# Smart Growth

Events coming up this week

I couldn’t keep up with posting weekly calendars at the height of campaign season, but I’m determined to get back on track.

Events that got lost in the shuffle include the 1000 Friends of Iowa annual meeting in late October, where the 2010 Best Development Awards were announced, and the grand opening of the Roshek Building in Dubuque on November 9. This historic building holds several local businesses and offices for about 1,300 IBM employees. The redevelopment project earned the city of Dubuque a U.S. Commerce Department award for economic development excellence.

I also wish I’d flagged the recent groundbreaking of West Union’s Green Pilot Streetscape.

“Today is certainly a milestone, not only for the people of West Union and Fayette County, but for all Iowans and, in fact, much of the nation,” David Yocca, senior partner of Conservation Design Forum, later agreed. “The reconstruction of a significant portion of the public realm of West Union as planned is one of, if not the most integrated, wholistic, forward-looking efforts that has been done on any street anywhere in this country.”

He explained that the future West Union downtown district will represent an emerging example of green infrastructure, which will serve communities by creating safer, more comfortable, walkable and bikable streets; improve the health of local water, air, and soil;

Restore hydrology and the natural environment; provide long-term cost savings and value over convention infrastructure; support local businesses and job creation; and provide a more beautiful, authentic setting for outdoor use and enjoyment.

The improvements in downtown West Union will be fantastic. Unfortunately, Republican candidates all over Iowa misrepresented this project to spread lies about Democrats funding “heated sidewalks.”

Details on some of this week’s events around the state are after the jump. Pleast post a comment or e-mail me directly about other events worth noting.  

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"Road diet" hasn't affected commute on major Des Moines artery

When the city of Des Moines put Ingersoll Avenue on a “road diet” last month, some locals warned the change would inconvenience drivers and hurt area businesses. I drive down Ingersoll several times a week and have noticed no change in the traffic flow. Now a new study shows commuters have hardly been affected:

In early May, Ingersoll was “re-striped” between Polk Boulevard and Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway, decreasing the number of vehicle lanes from four to three. There is one lane in each direction, a center left-turn lane and bicycle lanes on both sides of the street.

In the worst case, travel times increased roughly 20 seconds for westbound motorists traveling between Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway and 42nd Street during the afternoon rush hour, said Gary Fox, the city’s traffic engineer. There were essentially no changes overall and slight improvements in midday vehicle travel times, he added. […]

The Ingersoll plan is part of a broader “complete streets” initiative that aims to make Des Moines streets more accessible to bicycles and pedestrians.

Giving people safe alternatives to driving is the main reason to adopt “complete streets” policies, but this re-striping also created about 50 additional on-street parking spaces, which helps Ingersoll business owners and their customers. Click here for more information on road diets and here to learn about complete streets. Like Des Moines, the small town of Cascade, Iowa City and the Johnson County Council of Governments have also adopted complete streets policies. Earlier this year, Dubuque received a federal grant to help residents of the historic Millwork District commute to work on foot, bike, or via public transit.

LATE UPDATE: On June 24 I had to drive west almost the whole length of Ingersoll just before 5 pm, which must be around the worst time for “rush hour” traffic. I didn’t notice any problems, and hardly saw any congestion except for the stretch between 24th and 31st streets. Even that wasn’t bad.

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Massive Iowa Legislature linkfest (post-funnel edition)

The Iowa Legislature has been moving at an unusually fast pace during the shortened 2010 session. It’s time to catch up on what’s happened at the statehouse over the past three weeks. From here on out I will try to post a legislative roundup at the end of every week.

February 12 was the first “funnel” deadline. In order to have a chance of moving forward in 2010, all legislation except for tax and appropriations bills must have cleared at least one Iowa House or Senate committee by the end of last Friday.

After the jump I’ve included links on lots of bills that have passed or are still under consideration, as well as bills I took an interest in that failed to clear the funnel. I have grouped bills by subject area. This post is not an exhaustive list; way too many bills are under consideration for me to discuss them all. I recommend this funnel day roundup by Rod Boshart for the Mason City Globe-Gazette.

Note: the Iowa legislature’s second funnel deadline is coming up on March 5. To remain alive after that point, all bills except tax and appropriations bills must have been approved by either the full House or Senate and by a committee in the opposite chamber. Many bills that cleared the first funnel week will die in the second.  

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Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 1)

I expected 2009 to be a relatively quiet year in Iowa politics, but was I ever wrong.

The governor’s race heated up, state revenues melted down, key bills lived and died during the legislative session, and the Iowa Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in Varnum v Brien became one of this state’s major events of the decade.

After the jump I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from January through June 2009. Any comments about the year that passed are welcome in this thread.

Although I wrote a lot of posts last year, there were many important stories I didn’t manage to cover. I recommend reading Iowa Independent’s compilation of “Iowa’s most overlooked and under reported stories of 2009,” as well as that blog’s review of “stories that will continue to impact Iowa in 2010.”

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Year in review: national politics in 2009 (part 1)

It took me a week longer than I anticipated, but I finally finished compiling links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage from last year. This post and part 2, coming later today, include stories on national politics, mostly relating to Congress and Barack Obama’s administration. Diaries reviewing Iowa politics in 2009 will come soon.

One thing struck me while compiling this post: on all of the House bills I covered here during 2009, Democrats Leonard Boswell, Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack voted the same way. That was a big change from 2007 and 2008, when Blue Dog Boswell voted with Republicans and against the majority of the Democratic caucus on many key bills.

No federal policy issue inspired more posts last year than health care reform. Rereading my earlier, guardedly hopeful pieces was depressing in light of the mess the health care reform bill has become. I was never optimistic about getting a strong public health insurance option through Congress, but I thought we had a chance to pass a very good bill. If I had anticipated the magnitude of the Democratic sellout on so many aspects of reform in addition to the public option, I wouldn’t have spent so many hours writing about this issue. I can’t say I wasn’t warned (and warned), though.

Links to stories from January through June 2009 are after the jump. Any thoughts about last year’s political events are welcome in this thread.

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Great things are happening in Dubuque

The Dubuque mayor and city council decided in 2006 to make the community “a Sustainable City.” Last week federal officials recognized the progress made toward that goal. From an Environmental Protection Agency press release on September 17:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and White House Director of Urban Affairs Adolfo Carrion kicked off their three-city Sustainable Communities Tour today. The officials, representing the administration’s DOT-HUD-EPA Interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities, announced proposals during stops in Chicago and Dubuque that will help communities to improve access to affordable housing, provide additional low-cost transportation options, and protect the local environment.

Also on September 17, the city of Dubuque and IBM

outlined their plans to partner in the development of new “smarter” technologies and implementation strategies to create an international model of sustainability for communities of 200,000 and under, where over 40 percent of the U.S. population resides. Dubuque, a city that is recognized as a national leader in sustainability with its forward-thinking public policy, together with IBM, will address the ever-increasing demands of cities to deliver vital services such as energy and water management, and transportation, all while reducing the community’s impact on the environment.

More details about the recent events, along with some background, are after the jump.

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Events coming up this week

It’s been a week since same-sex marriage became legal in Iowa, and I’m happy to report that my hetero marriage has not yet collapsed under the strain of sharing rights with gays and lesbians.

Click “there’s more” to read about events coming up this week. As always, post a comment or send me an e-mail (desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com) if you know of something I’ve left out.

Advance warning: May 11-15 is Bike to Work week.

Registration is FREE. Over 500 Bike to Work Socks have been ordered from the Sock Guy. This year’s socks are green. Socks will be available at events throughout the week on a first come, first serve basis. (One pair per pre-registered rider.) Everyone who registers and takes the pledge is eligible for $1,000 in Bike Bucks for use in any sponsoring bike shop and many other prizes! Registration closes at Noon on Thursday May 14th. Questions? Check out Bike to Work Week events and businesses around Iowa at www.bikeiowa.com.

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Five Iowa communities will receive "smart growth" assistance on rebuilding

A friend alerted me to this news release from the Rebuild Iowa Office. I’ve posted the whole release after the jump, but here is an excerpt:

Five Iowa communities affected by the tornadoes and floods of 2008 will receive assistance in recovering stronger and smarter through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Smart Growth Implementation Assistance (SGIA) program.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Rebuild Iowa Office (RIO) and the Iowa Department of Economic Development (IDED) recently announced that New Hartford, Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, Coralville and Iowa City have been chosen to receive expert technical assistance to help with growth and redevelopment.

This is good news, because rebuilding with smart growth principles in mind will bring economic and environmental benefits to those cities.

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The best news you didn't hear about yesterday

A House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing featuring two low-profile cabinet members won’t make a splash even on a slow-news day, and certainly not when a juicy story like the AIG outrage has so many angles to explore.

But take my word for it: big news came out of yesterday’s Congressional testimony by Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan and Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray LaHood. The cabinet secretaries announced

a new partnership to help American families gain better access to affordable housing, more transportation options, and lower transportation costs. The average working American family spends nearly 60 percent of its budget on housing and transportation costs, making these two areas the largest expenses for American families. Donovan and LaHood want to seek ways to cut these costs by focusing their efforts on creating affordable, sustainable communities.

I explain why this is important and welcome news after the jump.

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Events coming up during the next two weeks

Send me an e-mail (desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com) or post a comment if you know of another event that should be added to this calendar.

Sunday, January 18:

From Blog for Iowa (click the link for more details):

On Sunday, January 18, the Iowa City Environmental Film Festival and Sierra Club will sponsor a screening of Fighting Goliath: Texas Coal Wars.  The film portrays how Texans formed unlikely coalitions to fight the construction of nineteen coal-fired power plants being fast-tracked by the state’s governor, Rick Perry.  The film, narrated by Robert Redford, has received numerous awards.

Representatives from two groups instrumental in challenging the construction of the two plants in Iowa will lead a discussion following the film.  Mike Carberry, Sierra Club, will be joined by Carrie LeSeur, founder and Executive Director of Plains Justice, to talk about what is being done and what Iowans can do to stop construction of the coal-fired power plants.   Plains Justice, a public interest law center, was founded in 2006 in part in response to the Waterloo, Iowa Coal Plant Proposal, which has now been withdrawn.        

[…] Sunday, January 18th at the Iowa City Public Library, 123 S. Linn St., Room A at 3:00 PM.

The screening is free and open to the public.

Monday, January 19:

From Polk County Democrats:

From Vern Naffier

Come to the Pre-Inauguration Celebration

Friends:  Join me Monday night at 7 pm at the State Historical Building for an inspiring event celebrating Martin Luther King’s Birthday, Barack Obama’s inauguration, and the beginning of an era of peace, reconciliation, and social justice throughout the world. See announcement below.


Rebirthing King – Rebirthing America

A pre-inauguration celebration

State Historical Building

600 East Locust

Des Moines

January 19, 2009

7-8 pm

Come join the effort to reclaim the dream of America free from racism, militarism, and materialism. Come join the candlelight march for Martin’s memory and Barack’s beginning.

The Iowa Obama Presidential Inauguration Committee invites you to bring items for the DMARC Food Pantry.

Sponsored by the King Birthday Celebration Planning Committee

Tuesday, January 20:

George W. Bush’s presidency will finally end as Barack Obama takes the oath of office. What are you doing to celebrate? There must be many parties going on all over this state.

Urban Dreams Presents

Brown, Black & The Blues People’s Ball

Celebrating the Inauguration of

President Barack Obama

Together through the diversity of our community

Jnauary 20, 2009

8:00 PM until…

Hotel Fort Des Moines

1000 Walnut Street

Des Moines, IA  50309

$25 / person

Dress to Impress

Featuring Musica Latina, Soul and the Blues

A nonpartisan event open to the whole community

for more information please call 515-288-4742

The Brown, Black & The Blues People’s Ball is brought to you by

Project V.O.T.E. (Voting Opportunities Through Education).

PLease call Hotel Fort Des Moines at 515-243-1181 if interested in room reservations.

From 1000 Friends of Iowa:

There will be a Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Public Input Meeting in the DMAMPO Meeting Room, Merle Hay Center, 6200 Aurora Avenue, Suite 300W, Urbandale, IA. Click here for more details about what’s on the agenda and why you should care.

Friday, January 23:

For bicycling advocates and enthusiasts:

Iowa Bicycle Summit

January 23-24, Des Moines

Iowa Bicycle Summit will be held in Des Moines at the Holiday Inn, Downtown, from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Friday’s session features Steve Durrant from Portland, Oregon, a registered landscape architect and planner with over 30 years experience helping communities become better places to live. A Friday Bike Night fundraiser will feature a presentation by mountain-biking legend Gary Fisher at a dinner and silent auction. Saturday is geared for grassroots bicyclists who want to better their communities. Sessions include Safe Routes to Schools, Bike to Work Week, legislative issues and more. Primary sponsors are the Iowa Department of Transportation and the Iowa Bicycle Coalition. Participation is limited. Find out more or register at the Iowa Bicycle Summit webpage, http://www.iowabicyclecoalitio…

From the Iowa Environmental Council newsletter:

Winter Solstice Workshop: No Child Left Inside

January 23-25, Honey Creek State Park

The Iowa Conservation Education Coalition’s annual Environmental Education Workshop, Winter Solstice, will be held on January 23-25, 2009.  The workshop title is No Child Left Inside.  Winter Solstice will be held at the Honey Creek State Park Resort on Lake Rathbun. This new resort features motel rooms, a restaurant, an indoor water park, and most important for ICEC, a wonderful conference center. Our keynote speakers include: Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder; Connie Mutel, author of The Emerald Horizon: The History of Nature in Iowa; and Jim Pease and Susan O’Brien author of Environmental Literacy in Iowa. For questions about the workshop, please contact Gail Barels at gail.barels@linncounty.org or Heather Niec at adminicec@hotmail.com.

Saturday, January 24:

For those who enjoy public art:

Design a Dragonfly on Ice at Iowa Lakeside Laboratory

January 24, West Lake Okoboji

Filmmaker Chad Branham will design this year’s Artslive’s People Project on Saturday, January 24, on the ice in Miller’s Bay, beginning at Iowa Lakeside Laboratory. This ephemeral art project will line people up on the ice on West Lake Okoboji, in the shape of a giant 100 foot dragonfly. This design will take over 225 people to complete. Once everyone is in place the dragonfly will be photographed from an airplane by Judy Hemphill. Due to limited parking at Lakeside, participants are asked to gather at Peace Corner, at the corner of Highways 9 and 86, at 12:30 pm, and take a shuttle bus to the project site at Iowa Lakeside Laboratory. People are encouraged to dress warmly and, if possible, in bright primary colors.  To sign up to participate, or for more information about participating in this year’s ArtsLive People’s Project, contact Jen Johnson at (712)332-6502 or jen@activeokoboji.org, or visit artslive.com.

Tuesday, January 27:

From Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement:

Jan. 27, 2009  

BIG Rally & Lobby Day

Mark your calendars and plan to be at our Rally & Lobby Day at the State Capitol Tuesday, Jan. 27. We need you there to show our legislators that thousands of Iowans will be holding them accountable this legislative session to issues like local control, clean elections, homeowner protections and the rights of all workers.

Decisions made at the Statehouse impact us every day. This is our chance to put our issues at the top of the legislative agenda. Join with us today – click here for more information and REGISTER TODAY!

Friday, January 30:

From Polk County Democrats:

The Ankeny Area Democrats and The Polk County Democrats Present An Inauguration Celebration Dinner At The Iowa State Historical Building

Friday, January 30, 2009

Catered by Baratta’s Restaurant

Social Hour begins at 6:00 PM

Dinner at 7:00 PM

Live music through the Musician’s Union

Tickets $25 per person

Tickets include chicken / pasta dinner and sides, soft drinks, coffee, iced tea or water

Semi-formal attire encouraged, but not required

Tickets available by calling Tamyra at 515-285-1800 or Mary Oliver at 515-964-1227

Email polkdems@gmail.com or Ankenyareadems@msn.com

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Older Americans want alternatives to driving

A nationwide survey of Americans over age 50, commissioned by the AARP in July, found that

while many Americans ages 50+ are trying to move away from car transportation as a result of high gas prices, their attempt to go “green” is challenged by inadequate sidewalks and bike lanes, as well as insufficient public transportation options. […]

Almost one of every three people (29%) polled say they are now walking as a way to avoid high gas prices. But as those people set out to walk, almost 40% of the 50+ population say they do not have adequate sidewalks in their neighborhoods. Additionally, 44% say they do not have nearby public transportation that is accessible. Almost half (47%) of poll responders say they cannot cross the main roads safely – 4 in 10 pedestrian fatalities are over the age of 50.

The AARP is one of the organizations supporting “Complete Streets” legislation:

“Complete streets enable pedestrians, bicyclists and public transit riders to share the road safely with automobiles,” said Elinor Ginzler, AARP’s Senior Vice President for Livable Communities. “More cities and states are adopting policies requiring their transportation agencies to ensure that roads are routinely designed or redesigned for all modes of travel. And instituting these new standards makes it safer for residents of all ages,” she stated.

“Some cities like Sacramento, California and Kirkland, Washington are ahead of the curve,” said Ginzler. “They have extra-wide sidewalks, flowered medians and flashing lights embedded in crosswalks at busy intersections. Bike lanes and bus stops line even some of the town’s busiest streets. These amenities allow residents to be safer pedestrians and commuters and even help the flow of vehicle traffic.”

At the national level, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), led efforts in the U.S. Senate to develop safer, comprehensively designed streets. Harkin introduced the bipartisan Complete Streets Act of 2008 (S. 2686) this spring. Senate cosponsors include Senators Thomas Carper (D-DE) and Norm Coleman (R-MN). Representative Doris Matsui (D-CA) took a significant step for safer streets in May by introducing the Safe and Complete Streets Act of 2008 (H.R. 5951) in the U.S. House of Representatives. Representative Christopher Shays (R-CT) cosponsors the bipartisan bill. The bills would ensure that roads built and improved with federal funds safely serve everyone using the roadway — including pedestrians, people on bicycles or those catching the bus, as well as those with disabilities. This is the first time that comprehensive complete streets bills have been introduced in the House and Senate.

Even if there were no economic or environmental reasons to try to reduce gasoline consumption, Iowa’s aging population will increasingly need alternatives to driving in order to get around cities and towns.

So far only Iowa City and Johnson County have taken significant steps toward providing “complete streets” in Iowa.

More information on gas prices and complete streets can be found in this pdf file.

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Senator McCoy wants your input on public transit in Iowa

A friend forwarded to me the latest issue of Senator Matt McCoy’s electronic newsletter. It includes the following passage:

With the rapid rise in gas prices, it is clearer than ever that Iowans need more choices when it comes to transportation.  

Over the next several months, I’ll be working with a Mass Transit Study Committee to review ways mass transit might be used to improve public transportation among Iowa communities.  We’ll hear from policy experts and citizens who are concerned with improving transportation alternatives.  

I hope you’ll contact me with your ideas on how to address this difficult problem.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: To fight global warming, we also need to rethink transportation policy.

Whether or not you live in Senate district 31, I hope you will contact Senator McCoy if you have input for this committee.

Remember that public transit doesn’t have to be restricted to larger towns and cities. A small town can have express bus service or vanpools taking people to jobs, shops or other facilities in other communities. That can save users a lot of money while reducing gasoline consumption and congestion on roads used by commuters.

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There is still time to nominate "Best Development" projects

Last month I wrote about 1000 Friends of Iowa taking nominations for their annual Best Development Awards.

The original deadline for nominations was June 25, but because flooding caused disruption in many communities that may have worthy projects, 1000 Friends of Iowa has extended the deadline for submitting a nomination to July 25.

Read my earlier post, or go here on the 1000 Friends of Iowa site, to find more information about the Best Development Awards, how to nominate a project, and the criteria used to judge nominees.

U.S. House approves major new investment in public transportation

It’s a tiny sum of money compared to what we appropriate for building new roads, but I’ll take it:

Immediate Release:  June 26, 2008

Contact: John Krieger – (614) 214 9888

Phineas Baxandall – (617) 747-4351                                  

House addresses high gas prices by investing close to $2 billion in public transportation

Responding to record-high gas prices and the rising use of public transportation, the House of Representatives today passed HR 6052, the Saving Energy through Public Transportation Act, by a vote of 322 to 98 which authorizes 1.7 billion dollars to transit agencies across America to expand services and reduce fares.

This investment is part of a long-term solution that gives Americans affordable and convenient alternatives to driving and allows transit agencies to keep up with drastic increases in ridership brought on by high gas prices.

“We applaud this legislation for its rare combination of practicality and vision,” said US PIRG staff attorney John Krieger, “The House recognized today that we cannot kick our oil addiction without driving less, and we cannot drive less without better transportation alternatives.”

According to analysis released this week by US PIRG, American families are spending close to 100 dollars a week on gasoline.  That spending has increased almost 40 percent in the last five months, and   household spending on transportation is now the second highest expense for the average family –  more than food, clothing, even healthcare.

Americans have responded to higher gas costs by taking public transportation at record rates in areas where it is available, and American drivers traveled fewer miles last year for the first time in almost thirty years.  

Analysis by U.S. PIRG shows that public transportation created net oil savings of 3.4 billion gallons in 2006. That is enough to fuel almost 6 million cars for an entire year and saves consumers about $13.6 billion in gasoline at today’s prices.

“Rising gas prices are getting people out of their cars in record numbers,” said Krieger, “Investments like this give them a better and cheaper way to go.”

#  #   #

U.S. PIRG is the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups.  State PIRGs are non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organizations.

Here’s hoping the U.S. Senate approves this bill with a clear bipartisan majority as well.

We also need the leadership of the Iowa House and Senate, as well as Iowa Department of Transportation officials, to understand the need for greater investment in public transit options.

Unfortunately, the TIME-21 transportation plan adopted in Iowa this spring doesn’t require any additional funding to go toward public transit.

It’s possible that every one of the $4 billion likely to be raised through TIME-21 over the next two decades will be spent on roads. The legislature didn’t even impose a “fix-it first” requirement to make sure maintaining existing infrastructure would take priority over building new roads.

Like I’ve written before, it’s hard to drive less if no alternatives to driving are available.

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Action: Give us more transportation choices

I received this action alert today from Smart Growth America:

Dear [desmoinesdem],

Can you believe the impact rising gas prices are having across the country?

Here in D.C., people are abandoning their cars and taking the Metro in record numbers. But most Americans don’t have options like Metro for relief — they don’t have access to convienient public transportation or live in walkable, connected neighborhoods. For years, our leaders have underinvested in these solutions, and now we’re paying the price as fuel prices rise by the day.

We need to demand better transportation choices that can help us get where we need to go — while saving money, conserving oil, and fighting global warming. Urge your Congressional member to support more funding for transit, biking, and smart growth by clicking on the button below to send them a message.

Congressional members Earl Blumenauer and Ellen Tauscher are leading an effort to invest in transit and smart growth — please ask your Representative to join them!

Thanks for your support.

Steve Davis

Smart Growth America

Please feel free to forward this to any of your friends and colleagues who might be interested in taking action or receiving alerts like this one in the future. If you received this message from a friend, you can sign up for news and alerts here.

Keep track of SGA’s current advocacy work and get valuable resources to bolster your own efforts on our action page.

You can click here to

write and tell your representative to sign onto a letter from Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Ellen Tauscher urging Congress to increase funding for public transit, biking, public transportation, and walkable neighborhoods in federal climate legislation. Note: you can edit or personalize the text of the email below, which will help strengthen your message. Feel free to personalize it or add a story of your own from your legislator’s district.

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Two pieces worth reading on transportation policy

At Daily Kos, Devilstower offers five Good Ideas that are Bad Politics. They are:

A five year moratorium on new highway construction

End to single-purpose zoning

Bus Rapid Transit with Dedicated Lanes

Relaxing automotive safety laws

Fifty-five Mile an Hour Speed Limit

Click the link to read the case he makes for each of those. I agree with all of them except relaxing the safety rules. He makes some intriguing points, but I don’t think that change would produce the effect he’d like to see.

Yesterday, Daily Kos user bink wrote this diary: Amtrak Has Too Few Usable Train Cars Left. The gist is that demand for passenger rail is skyrocketing because of high gasoline prices, but Amtrak has a limited ability to lay on more trains because it has been starved of adequate funding for so long.

This should concern anyone who wants to see more passenger rail options available to Iowans.

By the way, Barack Obama wants to invest more in rail transportation, while John McCain has opposed funding for Amtrak for many years.

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1000 Friends of Iowa taking nominations for Best Development Awards

The non-profit organization 1000 Friends of Iowa gives out Best Development Awards every year to recognize “quality development and redevelopment projects in Iowa and leadership that upholds our mission.”

Here is the organization’s mission statement:

1000 Friends of Iowa promotes responsible development that

   *  Conserves and protects our agricultural and natural resources

   *  Revitalizes our neighborhoods, towns, and cities; and

   *  Improves the quality of life for future generations

The awards are given in six categories:

   * New Residential

   * Renovated Residential

   * Renovated Commercial/Civic

   * New Commercial/Civic

   * Mixed Use

   * Leadership

After the jump you can find more information about how to nominate a project, as well as the criteria used to judge nominees. That information can also be found here.

To see photos and read about the 2007 award-winners, click here.

The 2006 winners of the Best Development Awards can be seen on this page.

Click here to see which projects won in 2005.

The deadline for nominations is coming right up on June 25, so spread the word and act quickly if you know of a worthy project.

More details about the Best Development Awards are after the jump.

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"Driving Toward Disaster" and other links on transportation policy

Time for another post on transportation policy. Today I’ll go over reasons to give Americans more alternatives to driving, as well as ways individuals can reduce their own vehicle-miles traveled.

One way of looking at the issue is to assess the cost of not changing our transportation policy. James Howard Kunstler sounds the alarm in a Washington Post editorial published on Sunday. His piece, called “Driving Toward Disaster,” addresses

the desperate wish to keep our “Happy Motoring” utopia running by means other than oil and its byproducts. But the truth is that no combination of solar, wind and nuclear power, ethanol, biodiesel, tar sands and used French-fry oil will allow us to power Wal-Mart, Disney World and the interstate highway system — or even a fraction of these things — in the future. We have to make other arrangements.


And that’s the worst part of our quandary: the American public’s narrow focus on keeping all our cars running at any cost. Even the environmental community is hung up on this. The Rocky Mountain Institute has been pushing for the development of a “Hypercar” for years — inadvertently promoting the idea that we really don’t need to change.

Years ago, U.S. negotiators at a U.N. environmental conference told their interlocutors that the American lifestyle is “not up for negotiation.” This stance is, unfortunately, related to two pernicious beliefs that have become common in the United States in recent decades. The first is the idea that when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true. (Oprah Winfrey advanced this notion last year with her promotion of a pop book called “The Secret,” which said, in effect, that if you wish hard enough for something, it will come to you.) One of the basic differences between a child and an adult is the ability to know the difference between wishing for things and actually making them happen through earnest effort.


Fixing the U.S. passenger railroad system is probably the one project we could undertake right away that would have the greatest impact on the country’s oil consumption. The fact that we’re not talking about it — especially in the presidential campaign — shows how confused we are. The airline industry is disintegrating under the enormous pressure of fuel costs. Airlines cannot fire any more employees and have already offloaded their pension obligations and outsourced their repairs. At least five small airlines have filed for bankruptcy protection in the past two months. If we don’t get the passenger trains running again, Americans will be going nowhere five years from now.

Though many Americans may still be in denial about the need to improve other modes of travel, the message is becoming more mainstream every day.

A case in point is this long column by Rox Laird on the front page of the Sunday Des Moines Register’s opinion section: Mapping our future: Look to past for city life without cars. Laird made an excellent case for developing better alternatives to driving in the Des Moines metropolitan area. I recommend reading the whole column.

As a companion piece, the Des Moines Register’s editorial board published a call to change our transportation agenda:

The Des Moines MPO is beginning work on a plan that will set the transportation agenda for the next 30 years. The process – which begins with a public hearing this week (see accompanying box for details) – is an opportunity for local leaders to reconsider the traditional focus on accommodating automobiles and to focus more on better accommodating alternatives, such as buses, ride-sharing, vanpooling, bicycling and walking.

The reality is that in a Midwestern city like Des Moines, the automobile for at least the foreseeable future will remain the dominant mode of transportation. For better or worse, we have designed our cities around cars, and driving our own personal vehicle is the preferred means of transportation for most.

Still, it is time for transportation planning to include more opportunities for people to park the car and walk, cycle, roller-skate or catch a bus or a trolley for many short trips. That could be possible even with modest changes in the plans for residential and commercial districts. These small changes could have a significant impact on fuel consumption, greenhouse-gas emissions and personal fitness.

It will take time to rebuild our passenger rail system and improve public transit, walking and bicycling options within cities.

If you want to take immediate action to reduce the vehicle miles you travel by car, a fast and effective way is to start carpooling. This feature article from Cityview profiles Ann Pashek, who estimates that she saves about $4,500 on gas alone by using the Des Moines Area Regional Transit’s rideshare program to commute to her downtown Des Moines job from her home in Winterset. She also saves money on parking and vehicle maintenance.

My brother-in-law carpools to work most days in Washington, DC, and saves a lot of money as well. An added incentive in the Washington area is the high-occupancy vehicle lane on the beltway. Making one of the lanes on I-235 a high-occupancy vehicle lane would quickly increase the number of commuters carpooling to work.

Click on that feature article from Cityview to read about four other ways you can get around while dramatically reducing your gas usage.

On a related note, Markos put up a post this weekend about Walk Score, a site that evaluates your home’s location in terms of the ability to reach various kinds of amenities on foot. Markos noted that his home in the Bay Area scored an 88 (out of a possible 100), while George W. Bush’s Prairie Chapel ranch scored a zero.

My house in Windsor Heights (an inner-ring suburb of Des Moines) scored 48, although I noticed that the list of walkable amenities the site drew up did not include the Windsor Heights Hy-Vee under the grocery section. So your Walk Score might not be completely accurate. Still, it should give you an idea of how good your neighborhood is for pedestrians.

Another very useful web-based tool is the Housing + Transportation Affordability Index, developed by the Center for Neighborhood Technology and the Center for Transit Oriented Development.

The concept is simple:

Planners, lenders, and most consumers traditionally measure housing affordability as 30 percent or less of income. The Housing + Transportation Affordability Index, in contrast, takes into account not just the cost of housing, but also the intrinsic value of place, as quantified through transportation costs.

By clicking this link, you can check statistics for 52 different metro areas in the U.S. (unfortunately, no Iowa cities made the cut). It’s easy to see how certain parts of a big metropolitan area look more affordable if you are only considering housing costs, but are relatively more expensive once you factor in transportation costs as well.

But what if you don’t like walking, carpooling, bicycling or taking the bus, and you’re wealthy enough that you don’t feel the pinch when you fill up your tank?

Remember that a smart transportation policy, which reduces vehicle-miles traveled, is an essential part of any comprehensive strategy to combat global warming.

Smart Growth America has tons of information on this at their website, including a link to the report “Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change.”

The number of vehicle miles traveled per capita in the U.S. has increased at three times the rate of population growth in recent decades. Continued increases in vehicle miles traveled threaten to wipe out any reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions we could achieve by improving mileage or using cleaner fuels.

Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Tom Carper (D-DE) have introduced the Complete Streets Act of 2008 in the Senate. Norm Coleman (R-MN) is also a co-sponsor. Representative Doris Matsui (D-CA) has introduced a companion bill in the House called the Safe and Complete Streets Act of 2008. Please urge your representatives in Congress to co-sponsor this important legislation.

Final note: I read in March that George W. Bush’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2009 would cover a projected shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund by taking money away from public transportation projects.

I have to ask, is there any policy this president doesn’t get wrong?

We already devote way too little funding to public transit compared to road-building. Here’s hoping that rising gas prices will prompt the Democratic-controlled Congress to put more money, not less, into public transportation projects.

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Braley promoting passenger rail options for Iowans

Not long ago Amtrak released the results of a feasibility study on a passenger rail link between Iowa City, the Quad Cities, and Chicago. (Later this year the next phase of the study will examine extending passenger rail to Des Moines as well.)

A few days ago, Congressman Bruce Braley (IA-01) introduced the 2008 Amtrak Reauthorization Bill, which (according to a press release from Braley’s office)

includes language to create a new, $500 million per year “State Capital Grant Program.”  The program would award federal grants to states to pay for the construction of new passenger rail service between US cities.

Projects that could apply for funding under this program include proposed passenger rail service between Chicago and the Quad Cities, the Quad Cities and Des Moines via Iowa City, and Chicago and Dubuque.

The bill also includes a Braley-sponsored provision mandating a Federal Railroad Administration study into the viability of the widespread use of biolubricants in freight and passenger rail as an alternative to petroleum-based lubricants.  The University of Northern Iowa’s National Ag-Based Lubricant Center (NABL) is located in Iowa’s First District.

The full text of the press release is after the jump.

I appreciate Braley’s leadership on this issue and wonder why my own Congressman Leonard Boswell hasn’t made passenger rail service between Chicago and Des Moines more of a priority in his work on the House Transportation Committee. My family would love to be able to take a train to Chicago. It would be much easier for us than traveling by car or plane with two small children.

Expanding passenger rail will also help us reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, and will be more cost-effective as the price of oil continues to rise in the long term.

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People can't switch to public transit if there is no public transit

Marc Hansen’s latest column goes over the hidden benefits of rising gas prices. For instance, people may reduce driving speeds on the highway to improve mileage, which will save gas and save lives.

His piece also mentions that higher prices at the pump have increased the number of people using various forms of public transit in a lot of cities.

The New York Times published a similar article on Saturday: Gas Prices Send Surge of Riders to Mass Transit. That piece gives examples of growing demand for public transit all over the country, not only in cities with historically strong systems such as New York and Boston, but also in Denver, Minneapolis, Seattle, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Francisco, Houston, Nashville, Salt Lake City, and Charlotte, NC.

This isn’t rocket science. If the price of gas keeps going up, count on more people to be looking for alternatives to driving.

Trouble is, the Iowa legislature just adopted (and Governor Culver signed) the TIME-21 transportation plan, which does not require any of the increased transportation funding to be spent on public transit.

People can’t switch to the bus if there is no bus line running through their neighborhood and going somewhere they need to go, and they can’t take the train if there is no commuter rail in their metro area.

We’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars on rebuilding and expanding I-235 through Des Moines and the suburbs, yet we didn’t even put in a high-occupancy vehicle lane to encourage carpooling. (A high-occupancy vehicle lane can only be used by vehicles carrying at least two licensed drivers.)

Our elected and appointed officials need to be more forward-thinking when it comes to transportation and economic development generally.

It’s great that Amtrak is talking about adding passenger rail service to link Iowa City and the Quad Cities to Chicago, but we also need more alternatives to driving that Iowans can use on a daily basis.

For much more on what a smart transportation policy would look like, check out this page at the Smart Growth America website.

10 ways to combat asthma (in honor of Asthma Awareness Month and World Asthma Day)

Asthma has been on my mind lately, because a child in my extended family was recently diagnosed with it after going to the hospital for respiratory problems. The chronic disease is one of the leading causes of hospitalization in children.

In addition, at least 20 million American adults are estimated to have asthma.

Today is World Asthma Day, in connection with Asthma Awareness Month.

Join me after the jump to read about five policies our society should implement, as well as five steps individuals can take, to reduce the incidence and severity of asthma in our households and across the country.

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Mixed-use development: good for people, business and the environment

David Elbert wrote an interesting piece for Wednesday’s Des Moines Register about a mixed-use developments in the “East Village” area of downtown Des Moines. The article’s main focus is a new project that

will have retail on the ground floor, offices on the second and residential units on the third, fourth and fifth floors.

It’s a combination found in stylish developments from Boston to Seattle. Sort of a 21st-century version of the strip mall, without cars and more compact.

Tenants like the concept because the multiple-use design brings people together.

Developers like it because three profit centers – retail, commercial and residential – spread risk in uncertain times.

These neighborhoods offer a good quality of life for people who want a more urban setting, and are good for developers too.

What Elbert didn’t mention is that compact development is also good for the environment; it can reduce the carbon-dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming.

First, mixed-use developments substantially reduce emissions from cars, because their residents live close to amenities and have alternatives to driving. The “Growing Cooler” report on Smart Growth America’s website explains why:

“Curbing emissions from cars depends on a three-legged stool: improved vehicle efficiency, cleaner fuels, and a reduction in driving,” said lead author Reid Ewing, Research Professor at the National Center for Smart Growth, University of Maryland. “The research shows that one of the best ways to reduce vehicle travel is to build places where people can accomplish more with less driving.”

Depending on several factors, from mix of land uses to pedestrian-friendly design, compact development reduces driving from 20 to 40 percent, and more in some instances, according to the forthcoming book Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change. Typically, Americans living in compact urban neighborhoods where cars are not the only transportation option drive a third fewer miles than those in automobile-oriented suburbs, the researchers found.


“Clearly, the development industry has a key role in the search for solutions to offset the impact of climate change,” said ULI Senior Resident Fellow William H. Hudnut, III, former mayor of Indianapolis. “Whether close-in or in suburbs, well-planned communities give residents the option to walk, bike or take transit to nearby shopping, retail and entertainment. Being able to spend less time behind the wheel will benefit our health, our pocketbooks and the environment.”

Implementing the policies recommended in the report would reverse a decades-long trend. Since 1980, the number of miles Americans drive has grown three times faster than population, and almost twice as fast as vehicle registrations. Spread-out development is the key factor in that rate of growth, the research team found.

The findings show that people who move into compact, “green neighborhoods” are making as big a contribution to fighting global warming as those who buy the most efficient hybrid vehicles, but remain in car-dependent areas.

Second, apartments or condominiums in mixed-use buildings like the ones described in Elbert’s piece cost less to heat and cool. If you’ve ever used one of those online tools to calculate your carbon footprint, you know that having a stand-alone house with four exterior walls significantly increases your energy usage.

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Just what the metro area needs (not!)

We’ve already got a small airport in Ankeny as well as the Des Moines International Airport, so why on earth do we need a regional airport in Dallas County?

This proposal would not benefit the community as a whole and would be a poor use of taxpayer dollars:

The first phase of the project is expected to cost about $25 million. Subsequent phases will add a crosswind runway. Airport authority members have said the first aircraft would take off no earlier than 2011.

The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to pay for about 75 percent of the airport’s construction.

The runway layout approved on Tuesday differs from those in several previous proposals. The main runway would lie on a north-south line to minimize the impact on neighbors, Hefner said.

Regardless, property owners and representatives from Dallas Center and Waukee reiterated their disdain for the project. Both cities have passed resolutions opposing it. West Des Moines has also decided not to contribute financially.

Adel is the only city in the immediate area to support the airport plan.

Waukee City Administrator Jeff Kooistra said an airport would provide little help to the area economy.

A few businesses would benefit from the Metro West Airport’s construction, but it’s not worth the cost.

For background information, check out this website created by Dallas County citizens who oppose the airport. The site could use updating, but the basic information is there.

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Improve transportation policy at the federal and state levels

I was pleased to read in the Des Moines Register that Governor Culver is behind a more balanced, flexible and farsighted federal transportation policy:

Iowa Gov. Chet Culver joined Democratic members of Congress and business leaders Wednesday to announce the launch of a long-term push to improve the nation’s roads, bridges, water systems and transit.

Culver, representing the nation’s 28 Democratic governors, and the members of Congress said states, the federal government and private business must work together to improve the infrastructure.

“We need a national game plan,” he said after a two-hour meeting behind closed doors. “I believe it’s time for a bold, new, 21st-century national infrastructure plan of action.”


In remarks to the group, Culver said any plan must take into account not just roads and bridges but also public transit, passenger and freight rail, information technology, grids, trails and waterways. States must have as much flexibility as possible, given their varying needs.

Culver is smart to call for a comprehensive game plan on transportation, rather than just securing road-building funds for our state.

Investing more in alternatives to driving is good for the environment and will be essential if we are serious about reducing our carbon-dioxide emissions.

As the U.S. population ages, having better rail and public transit options will also improve the quality of life for seniors who do not drive.

There will be economic benefits too, especially if we are headed for $4 and $5 a gallon gasoline.

I hope that the governor will show similar leadership on improving our transportation planning at the state level.

As I have written before, the Iowa Department of Transportation’s TIME-21 plan takes a narrow and short-sighted approach, calling for extra investment solely in road-building. We should take a “fix-it first” approach to the road funds, devoting a greater share of funding to repairing our existing roads and bridges. We also need to invest in alternatives to driving, because reducing the vehicle miles traveled per capita needs to be part of our state’s response to global warming.

UPDATE: Just saw this interesting diary by Daily Kos user futurebird:


key excerpt:

This graph shows how our government policies about parking, public roads, and tolls make driving a more attractive option for many people in US cities. This is why changing planning policy, eliminating parking lot requirements, increasing the gas tax so that fully covers the costs of highway construction and the other social and environmental costs of driving is so important for creating sustainable, inter-modal transportation systems in our cities.

Notice that, in an urban area, the total cost of both bus and rail systems is lower than the total costs of using a car. But when people make the choice to drive each day they tend to think about the out-of-pocket costs of driving (gas) rather than considering the indirect costs of car ownership, auto insurance and car maintenance. People are even less aware of the fact that the gas tax, at its current level, is not high enough to cover all of the costs of road maintenance. The environmental and social impacts of driving (such as the impact it has on public heath, and the cost of policing the roadways, recovering stolen cars, and dealing with accidents) are even harder to see.

Click the link if you want to see the graph.

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Put some balance in our state transportation planning

Wednesday’s Des Moines Register contained this article on the “TIME-21” plan that the Iowa Department of Transportation has submitted to the legislature.

TIME-21 is short for “Transportation Investment Moves the Economy in the 21st Century.”

The DOT’s plan for the next two decades would spend an additional $4 billion on road construction and repairs, while spending no additional funds on “public transit, passenger and freight railroads, commuter rail service, walking and biking trails, aviation, or other options.”

To the Register’s credit, they gave space to opposing views:

“It’s unfortunate that we are designating transportation funds to meet the needs of the past,” said Stephanie Weisenbach, program coordinator for 1000 Friends of Iowa, a citizens’ group that promotes sustainable development and responsible land use.

“We know that thoughts about how to move people and goods are changing.”

She points to research by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency showing transportation as the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for about 27 percent of total U.S. emissions.

She contends Iowa needs more flexibility in financing transportation alternatives because money from the state’s road use tax fund can be spent only on road projects.

Not increasing alternatives to cars and trucks “would be a fairly big mistake, just given the interest we are seeing in reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Mark Kresowik, a conservation organizer for the Sierra Club in Iowa. He said Iowa is a big producer, per capita, of greenhouse gases because of its heavy reliance on coal, oil and fertilizer and because of long distances that motorists travel in a rural state.

By the way, Representative Geri Huser of Altoona, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, offered the most ludicrous straw man argument I’ve heard in a while:

Huser said she wants to explore alternatives to Iowans’ reliance on automobiles, but she has to be realistic.

“I have to tell you I have not had any legislator come up to me and say, ‘We would rather not fix roads that are a problem, and I want to focus all of our resources on trails and bus transportation,’ ” Huser said.

Representative Huser, no one is talking about focusing “all of our resources” on alternative transportation. We are talking about adjusting a plan that currently calls for spending $4 billion on roads and nothing on other kinds of transportation.

Bicyclists and bus riders also want roads to be fixed, obviously, but we don’t need to do that to the exclusion of any other transportation investments.

Here are a bunch of good links on the benefits of a balanced transportation policy.

If you care about this issue, write a letter to the editor or join one of the groups fighting for sanity in our transportation planning: 1000 Friends of Iowa, Sierra Club of Iowa, or the Iowa Bicycle Coalition.

UPDATE: DOT Director Nancy Richardson responds in Friday’s Register, but doesn’t get the point:

“We can’t have the road system solve the greenhouse-gas emission problem. It’s not emitting the gas, the dangerous fumes – the vehicles are. If we really want to make a difference, we need to focus on the vehicles that are driving on those roads.”

But in fact, if we don’t get a handle on our urban planning and transportation priorities, then we won’t be able to solve the greenhouse-gas emission problem:

In a comprehensive review of dozens of studies, published by the Urban Land Institute, the researchers conclude that urban development is both a key contributor to climate change and an essential factor in combating it.

They warn that if sprawling development continues to fuel growth in driving, the projected 59 percent increase in the total miles driven between 2005 and 2030 will overwhelm expected gains from vehicle efficiency and low-carbon fuels. Even if the most stringent fuel-efficiency proposals under consideration are enacted, notes co-author Steve Winkelman, “vehicle emissions still would be 40 percent above 1990 levels in 2030 – entirely off-track from reductions of 60-80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 required for climate protection.”

“Curbing emissions from cars depends on a three-legged stool: improved vehicle efficiency, cleaner fuels, and a reduction in driving,” said lead author Reid Ewing, Research Professor at the National Center for Smart Growth, University of Maryland. “The research shows that one of the best ways to reduce vehicle travel is to build places where people can accomplish more with less driving.”

In other words, a transportation policy agenda focused solely on road-building will fail to reduce miles driven, which needs to be a key element in our response to global warming.

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