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Posts from the "Sierra Club" Category

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Transit Union and Sierra Club Join Forces for Earth Day and Beyond

Earth Day is a week from tomorrow. How many people will drive to their local environmental festival without even a second thought to how they got there?

The ATU and the Sierra Club are teaming up to promote transit as a solution to fast-rising transportation emissions. Photo: ##http://www.carnewschina.com/page/701/##Car News China##

The ATU and the Sierra Club are teaming up to promote transit as a solution to fast-rising transportation emissions. Photo: Car News China

The Amalgamated Transit Union and the Sierra Club will announce tomorrow that they are joining forces to highlight the connection between transportation and climate change.

Transit is important, “not only to people who ride it but also to everybody who breathes oxygen in the world,” said ATU President Larry Hanley. That’s why the union is strengthening its coordination with the Sierra Club.

“They completely get the importance of mass transit,” he said. “It’s just that we haven’t found ways to formalize our public relationship in the past. That’s what we’re going to do now.”

Transit advocates, including the ATU, have been working to advance the full range of arguments for transit with the Transit Is Greater campaign. The ATU’s new “Transit > Pollution” leaflet [PDF] is all ready to be rolled out at bus stops and train stations around the U.S. and Canada, where the union will be encouraging riders to become more active in the push for better transit. They’ll also be doing climate-themed events with the Sierra Club in May, and beyond that with events they’re calling “Transit Tuesdays.

“We’re working with elected officials and candidates for public office to get out and ride transit with us, to organize riders to contact Congress for a better transit bill,” Hanley said, referring to the pending reauthorization of the MAP-21 transportation bill. They’re also planning a rally May 20 on Capitol Hill, after which members of the ATU and the Transport Workers Union will visit Congressional offices. Sierra Club locals and other community groups from around the country will support that event with phone calls to their representatives.

While initially timed around Earth Day, the partnership launch also coincides with a spike of interest in climate change following the release of a new report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that issued a dire warning about the consequences of inaction. “Climate change, to those of us who don’t believe in voodoo but believe in science, is a real serious concern,” Hanley said. “We’re watching polar ice caps melt at the same time that our Congress has turned its back on the things that could slow that down — like mass transit.”

Even many lawmakers concerned about environmental issues don’t pay enough attention to the power of transit to allay climate change, said Hanley. “That’s really the whole point of what we’re doing in May and throughout 2014,” he said. “We’re going to remind the ones who should know and alert the ones who don’t about the value of mass transit.”

According to the IPCC report, emissions from transportation could rise by 71 percent from 2010 levels by 2050, while the scientific consensus holds that the world needs to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by then. The transportation sector is projected to be the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in the world.

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A Sensible Alternative to Wisconsin’s Gold-Plated Highway Budget

If you value principles like social and fiscal responsibility, the Wisconsin transportation budget is an unmitigated disaster. Not only does Wisconsin DOT’s spending plan gut funds to transit and local streets, it lavishes $900 million in borrowed money to pay for extravagant highway projects of dubious value to the public.

Wisconsin has been on a borrowing binge, and the need for new highway spending is questionable at best. Image: 1000 Friends of Wisconsin

Good government groups and environmental advocates have proposed an alternative. The 10 Percent Solution, as they’re calling it, would cut 10 percent, or $300 million, from the highway budget and shift it back to transit and local streets. The plan would reduce overall borrowing by 22 percent.

“Demand for transportation choices is increasing, while transit service is being cut and our roads and bridges are crumbling,” said Bruce Speight, director of Wisconsin PIRG, which produced the report jointly with 1000 Friends of Wisconsin and the Sierra Club. “But the transportation budget proposal doesn’t help return taxpayer money to communities for road repair and transit. Instead, it funnels hundreds of millions into highway expansion projects.”

A big problem with WisDOT’s proposed budget, advocates say, is that state leaders continue to prioritize highway expansion even though Wisconsinites are driving less. On average, each resident drove 500 fewer miles in 2010 than in 2004.

“Wisconsinites need a transportation budget that reflects and supports how we travel, not the interests of highway lobby and big road construction firms who profit from taxpayer-funded and high-priced highway expansions,” Speight said.

Meanwhile, the state has been consistently reducing its contributions to local streets. Since 1998, the share of statewide funding that was dispensed to localities for road maintenance has fallen from 32 percent to 19 percent — a policy which is tantamount to increasing local taxes. Over that time, meanwhile, the share of state funds being used for highway expansion increased from 43 percent to 47 percent. To make matters worse, transit suffered a 10 percent cut in the 2011-2013 budget, and this new budget does not restore that funding.

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Here They Are: The Best and Worst American Transportation Projects

Which transportation projects are the smartest investments, and which are the most ridiculous boondoggles? The Sierra Club has put together a solid list in a new report titled “Smart Choices, Less Traffic: The 50 Best and Worst Transportation Projects in the United States.”

Boondoggle: The widening of I-5 in San Diego is expected to cost $4.5 billion. Photo: Transnet

The Sierra Club evaluated each project based on five criteria, including its effects on oil use, the environment, public health, land use, and the economy. A glance through the list quickly reveals both who is innovating for the future and who is wasting staggering sums on backwards projects, with most of the good ones originating from local governments and transit agencies, and the worst coming from state DOTs.

“Old highway spending habits die hard,” write report authors Rachel Butler, Ann Mesnikoff and Megan McLean. “U.S. transportation policy is largely getting it wrong.”

The list of “worst” projects is dominated by 1950s-style mega-highways and road expansions, the cost of which frequently reaches into the billions. Among the lowlights is Dallas’s Trinity Freeway, which costs an astounding $222 million per mile. Also notable is Phoenix’s proposed $2 billion South Mountain Freeway, a pricey eight-mile sprawl generator, which, the Sierra Club reports, hasn’t gotten past the planning stages due to lack of public support. Another worthy “worst” is the Interstate 5 widening in north San Diego County, which would widen the road to 12 lanes for the go-for-broke price of $4.5 billion.

Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct — a Big Dig-style buried highway — is also singled out in the Sierra Club’s Hall of Shame. This project, which won out over the idea of replacing a damaged elevated highway with an at-grade boulevard, barely runs two miles but is expected to cost more than $3 billion. Another national embarrassment is I-269 in Memphis — the city’s second outerbelt — which the Sierra Club describes as “mainly a real estate development scheme.” Florida’s proposed 150-mile Heartland Expressway, through some of the state’s last undeveloped natural environments, wins mention as well — not only because FDOT has come out and said it can’t afford the $5.6 billion pricetag, but because it is ethically suspect as well. One of the central advocates is a state senator who, as a major land owner on the corridor, also stands to reap a windfall from its completion.

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Atlanta Transpo Referendum Draws an Unlikely Opponent in Local Sierra Club

One of the most exciting transit expansion dramas unfolding in the United States right now is Atlanta’s transportation referendum: the Transportation Investment Act, or TIA, for short.

The Atlanta Beltline, shown here in an artist's rendering, would be funded by a one-cent sales tax referendum to be considered by Atlanta area voters in July. But the local Sierra Club is urging its members to vote against the proposal. Photo: FHWA

This one-cent sales tax would raise more than $7 billion for local transportation projects — at least $3.14 billion of which would be dedicated to transit. This issue — up for vote in July — will determine whether Atlanta can move forward with the rail portion of its groundbreaking, ring-shaped “Beltline.” It would help bring relief to some of the country’s most harried commuters.

This plan would give a badly needed boost to transit funding. And that’s why a recent announcement by the local Sierra Club was so jarring.

Yesterday, the Sierra Club of Georgia announced it was urging its members to vote against the proposal in favor of what it calls “Plan-B.” The Sierra Club hopes that after the referendum is defeated, a new proposal funded by the gas tax with “a fix-it-first roads strategy” “that emphasizes transit expansion and improvement” will emerge, according to a statement from the group printed in the local alt-weekly, Creative Loafing.

The Sierra Club plan sounds like great transportation policy, but it currently lacks the political and organizational support underpinning TIA. And compared to the region’s current transportation, TIA is pretty good policy. If Atlanta lets the current moment slip by, there’s no telling when the region will have another good opportunity to raise billions in revenue for transit.

The Sierra Club is planning a joint press conference with — oddly enough — local Tea Party officials this week where they will discuss their concerns further.

Meanwhile, more mainstream groups were quick to criticize the Sierra Club’s position. Citizens for Transportation Mobility, a group of business interests that is pushing for TIA’s passage, responded with “dismay.”

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