Weekly Mulch: Why Building a Bike-Safe City is Key to a Clean Energy Future

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Congress couldn’t get it together to vote even on the smallest of possible energy bills—the renewable energy standard—before the October recess. That doesn’t change the reality that our energy dependent society needs to find alternatives quickly. Changing up our approach to transportation, one of the biggest sources of energy consumption, is a good place to start.

If more Americans used bicycles as a primary mode of transportation, the country would be closer to getting its energy use under control. So how can we make biking safer, easier, more mainstream? Infrastructure, safety, and education are key. It also helps to replicate model behaviors.

“Last spring, public officials from Madison, Wisconsin, returned home from a tour of the Netherlands, and within three weeks were implementing what they learned there about promoting bicycling on the streets of their own city,” reports Jay Walljasper for Yes! Magazine.

Cities like Portland, Madison, and San Francisco are trying to make cycling a way of life. But for the best answers, American leaders must look abroad, to cities like Copenhagen in Denmark, Utrecht and The Hague in the Netherlands, and Malmo in Sweden.

Safe riding

Improving safety is the first order of business to encouraging cycling, and that means investing in infrastructure specifically for bike use. As Change.org’s Jess Leber writes, “Every time there is a senseless death, there are going to be a group of residents who decide biking is too risky for their tastes.”

Many regular bikers admit that it’s frightening to ride down a street with a gigantic, roaring beast of car quickly approaching. “When I lived in New York City, I myself was too frightened to use my bike in many parts of the city,” Leber admits.

What kind of infrastructure do we need? Designated bike lanes indicate what sort of space bikes need on the road. But bike lanes should also be physically separated from cars. In Copenhagen, for instance, “the busy roadways are lined with cycle tracks (elevated bike paths painted bright blue for distinction),” writes Campus Progress’ Jessica Newman.

In the Hague, bike paths are separate from cars and trucks, Some streets are designated as “bike boulevards,” where bikes take precedence over cars, reports Walljasper in Yes! Magazine.

Ease of use

But safe infrastructure is a waste of money if no one uses it. While cities are out building better bike lanes, they should consider adding other features that will make it as convenient to bike as it is to drive or walk. In Malmo, bike riders stopped at red lights can grab onto railings to keep their balance—”a surprisingly popular feature,” reports Grist’s Sarah Goodyear.

Another Dutch project is to improve the process of parking. “Access to safe, convenient bike storage has a big impact on whether people bike,” as Walljasper reports in Yes! Magazine.

“The car is parked right out in front of the house on the street, while the bike is stuffed away out back in a shed or has to be carried up and down the stairs in their buildings. So people choose the car because it is easier,” one Dutch policy officer told Walljasper.

More mainstream

In both Utrecht and Copenhagen, one strategy for integrating cycling into its citizens’ behavior is to teach the young. In Copenhagen, “Instead of driver’s education classes, children attend biker’s ed in the third and ninths grades, where they learn traffic laws, proper bike etiquette and general agility,” according to Campus Progress’ Newman.

Going back to Yes!, in Utrecht, cycling is also built into the curriculum:

A municipal program sends special teachers into schools to conduct bike classes, and students go to Trafficgarden, a miniature city complete with roads, sidewalks, and busy intersections where students hone their pedestrian, biking, and driving skills (in non-motorized pedal cars). At age 11, most kids in town are tested on their cycling skills on a course through the city, winning a certificate of accomplishment that ends up framed on many bedroom walls.

“To make safer roads, we focus on the children,” [city planner Ronald] Tamse explained. “It not only helps them bike and walk more safely, but it helps them to become safer drivers who will look out for pedestrians and bicyclists in the future.”

Envisioning the future

What does a city with these sorts of programs in place look like? In Copenhagen, you see “streets crowded with bikes, with riders ranging from wealthy, middle-aged businessmen to mothers in tow of three or more kids to poor college students,” Newman reports. Thirty-three percent of Copenhagen’s citizens commute by bike; in Portland, by contrast, it’s just 5.81%.

Yes! Magazine points to another way to understand the difference between biking in an American city, unfriendly to bikers, and in a European city that embraces them. In Riding Bikes with the Dutch, Michal W. Bauch compares transportation culture in Los Angeles and Amsterdam:

Increasing reliance on cycling is not impossible. The tools are already there. American cities just need to use them, and quickly.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

Weekly Mulch: Why Building a Bike-Safe City is Key to a Clean Energy Future

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Congress couldn’t get it together to vote even on the smallest of possible energy bills—the renewable energy standard—before the October recess. That doesn’t change the reality that our energy dependent society needs to find alternatives quickly. Changing up our approach to transportation, one of the biggest sources of energy consumption, is a good place to start.

If more Americans used bicycles as a primary mode of transportation, the country would be closer to getting its energy use under control. So how can we make biking safer, easier, more mainstream? Infrastructure, safety, and education are key. It also helps to replicate model behaviors.

“Last spring, public officials from Madison, Wisconsin, returned home from a tour of the Netherlands, and within three weeks were implementing what they learned there about promoting bicycling on the streets of their own city,” reports Jay Walljasper for Yes! Magazine.

Cities like Portland, Madison, and San Francisco are trying to make cycling a way of life. But for the best answers, American leaders must look abroad, to cities like Copenhagen in Denmark, Utrecht and The Hague in the Netherlands, and Malmo in Sweden.

Safe riding

Improving safety is the first order of business to encouraging cycling, and that means investing in infrastructure specifically for bike use. As Change.org’s Jess Leber writes, “Every time there is a senseless death, there are going to be a group of residents who decide biking is too risky for their tastes.”

Many regular bikers admit that it’s frightening to ride down a street with a gigantic, roaring beast of car quickly approaching. “When I lived in New York City, I myself was too frightened to use my bike in many parts of the city,” Leber admits.

What kind of infrastructure do we need? Designated bike lanes indicate what sort of space bikes need on the road. But bike lanes should also be physically separated from cars. In Copenhagen, for instance, “the busy roadways are lined with cycle tracks (elevated bike paths painted bright blue for distinction),” writes Campus Progress’ Jessica Newman.

In the Hague, bike paths are separate from cars and trucks, Some streets are designated as “bike boulevards,” where bikes take precedence over cars, reports Walljasper in Yes! Magazine.

Ease of use

But safe infrastructure is a waste of money if no one uses it. While cities are out building better bike lanes, they should consider adding other features that will make it as convenient to bike as it is to drive or walk. In Malmo, bike riders stopped at red lights can grab onto railings to keep their balance—”a surprisingly popular feature,” reports Grist’s Sarah Goodyear.

Another Dutch project is to improve the process of parking. “Access to safe, convenient bike storage has a big impact on whether people bike,” as Walljasper reports in Yes! Magazine.

“The car is parked right out in front of the house on the street, while the bike is stuffed away out back in a shed or has to be carried up and down the stairs in their buildings. So people choose the car because it is easier,” one Dutch policy officer told Walljasper.

More mainstream

In both Utrecht and Copenhagen, one strategy for integrating cycling into its citizens’ behavior is to teach the young. In Copenhagen, “Instead of driver’s education classes, children attend biker’s ed in the third and ninths grades, where they learn traffic laws, proper bike etiquette and general agility,” according to Campus Progress’ Newman.

Going back to Yes!, in Utrecht, cycling is also built into the curriculum:

A municipal program sends special teachers into schools to conduct bike classes, and students go to Trafficgarden, a miniature city complete with roads, sidewalks, and busy intersections where students hone their pedestrian, biking, and driving skills (in non-motorized pedal cars). At age 11, most kids in town are tested on their cycling skills on a course through the city, winning a certificate of accomplishment that ends up framed on many bedroom walls.

“To make safer roads, we focus on the children,” [city planner Ronald] Tamse explained. “It not only helps them bike and walk more safely, but it helps them to become safer drivers who will look out for pedestrians and bicyclists in the future.”

Envisioning the future

What does a city with these sorts of programs in place look like? In Copenhagen, you see “streets crowded with bikes, with riders ranging from wealthy, middle-aged businessmen to mothers in tow of three or more kids to poor college students,” Newman reports. Thirty-three percent of Copenhagen’s citizens commute by bike; in Portland, by contrast, it’s just 5.81%.

Yes! Magazine points to another way to understand the difference between biking in an American city, unfriendly to bikers, and in a European city that embraces them. In Riding Bikes with the Dutch, Michal W. Bauch compares transportation culture in Los Angeles and Amsterdam:

Increasing reliance on cycling is not impossible. The tools are already there. American cities just need to use them, and quickly.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

Bloomberg leads U.S. corporations and cities to lobby for immigration reform

From the Restore Fairness blog.

It seems fitting that New York City, the crux of the U.S.’s rich immigrant history is leading a new direction in the movement for immigration reform.

In what promises to be an important step towards re-framing the immigration debate in this country, New York City Mayor Bloomberg has formed a coalition of top executives and city mayors to put pressure on Congress and steer the nation towards immigration reform. On Thursday the 24th, Mayor Bloomberg announced the Partnership for a New American Economy, a coalition that includes the chief executives of major corporations such as News Corp., Hewlett-Packard, Disney, Boeing, Morgan Stanley, Marriott International and the NY Mets, and the mayors of Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Antonio and Phoenix.

The coalition argues that immigration reform is the key solution to repairing and rejuvenating the economy. By conducting polls, funding public educational campaigns, convening forums and publishing studies that demonstrate the ways in which a healthy economy thrives on immigrant workers, the coalition aims to “break the legislative stalemate that has taken over Congress.” Rupert Murdoch, a central member of the partnership and chairman of the News Corporation, who is also a naturalized immigrant from Australia, summed up the argument for the New York Times-

This country can and must enact new immigration policies that fulfill our employment needs, provide a careful pathway to legal status for undocumented residents, and end illegal immigration….American ingenuity is a product of the openness and diversity of this society.

The CEO’s who have signed on to the partnership released statements about how their companies rely on immigrants. They mentioned the constant challenge they face in acquiring visas for professional workers whom they want to hire. Walt Disney chairman and CEO, Robert Iger said that the country’s immigrant population was “our great strength as a nation, and …critical for continued economic growth.” His statement went on to say, “To remain competitive in the 21st century, we need effective immigration reform that invites people to contribute to our shared success by building their own American dream.”

While stressing the importance of securing the national borders and preventing further entry of undocumented immigrants, the coalition urges Congress to create a path to legalization for the 12 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. According to Mayor Bloomberg, in addition to the fact that deporting the existing undocumented immigrants was an impossible task, doing so would ruin the economy as these immigrants are a crucial part of the workforce.

On Thursday morning, Mayor Bloomberg and Rupert Murdoch appeared on Fox News to talk about the ways in which immigration reform would benefit the economy. Bloomberg made his case for a reformed immigration policy which creates a system that allots green cards to those that have been education in the country rather than preventing them from staying on. Bluntly referring to the current system as “national suicide,” the NYC Mayor warned against the pitfalls of the present system in which prohibitive laws, bureaucracy and stiff enforcement prevent hundreds of potential entrepreneurs from staying on and leading to the creation of more jobs. He reiterated that the people who seek to the immigrate to the U.S. were hard working, dynamic, innovative people who want the opportunity to strive for better lives for themselves and their families, and that those are the people that build America in the first place. He said-

I can’t think of any ways to destroy this country quite as direct and impactful as our immigration policy. We educate the best and the brightest, and then we don’t give them a green card.

The business leaders in the coalition that have taken it upon themselves to lead the country towards immigration reform employ more than 650,000 people and make more than $220 billion in annual sales, combined. However it is yet to be announced as to whether the partnership will be a non-profit organization, a political action committee, or a non-standard non-profit. Either way, this bipartisan group’s decision to take on an issue that is of national importance and has been stuck in politics for so long, is deeply encouraging. Let’s get behind them and add to the pressure on President Obama and Congress to pass immigration reform now!

At 0:40 in the Fox News interview Mayor Bloomberg says, “We need to create jobs in this country….and immigrants can come here and create jobs. There’s this belief that immigrants take jobs away and that’s not true.”

Learn. Share. Act. Go to restorefairness.org

 

 

 

Bus Rapid Transit Systems

Bus Rapid Transit Systems, or BRTs, are not a new technology. Called subways on wheels, they date to the 1970s and were first implemented in Curitiba, Brazil but until Bogotá, Colombia copied and improved on the system a decade ago they remained more of a novelty. Today, BRT systems can be found the world over with more cities studying the feasibility of adding lines. In 2006, Los Angeles opened its Orange line and on Monday, the city of Everett, Washington is opening a $29.6 million 17-mile bus line, called Swift. By comparison, Charlotte's light rail project is running $44.5 million per mile.

Curitiba is a city of 1.7 million with some 3.2 million people in its metropolitan area. The city is about the same size as Phoenix. While in Curitiba 75 percent of commuters use public transportation to get to and from work, in Phoenix only 1 percent do. The BRT system in Curitiba is used by more than 2 million people a day. There are more car owners per capita than anywhere in Brazil, and yet per capita gas consumption is the lowest in Brazil. And while the population has doubled since 1974, auto traffic has declined by 30 percent in that same time frame. The result is atmospheric pollution that is the lowest in Brazil which then translates into better health metrics for Curitiba's citizens.

Light rail is now all the rage in the United States since Portland's widely-respected system came on line. Not to rain on light rail's parade, but BRT systems have several key advantages. A light rail project is ten times more expensive and it can take a decade or more to build. A BRT system can be implemented in less than three years at a fraction of the cost. Because BRT builds off existing infrastructure and has a high carrying capacity of up to 270 passengers per vehicle compared to 180 per train for light rail, it is simply more economical than light rail. A typical BRT system costs between $1 million and $35 million per mile, while a light rail or subway system typically costs $13-$336 million per mile. Moreover, BRT systems always run at capacity with buses added as passenger demand requires it. And though derailments are rare, a derailment can shut down a whole system as occurred earlier this month in San Francisco. The other key advantage to the Curitiba and Bogotá models is that their BRTs are not publicly subsidized. That frees up city budgets to pay for needed investments in healthcare, education and parks.

Jaime Lerner, the three time mayor of Curitiba who created the basics of the BRT system back in the 1970s, likes to say that simple solutions to complex urban problems are generally the better answer. With transportation responsible for as much as a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, reducing fossil fuel use in the sector is considered critical.  A 2006 study found that Los Angeles' Orange Line BRT is saving more than 18,600 barrels of oil per year. Getting American out of their cars five days a week is a national security imperative. If Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has never been to Curitiba, he should hop on the next plane. Below a video on the Los Angeles BRT and below the fold some projects currently being considered for San Francisco (which I am working on), the Oakland-Alameda East Bay Metroplex, Birmingham and Washington DC areas.

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We Are Willing To Go To Any Means Necessary

On Wednesday I wrote a piece on Huffington Post and another at Open Left talking about the centrality of fixing the foreclosure crisis to any recovery from the economic meltdown. Since the toxic assets at the center of the meltdown are based on mortgages that are entering foreclosure at a rate of one every 13 seconds, we have to address foreclosure as a part of getting America back on its feet.

The Homeowner Affordability and Stabilization Plan (HASP), announced in Phoenix on Wednesday by President Obama, which will help up to an estimated 9 million families, is a good first step - and the first serious effort by the Federal government to confront the challenge. But just because there was an announcement does not lessen the urgency of the problem. We are still in a situation where four families every minute enter the foreclosure process. We believe there must be a moratorium on foreclosures until HASP is fully implemented.

So yesterday we at ACORN launched the Home Defenders campaign in seven cities - a campaign to force the question of moratoriums and to press the urgency of this crisis into the consciousness of elected officials on the state and national levels. This is a campaign of refusal and resistance, refusal by distressed homeowners to cooperate with the foreclosure process and resistance to attempts to evict them from their homes. And in some cases it is a campaign of getting people back into their homes.

I wanted to give everyone a report-back from our activities yesterday, which you can find in the extended entry.

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