Amtrak Joe Says Don't Go

Can you catch swine flu on the subway?

Sick transit?arvindgrover via flickrThis morning, Vice President Biden went slightly off-message about swine flu — just enough to freak out the White House, and potentially enough to freak out hypochondriacal Americans. Appearing on NBC’s Today Show, he responded to a question from Matt Lauer by saying he would advise his own family not to “go anywhere in confined places now.” He specifically mentioned planes, subways, and even cars as spaces that could be unsafe (he also mentioned classrooms and, uh, containers). The White House scrambled to tweak the message, saying that all Americans should avoid air travel to Mexico and …

Air quality fail

Failing grades issued for air quality in Seattle, other major cities

Photo: Peter Davis via FlickrIf Seattle were an 8th grader, she’d probably be grounded right now. And considering the poor scores the city received on its air quality report card (an F for ozone pollution and a C for particulates), it might not be a bad idea if we all stay inside for a while. Issued by the American Lung Association, the “State of the Air” report [PDF] analyzes data from 2005-2007 for the two most common pollutants in cities and counties across the country. They found that six in 10 Americans live in areas where air pollution is high …

Fair Catch

EPA tosses flag on Cowboys’ new field

A mess in Texas?City of ArlingtonRemember how we reported on green sports venues, and one of them was the new stadium of the Dallas Cowboys, and the stadium was steeped in land-use controversy, but the good news was that the team was registering with the EPA to monitor the facility’s long-term performance? Turns out that EPA program no longer exists. The agency axed the National Environmental Performance Track — a voluntary program that asked member facilities to “set typically four public, measurable goals” showing their eagerness to “go above and beyond their legal requirements” — last month. The program’s website, …

Good Griddance

Ask Umbra on living off the grid

Q. Hi Umbra, You’ve made several mentions of living off the grid in previous columns, and I was wondering where someone should find such things? It seems as though there are secret communities and communes that everyone seems to know about but me. How would you find an off the grid community, or go about living off the grid yourself? AnicaCorvallis, Ore. A. Dearest Anica, No one is hiding anything from you, don’t worry. You just haven’t met any off-the-grid folks. By the way, if you do find anything that could qualify as a secret community, off the grid or …

Green Light: Charge it

Nissan to bring EV network to Seattle

Like many other urban places, Seattle will welcome an electric vehicle network to the Emerald City. In a nonexclusive partnership with Nissan North America, the city of Seattle will promote the development of electric-charging infrastructure. “The city is committed to creating an environment that is kind to EVs,” said Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels (D). However, the agreement between the manufacturer and the municipality does not go so far as to commit to any specifics. Instead, Nissan will take the lead in establishing local working groups to evaluate sites for possible charging stations. The city will in turn “consider” adopting those …

Not Faring Well

The United States of Transit Cutbacks

This is eye-opening, by which I mean brutally depressing: Transportation for America has a map of transportation systems considering fare hikes, service cuts, or layoffs — and sometimes all three. The map went up in late January; they’re still compiling the news and updating the map as best they can, inviting the public to write in with stories and photos.

Radiant Cities: Project Robinhood

New York City’s plan to make luxury affordable

It took a long time for the real estate bubble to burst in New York City — longer, it seemed, than just about everywhere else; we were still selling $45 million penthouses at the Plaza when subdivisions were going bust out in Sprawlville. Which meant that the bubble had time to stretch farther and wider than any other; prices shot up as much as 57 percent in a single year in some neighborhoods, like trendy TriBeCa. A condo grows in Brooklyn.Seth W via flickrBut burst it finally did, after more than 100,000 new units, most of them in the luxury …

From Washers to Wind: Obama in Iowa

Yesterday was the 39th anniversary of Earth Day, and to mark the occasion President Obama was in Newton, Iowa, to speak about clean energy. Newton is one of those towns where most of the residents are employed by one major employer, and until October 2007, that employer was Maytag. So when Whirlpool bought Maytag and shut down the Newton plant, over 12% of Newton’s 16,000 residents lost their jobs. If you didn’t lose a job, your husband, sister, or neighbor surely did. But now Newton’s a shining example of what’s possible. Instead of dishwashers and washing machines, the people of …

Hoosier guru

An interview with author Scott Russell Sanders

Scott Russell Sanders, author of A Conservationist ManifestoCourtesy of Indiana University PressI’ve had some great teachers over the years, but none quite like Scott Russell Sanders, the gentle guru of Bloomington, Indiana, and a leading light of Midwestern environmentalism. To call him articulate doesn’t begin to do justice. He exudes a sort of intellectual clarity, in both his works of non-fiction and fiction and in his teaching at Indiana University. (As a former student, I’m a thoroughly biased source.) Sanders’ book Staying Put offers a countercultural vision of what it means to live rooted in a place — not far …

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