Cities

No Rush Hour

New York hems and haws over Manhattan congestion fees Today is a make-or-break, do-or-die, fish-or-cut-bait, poo-or-get-off-the-pot, we-wish-we-could-think-of-more-hyphenated-clichés day for New York, as state legislators, Governor Eliot Spitzer, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg wrestle over Bloomberg’s proposal to enact traffic congestion fees. Following the lead of cities like London and Singapore, the Big Apple would charge a fee for vehicles entering or exiting Manhattan below 86th Street at peak hours. Supporters say the plan will reduce air pollution and associated health problems while boosting public transportation; opponents fear it will increase parking and pollution in the outer boroughs. While …

Restoring rural roots

How legislators can help the rural

In a recent trip through the small town of Walthill, Nebraska, the phrase "rural revitalization" took on a whole new meaning. In this case, it was the lack of any kind of prosperity that made it obvious to me why rural communities are in need of revitalization. Main Street looked painfully deserted, with two recent arsons adding fresh scars to the once-active storefronts. As we drove around the residential area, most houses looked to be in some state of disrepair -- so much so that it was difficult to really tell which were homes and which had already been abandoned. If ever there was a town that needed some life breathed back into it, this was it.

Valuing the commons: Congestion pricing's hidden payoff

The connection between congestion pricing and carbon taxes

I wrote this piece linking NYC Mayor Bloomberg's congestion pricing proposal with a carbon tax, in June. I shopped it around but none of the big papers took it. Now, NY Times columnist Tom Friedman -- perhaps the second-most visible supporter of carbon taxes (after Al Gore) -- has written a column backing the Bloomberg pricing plan. "Crunch time" for the plan may come as early as the next day or two. So it's time the piece saw the light of day. Every so often there arises an environmental controversy that tests the capacity of Americans to face reality. One such case is emerging in New York City, where Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has proposed a "congestion fee" on cars and trucks driving into Manhattan. Backers from the mayor on down tout the fee as a cure-all: it will unsnarl traffic, relieve pollution and create a revenue stream to upgrade subways and buses, while also cutting global warming emissions. These claims are a bit overstated. More probably there will be a single-digit increase in traffic speeds, a one percent drop in emissions citywide, and perhaps a $400 million revenue infusion for a transportation system whose annual costs top $30 billion. But even though the immediate benefits of the congestion charge are relatively modest, the act of imposing such a charge is transformative in itself.

Summer property rights update

A smorgasbord of campaigns in various states

There's something energizing about midsummer. If it's not the camping trips, or the afternoon concerts in the park, it must be the flurry of property rights campaigns gearing up for the fall election. Here's the latest:

Bright green principles

All 21 of them, from Worldchanging

A while back, Worldchanging did a great series of posts on the core principles of a bright green future. I kept meaning to link to it. Now I finally am! Here they are: Principle 1: The Backstory Principle 2: Ecological Footprints and One Planet Thinking Principle 3: Cradle to Cradle and Closing the Loop Principle 4: Life Cycle Analysis, Embodied Energy and Virtual Water Principle 5: Ecosystem Services and Ecological Economics Principle 6: Transparency Principle 7: Strategic Consumption Principle 8: Leapfrogging Principle 9: Social Entrepreneurship/Base Of the Pyramid Principle 10: Collaborative Innovation and Creative Commons Principle 11: Socially Responsible Investment, …

Carbon offsets and tree huggers

Trees should play a bigger role

After reading the recent posts by Romm, Stein, and Roberts, I have concluded that carbon offsets are a pretty good idea if properly implemented. Once government regulations have been established (and enforced), consumers should be able to buy with greater confidence. As it stands today, you are taking a small risk that your purchase may not actually result in CO2 reductions. So, if you are going to buy them, do your homework first. I also don't see why an individual should do everything reasonably possible to offset carbon emissions that are under their direct control before buying offsets from a third party. Individuals are just as likely to screw up as a third party. For example, putting solar panels on my house might not reduce emissions if my power comes from hydroelectric. I might have had more impact buying green power. Dumping my Prius and riding a Seattle Metro bus might actually increase my CO2 emissions (Seattle Metro buses get about 38 MPG per passenger on average last time I checked).

Fighting transit racism: Building the environmental movement on the buses of L.A.

A perspective from Eric Mann

A Latina woman addresses the board of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). She is part of a crowd of 1,500 people opposing the agency's proposed bus-fare increases. She holds her 3-year-old child up to the board and says, "What would you like me to do? Take the clothes off his back or the food out of his mouth?" L.A., with 10 million people and 7 million cars on the road, is the freeway capital of the U.S. For more than 14 years, the MTA on one side and the Strategy Center and Bus Riders Union (BRU) on the other have been fighting over the future of L.A.'s public transportation -- a fight with important implications for the future of the environmental movement. The heavyweight bout has grown more high-profile this year. Despite massive opposition, on May 24, 2007, the MTA board of directors voted to raise the daily bus fare from $3 to $5 a day and the cost of a monthly bus pass from $52 to $62 a month. This is just the first step in a draconian trajectory that will, if not stopped, push the monthly bus pass to $75 and then $90, force many low-income people off the buses, and compel people to use or buy old cars instead of taking public transit. These policies will increase toxic air pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions, and make the bus riders poorer while making rail contractors richer. The fight over the fare hikes has become a cause célèbre. The Bus Riders Union and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) are in state court trying to reverse the fare hikes on environmental grounds. The BRU is also in front of the federal courts asking for a five-year extension of a federal civil-rights consent decree controlling MTA actions. Dozens of BRU organizers are on the buses, talking to thousands of bus riders, holding community meetings to plan our next countermove. The fight to reverse those fare increases, buy more buses, and stop future money-sucking rail projects is far from over. This dramatic expansion in the breadth and impact of the environmental movement in L.A. could be a model for urban coalitions throughout the U.S.

National Downshifting Week

Quick, do nothing!

In April, Grist profiled Tracey Smith in our InterActivist column. She answered questions from Grist editors and from readers during National Downshifting Week in Britain. She just sent me a note to let me know that this very week is National Downshifting Week USA. Quick! Do nothing!

Here's a green Ditty for ya

More green musicians

We’ve gotten tons of emails from people who are all like “Why didn’t my fav band make your ‘15 Green Musicians and Bands‘ list, yo?” Most of them are just sorta self-righteous and annoying. But today we got one from the good folks over on Spinner.com that pointed to their own list on the subject, which had some overlap with ours, as well as a few cool additions. Their No. 1 gets extra cool points: The Ditty Bops. As they describe them: To promote their 2006 album ‘Moon Over the Freeway,’ the female folk duo went beyond using eco-friendly biodiesel …