What City Observatory did this week

Groundhog’s Day for Climate.  So you think you’re not Bill Murray in the classic “Groundhog’s Day?”  Oregonians, ask yourself:  are we anywhere closer to seriously addressing the climate crisis than we were a year ago?  Greenhouse gas emissions are still increasing, chiefly because we’re driving more, and our policies are still subsidizing even more driving, including billions of dollars for freeway widening projects.
City of Portland raises big questions about the I-5 Rose Quarter freeway widening project (translated).  Last month was the deadline for comments on the supplemental environmental analysis for the proposed $1.45 billion I-5 Rose Quarter freeway widening project.  At City Observatory, we’ve documented the myriad problems with the project, including increasing pollution, worsening safety, failing to solve congestion, and further undermining neighborhood livability.
The City of Portland’s official comment letter echoes many of these concerns, but in a stilted bureaucratic dialect that may not be intelligible to all readers.  As a public service, City Observatory offers its translation.

Must Read

Why just electrifying cars is an environmental disaster. Curbed’s Alissa Walker points out that the idea that a one-for-one replacement of internal combustion vehicles with ever more massive electric vehicles poses some serious environmental costs.  Vehicle sizes have been creeping ever upward–now topping more than two tons–and electric vehicles are heavier still than their fossil fueled counterparts, due to the prodigious weight of batteries.  Most of the electricity used to power these vehicles is used, not to move a few hundred pounds of human occupants and their cargo, but rather to transport the huge vehicles and their batteries.  Because batteries require substantial natural resources, especially lithium, which has to be mined, larger vehicles have a higher environmental impact.  The transition to EVs could be an opportunity to have smaller, more efficient vehicles, including e-bikes.  That would have a far smaller environmental impact, and lead to a much faster and surer reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Why are US roads so deadly?  An illuminating chart from the League of American Bicyclists shows how road safety in each of the 50 US states (red) compares to major nations around the globe (blue).

France, Germany, Britain, Japan and Canada all of per capita road death rates lower than any US state.  Only a handful of nations–all in Latin America, have per capita road death rates as high as typical US states.  The high income, developed nations of the world all have vastly lower death rates.  It’s likely we have a lot to learn from the rest of the world about transportation safety.

New Knowledge

Black drivers are stopped more often for speeding and pay higher fines.  A new study looks at the variation in traffic enforcement by race.  It uses a novel source of data that lays bare the racial bias in policing.

The authors use data from the automated tracking of Lyft drivers in Florida, which record location and vehicle travel speeds.  As a result, after controlling for a variety of factors, including vehicle type, time of day, roadway, and the actual speed the vehicle was traveling, the study can tease out the difference in the likelihood that a driver will be cited for speeding, and, once-cited how high fine they will pay.

The bottom line of the study, unsurprisingly, is that minority drivers are more likely to be stopped, and once stopped pay higher fines than white drivers.  The data show that minority drivers are about 24 to 33 percent more likely to be cited and pay fines that are about 23 to 34 percent higher than white drivers.

Aside from the headline finding, there are other interesting details.  The Lyft data showed that being cited  for speeding actually led to a change in driver behavior.  Drivers were much less likely to exceed the speed limit in the eight weeks after getting a ticket than they were before.  The effect was esssentially the same for White and Minority drivers.


Pradhi Aggarwal, Alec Brandon, Ariel Goldszmidt, Justin Holz, John A. List, Ian Muir, Gregory Sun, and Thomas Yu, “High-frequency location data shows that race affects the likelihood of being stopped and fined for speeding, ” Lyft, December 9, 2022