getting where we want to be

EcoCity transportation program manager Ryan McKenzie provides news and commentary on what's happening to improve transportation choices in Northeast Ohio and at state & national levels. Get updates on road policies, transit, bicycling, walking, freight, and other transport-related topics, all viewed from EcoCity's sustainability perspective.

AARP weighing in on livable community design
We've received a postcard from the AARP Global Aging Program promoting a conference titled "Universal Village: Livable Communities in the 21st Century." The announcement says this international conference will initiate an "exchange of ideas and best practices on a number of important common issues and challenges in livable communities."

Perhaps intentionally vague, it appears that this powerful group for those age 50 and over is now planting its flag in the debate about what constitutes a "livable community". We've previously heard that a national advocacy organizations promoting livability/sustainability have been courting AARP, who represent seniors that find an auto-dependent lifestyle in typical American communities is less viable as age takes its toll on night vision, reflexes, and other requirements for safe driving. The loss of a drivers license in these communities has too often meant an abrupt and almost total withdrawal from public life.

But political power grows as numbers increase, and we can be sure that as the ranks of senior citizens swell like never before with baby boomers, policymakers and developers alike will be hearing more about the need for walkable (and wheelchair-accessable) communities, improved public transit, and other services catering to non-drivers.

The resulting "mobility downshift" among boomers signals enormous personal and societal challenges ahead, but also offers hope that Americans will finally begin the process of creating more livable communities for all.

Speculation rises about Peak Oil
A growing number of scientists and petroleum industry professionals claim that energy supply shortages will eclipse global warming as the reason to shift away from fossil fuels in US energy policy and consumer habits.

These experts warn that prices for oil and natural gas will trend sharply higher within just a few years because global production of these fuels are reaching their peak. This means the global supply of these fuels will plateau and begin declining -- rather than continuing to increase annually with rising worldwide consumer demand -- even as demand continues to rise.

The US already consumes an enormous quantity of the world’s oil and gas, and shows no signs of decreasing its appetite. But rapid industrialization in China and India is adding even greater demand, at the same time that oil companies may be damaging their best fields.

Is this a real concern, or similar to the Y2K scare? For links related to the Peak Oil concept, visit

Easing your guilt about auto emissions
We've recently been pointed to an L.A. Times article reporting "A new company, using a market-based system of carbon credits and debits not unlike Kyoto, allows drivers to pay to offset their cars' annual emission of greenhouse gases." The company says, "With TerraPass, you can clean up after your car."

For $49.95, Terrapass offsets the 12,000 pounds of annual CO2 emissions from a standard mileage vehicle.

We note that carbon has most recently been trading for $1.80 per metric ton on the Chicago Climate Exchange (PDF link) , so the company is purchasing those emissions credits (5.44 metric tons) for $27.79 at present.

We don't begrudge these sustainability-minded entrepreneurs for their profit margin (after all, establishing a broad customer base for this product will require a lot of advertising), but we suspect Terrapass will be joined by nonprofits seeking a new revenue stream that connects them to environmentally-concerned citizens.

Lakewood to get transit technology upgrade
For transit riders yearning for on-time buses and a fast trip to their destination, the typical city street proves to be a fickle adversary. At times the rhythm of pauses for boarding and departing passengers meshes magically with local traffic signals, and the bus seems to get a wave of green lights.

But with congested local streets and traffic signals sometimes only a few hundred yards apart, delays can pile up for buses unlucky enough to get stuck at multiple red lights. The unpredictable snags cause a ripple effect that can trip up transit schedules for hours afterward, cause problems for customers with timed transfers to other routes, and make predicting the arrival time at your destination impossible.

RTA's on-time performance has been an achilles heel, harming both customer confidence and the agency's public image. Despite a charitable self-definition of "on-time" as "arriving from 0-5 minutes after its scheduled time", RTA vehicles still managed to clear the bar only 78% of the time in 2004 (up from a dismal 61% in 2002). Drivers say they've done all they can, and that street conditions are the barrier to further improvement.

But hope is on the way, thanks to NOACA’s recent endorsement of transit signal priority (TSP) technology. These systems, used for decades in Europe, extend traffic signal green time to allow buses through intersections, preventing that exasperating wait at red lights. The result in other cities has been dramatic improvements to on-time performance, and speed increases of 15% on average.

In December 2004, the NOACA board amended its Regional Transportation Investment Policy to define a traffic signal pre-emption policy. Signal pre-emption systems give police, fire and emergency vehicles priority at intersections by over-riding normal signal timing and keeping traffic stopped in the opposite direction.

The policy amendment also requires that "new traffic signaling systems be coordinated with the public transit agency operating in the project area to ensure that the new system allows signal priority for transit vehicles."

The opportunity to act on this new policy has arrived. The City of Lakewood is applying to NOACA for nearly $5.7 million in federal congestion management/ air quality (CMAQ) funds to upgrade traffic signals on several major roads, including key transit corridors like Clifton Boulevard, Detroit Road and Madison Avenue.

Transit riders throughout Lakewood -- and riders lining 10+ miles of Detroit and Superior Avenues along RTA route 326 in Cleveland -- will see remarkable improvements in on-time performance and travel speeds if the City of Lakewood, NOACA and RTA follow through with this important policy change.

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