Urban doubt-fitter

What Obama's picks signal for urban policy

Who are President Obama's key urban policy advisers? What do his pickes for Housing and Urban Development and Transportation say about an Obama urban policy?

Phoenix will rise from the ashes

Phoenix: What happens when a city built on growth begins to shrink?

During a session called "Sustainability and Growth: How Can a City Develop Sustainably When its Identity is Built on Growth?" at the American Meteorological Society convention, a development expert named Grady Grammage colorfully dispelled some myths and revealed some little-known truths about Phoenix. One myth: Phoenix is unsustainable because it imports water. Virtually all cities import water, Grammage pointed out, even New York, not to mention countless other necessities for urban life, such as food, fuel, and steel. Phoenix arguably has a more stable supply of water than numerous other cities, such as San Diego, because Phoenix imports its water from numerous sources, albeit at great distances. In Grammage's view, a bigger question is "habitability," and he brought up the Urban Heat Island Effect, which he thinks, based on surveys, will drive more Phoenicians out of the state by 2020 than those who move in from other states. Grammage reports that when he expressed this view, various public officials and "water buffaloes" -- water experts -- in Phoenix scoffed.They think Phoenix could support as many as 10 million people -- more than twice its current population.

Be careful, green building

How to make an industry irrelevant in one easy step

The mayor of Franklin, Tenn., vetoed some of the green elements of the new police headquarters in order to save money. The first thing to go? Bamboo wainscoting.

Cold hands, warm green buildings

New England tops in energy-efficient office buildings

Apparently New England leads the way in energy-efficient office buildings. Now if only there was anyone left to work in them.

Forests, trees, gas taxes, and mileage taxes

Before we debate gas taxes vs. mileage taxes, Oregonians must pay for roads with those taxes

Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski (D) has attracted a lot of attention by calling for an expansion of a pilot program that replaces the gas tax with a per-mile tax which charges the same fee to a Hummer driver as a Prius driver. The pros and cons of mileage taxes vs. gas taxes are discussed in a post to the political blog BlueOregon, and the same essay was sent out as a query on a transportation activists' listserv. I started several times to respond ... But I end up stopping, because this whole discussion ignores the elephant -- heck, the blue whale -- in the driveway.

Make the White House into passivhaus?

Cool idea.

The Transit Authority: A study in Charlotte

Funding transit to reshape the Sunbelt

The city of Phoenix celebrated the dawning of the new year by beginning normal, paying service on its shiny new light rail line. The current 20-mile segment runs from north of central Phoenix through the city, past Sky Harbor airport, and into Tempe and Mesa. If current plans are realized, an extension to the line will be completed by 2012, and a full(ish) network will begin to take shape over the following decade. The light rail line is part of a wave of transit construction that's bringing transit systems to a new generation of booming cities. These emergent metropolises often went through crucial development phases at a time when the highway was king. Compared to older cities in the Northeast and Midwest, the amount of space devoted to dense, gridded development in such places is quite small indeed, and it has long been unclear whether transit could work in these cities, built for the car. A dreadful chicken and egg problem seems to exist. Few neighborhoods are currently dense enough to support transit, so opponents argue that systems won't draw riders. And because opponents can make this argument and systems often die on the drawing board, these cities never have the opportunity to catalyze denser, transit-oriented growth.  

Building green

'Plan B' efficiency and conservation measures drop energy demand by 2020

Projections from the International Energy Agency show global energy demand growing by close to 30 percent by 2020, setting the stage for massive growth in the carbon dioxide emissions that are warming our planet. But dramatically ramping up energy efficiency would allow the world to not only avoid growth in energy demand but also actually reduce global demand to below 2006 levels by 2020. We can reduce the amount of energy we use by preventing the waste of heat and electricity in buildings and industrial processes and by switching to efficient lighting and appliances. We can also save an enormous amount of energy by restructuring the transportation sector. Many of the needed energy efficiency measures can be enacted relatively quickly and pay for themselves. Buildings are responsible for a large share of global electricity consumption and raw materials use. In the United States, buildings account for 70 percent of electricity use and close to 40 percent of total CO2 emissions. Retrofitting existing buildings with better insulation and more-efficient appliances can cut energy use by 20 to 50 percent. A U.S.-based group of forward-thinking architects and engineers has set forth the Architecture 2030 Challenge, with the goal of reducing fossil-fuel use in new buildings 80 percent by 2020 on the way to going entirely carbon-neutral by 2030.

The freedom fee

The Kheel-Komanoff Plan: A congestion toll to liberate New York

Back in 1993, I took a scalpel to the "AUTO-FREE NEW YORK" sticker on my bike, excising the first "R" so that "AUTO-FREE" became "AUTO-FEE." After years of battling motor vehicles, first as an urban cyclist and later as president of the bike-advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, I became convinced that it made more sense to charge for cars' use of roads than to try to eliminate them. "Don't ban cars, bill them!" Discourage vehicle use by internalizing the harms from driving in the price to drive, and invest the revenues in mass transit and other alternatives. Since then, cities like London, Stockholm, and Milan have demonstrated the power of road pricing to reduce driving and cut travel times, pollution damages, crash costs, and the like. But even those gains pale beside the profusion of benefits for New York City promised by a new plan I've developed with Ted Kheel: Enough revenue to finance an average 60 percent cut in transit fares; A 15 percent-or-greater improvement in traffic speeds in gridlocked Manhattan; Yogi Berra made real: greater usage of less-crowded buses and subways; More car-free spaces, and fewer cars, in the heart of the city. The Kheel-Komanoff Plan (so named to distinguish it from the "pure" Kheel Plan approach, with 100 percent-free transit) delivers all this with just four measures:

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