Cities

Amtrak struggles to meet demand as ridership soars

As commuters continue to look for alternatives to high gas prices, increasing numbers are choo-choo-choosing Amtrak. A record 28 million passengers are expected to ride the train this fiscal year compared to 25.8 million last year. The House and Senate have passed bills that could boost Amtrak’s funding by 33 percent, which has Amtrak prez Alex Kummant saying he’s “optimistic” about the rail service’s future. But he warns that aging trains, dilapidated tracks, and overcrowding are concerns. Nearly $5 billion would be needed just to get infrastructure up to snuff along the heavily traveled Northeast Corridor.

Brownstein on land use

It’s time to link climate and energy policy to land-use policy. We won’t be able to reduce emissions and escape fossil fuels if we keep building communities that require massive amounts of driving. That’s practically a truism among greens, but I’m not sure it’s really entered the political bloodstream, so it’s nice to see a kick-ass journalist like Ron Brownstein making the point in a prestigious publication like National Journal.

Employers scramble to make commutes less costly

Recognizing the very real possibility of losing quality employees to jobs with shorter, cheaper commutes, employers across the country are scrambling to help their workers save on gas. Many companies have started to strongly encourage telecommuting, even paying for at-home workers’ laptops, Blackberrys, and/or wireless connections. Microsoft has leased extra office space miles from its Washington State headquarters, closer to where many employees live. Other businesses are trying out four-day work weeks, organizing vanpools, or doling out gas cards, bus passes, raises, and even bicycles. “We had 14 calls last week and nine of those named high gas prices as …

Globalization death watch, part II

The beginnings of a continentalized global economy

Your faithful blogger was surprised to find himself representing part of the environmental blogosphere in a New York Times article on Sunday, "Shipping Costs Start to Crimp Globalization." It's very much worth reading, and prior to writing the article the reporter, Larry Rohter, talked with me about my first installment in this series, "Globalization death watch, Part I." In his article, after noting the recent collapse of global trade talks, Rohter writes: Some critics of globalization are encouraged by those developments, which they see as a welcome check on the process. On environmentalist blogs, some are even gleefully promoting a "globalization death watch." Now, look at the dictionary.com definition of "gleeful": full of exultant joy; merry; delighted. Well, maybe the births of my sons called forth such feeling, but I'm not usually full of exultant joy, particularly when I think about global crises. However, Larry Rohter may be forgiven his choice of words, considering the title of the blog post. I and, if I may be so bold as to speak for some other environmental bloggers, others think that the decline, even death of globalization would be a good thing. But just as the rise of globalization led to much suffering, so will its decline, and that's certainly not something to be "gleeful" about. To paraphrase Barack Obama's pithy phrase about getting out of Iraq, "we've got to be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in." I'd like to go over some of the points Rohter highlights, and then explain later in the post why there is a better alternative to globalization.

Greyhound and other intercity buses gain popularity

High gas prices are helping Greyhound and other intercity buses shun their loser-cruiser reputation. Ridership on the U.S. intercity bus system fell by a third between 1960 and 1980, by half again by 2006 — but jumped 13 percent in the past two years. “People are starting to feel good about stepping aboard a bus,” says transportation expert Joseph Schwieterman. “Many see it as a socially responsible way to go.” Bus services are eager to burnish that reputation: Low-cost operator Megabus gave away 100,000 bus tickets earlier this year to “increase awareness about reducing carbon emissions by encouraging bus travel.” …

Is your favorite beach polluted?

Photo: Tom Twigg American beaches “continue to suffer from serious water pollution that puts swimmers at risk,” concludes the Natural Resources Defense Council in an annual report. There were 22,571 pollution-related closures or warning advisories on 3,516 beaches in 2007, says the report, second only to the all-time high 25,643 closures or warnings in 2006. NRDC attributed the decline to less rainfall in the West and Hawaii in 2007, which caused less overflow from sewer systems and storm drains. But stormwater runoff still caused nearly half of the closures and warnings, and pollution at 7 percent of the beaches exceeded …

Google Maps adds walking directions

Taking another step toward complete indispensability, Google Maps on Tuesday became the first service of its kind to add walking directions. In addition to searches for car and transit travel, pedestrians — and, hell, Segway-ers too — can now find the most direct and flat route from Point A to Point B. The function works for trips up to 6.2 miles long, and recognizes that one-way streets only apply to the car-encased (suckas!). Searchers are advised to “use caution when walking in unfamiliar areas” as the directions, still in beta form, potentially lack information about pedestrian bridges, roads without sidewalks, …

Street arts

Artists and environmentalists team up to create vibrant cityscapes

The Olympic Sculpture Park. Photo: Jeff Wilcox. “Cities are what’s going to get us out of this mess … and what makes cities livable is art.” That was the take-home message, summarized by Cascade Land Conservancy President Gene Duvernoy, following a discussion Thursday on art and the environment at the Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park. Built on nine acres of restored urban green space, the Olympic Sculpture Park was a fitting backdrop for a dialogue on shared interests between the arts community and environmentalists. Panelists including moderator and political journalist Michael Kinsley, Pacific Northwest Ballet Artistic Director Peter Boal, …

First statewide green-building standards adopted by California, natch

Photo: Patrick Dirden California has adopted the nation’s first statewide green-building standards in what is, according to ever-punny Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, “literally a groundbreaking move.” The new California Green Buildings Standards Code requires builders to reduce energy use by 15 percent beyond current standards, target a 50 percent reduction in water used for landscaping, and use more recycled materials. The code also identifies site improvements including bicycle storage and designated parking spots for low-emissions vehicles. The standards will become mandatory in 2010, assuming we’re not all living in flying space pods by then.

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