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Posts from the "Air Quality" Category

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Texas Oil Companies Fund Measure to Repeal CA Climate Law

3_5_10_pollution.jpgAir pollution over the Inland Empire. Photo: DanDC/Flickr

(Editor's note: This is the first of two stories by Streetsblog LA Editor Damien Newton on efforts to delay implementation of California's groundbreaking climate legislation.)

In 2006, the California Legislature passed, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed, Assembly Bill 32 (AB 32), a landmark law that requires the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. 

The legislation was the first of its kind in the United States and set a precedent numerous states have followed subsequently. For transportation reformers and environmentalists, AB 32 is important legislation that could still be a "game changer" in the way California thinks about transportation.

Thanks to a coalition of pro-business Republicans and the oil industry, however, there is a strong push to place a measure on this fall’s ballot to postpone the implementation of AB 32 objectives. Critics of the climate bill cite the current economic crisis as a valid reason to delay trying to clean California’s air. Assuming opponents of AB 32 can gather a minimum of 433,971 valid signatures to qualify their measure for the November ballot, voters will be asked to vote to "delay" the implementation of AB 32 until the state unemployment level dips below 5.5%.

While former Gubernatorial candidate and current Congressman Tom McClintock and Assemblyman Dan Logue, the figureheads in the anti-AB 32 campaign, aren’t members of the oil lobby, a recent New York Times article revealed that oil giants Tesoro and Valero have funded the anti-AB 32 measure on the ballot. Neither firm will either confirm or deny their involvement.

Steven Maviglio, of Californians for Clean Energy and Jobs took exception to the idea that AB 32 is bad for the economy, saying the new ballot measure would be the culprit in damaging the bottom line, particularly in the clean technology field. "This initiative would destroy the clean energy economy," he said. "There's more than $5 billion in venture capital, 3,000 businesses and 45,000 people employed in Clean Tech. This would take a wrecking ball to the only flourishing part of the economy."

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The Big Question: What is the Purpose of Federal Transportation Spending?

With the White House's agenda crowded by high-profile debates that remain unresolved after lengthy talks with Congress -- think health care, financial regulation, even unemployment benefits -- only a handful of lawmakers are publicly engaging with the dominant issues surrounding the next long-term federal transportation bill.

interstate_traffic.jpg(Photo: UVA)
Within that group of lawmakers, however, there is palpable agreement that Washington needs to look at distributing its limited supply of infrastructure money based on measurable standards which would hold states and cities accountable for their decisions. The stimulus law's elevation of "shovel-readiness" above all other criteria for funding, in other words, looks poised to give way to a more balanced method of determining which projects get funded.

Of course, adopting broad standards for federal transportation spending is far easier said than done. At a Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) event yesterday, current and former members of Congress reckoned with the challenge.

Perhaps the boldest suggestion of the day came from Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), sponsor of the so-called "CLEAN TEA" proposal to guarantee clean transport a share of revenue from cap-and-trade climate legislation. Carper wondered whether the nation's mounting deficits make the case for replacing the formula-based system of federal transport spending with a set of goals that would determine which projects get funded.

Carper's four proposed goals were congestion relief, safety, air quality, and job creation, a list that resembles the "metrics" offered by the BPC in its June framework for transportation reform.

One of Carper's GOP colleagues, Sen. George Voinovich (OH), pronounced the concept "wonderful" as the BPC audience looked on. Voinovich described the House legislation offered in June by transportation committee chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) as a major step towards a more accountable system, though some reform groups have questioned that bill's decision to let states and localities set their own transportation goals -- allowing a lot of wiggle room to develop.

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Study Finds Livable Streets Even More Important for Kids than Adults

IMG_1459.jpgFewer cars means more walking and healthier kids.

By most measures, San Francisco is a great place to walk and bike, with its compact street grid, mixed-use neighborhoods and relatively mild weather. But a new study conducted by UC Berkeley professor Michael Jerrett suggests the city may need to focus on taming traffic before kids will get the full health benefits of that dense development.

Streetsblog New York's Noah Kazis reports on the study, which links traffic volumes to youth obesity:

Jerrett shows that not only does the built environment matter, but traffic volumes matter too. His team's long-term study tracked children from across Southern California, starting from ages 9-10 and continuing through high school. Controlling for a wide variety of factors, they compared the children's body mass indexes (BMI) to the density of traffic near their homes.

Children living within 150 meters of high-traffic areas were found to have, on average, BMIs five percent higher than those living near low-traffic areas. Only the immediate surroundings seem to matter: Traffic levels within 300 or 500 meters didn't affect BMI.

The researchers put forward two reasons for why traffic volumes contribute to obesity. High asthma rates could be part of the equation, making kids less likely to engage in physical activity. Kids - and their parents - also seem to be especially sensitive to the real or perceived danger from cars, much more so than adults.

To put the findings in context, a regular San Francisco block is about 600 feet, or about 180 meters. If kids live on a street with a lot of traffic, or if the next cross street is overrun with cars, there's a real chance they'll be less likely to bike or walk.

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EPA Strengthens Nitrogen Dioxide Rules for First Time in 35 Years

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced
a new "one-hour standard" aimed at limiting Americans’ short-term
exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a pollutant created by cars, power
plants, and other industrial sources.

US_regulate_national_auto_emissions.jpg(Photo: TreeHugger)

NO2,
a main ingredient in smog, is linked to adverse
respiratory health effects such as chronic asthma. In creating a new
one-hour NO2 exposure limit of 100 parts per billion (ppb), the EPA
noted that the risk of short-term NOX exposure is particularly acute
near major highways.

As EPA chief Lisa Jackson said in a statement:

This new one-hour standard is designed to
protect the air we breathe and reduce health threats for millions of
Americans. For the first time ever, we are working to prevent
short-term exposures in high risk NO2 zones like urban communities and
areas near roadways. Improving air quality is a top priority for this
EPA. We’re moving
into the clean, sustainable economy of the 21st century, defined by
expanded innovation, stronger pollution standards and healthier
communities.

The rule will be enforced by setting up monitors near roads in areas
with more than 500,000 residents, according to the agency, with a
deadline of 2013 for the beginning of pollutant tracking. The EPA said
it plans to work directly on 40 new monitors for cities and towns with
the most significant NO2 exposure.

It’s worth noting, however, that major cities have remained out of
compliance with EPA air-quality standards for years without
losing
significant amounts of federal highway money, as the federal
government often threatens. Moreover, the EPA has not changed the
current annual NO2 standard of 53 ppb.

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Congestion Pricing: Still Good For Basically Everyone

Urbanists often find themselves falling into a pattern of thinking
that boils down to the dictum that what’s good for drivers must be bad
for walkability, and sustainability, and all the things that they prize
about well-designed cities. Drivers seem to believe this too, which is
interesting because it often isn’t true.

28.jpgWhat’s good for the driver in the middle is also good for public health. (Photo: FHWA)

Take performance parking.
Both urbanists (and drivers) seem to believe that it’s good (or bad),
because it makes parking more expensive, which is bad (or good) for
drivers. But this assumes that a free parking system, where open spots
are almost never available, is desirable for drivers.

That’s
like saying that a store that gives away bread for free — and which
subsequently never has any bread — is good for people who like eating
bread.

For the most part, thinking about congestion pricing
follows this same rule. Urbanists tend to like it because it makes
driving more costly and raises revenue for transit infrastructure.
Drivers tend to oppose it, because they don’t want to pay more to
drive. In fact, congestion pricing would be good for people who really
want to drive and good for people who’d like to have an alternative to driving.

This
message has been slow to sink in, but the fact that drivers may benefit
from congestion pricing may be beginning to resonate with urbanists.
Unfortunately — and so powerful is the
what’s-bad-for-drivers-is-good-for-cities mentality — the absorption
of this message has caused some urbanists to conclude that they’ve been
wrong all along, and that congestion pricing really is bad. If drivers might benefit, it must be the case that cities, and the earth, will not.

So writes the New Yorker‘s David Owen, in an extremely misguided piece in the Wall Street Journal.

By requiring car drivers to pay a fee to drive in a city
at peak hours, congestion pricing reduces traffic and raises money that
can be used to support public transit—both worthy goals.

Yet congestion pricing has dubious environmental value. Traffic
jams, if they’re managed well, can actually be good for the
environment. They maintain a level of frustration that turns drivers
into subway riders or pedestrians.

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Streetfilms: “Stop the Pollution, Pick a Solution”

Ever heard an anti-idling rap? Or Seen the "Funky Pollution Dance?" Tune in to this video to see what Livable Streets Education students are up to at MS 51 in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

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Mission Sunday Streets Will Showcase Merchants and Cultural Centers

SS_presser.jpgMission Cultural Center board member Eva Sandoval at a Sunday Streets press conference in the 24th and York Streets mini park in the Mission.  Photo: Matthew Roth

The first of two Mission Sunday Streets is this weekend, opening up wide swaths of car-free space away from the city’s edges and in busy neighborhood streets where businesses are excited about the prospects.

"This is a great opportunity for us to showcase the 24th Street neighborhood, its culture, restaurants, parks and murals," said Eric Arguello, director of the Lower 24th Merchant and Neighborhood Association. "In these rough economic times this event will bring in much needed economic activity to the corridor. It's also an opportunity for us to promote our community based organizations and their services, and to create activities for our youth."

The Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts will be hosting various events, including Danzas Aztecas performances. "It's an opportunity for our families, the children, and the neighborhood to come out and enjoy the day, to have a safe place to have activities," said board member Eva Royale. "I know many children have bicycles  that they don't know how to ride because they never have a place to ride them, so this is an opportunity.  Bring the family and enjoy the day."

The route will connect Dolores Park with Rolph Playground via Valencia and 24th Streets, two of the most crowded and important arteries in San Francisco. With streets closed from 10 am until 2 pm, organizers anticipate drawing large crowds and more pedestrians than previous Sunday Streets.

Mayor Newsom's Climate Director Wade Crowfoot admitted that the Mission event has raised challenges that weren't present on previous routes. 

"There is a lot of through traffic that would normally cross the route," he said. "What we've tried to do is minimize the number of intermittent traffic control stops that allow traffic through to provide a good experience for the people using the route but provide enough of these intersections that allow through traffic to not inconvenience the neighborhood."

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GM and Segway Unveil La-Z-Boy on Wheels

Picture_10.pngA revolutionary personal mobility device. Hint: it's NOT the couple in the foreground
I'd be laughing right now if I could just stop crying.

I thought billions in taxpayer money and Wagoner's presidential dismissal were supposed to mark the end of General Motors' bad plans, and I naively hoped the company would replace Dummers with innovative thinking, dynamic product design, maybe even switch some of its production to light rail.  Silly me.

GM's solution for the future of transportation is, hold your breath, a Segway built for two.  I don't know about you, but I want my money back. 

GM and Segway announced the prototype, which they dubbed Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility, or PUMA, today in New York City, where the old single-occupancy stand-up Segways are already illegal.  The wheeled chair, which GM claims will address congestion, safety, affordability, parking, and energy concerns in urban areas, gets 35 miles per charge and does 35 miles per hour, a blistering speed that makes them just slow enough to get run down by the automobile company's more traditional vehicles. 

deesse.jpg

Unfortunately for those of us who already utilize a personal mobility device with more than 100 years proven utility and health benefits, Dave Rand, GM's Executive Director of Global Design, said on Brian Lehrer today that he thought PUMAs should be able to use bike lanes.  Lehrer was skeptical of the device, saying that the last time he heard of a transportation "revolution" was when Segways were introduced, and he noted how small a market share they currently have. 

When Rand was challenged by Lehrer on how they would fit in already dense urban areas, where carving out room for a bike lane is as difficult as it gets, Rand suggested that they would start using PUMAs on college campuses and other areas that look nothing like cities.

Given that Segways cost around $6,000, the new PUMA would likely be more expensive.  There are also concerns about safety and visibility, which GM claims they'll solve with technology links to existing OnStar systems so that the PUMAs will sense another vehicle and slow automatically, at least other vehicles with OnStar.

Rand said on Lehrer's show that users could charge the vehicle at home overnight or where it is parked during the day, the implication being that people have an easy place to plug in at night, as in, a garage.  Has Rand spent any time in a dense urban setting, where most people don't have garages?  Has he seen all those plugs coming out of the parking meters? 

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California Could Start Requiring Drivers to Report VMT

Evil_Odo.jpg
When USDOT Secretary Ray LaHood last month suggested that the country should consider replacing the gas tax with a tax on vehicle miles traveled (VMT) to compensate for the dwindling Highway Trust Fund, which is primarily supported from gas taxes, the White House immediately rebuffed him, assuring the public and angry editorial boards that Obama had no such priority.  With a sluggish economy and greater fuel efficiency in new vehicles, a VMT tax would replenish the Highway Trust, though it would also allow planners and policy makers to develop solutions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions through better land use policies.

Several states, including Oregon, Washington, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Texas are studying the feasibility of the transition and what infrastructure and technology would be needed to plan for a VMT tax.  In 2001, Oregon DOT (ODOT) launched a study called the the Oregon Mileage Fee Concept (PDF), and in April of 2006, ODOT tested GPS systems in vehicles belonging to several hundred volunteers.  Based on those findings, Oregon governor Theodore R. Kulongoski this year called for outfitting every Oregon vehicle with a GPS device that would assess a tax at the pump based on how many miles had been driven, regardless of the fuel efficiency of the vehicle.

In California last month, Assembly member Nancy Skinner of Alameda and Contra Costa counties introduced AB 1135, which would require every motorist to report their odometer reading when they register or renew their vehicle.  The state DMV would provide overall VMT data publicly. It would theoretically be available through fairly specific tracts to aid planning, though whether it would be by block face, census tract, voter district, or county has yet to be determined.

As the bill points out, accurate VMT data is essential not only for immediate compliance with the greenhouse gas reductions mandated in AB 32, but also for smarter regional planning and the reduction of sprawl mandated in SB 375: 

More accurate data about vehicle-miles-traveled--the mileage driven annually by Californians--would provide essential information to guide local transportation and land use planning. Location of transit corridor improvements, light rail, bicycle paths, and high-occupancy freeway lanes now depend on the estimates done by various state agencies, but all of these projects would benefit from more accurate data. Better data would also provide more consistent local and statewide estimates for transportation planning, city planning, and air quality planning efforts. The data would be essential in establishing long-term, historical trends in vehicle use, traffic congestion, energy consumption, and air quality measures, including ozone precursor pollutants and greenhouse gases.

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Back to the Grid: John Norquist on How to Fix National Transpo Policy

connected_network.jpgHow can federal policy encourage walkable street networks instead of highways and sprawl? Image: CNU
The news coming out of Washington last week jacked up expectations for national transportation policy to new heights. Cabinet members Ray LaHood and Shaun Donovan announced a partnership to connect transportation and housing policy, branded as the "Sustainable Communities Initiative." The second-in-command at DOT, Vice Admiral Thomas Barrett, told a New York audience that "building communities" is a top priority at his agency.

At the moment, however, the scene on the ground shows how far we have to go before the reality catches up to the rhetoric: State DOTs flush with federal stimulus cash are plowing ahead with wasteful, sprawl-inducing highway projects. Ultimately, you can't end car dependence or create livable places without enlisting the people building those roads -- the metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), state DOTs, and other entities that shape local policy. How can the feds affect their decisions?

john_norquist.jpgThe Congress for the New Urbanism has some intriguing answers. During the stimulus debate, CNU proposed a new type of federal road funding that would help to build connected grids -- the kind of streets that livable communities are made of. The proposal didn't make it into the stimulus package before the bill got rushed out the door, but the upcoming federal transportation bill will provide another chance. CNU President John Norquist -- a four-term mayor of Milwaukee who first got into politics as an anti-freeway advocate -- was down in DC last Thursday to share his ideas with Congress. Streetsblog spoke to him afterward about what's broken with national transportation policy and how to fix it. Here's the first part of our interview.

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