The Problem Is Under Your Feet: How Roads Harm the Nature and What to Do With It

The Problem Is Under Your Feet: How Roads Harm the Nature and What to Do With It

05 February 2018 2289

Modern cars are becoming friendlier to the environment every year. The trends in recent years are the use of electric motor, targeting at efficiency and application of “green” materials in the creation of vehicles. However, an unobtrusive, but very important fact hides behind the fashionable trends: a huge harm to nature is caused by the motor-transport infrastructure itself ― roads. Serious researchers are already thinking about the problems of roads and methods to solve them; the US Department of transport is publishing multi-page studies on the harm they cause to the environment.

Since the start of their construction, roads are detrimental to ecosystem ― they separate natural habitats of animals, change the relief and redraw the map of the movement of airflows that were formed naturally for thousands of years. After the completion of construction, when the first cars appear on a new road, it becomes a permanent source of soil, groundwater and air pollution. Exhaust gases and technical fluids of cars, particles of worn-out tires and road surface along with rainwater and dust get into the ground. Exhaust gases contain more than 200 toxic substances (in Russian) including carbon monoxide, nitrogen and sulfur dioxide, soot, aldehydes, lead compounds and other heavy metals.

A vehicle in modern megacities often has more comfortable conditions than a person has. This is especially noticeable in countries where the infrastructure is based on individual cars ― for example, in the United States.

In large cities, the influence of roads is even stronger ― they increase air temperature, reduce ultraviolet radiation to 30% and visibility, increase cloudiness and rainfall volume and change air circulation. In some places, where the problem of the influence of roads on air temperature is the most acute, the ways to reduce the damage are already being worked out ― for example, in Los Angeles they are testing the project of painting streets in white (in Russian). Presumably, such measures will allow to reduce the temperature in the city by 7 degrees Celsius or more, because the white color reflects sun’s rays much better than the black one ― traditional for the road surface. It is interesting that even such a small rethinking of the usual approach to infrastructure construction can bring about considerable benefits. The authors of the project estimated that it would be possible to save about $ 100 million a year on the use of air conditioners due to repainting of roads.

Another aspect of the “road problem”, well known to citizens, is a seasonal maintenance of highway surfacing. Roads in cold regions are salted in winter, and this does not only harm vehicles that are corroded much faster than usual. Sodium and chlorine ions enter water and soil, which affects negatively the survival of animals and microorganisms. Salt from the roads gets into drinking water, too. In the most automotive country ― the United States ― 70 kilograms of road salt accounts for each resident per year; because of this the rate of sodium and chlorine ions is exceeded (in Russian) by 2-3 times in some regions.

Even evergreen plants become red as a result of using salt.

This is only a direct impact, which is easy to track and assess its damage. In addition, the quality of roads affects fuel consumption, wear and tear of vehicles and many other indirect factors that eventually accumulate harmful impacts like a snowball. Even electric cars aimed at “greening” the transport sector are currently getting energy mainly from power plants operating on fossil fuel.

Many hidden and obvious problems are laid in the very idea of roads as a continuous surfacing, on which a vehicle moves. Working together with a car (one of the most harmful vehicles to nature) the traditional asphalt road pollutes the environment imperceptibly, but permanently. To reduce the harm, it is necessary to revise radically the concept of transport infrastructure, and SkyWay has a ready solution.

From the very beginning of the life cycle of SkyWay infrastructure, the developers made sure that it caused as little damage to ecosystem as possible. Land acquisition is minimal when installing supports, the tracks are elevated to the second level and do not occupy fertile plots of land. SkyWay transport rolling stock can run on clean electricity ― engineers have designed arrangment of special solar panels and wind turbines in supports. String rails do not require permanent maintenance and do not create obstacles to wild animals. The whole transport system is designed so that to interfere with the natural environment as little as possible, while ensuring maximum comfort and performance.

Artsiom Sapryka