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 …

Placemaking in the Cabinet

Excellent news: “White House to Establish Office of Urban Policy.”

In search of an urban plan

How design must change in a warming, oil-scarce world

This week I was able to attend a conference on urban planning hosted by the Penn Institute for Urban Research and the Rockefeller Foundation. Fifty years ago, the same entities had put together another urban conference, at which gathered names like Jane Jacobs and Lewis Mumford, intellectuals who shaped the design world’s thinking about cities at a time when many urban places were facing crisis. Those thinkers faced a world in which the city no longer seemed necessary, and where planners were increasingly tearing downtowns limb from limb to make them safe for the coming car-tropolis. Now, of course, the …

Green space lessens socioeconomic health gap, says study

The health disparity between rich and poor folk is much smaller in areas with plenty of parks and green space, according to a large study published in British medical journal The Lancet. Says lead author Richard Mitchell, “This is the first time we have demonstrated that aspects of the physical environment can have an impact in such a good way.”

Keeping up with the Scotts

JCPenney joins the ranks of green retailers

Say what you will about it, JCPenney is a survivor. The 106-year-old retailer has 1,093 stores lurking around the country, from Media, Pa. to Tempe, Ariz. Having made it through the rash of department store consolidations that gobbled up brands like Marshall Fields, and having fared better than some of its mid-range competitors — Sears and Montgomery Ward come to mind — JCPenney has adopted a new businesses strategy to stay relevant. Not surprisingly, given current trends, it’s now going green. After launching an in-house eco-label, Simply Green, in March, and experimenting with green building techniques in a Denver store …

Notable quotable

Nation asks, won’t you choo-choo me home?

“There is an appetite for city-to-city rail. Why should we be different than any other country in the world? You go to Europe and you can’t get an airplane to a city less than 200 miles away.” – Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, commenting on rising national interest in passenger rail

Scots give Donald Trump go-ahead to build giant golf course

The Scottish government has given Donald Trump the go-ahead to build two golf courses, a five-star hotel, and 500 luxury homes on an untouched stretch of Scotland’s coast. The development plans were originally nixed by the local council over concerns that the project will be, um, detrimental to fragile sand dunes and rare wildlife.

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