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A bioregional shift; the struggle over America's (un)sustainable Transportation Bill

Marc Lefkowitz  |  11/09/11 @ 1:55pm

Next Wednesday, November 16, is shaping up to be a big day for thinking about how to live in a bioregion. This conceptual frame-living in a bioregion-is a subtle but empowering shift away from always associating with a city. It allows our thoughts to be shaped by something less prone to fail us-the winding hill on our street, the rocky outcropping, the long meandering creek, the stand of trees and the birds that flock to our back yard. Collectively it sparks the imagination around how we live alongside this system which operates at a slower, more fluid pace-yet one that is still in need of a voice in our decisions.

The Doan Brook Watershed Partnership calls it their "Annual celebration of the place we call home." See a 'Portrait of your watershed' at their annual meeting, and "travel back in time with archeologist Dr. Roy Larick who explains how Doan Brook was formed into the woodland neighborhood that surrounds us."

The day kicks off with Lake Erie Allegheny Partnership for Biodiversity, the ecoregional consortium for conservation, meeting to discuss, among other items, the impact of fracking in Northeast Ohio's Utica Shale formation. At the same time, the Natural History Museum hosts a symposium on "Climate Change and Health: Large scale risks and opportunities."

· As the Senate debates how (or, currently, un-) sustainable the next transportation bill will be, advocates for reshaping transportation spending in America as a livable streets/city revitalization strategy are very concerned about a draft Boxer- Inhofe bill. Advocacy group America Bikes reports that not only are bike and pedestrian projects under attack if proposed cuts of more than $200 million in "active transportation" goes through, but amendments threaten to change policy, limiting how funds can be used for bike and pedestrian projects on federally funded roads (like the Innerbelt Bridge, West Shoreway and Opportunity Corridor. One would require sidepaths instead of bike lanes or sharrows on all roads above 30 mph). Sustainable transportation blogs are crackling with disdain over the cuts in funding to bike-ped projects in the bill. WashCycle writes:

"The new Boxer/Inhofe bill making its way through the Senate right now has a lot for cyclists to dislike. First of all it rolls three key bicycle programs into one (CMAQ), funds them at a lower level than all the programs combined got last year, and then allows states to spend that money on nothing but roads."

Meanwhile, the amendments to improve conditions for cycling and walking have been declared dead on arrival. "Depending on time they may be offered, discussed and then withdrawn before a vote is taken. These amendments include:

  • Senator Cardin (D- MD). His amendment addresses several concerns with the Active Transportation section of the bill, including removing road uses, increasing funding levels, as well as sub-allocating funds to local governments, and opening funding to an application process.
  • Senator Merkley (D-OR). Sen. Merkley is introducing a message amendment that requires 2% of all funding go to biking and walking infrastructure and programs.
  • Senator Carper (D-DE) Carper is introducing a CLEAN TEA amendment that sets national energy security goal, requires state/MPO plans to address oil, assesses progress every 5 years
  • Senator Udall (D-NM) Udall's amendment adds non-motorized users to the list of interested parties in safety and planning processes."

So why offer amendments-as well informed and progressive as they are-if they are almost certain to fail? What's the point in making a point if nothing comes of the effort? Clearly, something needs to give in the public discourse. A more bike and pedestrian friendly city is still being marginalized as a niche/urban only issue. Young people living in cities can start the conversation on blogs and social media about this, but they need to strike up a well informed discussion around the Thanksgiving dinner table why this matters to both them and their older relatives living in the suburbs. Transportation bills are the golden goose, the best resource to significantly improve the quality of our metro areas, including the suburbs, where most of the people still live in this country; that's where change will begin.

· The Heights Bicycle Coalition created a bike map for the Cleveland Heights and University Heights area. The map highlights the streets most suitable for cycling and includes retail areas, multi-use paths and parks. We hope this map will encourage more people to use their bicycle for transportation, fitness and fun.

The core of the map information came from the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) Cuyahoga County Bicycle Transportation Map. A subcommittee of the HBC added more detail to the map to create a Cleveland Heights-University Heights Bicycle Transportation Map.

See the Heights Bicycle Coalition's website to download the CHUH bike map and the NOACA County Bike Maps.

· Lakewood Councilman and Ohio representative for the Pew Environment Group, Tom Bullock, will lead an EcoTuesday conversation on the extreme hazard to the environment that industrial farm operations in Ohio represent. He will detail the damage being done to our water, air and public health from mega poultry and cattle operations in the state. "Excessive amounts of antibiotics for animals, increasing bacterial resistance and complicating medical treatment for humans. This system must change." The change over to sustainable farming is also on the agenda, including making new, urban agriculture efforts in Cleveland and inner ring suburbs like Lakewood the clean and green alternative.

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