Posts Tagged ‘Environment’

Pay No Attention to the Trainwreck on the Left

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

Reluctantly, very reluctantly, and after much pleading from the organizers, I agreed to show up to a meeting entitled, “What’s Up With The Left in Madison.”

My reluctance was based in my long involvement with Progressive Dane from its inception (’93?) until a couple of years ago. For all of those years I tried to get the party’s leadership as well as elected officials to understand the economic & environmental trainwreck around the bend if they didn’t start applying the brakes to all of that car-mandatory development out in the ‘burbs. I even worked hard for countless candidates — many of whom won — who promised to do something about all of the bad planning.

All of those efforts were to no avail.

Not only did they not listen, but PD alders & county supervisors actively accelerated the paving at an alarming rate.

The result:   An economic and environmental policy trainwreck with one train piling into the next in a fog of bad decisionmaking.

Trainwreck #1: Foreclosures. Housing in Madison’s ‘burbs, extending out into rural subdivisions and horsey-doggie sprawl, is now so far flung and anti-pedestrian and anti-transit that the poor, the young, the elderly and the conscientiously carless cannot access it. And for those who just value a human-scaled place (regardless of their socio-economic demographic pigeonhole), it has no value. This destruction of value was brought about by a widely recognized lack of universal access planned into these developments. Walls of distance and speeding car traffic as it were.

In a sense, cosmic justice prevailed as the foreclosure crisis hit car-mandatory places the hardest. Unfortunately, however, it is hurting us all, as the cratering real estate values out there are devastating Madison & Dane County’s tax base.

These economically unsustainable development patterns were heartily supported by elected progressives with nary a peep from party membership (yours truly excepted, of course).

Did the price crash have to happen, given the national foreclosure crisis? Nope. Most of our walking/biking/transit-friendly ‘hoods have either a) maintained their value or b) actually increased in value. This same trend has occurred across the country with human-scaled neighborhoods holding their value while cul-de-sacs tank in the same region. Instead of seeing the foreclosure crisis for what it is — a disaster for all — progressives see it as an opportunity to…squat! (Yes, this is the next direct action actually proposed at the meeting.) So ok, it will make for great theater. And I like theater. But then what? Do we sit there all self-satisfied that we have stuck-it-to-the-man while continuing to support policies that continually drive down our tax base?! What sort of vicious cycle of insanity is this?

Trainwreck #2: The abovedescribed tax base destruction (developers churning out soulless subdivisions -> 1960s-educated planners collaborating -> ‘progressive’ elected officials wielding rubber stamps approving every car-mandatory subdivision ->  gullible homebuyers (or, perhaps more likely, homebuyers given no choice) -> crazy bankers -> (soon) crazy squatters) is now squeezing every city & county department, including those departments forming the social safety net advocated for by the good progressives. At today’s meeting, progressives at first stood stunned, then started casting about for scapegoats. People, only one department has continued to receive double digit year-over-year budget increases, and it is the very people who brought the housing crisis to you in the first place: The highway department! Pavement expansion is raging at 10 times population growth + inflation. TEN times! That’s good money chasing after bad, folks. We’ve been there, done that…and crashed. Yet we keep piling the people’s cash into the same bad land use patterns. It’s not a goat you’re looking for, it’s a hog; and the hog sits in the chief of highways seat. And your endorsed ‘progressive’ elected officials continue to slop that hog.

The car-mandatory nature of our elected leaders’ policies has created trainwreck #3: Increasingly filthy air, thanks to city-mandated driving (a direct result of car-mandatory places). The air is getting so filthy, in fact, that Madison is soon to be designated a dirty air zone by the EPA (‘non-attainment’ in the jargon). This will seriously damage Madison’s ability to attract & retain good jobs, as potential employers will recoil at the extra hoops mandated by the feds when air pollution exceeds the allowable levels.

And while progressives perseverate mightily about the need for good, family-supporting jobs, they fail to see the environment as anything but a white environmentalist/elitist/hobbyist’s concern. (Emphasis on white; there was much hand-wringing about the overwhelming whiteness of the progressive community.). Folks, dirty air is bad for everybody. But the poor — disproportionately non-white — will be disproportionately hit. Those jobs the poor need? Gone thanks to dirty air. (Milwaukee and other rustbelt cities, perpetually under the EPA’s thumb have been hemorrhaging jobs since the inception of the Clean Air Act. Coincidence? Me thinks not. And no, it isn’t the Act’s fault, it is the fault of short-sighted local & state leaders who worship cars more than their constituents’ economic and physical health.)

Then there are the children of the poor. We know that they will suffer disproportionately from air pollution-induced asthma (do I need to go into how bad this is for the developmental progress of a child?).

Fighting against dirty air is not a hobby. Nor is it only a concern of only white enviros.

Trainwreck #4: Dirty drinking water. So much land is paved over that our aquifers are no longer recharging as they should, thus rendering increasingly contaminated water. Combine the paving with constant leaking of petrochemicals onto that pavement (tire & brake grit, exhaust that settles on soil & pavement, oil leaks, etc.); then, after a rain, that filth rushes across that pavement, to sewers, then directly to our surface waters (which now feed the aquifer thanks to paving over of infiltration zones) and you’ve got a recipe for hydrologic disaster…. Case in point: the combination described here has put the kibosh on developing a well for the industrial southeast side, perhaps imperiling hundreds of jobs. Jobs, people!

The biggest trainwreck of all is upcoming: energy. The $4/gallon summers of 2007 & 2008 were the first dominos to set in motion the housing market catastrophe. (In car-mandatory places families faced 2 choices: fill the SUV or pay the mortgage; in the end, neither was economically sustainable.)

But that is nothing compared to what we will be facing soon.

So far, the military has been able to keep the oil supplies open, but the endless wars over oil are proving to be costly in lives, treasure, constitutional rights and basic justice. Social justice advocates often bemoan the de-facto military draft (crushing economic necessity forcing individuals to ‘volunteer’ for the military, etc.), but they typically fail to see first causes: Most of our military is now dedicated to fighting for oil. The world’s #1 consumer of oil? The military. For what? Fighting for oil. The snake is eating its tail.

That is to say, expect even more of the above.

Unless. Unless, we get a handle on our resource consumption and the fouling of our own nests. Because folks, if we don’t, there won’t be any justice left to attain. For anyone.

But this was entirely too mind-blowing for the good progressives to grasp at the meeting Saturday. When we were asked to write down our vision for the city if we achieved a progressive majority on the city council, most people dreamed their dreams as the exercise intended. Affordable housing for all. Racial harmony. Family supporting jobs. Full funding for social services. A strong Regional Transit Authority. And on & on, the same litany we’ve come to know & love about the progressive vision. (And yes, I do love it. As far as it goes. Which isn’t far enough to do any of the above….)

My response to what Madison would look like with a progressive majority? Massively increased paving over of rich, precious, Dane County farmland. Dirtier air. Filthier water. More car traffic. Poor people cut off from jobs due to walls of distance. Planning that plans universal access out of our urban landscape.

Face it, our ‘progressive’ elected officials voted for all of the above in the past and continue to do so. There is no evidence it would change with a majority.

Thus, many of us have simply quit working for any candidates. (At least until we see some evidence of real change.) With the loss of key electoral volunteers, progressives have continued to lose strength on the council.

For no amount of pressure from organized groups seems to have any bearing on their decisions. Neither 20 hours a week of volunteer labor….Nor being a ward captain turning out margins of victories….Nor cold hard progressive cash…Nothing seems to work with these people. (This was, thankfully, alluded to by several other participants).

Many at the meeting lamented the high level of apathy in Madison. I strongly disagree. This city is so organized around mutually supporting — and countless — progressive causes that it should be clear to our elected officials that we do, in fact, want progress. Not Detroit’s vision of a city-enforced car mandate. Not the Teabaggers’ vision of an unstable, grindingly impoverished and violent future. We have stated over & over that we want something better. In fact, I view Madison’s strong civic culture much like a venerable Roman arch, with each organization forming the arch & wall (each brick in the pillar or stone in the arch representing an organization) mutually reinforcing neighboring, allied organizations.

We all hang together or....

But when the keystone element at the top is missing/weak/lacking in conviction, the whole edifice falls apart. In this metaphor, the keystone element is each of our elected officials. Given that they are universally AWOL with regard to the desires of their constituents, the whole edifice falls apart, just as a Roman arch would.

In the case of Madison, the people are doing a yeoman’s job of holding things together, pulling together the increasingly tight resources they have in their non-profits to make things work as best they can for those who have very little. Yet there was a lot of self-flaggelation/blaming ourselves for this sorry situation. Again, I vehemently disagree; the hardworking, civically-engaged people of Madison are not to blame. What is missing is that strong keystone element, starting with the out-of-touch mayor, but including every alder — yes, the ‘progressive’ ones inclusive.

There is no hope of getting through to the current crop of elected officials. In their hands, our destiny lies in gluttonous energy use, car-mandatory land use patterns, transportation only for the well-wheeled, dirtier & dirtier air  and filthier & filthier water.

They simply do not have the capacity to get it.

Efficiency Pays, Renewables Cost

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Duh.

Relevant parts from the article itself (in case FT gives hassles you about registering):

Governments around the world could make rapid, substantial and relatively cheap cuts to carbon emissions by pursuing energy efficiency in place of more ambitious, but expensive, technological solutions, says a new study.

The analysis, based on data provided to the Financial Times by McKinsey, the consultancy, identifies more energy-efficient cars, lighting and buildings as the “low-hanging fruit” in the global warming battle.

The findings are particularly relevant in the US, the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, as Washington prepares to join international efforts to fight global warming at a UN conference beginning in Copenhagen next week.

The McKinsey analysis says that for the US the initial upfront expense of buying an electric or hybrid car would be rapidly offset by lower fuel costs, which in turn result in lower emissions per vehicle. It estimates a saving of €79 ($119, £52) for every tonne of carbon dioxide mitigated by 2030 through greater vehicle efficiency. For lighting the saving is €50 and €44 for buildings. Carbon capture and storage, a much touted technology to cut emissions, is by contrast likely to remain much more expensive. The cost of taking a tonne of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere this way would initially be €76 in the US in 2015, the consultancy found, falling to €39 a tonne by 2030.

US companies should also invest in energy efficiency before they turn to buying carbon offsets overseas, if they wish to get the most “bang for the buck”.

This contrasts with the view of many US businesses which believe they will need to buy cheap carbon credits from abroad if they are to cut emission mitigation costs under a federal cap-and-trade system up for consideration in the Senate.

For companies looking to invest in renewables, the most cost-effective place to do so through the UN carbon trading scheme, is likely to be South Africa – which currently offers generous feed-in tariffs – according to a study by the Technical University of Braunschweig in Germany.

Smaller hydroelectric power plants, which are among the most popular small-scale projects registered under the UN system, are also highly costeffective, the study claims.

These costs contrast sharply with other forms of renewable energy that have a higher profile. Solar power, for instance, would cost €34 per tonne of carbon dioxide avoided in India in 2015, while in China the cost would be €43 per tonne, according to McKinsey’s estimates. Wind turbines are lower cost but still relatively expensive. In China, McKinsey calculates wind turbines would cost €8 per tonne of carbon avoided in 2015, and €15 in India.

Making renewable energy investments in developed countries is far more expensive, according to the data.

This reflects one of the founding philosophies of the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism – that it would help rich countries achieve their obligations to cut emissions under the 1997 Kyoto protocol by allowing them to invest in lower cost projects in the developing world. Poor nations meanwhile could gain access to low-carbon technology which they could not otherwise afford.

But the scheme has fallen short of expectations, prompting calls for its overhaul at the Copenhagen conference. The greatest single reducer of emissions under the CDM, is the elimination of certain industrial gases – such as hydrofluorocarbons, a by-product of the manufacture of refrigerants.

But while this should in theory be one of the cheapest methods of cutting emissions – at an estimated $1 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent destroyed, according to Point Carbon, a carbon consultancy – the international community ends up paying much more, with high profits accruing to factory owners and intermediaries such as carbon traders.

Yvo de Boer, the UN’s top climate change official, said Copenhagen must produce “mechanisms . . . that will allow for prompt action on emissions, to deploy new technologies, and to build capacity in developing countries”. Some form of carbon trading would remain a key mechanism, he said.

Too bad they left out the lowest of low hanging fruit: walking-, biking-, transit-friendly land use patterns.

Sermon on the Baltic

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

Amen.

Victory for Black Earth Creek!

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Black Earth Creek, an example of a restored trout stream par excellence, has been spared a massive assault. Western Dane County will stay a little more rural for a bit longer. Bicyclists, nature lovers, fisherman — indeed anyone who breathes — should be thankful to a hard working group of people who made this happen.

Stefi Harris and the Western Dane County Coalition for Smart Growth and Environment are to be commended for a fight well fought…and won!

Capital Area Regional Planning Commission members: Thank you. Thank you for your good judgment, and backbone.

Way to go gang!

Here’s the word from the Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources (apologies for losing the letter’s original formatting):

101 S. Webster St.

Box 7921

Madison, Wisconsin 53707-7921

Telephone 608-266-2621

FAX 608-267-3579

TTY Access via relay – 711

Jim Doyle, Governor

Matthew J. Frank, Secretary

November 23, 2009

Carl A. Sinderbrand

Axley Brynelson, LLP

P.O. Box 1767

Madison, WI 53703

Subject: Village of Mazomanie Request Regarding Amendment to Dane County Water Quality Plan

Dear Mr. Sinderbrand:

Your letter to Thomas Gilbert, Bureau of Watershed Management, dated August 21, 2009, has been referred to me. That letter, submitted on behalf of the Village of Mazomanie (Village), requests the Department of Natural Resources (Department) to review the June 11, 2009, decision of the Capital Area Regional Planning Commission (CARPC) to not approve an amendment to the Dane County areawide water quality management plan (plan). The Department declines to reconsider that decision.

There is no statutory or administrative rule procedure that directs the Department to review regional planning agency decisions to deny amendments to areawide water quality management plans. Section NR 121.07, Wis. Admin. Code, establishes the procedures for approval of plans and plan amendments for designated areas of the state (such as Dane County). Section NR 121.07(1) (a), Wis. Admin. Code, provides that the Department shall review and approve or disapprove each plan for designated areas. Section NR 121.07(3), Wis. Admin. Code, provides that the Department may approve a planning agency’s amendments to a plan for a designated area. There is no provision in s. NR 121.07, however, that directs the Department to review and approve or disapprove a planning agency’s decision to deny a proposed amendment to a plan for a designated area.

In addition to this lack of procedural direction, there is a significant practical reason for the Department not to reconsider denials of amendments in designated areas. Dane County is a designated area for areawide water quality management planning, under s. NR 121.06, Wis. Admin. Code. The Department contracts with CARPC to conduct water quality management planning work in Dane County. In my March 18, 2009 letter to Jeffrey Miller, chair of CARPC, I made it clear that,

“We strongly believe that CARPC plays a necessary and critical role in shaping the future of Dane County. We are relying on CARPC to provide land use and water quality resource information and analysis, and a strong direction for local planning efforts.”

Further, I went on to state that,

“In reconsidering the Mazomanie amendment request, the Commission should focus on water quality impacts as the primary basis for a decision, and should consider the guidance and direction in this letter.”

CARPC has taken the focus suggested in our letter and the Department defers to their judgement in this case. As stated, the Department has procedures to review plans and approved amendments to plans and does review those decisions by planning agencies for designated areas. By approving or disapproving plans and plan amendments previously approved by regional planning agencies, and by re-evaluating the approval status of plans at least every 5 years, the Department fulfills its responsibility to protect, maintain and improve the quality and management of the waters of the state in designated areas. Since denials of amendments to plans in designated areas do nothing to change plans previously approved by the Department, they would result in no change to water quality, such that the Department has little or no reason to reconsider them. In fact, to do so would take resources away from other priority work of the Department at a time when those resources are in very short supply.

The Department has not historically been involved in reviewing denials of amendments to plans, unless the planning agency has failed to provide a water quality basis for the denial. If CARPC or another regional planning agency denies an amendment without stating a clear water quality basis for its denial, the Department has requested that the regional planning agency reconsider its decision. The Department did so in this case, by letter to CARPC, dated March 18, 2009. Specifically, I noted,

“Pursuant to state statutes and administrative codes (chapter NR 121), decisions regarding amendments must be based on water quality impacts and the cost-effectiveness of sewerage systems.”

However, once the regional planning agency states a water quality basis for not approving an amendment to a plan (as CARPC has done in this case), as long as the decision is consistent with the approved plan and was done in accordance with approved planning procedures, including a sufficient public participation process, the Department will not reconsider that decision, for the reasons stated in this letter.

The Department encourages the Village to work with CARPC to address the water quality concerns raised by CARPC when it decided not to accept the proposed amendment to the plan.

Sincerely,

Todd Ambs, Administrator

Division of Water

cc:

Jeffrey Miller, Chair, CARPC

Kamran Mesbah, Deputy Director, CARPC

Scott Stokes, President; Village of Mazomanie

Sue Dietzen, Clerk; Village of Mazomanie

Ron Adler, Chair; Town of Mazomanie

Maria Van Cleve, Clerk; Town of Mazomanie

John St. Peter, Edgarton, St. Peter, Petak & Rosenfeldt

Timothy Fenner, Axley Brynelson

Andy Morton – WDNR – SCR

Tom Gilbert – WDNR – WT/3

Robin Nyffeler- LS/8

Judy Ohm-LS/8

Update: Robbie Webber informs me that there is another group which needs to be thanked for their hard work:

Just an FYI that there is another group working very hard on the CARPC
issues, and they worked extra hard on the Mazo decision, in
cooperation with Arnold and Steffi Harris.

Capital Region Advocacy Network for Environmental Sustainability
(CRANES) has been meeting twice a month for over a year – more or less
since the new RPC was formed – to build a network/alliance of
environmental groups and individuals that are willing to speak up to
preserve the environment in Dane County (and beyond, but we are
working on Dane County first.) Many of the names will be familiar to
you.

Here’s a blog from Brenda back in March about our efforts to fight the
Mazo plan. It includes a letter that was sent out by the group urging
people to show up at the original CARPC hearing.
http://brendakonkel.blogspot.com/2009/05/will-regional-planning-be-emasculated.html

Indeed! Many thanks for all that great work!

Willy Street Grocery Coop: Values, Sustainability, Community…Questions

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Being a Willy Street Grocery Coop member/owner/shopper, I receive the monthly newsletter which I dutifully peruse. It’s good to try to keep up to date, but to be honest, most of the time the content is pretty bland.

October’s newsletter was diffferent. I was, as the kids say, totally blown away by the board report written by outgoing board member, Fae Dremock. It was the most insightful and thoughtful analysis I’ve ever seen regarding the state of the coop, its direction, its potential and its role in the community.

The whole piece was infused with a strong moral imperative and really hammered on the importance of maintaining coop values through & through. But the part that really struck a chord with me was on the topic of environmental sustainability:

Any new site can offer green alternatives, but rehabbing can offer design that fits into the existing neighborhood in ways that reflect the history of the neighborhood. As we examine traffic and parking lot issues at both stores, we also need to ensure that any traffic study we commission looks at all forms of motor and non-motor traffic equally. Pedestrians, bikes, wheelchairs, unleashed children, and aging Owners must be considered part of traffic, or else we move toward cars-trump-design values.

Amen, sister.

The scuttlebutt is that this most recent board election was orchestrated to either a) throw off or b) fend off people with these wacky ideas. Why? Because coop management continues to push for yet another car access point; this time onto peaceful, easy Jenny St. — the current, preferred, and only safe route for pedestrians and bikes. Fae and other candidates stood in the way of this eventuality.

The problem with the Jenny St. egress: we’ve already seen how the bad behavior by motorists has terrified away peds & bikes from entering on the Williamson St entrance. The same would happen with a Jenny St egress. And a pliant coop board could ease this into reality.

The problem is, they are likely to shoot themselves in the foot, several times over….

The most cogent, technically precise, and analytical argument against the egress was submitted to Coop management by Chuck Strawser back in June of this year. Chuck is a planner by profession, with a specialty in transportation planning. The following is reprinted with permission from the author.

Hello Lynn,

I’ve heard that the co-op is planning to add a right-turn-only egress for cars between the parking lot and Jenifer St.

I am adamantly opposed to motor vehicle ingress or egress between Jenifer St and the parking lot, and I know many other members and many more neighbors are as well, having been part of the discussions about this proposal both before the Co-op moved to it’s current site and later when the connection for bikes was discussed.

One of the many reasons why many members choose to go by bike (or on foot) to the co-op is that they can avoid the congestion caused by cars trying to get in and out of the lot.

And a reason why so many of those who arrive at the Co-op by bike or on foot choose to approach the Co-op from Jenifer St is because it is so much safer for vulnerable road users to be able to approach the co-op without confronting cars being driven in and out of the co-op. This is an especially important consideration for those who come with children, who often want to play by the cob wall and rain garden in the back of the lot.

If the Co-op chooses to accommodate those who not only insist on driving to the co-op (for whatever reason, many of them valid), but are also unhappy about the difficulty of ingress/egress that is, IN PART CAUSED BY THEIR OWN DECISION TO DRIVE,  then it should be acknowledged that the conflicts and potential danger at the back of the lot will discourage many of those members who are not currently adding to the car congestion to start driving themselves (and often their children).

It is very likely that this accommodation for motorists is NOT GOING TO ALLEVIATE CONGESTION BECAUSE IT WILL RESULT IN EVEN MORE MOTOR VEHICLE TRAFFIC ARRIVING AT, AND TRYING TO LEAVE, the Co-op. What we will all end up with is the same amount of congestion that we have now, only we will have more car traffic, and fewer bicyclists and pedestrians. In other words, THE PROPOSED SOLUTION IS NOT GOING TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM. And all of this so that people in cars who want to head west don’t have to turn right on Williamson Street, and then right on Baldwin and right on Jenifer St (or left on Baldwin and left on E Wilson St.)?

HERE ARE SOME ALTERNATIVE WAYS TO SOLVE SOME (though admittedly not all) of the complaints of drivers in and around the Co-op parking lot:

1) ask member leaving the co-op in their cars to turn right on Williamson and go around the block (either block) if they want to head west.

2) ask the City to prohibit parking in front of Blue Bird services at all times, so that there is room for westbound traffic to go around a car driver waiting in the lefthand westbound lane of Williamson St to turn left into the Co-op. (of course that strategy is not going to be viewed especially favorably by the landowner or tenant of that building, but the Co-op could choose to allow patrons of that business to use the co-op parking lot to mitgate the loss of one space on the street in front of their store).

3) in the long term, reconfigure the parking lot with the curb cut on Williamson Street in another location. Perhaps relocating it as far west as possible could improve the situation, as the no parking zone in front of the fire station would insure that sight lines in that direction are never obstructed (this might also result in the same improvement as in 2 above without eliminating any parking on the street because there is already a no parking zone across Williamson Street from the fire station). Moving the ingress/egress on Williamson St would also mitigate much of the current conflicts between cars and pedestrians in the front of the store, as well as the defacto three way intersection in front of the store created when cars coming from the east and west sides of the parking lot try to exit simultaneously or incoming cars head to the east side of the parking lot simultaneously with cars coming from the west side of the parking lot trying to exit.

I am aware that the Co-op has paid a planning consultant to undertake a study of the current situation, and the consultant may have different opinions about the relative effectiveness of some of the strategies above. Having aced “Traffic Impact Analysis and Site Planning through UW’s School of Engineering as part of my graduate degree in Urban and Regional Planning, I can say with some authority that  current practice in traffic planning is woefully inadequate when it comes to assessing probable outcomes in walkable urban places like the Isthmus (after all, half of all the travel to work in the central part of Madison is undertaken by some mode OTHER THAN driving alone in one’s car). It was made very clear to me in that class that everything about the methods used to predict traffic, from the data used to estimate trip generation rates based on conventional development in which commercial and residential land uses are completely segregated, to the traffic flow models themselves that treat pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders as an afterthought (if they are accounted for at all), is fundamentally flawed.

There are other considerations, such as:

1)the fact that an egress big enough for motor vehicles will add to the impervious surface/decrease the effectives of the swale off the parking lot, or

2)the fact accommodating one group who choose an environmentally damaging and unsustainable form of transport to the clear detriment to other groups whose mode chose is environmentally benign and sustainable (which is in opposition to part of the Co-op’s purpose – namely, 2.2(6)educating the public about the politics of food, which necessarily must include the fact that trucking food from factory farms long distances over public roads that mostly only accommodate motor vehicles, and are themselves heavily subsidized; and 2.2(10)participation in the movement for fundamental progressive social change -what can be more fundamental socially than subsidizing a national transport system that kills 40-50,000 people and maims ~500,000 people annually whilst requiring a nearly 50% public subsidy), or

3)the fact that the Co-op DID agree, as part of the discussions with the neighborhood over the Co-op’s conditional use of the land, not to put an ingress/egress on Jenifer St, at least with those who participated in the discussion, but

4) THE MOST COMPELLING ARGUMENT AGAINST THE PROPOSED EGRESS ONTO JENIFER ST IS THAT IT WON’T ACCOMPLISH ITS PURPOSE, for all the reasons stated above.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

chuck strawser

member (and neighborhood resident) since 1997

I last communicated with WSGC management about this issue in +/- August of 2009. At that point in time, management claimed that no decision had been made about whether the coop would pursue the 2nd entrance onto Jenifer St. There was much defensiveness, however.

Members might want to consider contacting management to encourage them to value their walking and biking members and employees at least as much as they do their driving members & employees.

Sustainable Sheep Herding

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

The city has held a series of “Sustainable Madison Community Forums.” I went to the first one on Thursday, October 22, 2009.

It wasn’t promising.

The foremost problem: we got talked at. The entire meeting was structured to shut up and shut out thoughtful community input. And in the Atwood neighborhood, where you’ve got the highest concentration of environmental activists & practitioners in the country (enviro organization EDs, the Geo/Enviro Professoriate, sustainable design professionals, enviro rabble rousers of every stripe, etc.), shutting up & shutting out is just bad public policy. The city has a lot to learn from these folks. To shut them up is just unacceptable.

Madison’s environmental brain trust turned out in droves to this meeting. We had the leading lights of Sustainable Architecture, Alt-trans, Hydrogeology, Renewable energy, etc., et cetera, et cetera. Unfortunately, not only was the forum designed to minimize citizen input, when people tried to break through the input-stifling format, the Chair of the Sustainable Design and Energy Committee actually shouted them down. Sherrie Gruder is a problem. More on that in a moment.

At least 2/3 of the meeting time was scheduled for dog & pony shows.  City staff & the UW Planning Dept’s Doogie Howsers laid out state of the art sustainability, ca. 1979. That is to say, the “presentations” consisted of nibbling-around-the-edges sustainability initiatives undertaken by the city to date. It was a laundry list of 1970s-era ideas such as solar panels & LEED design criteria. (There was no mention of what level of LEED was attained; my guess is that they are all at the Silver Level, something that you can attain by just following the state building code plus a green gew-gaw here & there. In other words, nothing to brag about here.)

The URPL students regurgitated their planning 101 textbooks. Again, nothing new for the brains getting talked at.

The people doing the talking at were in their little boxes and had little in the way of imaginative, low/no-cost green measures that could get right to the heart of sustainability. And the heart of the sustainability issue is energy. 80% of sustainability is energy. There simply is no getting around it. Energy use is entropy.* That is to say, our energy gluttony is the root cause of the vast majority of our environmental destruction, lack of sustainability.

And the sustainability issue at the heart of the matter: Paving for the Deathmobile.

Practically every aspect of sustainability comes back to this.

Water quality? Guess what caps off aquifer recharge more than any other impervious surface? Paving for the deathmobile.

Guess what the #1 use of land in Madison is? Paving for the deathmobile.

Guess what the #1 use of paving is? Moving & storing deathmobiles (roads, storage, a.k.a. parking).

Urban heat island effect’s #1 contributor? Paving for the deathmobile. (See the above #1 use of land.)

Energy use city wide? #1 consumer of energy is transportation. The #1 consumer of transportation energy? The deathmobile.

Guess what the # 1 mode of transportation in Madison is? The most inefficient form of transportation ever devised: the deathmobile.

CO2 emissions? #1 source in Madison: deathmobile.

Madison risks becoming an EPA designated dirty air zone (‘non-attainment’ as they say in bureau-speak). Where are these smog forming compounds coming from? #1 source: deathmobile. (Yes, including that deathmobile that you ‘never’ drive. How so? Fuel evaporating from fuel injectors & the fuel line creates volatile organic compounds (precursors to smog); this process is responsible for upwards of 20% of smog forming compounds.)

Budget constraints preventing implementation of green ideas? Guess what the #1 single item on the city budget is? Supporting the deathmobile. From road paving, repair, maintenance, street sweeping & snow plowing to police & fire & ambulance services dedicated to cleaning up after car crashes, there is no other single item in the city budget that costs more than, yup, the deathmobile. Furthermore, every budget during the green mayor’s tenure has included double digit increases in paving budgets.

Why not boost alternatives to the deathmobile? Well, the most obvious transportation alternative is transit. Rail transit is 8X more efficient than the deathmobile. Bus service is 4X more efficient. When you factor in the land use efficiencies of transit-oriented-development (i.e., density, mixed-use, all scaled to walking & biking), the efficiencies become incalculably large. Priceless as it were. But this mayor has repeatedly slashed bus service and jacked fares to the point that he is leaving people — literally — at the bus stop. His pro-sprawl policies undermine any hope for a transit/walking/biking future.

The budget squeeze brought on by the deathmobile. The 2009 budget included a whopping 60% increase in paving. Mayor Pave calls paving his “capital” budget, and claims that it is distinct from the operating budget (from which transit draws the funds it needs to run). But every year, as the mayor piles on debt to build bigger highways, the service on that “capital” debt becomes more & more burdensome on the operating budget. Yes, debt service on capital expenditures is put onto the operating budget. So yes, he commingles capital and operating funds. The effect: When the mayor was elected, debt service was in the single digits as a percentage of the operating budget; by 2009, that had risen to 11%. The recently passed 2010 budget is 12%. The comptroller predicts that by 2013 it will be 17%. That means a squeezed operating budget for decades. That means more cuts & fare jackings to the bus system forevermore.

Paving. Deathmobility. The Siamese twin elephants in the room the Sustainable Design and Energy Committee fails to look at.

Instead, all we get is braggadocio for all that nibbling around the edges.

Those nibbled edges.

Every ounce of carbon prevented by each solar panel ever installed by the mayor has been cancelled out by orders of magnitude thanks to his decision to jack up bus fares to pay for his paving debt service. Why? Because, in his years of jacking fares and cutting bus service he has decimated bus ridership. That ridership often shifts to cars.

Furthermore, it is likely that every watt generated by his groovey-green gizmo solar panels has been canceled out by the increase demands for air conditioning thanks to the increased ‘heat island’ effect of the paved area of Madison he has increased. And whatever emissions reductions are achieved by those groovey-green hot water panels will have been canceled out by the increase in smog forming compounds emitted from parked cars on hot paved parking lots baking in the sun. (Yes, Virginia, some 20% of volatile organic compounds — i.e., smog forming compounds — come from parked cars.)

So until the city takes the paving/deathmobile complex seriously, there will be no sustainability.

Yet in all of the city’s discussion of sustainability, there is no mention of the paving/deathmobile complex as a root problem.

City’s spending on sustainability, is being overwhelmed by the negative effects of paving & other deathmobile promotion. Instead of spending more on complicated technical solutions toward sustainability, the city could be spending less while promoting sustainability to a much greater degree. Indeed SDEC, the mayor, our alders, are all missing the obvious, Occam’s Razor-esque approach: Obviate the need for yet more energy.

The Great Energy Obviation: A Kyoto Paving Protocol.

The idea: Set the city on a glide path down from automobility and upward toward cool place making. That is, immediately set the city on a paving limit which, on a per capita basis would amount to the same paving per capita as Madison had as of 1990, then subtract 10%. That should be the goal of the next budget or two. Then, set city policies to achieve the same numbers for driving: per capita ‘vehicle miles traveled” (VMT) as of 1990, minus 10%. For budgets 3-5 years out, subtract another 25%. Continue on that trajectory until we are on target to reduce carbon emissions to achieve an atmospheric CO2 composition of 350 ppm.

Some salient measures to achieve these goals:

  • Increase bus service, decrease fares.
  • Plan for the grid for all new developments. The only pattern of development which has been conclusively shown to actually increase walking and biking is grid-patterned development. Transit also needs the grid to be effective. The grid. Boring? If you let it be (take a trip to Manhattan or the fun ‘hoods of Chicago for examples of a non-boring grid development!). Effective at providing access for all, regardless of mode of transportation? Definitely.
  • TWLTLs. Convert all 4-lane city highways to two-way-left-turn roads (one lane each direction, center turn lane) with bike lanes.
  • Bus transit lanes. Convert one lane to dedicated bus lanes on all existing 6+ lane highways in the city.
  • The high cost of free parking. Expand smart parking meters to more parts of the city, and implement yield-managment algorithms to increase prices at peak times and reduce prices at off-peak times, and reduce, overall car usage.
  • Pro-neighborhood business districts. Return all neighborhood arterials (such as Williamson St., Gorham, Johnson, Monroe St. etc.) to neighborhood business use at all times (i.e., end the rush hour parking restrictions).
  • Bicycle Boulevards. Begin designing key streets for reduced through-automobile traffic, and optimize for convenient and enjoyable bicycle traffic.
  • Emphasize Placemaking. Use the savings from reduced paving to create places people want to be a part of. Why placemaking instead of paving for speed? If we begin to create places people don’t want to run away from, then there will be less inducement to run away. As fast as possible. Preferably sealed up in a speeding steel & glass cage. Because right now, we are creating urban spaces so ugly, so scary, that all anyone can think to do is get away. Instead, make places that are cool, fun, interesting, beautiful and people will be more likely to relax where they are, rather than constantly running away from one ugly place to another.
  • Rein in the Engineers. The first step in the placemaking process would be to put competent, committed (to creating cool places) design professionals (place planners, architects, landscape architects, etc.) in charge of the engineers. Portland, OR never got anywhere in terms of sustainable transportation until they did this. For too long this city has been dominated by engineers lording over design professionals. That must be reversed. Places must be for people first. The machinery (cars) so fetishized by engineers must be made subservient to this prime directive: People first.

The Problem with Sustainability in the Public Process.

Prior rounds of input have been largely ignored by SDEC as well as city government at large. In 2003-4 there was a similar sustainability public process. Input from the general public was openly disdained by the chair of SDEC  (again, Sherrie Gruder).

Then, when the city opened the public process for the City Comprehensive Plan (2005?), staff’s boilerplate language predominated, and public input was largely shunted aside. This was a major opportunity to codify sustainability into every aspect of city policy — from transportation to planning to water & sewer policy. Many of us submitted detailed comment that, if implemented would have set us on a sustainability path.

This round of ‘public participation’ is looking to be similarly pro-forma. Indeed, it was so clear that the chair of the SDEC, Sherrie Gruder was so adamant about excluding public input, that I decided early on to submit my comment online, as suggested by the coversheet handed out at the October 22 forum. Here is what it said:

“To partake in providing input if you can’t attend in person and to learn more about Sustainability[sic], go to www.cityofmadison/sustainability/community “

I did. There is no medium for providing input. None. Once again, public input faces a dead end.

At some point, city leadership should mature into “idea input machines.” Even criticism should be seriously considered. If, under scrutiny of a rigorous energy/sustainability cost-benefit analysis, it proves beneficial, then it should be assimilated into policy. Neither the personality of the messenger, nor the personality of the receiver of the message nor the style of delivery of the message should have any bearing on the validity of any idea in the final analysis.

To understand how successful this new attitude toward governing could be, consider this quote from Bill Gates: “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Plug that quote into Google and you’ll find a million & one management gurus riffing off of it. The City of Madison in its quest to become more “customer friendly” might take a hint here.

*Entropy, for those who forgot their 7th grade earth science, is destruction of matter. E = MC2. The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. Or, as the Talking Heads put it, “Things fall apart, it’s scientific.”

Note: I have more sustainability ideas that I will post on this blog as time permits.

Mayor Pave on the March: Massive Paving Budget Passes

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

They passed it. On a voice vote (for all intents & purposes, unanimously).

Mayor Pave is on the march.

And the zombies on the council are following.

Meanwhile, Dean Mosiman, ‘dean’ of the local Dying Mainstream Media completely missed the record borrowing for paving in the budget he ‘covered.’ He could only focus on Ald. Jed Sanborn’s tantrums against projects that actually improve our quality of life. (What is it about fiscal conservatives and their hatred of fun?)

The fact that not one “progressive” member of the council stood up to the massive paving spree is continuing proof that there are no friends of the enivronment, our health, or fiscal prudence at the political level in Madison, Wisconsin. Indeed, I’d agree with Mikhail Gorbachev’s recent assessment that

There is the wall between those who cause climate change and those who suffer the consequences. There is the wall between those who heed the scientific evidence and those who pander to vested interests. And there is the wall between the citizens who are changing their own behavior and want strong global action, and the leaders who are so far letting them down.

By passing this pro-car budget, our local leaders ignored the scientific evidence regarding car emissions and global climate catastrophe; instead they pandered to the shrinking-but-still-powerful motoring interests. They ignored the fact that their own constituents are indeed “changing their own behavior” and consciously driving less than they have in a generation. (Yes, driving has been down year-over-year for three years in a row in Madison, Wisconsin. The only mode of transportation to increase? Bicycling.) They are ignoring the local calls to action (and here, and here, and here, etc., et cetera, Et Cetera).

Our local leaders have, as Gorby said, let us down. Gorby was a brave leader who had the guts to open up his Stalinist system to the light of day and let it wither and die a relatively peaceful death. Our leaders, unfortunately, cling to a failed ideology; an ideology of car-worship that rivals Stalinism in its brutal results. The evidence is all around us: the carnage on our streets; the destruction of our climate; the cascading fiscal catastrophes emanating from the automobile industry out to the cul-de-sacs; and then the obvious — our recent oil-wars in Iraq & Afghanistan (and those are just appetizers for more oil wars to come).

Mayor Pave, Tear Down That Wall of Paving!

Mayor’s Budget Puts Madison on War Footing

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Last night the mayor made a perfunctory resolution honoring veterans in commemoration of Veterans Day (Kristin Czubkowski live blogged it here; see 5:45 PM). It was sponsored by him and him alone.

How magnanimous.

As a veteran, here’s something I’d like to see him and his pliant council read as they wield their rubber stamps for a budget bloated with paving, automobile promotion, energy gluttony and thus more war forevermore.

Instead of doing something about the repercussions of our automobile addiction (i.e., war), the “green” mayor has budgeted for:

  • Doubling overall spending on paving since taking office ($33M in 2003 -> $68M in 2009).
  • Doubling the overall paving debt of the city (from an already bloated $47M in 2003 to $96M in the 2010 budget).
  • Trebling the annual increase in the paving contribution to the city’s debt ($11.5M in 2003 -> $35.3M in 2010).
  • Bloating debt service by 33% as a percentage of the operating budget (from 9% of the city budget to 12%).
  • An explosion of debt service to a whopping 17% of the operating budget by 2013.

Where does this fit into the big picture of the city budget? Well, guess what the single largest item in the capital budget is? Paving. The fastest growing component (ongoing) of the capital budget? Paving.

And the mayor’s passion for paving isn’t just a fiscal disaster. The capital budget is one of the major determinants of the look and feel of our city for generations to come. The budgets put together by this mayor have been highway heavy in the extreme. So he is creating places that promote automobilism to the exclusion of sustainable ways of getting around. His highwayscapes endanger pedestrians, terrify bicyclists and make transit untenable. Every tool we have to help pull us out of the climate/energy/fiscal tailspin is nixed by his highwayscapes.

Moreover, the ever tightening squeeze on the operations budget will mean budget difficulties for our quality of life, social & basic services. Saliently, Madison Metro bus service, considered an “operating” expense, will forevermore be in a vise between anti-transit/highwayscaped land use patterns (which cost more to serve) and an eternally squeezed operating budget (that is, a squeeze induced by debt service on those selfsame highways.)

Indeed, at this year’s “Neighborhood Roundtable” the mayor declared his intention of completely cutting all city funds to Madison Metro.

Yet he brags that this is a “reasonable budget for hard times.”

I call it a warmongering budget, Mayor Pave.

The Most Disappointing Alder in Madison’s History

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

This is so disappointing. This stalwart of Progressive Dane, the member who was always pushing the party to be more progressive, more environmentally friendly, more alt-transportation friendly, now in elected office (under the power of progressivism) has slouched right back into mediocrity; stuck in the muddy middle right along with Mayor Pave and the rest of his pliant, car-crazed council.

Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway is probably, technically (SATs, ACTs, GREs, etc.) the smartest person on the council– possibly the smartest in its history. In her day job she burnishes her progressive credentials with extensive research on–as they say in smart people-speak — ‘high road’ public policy strategies. Now that she is in a position to actually make it happen, she cowers before the auto-obsessed rightists in her district. Sure constituents are important when one is an elected official, but the particular constituents she cowers before have never — and never will — vote for her anyway.

But cowering before bellowing blowhards seems to be all the rage among good liberals. Indeed, the trickle down theory seems to be at work here, as The Current Occupant (of the Oval Office) is cowering before the generals, insurance executives and coal barons even as we speak…..

Looks like I’ll be adding Ald. Rhodes-Conway to my ever-lengthening list of zombie politicians.

Job Opening @ 1000 Friends of Wisconsin

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

It looks like my buddy Barb Irvin is moving on to the Wisconsin Natural History & Geological Survey, (congrats, Barb!) which means that there is a big opening coming up at 1000 Friends of Wisconsin.

Here’s what she has to say about the position:

Hi –

I have accepted a position as the Administrative Manager at the Wisconsin Geologic and Natural History Survey. I’m sad to leave 1000 Friends but am excited by the new opportunity (though I do wish they had a shorter name!).

So, 1000 Friends is in need of a part-time office administrator. It’s a great place to work – I can’t believe that I’ve been there almost 6 years. The posting is attached. Please distribute widely – I want to leave Steve and Deb in capable hands.

Thanks,

Barb Irvin

Finance Director

1000 Friends of Wisconsin

16 N Carroll St, Ste 810

Madison, WI 53703

608.259.1000 x101

<http://www.1kfriends.org/>www.1kfriends.org

************************

Job Opening: Office Manager

1000 Friends of Wisconsin, a statewide non-profit organization based in Madison, Wisconsin, is seeking a part-time Office Manager. 1000 Friends advocates and promotes good land use policy making the connection between land use and transportation decisions and our state’s economic and environmental health. We have a small, energetic staff, supportive board, and dedicated membership. Founded in 1996, 1000 Friends is the only statewide organization focused exclusively on Smart Growth comprehensive planning and implementation.

For further information on 1000 Friends, check our website: www.1kfriends.org.

Salaried position at 20 hours/week in a flexible, fun and fast-paced office environment.

Duties:

  • Manage overall day-to-day operations of the office.
  • Manage organizational bookkeeping using QuickBooks software; process invoices; manage accounts payable; make deposits; maintain system for cost allocation; generate financial reports for board meetings, funding applications, and funding reports; monitor cash flow; and oversee annual audit of organization finances.
  • Handle check and credit card processing.
  • Coordinate payroll and employee benefits program, including retirement plan and flexible spending accounts.
  • Maintain member database; produce renewal requests; analyze membership trends.
  • Assist the Development Director.
  • Provide clerical and administrative support to Executive Director and for other staff as appropriate.
  • Order/maintain office supplies, equipment and computer systems. Contact vendors for repairs and maintenance.
  • Assist with event and program planning.
  • Respond to routine phone calls and route other calls as appropriate.
  • Edit newsletter articles, correspondence and reports.

Qualifications · Experience with management of a small office preferred · Grant management (financial) · Experience with Microsoft Office applications, especially Excel, required · Experience with bookkeeping (especially with QuickBooks) required · IT skills and database experience · Excellent oral and written communication skills · Ability to interact effectively with volunteers, members, staff and the general public  · Ability to work independently on multiple projects · Commitment to mission of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin.

Submit a cover letter (no more than two pages) detailing qualifications with salary requirements and a resume to:  friends@1kfriends.org or mail to:

Deb Nemeth

1000 Friends of Wisconsin

16 North Carroll St., Suite 810

Madison WI 53703

Application deadline: October 28, 2009.