of the city and suburbs, most of the traffic is North/South or East/West. We don't have the radial sort of traffic structure that you find in midwestern cities. So our transport needs are relatively simple.

If we have commuter rail of some sort from everett through to Tacoma along with massive parking lots at the outlying stops, that will take care of the North/South direction. East/West, the big problem is getting across Lake Washington. I've used the busses here and quickly bought a car to avoid them. A 20 minute drive is a 1.5 hr collection of bus rides and walking. Maybe when they get around to rennovating 520, they'll add light rail there too.

Rail is expensive, but, for workaholics, could be worthwhile, so long as you provide fresh espresso and free wifi on the train.


Don't understand the hypocrisy of braying about public transit & reducing dependance on cars, while working to kill the Monorail system. Someone needs to go thru those monorail plans with a new business perspective and revive it. It's working in Las Vegas, where they are already planning for big extensions.

Joseph Willemssen

"It's working in Las Vegas, where they are already planning for big extensions."

You haven't used it, have you? It's pretty much useless.

Joseph Willemssen

"Fitch Downgrades Las Vegas Monorail, Nevada, to 'BB'"

Lots of good detailed information in the article as to why.

I was down there in December for a wedding, and took a walk down the Strip for an hour, and planned to ride the monorail back up to my hotel on the north end. Not having a map or precise idea where to catch it, it actually took a bit of time to even get to the station at the MGM, which is set back pretty far from the front entrance and accessed through a pretty circuitous path. Then I got to the station, thinking it would be free (ie, subsidized by the casino) or cheap. It turned out to be $3 for a 4km/13 minute trip, and the trains really didn't run that frequently. It terminates behind the Sahara, and you can get out of the station by taking stairs down to a desolate parking lot.

Cabs are going to be more expensive, but certainly much quicker. And there's the double decker buses run up and down the Strip for $2.


Well, gawrsh, monorail's already been working in Seattle for a few years now. Something like since the 1960's for pete's sake. (Barring the sad incident of two trains in one spot). Seattle wants to get people out of their cars, and into what? Buses that take up the same congested road space?

Joseph Willemssen

"Well, gawrsh, monorail's already been working in Seattle for a few years now. Something like since the 1960's for pete's sake."

Yes, as a tourist curiosity that runs between the Space Needle and a shopping mall (Westlake) about a mile away for $1.50 one-way (ie, $1.50/mile).

It's not currently running right now because of that accident. Isn't that correct? And the city council is considering whether it's too expensive to repair.

Has it crippled transportation in the city yet? :)

tom deplume

The best part of the plan is a tax on parking spaces. To be a true deterrent to driving it would have to be a heavy tax and be imposed on the entire metro area.

Joseph Willemssen

"The best part of the plan is a tax on parking spaces. To be a true deterrent to driving it would have to be a heavy tax and be imposed on the entire metro area."

Maybe the city should first spend a little money and see what kind of congestive effects are attributable to people driving around looking for a street parking spot. If you start jacking the price of garage parking, that will only exacerbate the problem.

Go down to the Market on a weekend and watch people drive in circles.


Worried about shifting commuters from cars to "buses that take up the same congested road space?" Even a basic analysis of the sitation shows that buses utilize road space more efficiently than cars. If congestion is a problem, shifting riders to buses is part of the solution, not the problem.

A well designed and well utilized bus system reduces per-person road-space consumption by something like 10 to 40 times over -- that is, 10 to 40 times as many people fit into a given unit of road space when riding in a bus than when riding in a car.

A lot of the variability in that figure can be attributed to what you assume the average passenger volumes of the buses and cars are, as well as the exact dimensions of the buses and cars in question. Obviously, a 40 foot bus on an unpopular late-night route carrying only one passenger takes up more road space than a station wagon carrying a family of five. But with some realistic assumptions, such as 30 passengers per bus, 2 passengers per car, and each bus being roughly the size of two cars, you can already see road-space densities 15x greater with the bus.

There are obvious limitations to bus systems. Buses get caught in the some snarled city traffic that cars do, and since they have to make frequent stops for loading and unloading, they can ordinarily never beat cars for speed. Dedicated bus or HOV lanes, and traffic-light preference systems can allow buses to make up time lost to loading and unloading stops, which can increase their competitiveness. Buses are also not amenable to the transportation of bulky personal items such as luggage, groceries, bicycles (except for the few with racks) or even an unusually large box of business documents.

From personal experience, buses can also be a lot less comfortable than cars -- noise, physical overcrowding, uncomfortable seats, painfully abrupt stopping and starting, frequently broken climate control, etc.

Better equipment, increased frequency, and infrastructure improvements to help buses beat congestion will all be needed before buses become a preferred alternative in most of the American urban settings I've seen.

The comments to this entry are closed.