November 2008 Archives

This Thanksgiving I participated in a hallowed tradition with hundreds of others here in Marin County, California. I'm talking about The Turkey Day Mountain Bike Ride on Pine Mountain, or the "Appetite Seminar." 

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Since 1975, the ride annually covers 17 miles and about 3,000 vertical feet, Joe Breeze told me as we hit the first grade with our sons and rolling clusters of other mountain bikers. Breeze explained how he, Charlie Kelly, Chris Lang and nine other locals made up the ride as a way to work up their hunger for the afternoon turkey feed.

Joe recently sold his company, Breezer Bikes, to Advanced Sports inc. in Philadelphia, which marks the end of an era. Both Breeze and Gary Fisher started their mountin bike businesses in Marin's San Anselmo during the '70s, back before most of the world even heard of a mountain bike. They and a heady roster of the sport's old school still live, work and ride in either San Anselmo or Fairfax.

Today central Marin County remains a US nexus of cycling, whther it's road, mountain or cyclo-cross. The towns of San Anselmo and Farifax (combined population 20,000) alone have six bicycle stores and additional high-end custom-fitting operations.

While the mountain bike had its roots in many places including Colorado, it was off the slopes of Pine Mountain where the first timed mountain bike races were run in the late seventies, with Joe bested by Gary Fisher down the Repack course.

Think of the amount of carbon and air pollution the invention of the mountain bike has reduced worldwide. From the early days of Breeze and Fisher with 10 gears (or less) on junkyard bikes, mountain bikes have also spawned hybrids and "comfort bikes." These now have up to 30 gears, shocks and wide knobby tires, allowing easier and safer travel on everything from country roads to cobblestone or potholed city streets.

These categories of bikes collectively also comprise about 60 pecent of the 100 million unit worldwide bike sales.

Such contributions to the US economy and now Asia's economy should be kept in mind as the nation comes up with ways to bust carbon. It's not just capital-intensive venture-funded solar technologies or biofuels made from algae, but also tinkerers in America's garages who are building the proverbial better mousetrap.

Our ride Thursday ended on the Repack downhill: many congratulated 13-year-old Jackson as "rider of the day" for being the youngest to complete the grueling course. Conditions were spectacular--packed but not muddy, very few loose small rocks and unearthy views of the Marin County Municipal Water District land north of Mount Tam.

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After New York City failed to pass a congestion pricing scheme last year, San Francisco is considering tomorrow a way to charge incoming traffic a fee to reduce congestion and address climate change

San Francisco was ranked the fourth most-congested US city in 2008 by the Texas Transportation Institute, after #1 Washington DC. Besides the city's concern with reducing downtown traffic congestion by trying to get more commuters into the city on public transit, congestion pricing can reduce local air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Other cities that have successfully implemented congestion pricing include London, Stockholm, and Singapore.  Since London's program went into effect in 2005, downtown congestion has decreased 26% while local CO2 air pollution has decreased 16%.

It's a tough time for any US city to be considering such a measure (London visitors pay a flat eight British Pounds, or about $13, when they enter the city), but the price of congestion alone can have signficant negative impacts on local economies: estimates for NYC's congestion annual economic impacts on lost time, fuel and revenue were $13 billion.  

On top of congestion, when one considers public health costs from air pollution and compliance risks to upcoming greenhouse gas regulations, congestion pricing seems like a much better deal than business as usual. 

Yesterday a special all-day confab in San Francisco hashed over the state and local impacts of California SB 375, the first statewide anti-sprawl measure in America, which was signed into law in September.

The law will be historic if it can hold its center.

Sprawl causes greater greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution than more compact urban or suburban development that is served by transit, walking and biking. 

Current research now points to sprawl as helping set the 2007 real estate meltdown into motion. The first foreclosure crisis occured when rapidly rising gas prices began to make long commutes more than people could afford in torid Sun Belt locations such as Phoenix, Las Vegas and California's San Bernardino County.

A study released this week by my firm Common Current provides data that demonstrates how car-dependent mainly post '50s suburbs have been hemmhoraging value, whereas central cities and suburbs served by good transit, walkability, bikeability and high telecommuting rates have held their value.

Senate Bill 375 will use carrots (permit expediting, special funding) and sticks (withholding federal transit funding) to make sure local government and developers build closer to existing or planned transit and take into account how much people will have to drive as a result of  proposed projects.

"Now we can do regional planning with teeth," said Peter Calthorpe, the long-time Smart Growth planner and head of Calthorpe Associates. "We have to determine just how sharp those teeth are."

 

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While the sprawled regions of the US host a disproportionate amount of residential foreclosures, these outer rings also demand a disproportate share of service- and oil-dependent infrastructure (asphalt alone went up more than 300% between September 2005 and September 2008), proving mighty costly to government. 

The anti-sprawl bill provides regional land use and transportation guidance for the state's expansive and historic AB 32. Passed in 2006, AB 32 aims to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions 70 percent from 1990 levels by the year 2050. The California Air Resources Board is guiding the AB 32 policy body and enforcement with Goverernor Arnold Schwarzenegger's office, the CalTrans highway agency, and regional policy agencies.

SB 375 provides the state a new trowel for shaping the developed footprint of the Golden State's 163,000 square miles so it can limit carbon-hungry car-centric planning and construction. Besides encouraging infill, the intent is to stymie easy development of exurban agricultural land, wildlife habitat and natural resources. 

"SB 375 demonstrates we can get big complicated things done...in transportation, land use and environmental protection," said the bill's chief sponsor, California Senate President Darrell Steinberg in a video. "Together we have provided the template for Congress and other states." 

Senator-elect Mark Leno was present in the flesh, and he laid out how sprawl--non-dense, unconnected, auto-dependent exurban or suburban development--was a form of development that has seen its day. "How we plan and construct the community of tomorrow will literally determine our future.

Backed by the California Building Industry, The California Alliance for Jobs, many regional governmental and transit organizations, SB 375 contains designations for market-rate and affordable housing near transit, but not jobs near transit. This was a concern for some, as was how to garner basic program funding with decreased federal highway funding and a state budget meltdown.

Joked Steinberg, "I have 28 billion good reasons why I'm not in San Francisco," his video image said, referring to budget deficit meetings with the Governor.

Meanwhile, one member of the California Legislature called 375 not a great leap but instead "baby steps."  

"Baby steps?" I asked.

"Baby steps."

 

Despite the plastic kitsch and manufactured costumes that have overtaken Halloween, the celebration still retains its roots as a community celebration that requires little driving in many towns and cities.

This came to me as we went trick or treating in our Northern California town on Friday night. There were droves of trick or treaters ranging in age from babes in arms to grown-ups accompanying their children. 

 

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They walked in the warm night in excited clusters, with few cars in sight except police cruisers. No one wants to drive when going house to house meeting the neighbors on foot in the pungent candlelit fall air is what creates the real magic. 

We sat on the porch of our son's soccer coach handing out treats to scores of kids, the coach's wife grilling each kid on their costume after the coach made each one shout "Trick or Treat!"  "What are you?" "A guy with a top hat" "You should do better job next year," she laughed, as we sipped wine. "How about you two?" "Salt and Pepper," "Perfect!"  "A fairy, right?"

There were haunted garages, umm "haunted houses," constructed of stuff found laying around the house, a video image of a talking head, pumpkin carvings of the presidential candidates, and lots of candy, hopefully not containing melamine from China.

Sure Halloween produces lots of plastic and packaging, but it doesn't have to, and compared to other American holidays, it lets people get together in their community on spontaneous and creative ground, without having to drive or fly on airplanes.

In fact the economic downturn seemed to have little dampening effect on this ritual night, first observed as Celtic Ireland's Samhain.

In times like these, we need to know our neighbors and have a good time bringing our creative spirts and commonalities to the fore.    

 

About the Author

    Warren Karlenzig
Warren
Warren Karlenzig, Common Current founder and president, has worked with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (lead co-author United Nations Shanghai Manual: A Guide to Sustainable Urban Development in the 21st Century, 2011); United Nations Center for Regional Development (training of mayors from 13 Asian nations on city sustainable economic development and technology); provinces of Guizhou and Guangdong, China (urban sustainability master planning and green city standards); the United States White House and Environmental Protection Agency (Eco-Industrial Park planning and Industrial Ecology primer); the nation of South Korea ("New Cities Green Metrics"); The European Union ("Green and Connected Cities Initiative"); the State of California ("Comprehensive Recycling Communities" and "Sustainable Community Plans"); major cities; and the world's largest corporations developing policy, strategy, financing and critical operational capacities for 20 years.

Present and recent clients include the Guangzhou Planning Agency; the Global Forum on Human Settlements; the Shanghai 2010 World Expo Bureau; the US Department of State; the Asian Institute for Energy, Environment and Sustainability; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; the non-governmental organization Ecocity Builders; a major mixed-use real estate development corporation; an educational sustainability non-profit; and global corporations. Read more here.

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This page is an archive of entries from November 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

October 2008 is the previous archive.

December 2008 is the next archive.

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