Year 4, Month 1, Day 27: Long As I Keep Drivin’, I’ll Keep Surviving…?

McClatchy’s Erika Bolstad writes on the World Bank’s move towards supporting more mass transportation infrastructure:

WASHINGTON — There’s an unexpected method governments can use to reduce poverty, improve public health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, top world leaders said Friday.

Their idea: Make transportation in the world’s megacities more available and sustainable to reduce congestion and benefit populations – and economies – that are projected to boom in the coming decades.

Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, said Friday at a global transportation conference that working on sustainable transportation is part of the bank’s moral responsibility and will be a major focus of its lending in the coming years. Lifting people out of poverty is the bank’s chief mission, Kim said. But climate change caused by global warming threatens that mission, he said, particularly for future generations.

The bank recently issued a report that outlines what the world could be like if temperatures rise by 7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2060. It’s sometimes difficult for people to understand that, Kim said, but he offered the example of his own 3-year-old-son.

“To put it very bluntly . . . when he’s my age, he’ll be living in a world where the oceans will be 150 percent more acidic, the coral reefs will have all been melted away, the fisheries would have been completely disturbed, and probably every single day, there will be food fights and water fights all over the world,” he said. “The world that I’m literally handing over to him as an adult will be one that does not exist today. For me it’s very real.”

Time to put Kerouac to bed. It wouldn’t be the same if he’d written it about riding a bus, I suppose. Sent January 20:

There are few aspects of modern civilization more baffling than our continued reliance on automobiles for every aspect of our transportation. An intelligent alien watching humanity would no doubt wonder why we spend so much time sitting in heavy metal boxes many times our own weight, often moving no faster than a slow strolling pace — and why those metal boxes seem trigger frequent episodes of rage, competition and conspicuous wastefulness.

Once, the automobile represented the most tangible aspects of the American Dream: the freedom to travel, the siren call of the open road. Now, the full impact of our consumption of fossil fuels is making an environmental nightmare, and it’s clear that we must put the brakes on the accelerating greenhouse effect before careening, Thelma-and-Louise style, over the climate cliff. It’s time for a massive national investment in public transportation, for we cannot drive recklessly into the twenty-first century.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 11, Day 28: Get Your Kicks!

The Vacaville Reporter (CA) runs an AP article on climate change’s impact on our transportation systems:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Wild weather is taking a toll on roads, airports, railways and transit systems across the country.

That’s leaving states and cities searching for ways to brace for more catastrophes like Super-storm Sandy that are straining the nation’s transportation lifelines beyond what their builders imagined.

Despite their concerns about intense rain, historic floods and record heat waves, some transportation planners find it too politically sensitive to say aloud a source of their weather worries: climate change.

Political differences are on the minds of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, whose advice on the design and maintenance of roads and bridges is closely followed by states. The association recently changed the name of its Climate Change Steering Committee to the less controversial Sustainable Transportation, Energy Infrastructure and Climate Solutions Steering Committee.

Still, there is a recognition that the association’s guidance will need to be updated to reflect the new realities of global warming.

“There is a whole series of standards that are going to have to be revisited in light of the change in climate that is coming at us,” said John Horsley, the association’s executive director.

In the latest and most severe example, Superstorm Sandy inflicted the worst damage to the New York subway system in its 108-year history, halted Amtrak and commuter train service to the city for days, and forced cancellation of thousands of airline flights at airports in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia.

In Washington state, “we joked we were having 100-year storms every year,” said Paula Hammond, head of the state’s Department of Transportation.

Joked. Ha ha ha….funny!

If there is any aspect of American domestic policy that should be exempt from partisanship, transportation is it. Everybody needs to get from place to place; nobody likes driving on rotten roads or coping with failing infrastructure. And yet, time and time again, we find that dogmatism stands in the way of a reality-based approach to renewing our country’s crumbling transportation systems.

That the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials re-named their Climate Change Steering Committee into something marginally less likely to set Republican alarm bells ringing is just another demonstration that obvious truths must be carefully disguised to pass muster with conservative politicians. The climate IS changing; our roads, rails, airports, waterways and public transport must be strengthened. This is a fact, not an opinion. When it comes to preparing America’s transportation for the climate crisis, there’s no room on the road for the ideologically-driven.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 4, Day 11: I’ll Show Him That A Cadillac Is Not A Car To Scorn

A guy named Randy Salzman writes an op-ed in the New York Times that’s well worth a read. It’s titled “Invitation to a Dialogue: Our Addiction to Cars.” The final few grafs:

While oil worldwide costs the same, other nations put higher fees on gasoline and diesel consumption. Japan’s high gas taxes make its 127 million people a huge test market for energy efficiency, while our lower taxes cajoled Detroit into selling gas-guzzling S.U.V.’s.

Of course, decreasing driving in a culture famed for its “love affair with the automobile” is difficult. No one, yet everyone, is to blame for our national default position of key in the ignition to get anywhere, everywhere and — often — nowhere. Our politicians are not willing to tell us the most inconvenient of inconvenient truths.

If we’d use our cars smarter, we’d mitigate a host of problems and prevent our grandchildren from following our children in fighting wars in the Middle East.

To begin using our cars intelligently rather than habitually, we need a rational federal gasoline “user fee” rolled in slowly over a decade.

It’s time politicians led an adult conversation with America.

Couldn’t have said it better myself, though I tried, in this letter, sent April 4:

From the stories of the early pioneers and Horace Greeley’s “Go West, young man,” to Kerouac’s Beat generation tales, the freedom to get up and go wherever we please is a formative element of the American myth. But the individual liberation implied by the automobile is chimerical; our society rightly castigates those who would abdicate their responsibilities to family and community, and our collective responsibility for the past century’s profligate consumption of fossil fuels is not something from which we can simply drive away. There is no freeway that will let us avoid the environmental consequences of introducing so much extra carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Yes, contemporary America’s social infrastructure is utterly dependent on the automobile — but this cannot be an excuse for inaction. If we are to steer in the direction of planetary good citizenship, we must change our oil economy, and the myths that lend it credibility.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 1, Day 5: You Can’t Get There From Here

The San Francisco Bay Area would seem to need an upgraded regional public transportation system (San Jose Mercury-News):

“We want to get a sense of whether the public wants this region to continue growing in a way it has for several decades, or whether the public is ready for a change,” said Lisa Klein, a senior transportation planner for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

The commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments are jointly developing the plan.

Denser development with more homes per acre near transit centers reduces people’s need to drive to work, school, stores and play, planners say.

But some critics are uncomfortable with the trend they see as heavy-handed pressure to push residents into “stack and pack” housing.

“They base their utopian model on high-density housing with shops underneath, no parking, but a lot of cycling and walking,” said Heather Gass, an Alamo real estate saleswoman, in a blog post critical of the growth plan. “What these people don’t seem to understand is that people move to the suburbs to get away from this type of urban lifestyle.”

Assholes. Sent January 1:

While people may indeed be moving to the suburbs to escape a bike-and-walk urban lifestyle, as a real estate spokeswoman suggests, there is another sort of escape happening in the dispute over increased public transportation in the Bay Area. Simply put, that is the desire to continue convenient amenities while ignoring inconvenient facts.

Like it or not, the next twenty years will see a transformation of American transportation that will outdo the introduction of the automobile in the previous century. As fossil fuels become more expensive in the short term (due to burgeoning extraction costs) we’ll become increasingly aware of how expensive they are in the long term (what with cleanup costs, health impacts, resource wars and the impact of global climate change). And it will become obvious that a car-based economy is no longer sustainable.

Cities and regions that prepare intelligently for this crisis will prosper in the ensuing decades.

Warren Senders