Atlantic Cities posts an interesting report: The Clean Air Act Actually Caused More Rain to Fall on Atlanta
According to the piece, the Atlanta region experienced a decline in summer rainfall in the 1950s, 60s and early 70s due to an in crease in particulate matter emissions from cars and factories.
As a result of the 1970 Clean Air Act that regulated and reduced these emissions, “particulate matter in the region dropped by about 40 percent. And summer rainfall rapidly bounced back, primarily in the form of more days with heavy rain.”
The reduction in car emissions has been great for air quality. But as we hail improvements in automotive technology, with a future that promises alternative fuels and autonomous cars, it’s important to keep in mind that car-dependency (and the sprawl that it enables) causes damage to another part of our environment: groundwater.
According to americanrivers.org:
"Impervious surfaces" such as roads, parking lots, and roofs associated with sprawling urban development significantly change natural river flow patterns and the recharge of underground water supplies.
Rainfall cannot soak into the ground through these surfaces and thus does not replenish groundwater supplies. Impervious surfaces also increase the amount and speed of water entering rivers and other water bodies.
The result is an increase in the severity and frequency of floods, the displacement and destruction of habitat for fish and other water dependent species, and a decrease in base flows in our streams and water in our aquifers.
As long as we’re paving over so much land with roads, parking lots and other kinds of sprawling infrastructure and development, dependency on personal cars will continue to do harm.
That extra rain we’re getting is hitting asphalt all over the metro area, and suffering damage because of it.
Photo from Flickr user JesseJamesHamilton
Low-density development away from city centers can be a drag on growth for several reasons…
For poorer people without access to a car, it can make it harder to physically get to a job. For those with a car, it can lead to longer commute times and more money spent on gas.
It’s also more expensive for taxpayers. Infrastructure costs can be 40% higher in low-density areas than higher ones…"
America’s jobs are moving to the suburbs | 4/18/2013 CNNMoney
Oddly, other reports have looked at data and titled it with variations on “Recession slows job sprawl.” Yet trends still show that job sprawl will likely continue. Here’s a quote from an Atlanta Business Chronicle article today:
as the economy picks up speed, the outward shift of employment will also likely resume within most major metro areas…However, efforts to encourage denser forms of suburban development and to attract jobs to the urban core have accelerated in recent year…
The point: despite some gains in acceptance of smart growth ideas in recent years, there’s a lot of work to do to stop the sprawl madness and turn the ship around to development that’s in a less car-dependent, land-hogging format that allows for transit access to a greater percentage of jobs.
— Cars and Robust Cities are Fundamentally Incompatible | Atlantic Cities
Please take a few minutes to read today’s excellent post from Kaid Benfield: The disturbing and sometimes tragic challenge of walking in America
Among other things, he points out the often tragic results of putting cars far ahead of pedestrians in importance when it comes to land-use patterns and transportation infrastructure.
Here’s a quote:
“…from 2000 through 2009, more than 47,700 pedestrians were killed in the United States. This is the equivalent of a jumbo jet full of passengers crashing roughly every month. On top of that, more than 688,000 pedestrians were injured over the decade, a number equivalent to a pedestrian being struck by a car or truck every 7 minutes.”
He also mentions the problem of roads that are just plain inhospitable to pedestrians and how they prevent people from easily walking to nearby destinations when they should logically be able to. This is a problem I’ve encountered often in Atlanta.
For example: my family took a bus ride to the Beltline last Saturday for a walk. We had a great time both there and at the Old Fourth Ward Park. But getting on a bus back home involved making an overly long trek on Ponce de Leon Avenue in order to safely cross to the other side — and to avoid a stretch of road that lacked a continuous sidewalk.
But we were lucky compared to many pedestrians. At least we had a sidewalk and a crosswalk. The metro area is full of roads, including the one where my office is located, that lack even the most basic pedestrian amenities, even when they’re located near transit.
Crossing Ponce photo from Flickr user Eric Langley