Cities

Transportation and climate get hitched

Seattle-area voters tied the knot

In the Seattle metro region, voters just sank an $18 billion transportation megaproposal that would have built more than 180 lanes miles of highway and 50 miles of light rail. But so far, the mainstream press has missed one of the most important stories of the year. The real story isn't tax fatigue, it's this: perhaps for the first time ever in the U.S., a critical bloc of voters linked transportation choices to climate protection. In the run-up to the vote, a surprising amount of the debate centered on the package's climate implications. (The state has committed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, and many cities, including Seattle, have been national leaders on climate.) The opposition argued global warming. So did the measure's supporters. If you don't believe me, see, among others, the Seattle P-I (yes), The Stranger (no), the Yes Campaign, the Sierra Club's No Campaign, the right-leaning Washington Policy Center (no), and even the anti-tax/rail No Campaign, which oddly enough kept trumpeting the Sierra Club's opposition as a primary reason to vote no. The turning point may have been when King County Executive Ron Sims suddenly withdrew his support. He cited the climate-warming emissions from added traffic as one of his chief objections -- he was thinking about his granddaughters, he said, not just the next five years. The funny thing was, there was a heap of confusion and disagreement over the proposal's true climate impacts, mainly because no one had conducted a full climate assessment of the measure. But climate clearly weighed as a factor for a critical bloc of voters on both sides of the issue. In fact, Prop 1 may be the last of its kind, at least in the Pacific Northwest: a transportation proposal that lacked a climate accounting. Obviously, there were more factors in play than just the climate. Taxes and traffic congestion mattered too. But what ultimately may have tipped that scales is that Puget Sound voters are reluctant to expand roads because they lock us into decades of increased climate pollution. It's pretty well accepted that Seattle-area voters are receptive to environmental messages -- and in this case there were smart and well-informed greens on both sides of the debate. But green or not, the biggest problem for a certain segment of voters may have been that there was no comprehensive accounting of the climate impacts of the project -- one that included the roads, the rail, and the probable effects on land use. So what's the lesson?

Climate change direct action

It’s beginning.

Oregon voters roll back destructive property-rights legislation

Sheepish Oregon voters have approved Measure 49, which significantly scales back development rights under the state’s Measure 37. When voters passed Measure 37 three years ago, it was the farthest-reaching legislation in the U.S. in …

Bike culture

Biking communities thrive in San Francisco and Santa Cruz

We moved offices earlier this year, and are now a little off the beaten track. To deal with the increased distance, and because I broke my colleague Gwen's foldable bike, I brought in a couple of bikes for the office: a pink Stumpjumper of '80s vintage at a garage sale in Lee Vining, and a more recently minted Hardrock bequeathed by good friend and noted environmental economist Michael Greenstone. This is all to say that I've been biking around San Francisco quite a bit recently, and I am struck by how much better things are. The lane striping, for one, makes a big difference. It creates a margin of safety that borders on acceptable. The city, with prodding by the super-effective SF Bike Coalition, has done a fantastic job of laying out lane-striped bike routes through popular corridors. For example: to get from downtown to the Haight, you take the Wiggle. Most people have to wait until they get to the Haight before they start wiggling, but not bike riders. They get their wiggle in early, on the way.

Green career tips for locavores

How to find a job in your local area

I’ve been on the road. I started the first week in October at the University of Michigan and ended it at a “career visioning” retreat in the Connecticut woods with students from Yale. My impressions? …

Hawaii legislature allows Superferry to resume voyages

The Hawaii legislature has approved a bill allowing resumption of voyages by the Hawaii Superferry, halted by court order in August because a state-required environmental-impact assessment had not been completed. The new legislation, backed by …

Major car-sharing companies will merge

Major car-sharing companies Flexcar and Zipcar announced yesterday that they plan to merge. Zipcar, the larger of the two, has had strong growth mainly in large cities on the East Coast; Flexcar is more widely …

Growing cooler

Can urban planners save the earth?

A couple of weeks ago I was in Vancouver, B.C., at a conference where it seemed like everyone was talking about a new book called Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change. Reviewing dozens of empirical studies, the book's central argument is that urban form is inextricably linked to climate. Low-density sprawl has been a principal contributor to North American climate emissions. And by the same token, smart compact development -- the kind that fosters less driving -- is essential to curbing climate change. From the executive summary:

Along the Mississippi: A flood of coverage

A recap of our week on the river

Huckleberry Wroth and I survived our travels down the Mississippi last week, and we’ve now returned to our respective coasts to reflect on everything we learned. I must say, visiting three cities in seven days …

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