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Ohio metros want transportation as opportunity space; Union of Concerned Scientists visit Ohio for energy bill

Marc Lefkowitz  |  07/27/10 @ 3:00pm  |  Posted in Transportation choices

Columbus residents are incensed over ODOT's plans to remake the Interstate 71-70 split that runs right through the capital. Residents of German Village and downtown are up in arms over the agency's plans because they don't square with their expectations for roads that are safe for walking and biking. City Hall and regional transportation agency (MORPC)'s Complete Streets policies, it would seem, back them up.

"Columbus settled the last time we did this project," City councilman Andrew Ginther told the Columbus Dispatch, referring to construction of the highway in the 1950s. "This time around, the city of Columbus isn't going to settle."

It will be interesting to watch how ODOT responds to the push back from another major Ohio metropolis to its one-size-fits-all highway plans within a city center. Like Columbus, The Cleveland Innerbelt redesign, which began six years ago, set goals such as shaping transportation investments to promote access to the region's largest, most interesting destination.

There are many good reasons to pursue an agenda of "transportation as opportunity space"-GCBL Director David Beach explains why.

My personal favorite?

"Focus on redeveloping places with the highest potential to reduce the demand for transportation - nodes of activity with the highest density and mix of land uses where people can meet their need with the least amount of driving.

These are likely to be based on existing city centers, neighborhood centers, town centers, and other historic employment centers of the region."

Also, it will be interesting to see if a vocally pro-bike mayor (in Columbus' Mike Coleman) is a difference maker in demanding better service from ODOT?

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Columbus' I-70-71 split decision is the same in many ways as the untangling of the Cleveland Innerbelt I-77/90 split downtown near E. 22nd Street and Tri-C Metro campus. Here we had a case of the highway dividing two city college campuses and the Woodland/Central neighborhood from downtown.

Recently, young adults living in the shadow of that decision were asked to consider how they would remake the dead zones caused by the highway, ramps, and access roads. Community development group Campus District, Inc., Cuyahoga Community College Metro and Cleveland State University are showing students how to use the tools of the urban design trade to reshape their neighborhood.

The students are surveying neighbors, engaging with professionals in a dialogue about how the built environment can improve quality of life while breaking through issues of isolation and coming up with programming to promote a positive street scene.

The early results show one thing: These kids don't carry all of the baggage of being told no – see their visions for bike routes, walking paths, gardens, dance programs, festivals and new housing. It's a big goal: to redraw connections between a part of the city that the highway helped time forget.

The final presentation of the proposal for the Campus District, Inc. is on August 4th. For more details and to see the Collaborative Campus Project presentations, visit their blog.

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Union of Concerned Scientists held a climate change policy workshop at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History last night. They're making the case in key states (where Senators like Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown are on the fence) that it will help manufacturing regions even though we rely on large amounts of energy.

"The (Senate) bill that will be introduced (before the August recess) will reduce our dependence on fossil fuels in the energy generation sector," said UCS Senior Energy Analyst Jeff Deyette. "It promotes technology and innovation in the transition and creates jobs. That's what our analysis shows. There are a lot of opportunities in taking action right now."

Yet, the energy bill stands on the edge of a knife.

"We don't know how this next election will turn out," he added. "We're at the high water mark. If the Senate doesn't pass the bill before September, it's highly unlikely to pass."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reed is working on a compromise bill right now which will most likely include the following:

  • A carbon cap, but only on the utility sector (which produces 1/3 of the greenhouse gasses in the U.S.)
  • A modest, federal renewable portfolio standard (like the RPS in Ohio) which mandates that utilities provide a certain percentage of their power from renewable sources such as wind, solar, biomass.
  • Tax and financial incentives to promote the creation of renewables (and for coal carbon sequestration)
  • Oil spill response-new liability, tightening of regulation, reorganization of agencies

Northeast Ohioans may be able to tip the balance toward passing an energy bill by calling and emailing Senator Brown to ask him to support it, Deyette said, adding that even if it is "watered down," it is a good starting point.

New York Times columnist Tom Friedman also sees opportunity to shift the debate from those American Petroleum Institute ads – you know, the ones where "just plain folks" are fretting about their energy bills going up (I'm regular folk, but I'm willing to shift a small amount of my personal spending to double down my investment in Cleveland's stake in the next great global industry).

If we don't get a serious energy bill out of this Congress, and Republicans retake the House and Senate, we may not have another shot until the next presidential term or until we get a "perfect storm" - a climate or energy crisis that is awful enough to finally end our debate on these issues but not so awful as to end the world. But, hey, by 2012, China should pretty much own the clean-tech industry and we'll at least be able to get some good deals on electric cars.

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