Archive for December, 2009

A sustainable region; a visionary Regional Transportation Plan

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

A personal message from Metro Councilor Rex Burkholder

Last week, the Portland metropolitan region’s transportation leaders put their stamp of approval on a transportation and livability blueprint for this region – a proposed list of projects and innovative policies collectively known as the Regional Transportation Plan. And today the Metro Council – in its federally recognized role as this region’s transportation planning agency – also gave its approval to this plan.

Adoption of the RTP marks a major milestone in Metro’s Making the Greatest Place effort. We now have a bricks-and-mortar plan shaped by values created by the people – not traffic models – that will  create a sustainable region through smart investments.

There will be many challenges ahead associated with increasing population, rising petroleum prices, shortages of public funds and, in particular, reducing carbon emissions.

This plan sets us on the right path toward a sustainable future through projects and policies that help us use land inside the urban growth boundary more efficiently, which prevents sprawl, protects farm and forest lands, attracts jobs and housing to urban centers, encourages more transit use, and creates places where people can choose to walk and bike for pleasure or to meet everyday needs.

This  RTP reduceson a per capita basis – carbon emissions from where we are now.

It also helps a rapidly growing population sustainably thrive. The smart investments and policies in this plan will create vibrant, bustling urban centers where we want them, and keep farm and forestland protected from undesirable and expensive sprawl.  Its policies on freight mobility support our economic competitiveness.  It also commits more resources to safety, high-capacity transit, and pedestrian-oriented projects than ever before. It prioritizes $1 billion in bicycle investment opportunities alone.

However, aggressive targets for reducing GHG emissions – in Oregon’s case, a 75 percent reduction below 1990 levels by 2050 – puts tall demands on even the greenest of future plans to be even greener. Even with technological advances in cleaner fuels and engine efficiency, we will constantly need to improve our plans and practices.

I believe we can get there. This RTP not only continues our strong legacy of sustainability, it also improves our strategic position.

To begin with, we can all be encouraged that the Portland region already leads the United States in reducing transportation emissions. Our vehicle miles traveled per capita have been declining, transit and bike use are increasing, and we enjoy shorter trips due to our compact urban form. So we’re already on the right path. Because of Metro’s smart land use and transportation policies the average resident drives 17 percent less here than our counterparts around the country. That’s big savings in money, too, estimated at over $1 billion a year!

Furthermore, this RTP puts us ahead of the national curve by putting carbon emission reduction explicitly and directly into our planning so we can address any state or federal requirements without delay.

Just a few weeks ago after discussions with other regional leaders we adopted a “RTP Climate Action Plan,” which outlines additional steps to be completed by January 2012:

  • Consistency across the board – Make sure that all local plans are consistent with the regional ones, namely in how they reduce GHG emissions;
  • More multi-modal transportation – Metro will use flexible federal funding to bring more car-free choices, enhancing residents’ daily experiences and improving air quality;
  • Activity areas – We’ll be prioritizing plans to more fully develop centers and corridors, a key to lively urban landscapes and job creation, which also minimizes GHG emissions and saves money;
  • Improved cities, protected farms – In December 2010, Metro will adopt rules committing everyone to specific land use actions that keep housing, jobs and amenities closer together in order to minimize trips and GHG emissions.

Despite all this trend-setting work and positive results, we will need to do more. I welcome efforts to push even harder to reduce carbon emissions.

Fortunately, with a plan in place that improves upon our solid foundation of sustainability, we’ll be able to meet immediate needs and make real-time adjustments, whether with new ideas, technologies or economic trends, to bridge the gap toward increasingly climate friendly practices. And that, ultimately, will help us turn our current and planned per capita decline in carbon emissions into drastic overall reductions in order to meet our aggressive goals.

I am very proud that the Metro Council has adopted this plan and I look forward to working with my Metro Council colleagues in the years and months ahead to keep this region at the forefront of sustainability.

Learn more about the Regional Transportation Plan

Giving livability goals a going-over

Friday, December 18th, 2009

By Abby Haight, The Oregonian

December 17, 2009, 6:15PM

live.jpgView full sizeRon Carley and Jill Fuglister of the Coalition for a Livable Future, which comprises about 50 nonprofit organizations working for sustainable communities. Recently, the coalition derided the I-5 Columbia River Crossing project as well as a $20 billion plan by Metro to restore and expand the region’s roadways, among other things.
Ron Carley once had a conversation with a group of Portlanders living in a low-income neighborhood. Carley talked about sustainability, about consuming less, driving less and conserving energy.

The Portlanders taught him a lesson.

“When they heard that — ‘sustainability’ — it almost brought a bitter laugh,” Carley recalls. “They said, ‘My life is not sustainable. I’m looking to change my lifestyle. Tell me how to do that.'”

Carley co-directs the Coalition for a Livable Future with Jill Fuglister, and they use ‘livability’ to describe their campaigns to make the Portland metro area a greener and more inclusive community. Affordable housing, access to parks and greenspaces and political participation are among the criteria that make the region not just sustainable, but livable, they say.

It’s not easy. Or even well-understood.

With about 50 non-profit groups as members – wide-ranging in their first purposes – the coalition is one of the few organizations in the country that combines ecological, social and economic goals.

Coalition members meet regularly to discuss and set their policy strategies. And they don’t always agree. But in finding common ground on core issues such as public transit and housing, they make it possible for Carley and Fuglister to argue their case to pertinent public agencies.

Carley brings a background in environmental work. He became a member of the coalition’s board in 1994 and joined its staff as a fulltime co-director in 2007. Before that, he oversaw stormwater management grants for the City of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services and spent 12 years as the urban conservationist at the Audubon Society of Portland.

A broad membership is coalition’s strength

Some Coalition for a Livable Future members are:

– American Institute of Architects, Portland chapter
– Audubon Society of Portland
– Bicycle Transportation Alliance
– The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission
– Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon
– League of Women Voters of the Columbia River Region
– Multnomah County Community Action Commission
– Oregon Environmental Council
– 1,000 Friends of Oregon
– Sisters of the Road Cafe
– The Urban League of Portland
– The Wetlands Conservancy

Abby Haight

Fuglister has worked for the coalition since 1999 after a career in environmental and social justice non-profits. She has overseen the coalition’s programs, managed collaborative projects and directed fundraising.

Recently, the coalition publicly opposed two of the region’s biggest projects: Metro’s plan to spend $20 billion on 1,000 projects over the next 25 years, many of them expanding roads; and the Columbia River Crossing project, which would spend $4 billion to construct a new I-5 bridge over the Columbia River, helping to ease a well-known bottleneck on the West’s main north-south highway.

These projects may seem big and gray and wonkish, but the coalition feels they are the stuff of quality of life: More roads or not, wider bridges or not, more traffic and suburban sprawl — or not.

We sat down with Carley and Fuglister to talk about transportation as a foundation of livability and why the coalition is fighting projects that many regional leaders say are necessary to alleviate congestion and deal with rising population.

Why is transportation a concern?

RC: So much of the money used to develop our communities is spent on transportation. On a really fundamental level, where you live, how you get to your job, how you recreate, it’s linked to transportation. Whether you’re on your bike or walking to get groceries. How far you are from things and how you make that journey affects your health, affects your well-being, affects your time with your family and affects the safety of your community.

JF: But we’re further along with environmental restoration than we are on community restoration.

Metro is developing its 2035 regional transportation plan to cope with population growth. How should Metro plan for transportation needs?

RC: Almost 40 percent of our global warming pollution comes from transportation. If we move ahead with Metro’s regional transportation plan, we actually do worse with greenhouse gas emissions than if we do nothing at all. And doing nothing at all is intolerable… . Three-quarters of the money is for roadway expansion. We want to increase transportation options for people and invest more in transit, bike lanes, sidewalks. We want to focus on neighborhoods that need sidewalks.

There’s just a massive amount of information that no one could possibly digest. This is a lot of money and it has a lot of impact on peoples’ lives. We have a bunch of sidewalk projects planned for outer Southeast Portland, but there’s no way to move them up on the list and remove other projects.

Why have you asked that officials start over with the Columbia River Crossing?

JF: If you add more lanes, you’re offering incentive for more driving, you’re increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Our big concern is that it’s a project out of the past. Yes, it has light rail and that’s good. It does have some bicycle and pedestrian improvements. But essentially it’s a big highway expansion project.

RC: We’re supportive of tolling as a method of managing congestion. Why not start tolling now on I-5 and I-205? As you phase in congestion pricing, maybe you take care of the problem — enough of an incentive to get people to drive at different times of the day. Why not give it a try?

JF: There’s talk of fixing the train bridge so that it would minimize bridge lifts, which is one of the main arguments for replacing the bridge. You have all these interchanges that are too close together, which causes cars to weave and cause collisions. There’s a huge expense in upgrading the interchanges. Instead, take out some of the interchanges. Taking out interchanges would remove some of the pressure.

Make light rail a priority and put more into pedestrian and bicycle facilities.

RC: We’ve said we’re not anti-replacement. We’re not pro-replacement. We don’t like what’s being suggested. We need to take a considered look at alternatives and that hasn’t been done yet.

Oregon biofuel refinery wins $25 million federal grant

Monday, December 7th, 2009

By Scott Learn, The Oregonian

December 04, 2009, 10:57AM

ZeaChem has won a $25 million federal grant to build an advanced biofuel plant in Boardman that converts poplar trees to motor vehicle fuel.

The U.S. Department of Energy grant, announced today, will help Colorado-based ZeaChem build a $73.4 million demonstration plant. The company says the “core technology” of the plant will come on line next year.

ZeaChem’s planned refinery was one of 19 nationwide to receive $564 million in grants from federal economic stimulus money. The grants will leverage private investment and non-federal subsidies of $700 million, the energy department said.

The federal government’s biofuel mandates call for 21 billion gallons a year of advanced fuels — those that cut greenhouse emissions by half or more compared to petroleum-based fuel — by 2022.

Woody “cellulosic” feedstocks — from trees to switch grass to forest slash — are not food crops, don’t require fertilizer and can grow on marginal lands. As feedstocks, they should be more stable in price than food crops such as corn and soybeans.

But the technology for breaking down cellulose is still developing, and critics question whether advanced biofuels will be able to compete on cost with conventional fuel.

ZeaChem plans a 250,000-gallon capacity demonstration plant in Boardman. The company will take fast-growing poplar trees from a nearby 17,000-acre tree farm owned by GreenWood Resources of Portland, then convert the material to ethanol using microbes found in termites.

Additional feedstocks, including agricultural residues, will also be evaluated in the pilot plant, the energy department said.

ZeaChem officials say the company’s fuel will have 12 times the energy content that went into producing it and needs far less land than ethanol made from corn. The company’s investors include Valero Energy, the largest oil refiner in the United States.

Scott Learn

White House greens the holidays with recycled ornaments, LED lights

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

The White House is celebrating Christmas this year with recycled ornaments, energy-saving LED tree lights  and natural materials, including dried hydrangeas that were previously used in floral arrangements.

The official White House Christmas Tree, a Douglas Fir, stands 18 1/2 feet high and nearly 13 feet wide, in the Blue Room.


By Alex Wong, Getty Images

“Reflect, Rejoice, Renew” is the theme for the Obama family’s first Christmas in the White House, First Lady Michelle Obama said Wednesday as she gave the media a holiday preview. She explained why:

For the Obama family, Christmas and the New Year has always been a time to reflect on our many blessings, to rejoice in the pleasure of spending time with our family and our friends, and to renew our commitment to one another and to the causes that we believe in.  And I wanted to continue that part of the tradition during our first holiday season here at the White House. 

For the 18-foot tree in the Blue Room, 800 ornaments from previous administration were taken out of storage and sent to 60 community groups nationwide to be decorated in tribute to favorite local landmarks. Among the landmarks honored: the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, the Kennedy Space Center and the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, the First Lady’s hometown.

The decorations also include a 400-pound gingerbread replica of the White House, covered in white chocolate, and a small replica of Bo, the Obama family’s Portuguese water dog.

In addition to the East Wing and residence staff, 92 volunteers from 24 states spent 3,400 hours decorating the White House, which expects 50,000 visitors for the holidays.

To keep the environmental theme, CNN reports that six of the trees on display at the entraces will be replanted after the holidays by the National Parks Service. 

‘Road Rage’ Case Highlights Cyclist Vs. Driver Tension

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

by Mandalit del Barco

December 2, 2009

Bicycling magazine called it “the road rage incident heard ’round the cycling world.”

A driver in Los Angeles was recently convicted of using his car as a weapon against two cyclists. And the case is focusing attention on the often uneasy relationship between motorists and bicyclists who have to share the road.

It happened last year on the Fourth of July, on a steep, narrow road in L.A.’s Mandeville Canyon. Cyclists Christian Stoehr and Ron Peterson were riding side by side when a doctor who lived in the neighborhood came up from behind in a sedan.

“There was an exchange of words,” Stoehr recalls. “He then accelerated within five feet in front of us, pulled over and slammed on the brakes.”

Stoehr says there was no time for them to stop. He was thrown over the car and landed across the road. But Peterson didn’t have time to swerve.

“And he went right in through the back window of the car,” says Stoehr, adding that Peterson crashed headfirst. “I think they found his teeth in the back seat.”

The impact severed Peterson’s nose and separated Stoehr’s shoulder. Christopher Thomas Thompson, the driver of the car and a former emergency room doctor, was arrested and put on trial. The jury found him guilty of six felonies, including assault with a deadly weapon: his car. Thompson now faces 10 years in prison.

“For someone to do this to you on purpose, it’s unfathomable,” says Peterson, a cycling coach for the University of California, Los Angeles. He says he still can’t feel his nose, he now wears false teeth, and he will forever have scars.

“I’m happy that justice was served,” Peterson told reporters outside the courthouse after the verdict. “I think all of our hope is that this brings to light just how vulnerable cyclists are out there.”

During the trial, other cyclists told the jury of previous incidents with the driver. And a police officer testified that Thompson said he deliberately slammed on the brakes to “teach the cyclists a lesson.”

Landmark Case

“The road rage was so egregious,” says Bicycling editor Loren Mooney. She says this may be a landmark case in protecting cyclists and pedestrians. “It’s the intent, the actual road rage, that’s part of the conviction in this case.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, traffic crashes killed 716 cyclists last year and injured 52,000 people riding bikes, trikes and unicycles. That includes recent fatalities from Brookline, Mass., to Portland, Ore. But unlike the Los Angeles case, Mooney says drivers who kill or injure cyclists are rarely convicted.

“It’s easy for a driver to say, ‘Oh, I didn’t see you. You’re small, you’re traveling slowly in the roadway. It was an accident,’ ” says Mooney. “It takes an enormous amount of evidence to get a conviction of a reckless driver, or in this case, a driver with an intent to hurt somebody with a vehicle.”

Mooney says crashes often happen when drivers are distracted by cell phones, texts and other hazards. And she warns bike riders not to aggravate or escalate tensions on the road.

Driver Resentment

The Mandeville Canyon driver’s reaction was perhaps an extreme example of the everyday resentment heard from other motorists.

“These bicyclists are extremely rude, and they take up the road — four, five people at a time,” complained one caller to NPR member station KPCC’s show AirTalk. The caller said he lives in Mandeville Canyon, and he has had it with cyclists.

“When you pull up alongside them and ask them to stay out of your way, they yell at you,” he said. “They’re extremely provocative, they’re asking for trouble, and this is not the worst case that’s going to happen. Someone’s going to get killed, and to be frank with you, the residents aren’t going to feel too bad about it.”

Another Mandeville Canyon resident, Tom Freeman, is sympathetic to vulnerable cyclists. But as president of the homeowners’ association, he hears complaints that when drivers try to pass bike riders, “they give them the finger.”

“If they catch up with them at a stop sign, they’ll kick their cars,” he says. “Somebody was spit at. It’s the few that cause the problems, and they help create a perception.”

Cycling In Fear

East Hollywood boasts what’s known as a “bicycle district,” with a bike shop, cafe and bike repair co-op. Here, cycling activist Stephen Box complains that police officers don’t take bike crashes seriously. And he says cyclists feel the brunt of car drivers’ frustrations.

“I’ve been left-hooked and hit. I’ve been hit from behind and left in the streets,” says Box. “And they expect cyclists to ride where it’s unsafe: It’s unsafe to ride through potholes in the gutter pan; it’s unsafe to ride through broken glass in the gutter pan; it’s unsafe to ride in the door zone.”

His wife, Enci, says that’s why cyclists often ride the way they do — to survive, even if that means sometimes running red lights.

“When I see the light turn red, I try to race as fast as I can through it,” she says, “because I know I will have a block of peace and quiet, where there won’t be cars behind me.”

These cyclists point out that it’s actually legal to ride side by side in the streets of L.A. But the rules of the road can be confusing. That’s why Alex Thompson wrote what’s known as the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights.

“Cyclists have the right to travel safely and free of fear. We have the right to the full support of the judicial system,” says Thompson, a bike blogger who also co-founded the L.A. bike cooperative Bikerowave. “These are all rights cyclists already have, but we need to reaffirm these.”

But even Thompson and another bike blogger, Ted Rogers, disapprove of reckless bike riders who maneuver through traffic as if playing a video game.

“Oh, we hate these guys,” says Rogers. “We absolutely hate them. The driver you tick off is the one who’s going to run me off the road.”

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