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Short article from Canadian newspaper about how metropolitan/cities find that they need support from the state/provincial and federal funding for massive public transportation projects, unlike in the U.S. where currently there is only 20% of federal transportation spending on trains with the rest basically on expanding highways.

Mayors alone can't fix climate,
Washington needs to finance public transit

From Thursday's Globe and Mail

June 21, 2007 at 4:05 AM EDT

SEATTLE — As cities like this one lead the battle against global warming in America, they are quickly running up against a hard reality: It will ultimately take action by state and federal legislators to make real headway.

The greatest single contributor to greenhouse-gas emissions in Seattle is cars. The city has implemented initiatives aimed at discouraging people from driving their vehicles to work, such as a 10-per-cent parking tax. At the same time, Seattle is trying to improve its public bus system and build a small street car network.

(Ironically, Seattle once had a thriving trolley car grid that has been mostly paved over).

But Seattle's public transportation system is mediocre at best. Building subways or light rail systems into the outlying suburbs would cost billions, well beyond the taxing capacity of the local city government.

U.S. cities get little money from the federal and state governments to fund transportation alternatives to the car.

Nearly 80 per cent of the federal government's transportation budget is spent on roads.

"It's the single biggest problem we face," said Steve Nicholas, the city's director of sustainability. "We can implement all these punitive measures to discourage people from driving to work, but unless we offer them reasonable alternatives to get there, it's not going to work. The mayor will be out of a job."

Mr. Nicholas's boss, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, has led the fight by U.S. cities to do something about climate change (while the federal government twiddles its thumbs). And while there has been tangible progress made by many cities, including this one, U.S. mayors are realizing they don't have the money to make the kind of impact that is necessary to truly buckle the knees of rising greenhouse-gas emissions.

This is one area in which Canada has taken a more enlightened approach. The new rapid-transit system being built from Vancouver International Airport into the heart of the city, for instance, is a billion-dollar enterprise being massively financed by Ottawa and the B.C. government.

The City of Vancouver could never have done it alone.

Seattle, meantime, is finding a myriad of other ways to meet its Kyoto commitment to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions by 7 per cent of 1990 levels. It has converted most of its fleet of city vehicles to more environmentally friendly bio-diesel.

The city is now helping more than 100 major employers in town who have signed up for a program aimed at helping them reduce their carbon footprint. Mr. Nicholas's department designed software that helps companies calculate their emissions output. The city then offers suggestions as to how they can reduce it, including incentives to employees to take public transit and installing showers for people who bike to work.

The city also has removed minimum requirements for parking spaces in new buildings downtown. It offers grants of up to $15,000 to neighbourhoods that come up with proposals that help the environment. They might include a car-pooling program or even lawn mower sharing, which is becoming more popular.

The city just sent out environmentally friendly shower heads to Seattle residents free of charge. The mayor has announced a plan to plant 649,000 trees in Seattle, one for every man, woman and child in the city. The estimated cost: $114-million.

The of information-sharing going on among U.S. cities regarding global warming is encouraging, Mr. Nicholas said.

But while some ideas are practical for a process-oriented city like this one, others would take years to get approved, if ever.

Mr. Nicholas just shakes his head at the enormous power a mayor such as Chicago's Richard Daley has to single-handedly make change. For instance, he recently mandated that 50 per cent of construction debris be recycled or reused on site. Seattle is now looking at implementing a similar ordinance.

While many U.S. cities are riding the wave of momentum that exists around global warming, others have done little more than announce vague goals that aren't supported by any kind of realistic plan to achieve them. Staff at city halls across the United States are stretched thin at the best of times. Many cities are finding they just don't have the resources to dedicate solely to the climate-change challenge.

Mr. Nicholas's eight-person department is doing what it can to help some of the smaller cities that have signed up to be part of Mr. Nickels's Climate Protection Agreement, which challenges signatories to meet the targets set out in Kyoto. But Mr. Nicholas acknowledges progress by many of the cities that have signed up is slow to non-existent.

Ultimately, it is going to take action by Washington to force real change.

"We can't wait for that to happen," Mr. Nicholas said. "But ultimately it's going to have to."
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