Cities

Will the economic downturn kill green building?

In a word, no

Late last year, I began to get the sense that green building fatigue was setting in. On my end, I sighed when a press release announcing a new LEED building landed in my inbox; that fact, alone, no longer seemed like news. But all over the country, the housing bubble was beginning to burst. I wondered: Would green building survive? With GreenBuild Expo, the largest gathering of green building professionals in the world, occurring this week, the question seems all the more relevant, especially since the bull market has gone bear. After all, green building is widely believed to be …

Notable quotable

Sad sentences can say so much

“The Federal Highway Administration has approved Utah’s plan for a Mountain View freeway — if the state can afford it.” – “Freeway gets greenlight from the feds,” Salt Lake Tribune

Greenbuild 2008!

The whopper of a conference starts today

This year’s Greenbuild Expo kicks off today, and I’m … not there. But I will be later this week! It looks to be both inspiring and overwhelming — check out the official program for an eye-blurring good time. In advance of the event, the U.S. Green Building Council put out the word that it expects the not-at-all-overburdened president-elect Obama to keep his green promises. But how much of a player will green building really be, given the crumbly economy? Lisa Selin Davis will survey the scene in her newest placemaking column, coming later today.

What goes around comes around?

To save themselves, the Big Three should become ‘transportmakers’

Irony of ironies, the one set of products that could save GM is the one that GM destroyed — the electric trolley systems of America. According to the well-known research of Bradford Snell, GM killed the electric trolley, because in 1922 they decided that the only way to increase car sales was to eliminate the competition — decent public transit. So they bought systems, pressured railroads and banks, bought public officials, did whatever they could to replace electric — I’ll repeat that, electric — transportation with oil-based transportation. Irony number one — if the U.S. had a set of decent …

iPhone rideshare app coming soon

It’s the 21st century, folks — text with your hitchhiker’s thumb. An iPhone application called Avego will soon be available to hook up drivers with those who need rides, helpfully suggesting a safe place to pull over and calculating the split cost between driver and rider. No word on how it’ll go over in Ontario, which recently effectively made ridesharing illegal.

November train

How investing in transit could save Obama’s butt

Nov. 4 was a good day for public transit. Ballot measures around the country performed well — the state of California even approving a first-in-the-nation plan to create a true high-speed, inter-city rail system. Increased Democratic majorities in the House and Senate will likely clear the way for infrastructure investment with a pronounced lean toward green, equitable transit. And President-elect Obama seems inclined to lead the Congress in that direction. (If nothing else, the replacement of a distinctly anti-transit administration will lead to a much-needed shakeup of the federal transportation bureaucracy, especially the Federal Transit Administration.) Recent dip aside, oil …

Beyond the bail

Why bail out the car companies when they bailed out on us?

I have a new Salon article, “Is Detroit worth saving?” It is built around this piece, but I have expanded on the sad story of the Big Three Medium Two walking away from the development of hybrid gas-electric vehicles in the 1990s. I’ve been asked why I think they gave up on hybrids. The answer, I believe, is a very cynical one. If they had successfully demonstrated hybrids were practical (heck, even desirable) cars, as Toyota later did, then they would no longer be able to lobby against fuel economy standards by claiming CAFE would drive Americans into smaller, foreign-made, …

Congestion pricing: Can tolling be fair?

Tolls reduce congestion, but they price people off the roadway

Brilliant. That’s the word that kept crossing my mind as I read this clearly written report [PDF] about the Puget Sound Regional Council’s study on using road tolls to fight congestion. The study found that a well-designed, comprehensive system of congestion-busting tolls could make a major dent in traffic backups in the Puget Sound. It would also speed up transit, shorten commute times, and reduce gasoline consumption. But much to its credit, the report also identifies one critical question that may dominate any public debate over congestion pricing: Can tolling be fair? To collect the data for the study, the …

Against a gas tax

Why taxes can’t get us where we need to go on transportation

As of Monday, the average price of gasoline in the U.S. was down to $2.22 a gallon, brushing up against $1.50 in some places. The price of oil was under $60/bbl. When gas and oil prices fall, there are always two reactions: first, great lamentations that alternative and renewable energy investments no longer make economic sense, and second, wishes (upon a star) that America had the political chutzpah to impose a new gas tax. Despite its appeal in some quarters, the gas tax is not a good idea. It costs enormous political capital and pays insufficient returns. If one had …

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