# Transportation Policy

"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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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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Speak up for wiser investments in transportation

I learned from 1000 Friends Of Iowa that the Iowa Department of Transportation and the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization are seeking public input on two important issues.

The DOT is finalizing the Statewide Public Transportation Study and will make recommendations to the state legislature in December. Officials want to hear from Iowans about:

   * Baseline level of service for public transportation in Iowa

   * Gap analysis between baseline service and public transportation demands of Iowans.

   * Transportation services needed to close these gaps.

   * The additional cost of these services.

   * Addressing Iowa’s energy conservation goals.

   * The range of possible funding concepts to address service needs.

   * Draft findings of the study to date.

You can comment on any of these issues at public meetings in Centerville, Sioux City, Des Moines, Iowa City, Bettendorf, or Waterloo on September 15-17 (event details are after the jump). Alternatively, you can submit comments through an online survey at www.iRIDE21.com.

Anyone with an opinion on how to improve Iowa’s passenger transportation should let the DOT know. You do not have to be an expert or policy wonk. Remember, public transit is not just for big city residents. An express bus or vanpool that takes people from a smaller town to work in a nearby larger city saves passengers money while reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Last year the weekly Cityview profiled Winterset resident Ann Pashek, who saves thousands of dollars a year through the Des Moines Area Transit Authority’s Rideshare program.

Meanwhile, the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is hosting the last series of public input meetings on the Horizon Year 2035 Metropolitan Transportation Plan. They need to hear from central Iowa residents who are concerned about land use, air quality and global warming.

Although reducing vehicle miles driven is a critical element of any plan to address greenhouse gas emissions, the DMAMPO’s plan for the next 25 years involves 341 projects that, if completed, would increase vehicle miles traveled in our region by 33 percent (by the DMAMPO’s own calculations). 1000 Friends of Iowa adds:

The study also indicated that despite increases in [vehicle miles traveled], cleaner vehicles and fuels will result in continued reductions in vehicle pollutant emissions.  Gasoline was used in their project model.  However, when ethanol was used the increase in CO2 was 66% higher.  DNR Air Quality Division has studies which conclude that emissions with ethanol are substantially higher.   It seems this plan will not reduce VMTs or promote cleaner air.

The DMAMPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization) is hosting the final series of public input meetings to receive input and comments on the HY 2035 MTP final draft. You must tell the DMAMPO that Central Iowans want to concentrate more transportation dollars on alternatives which will promote the responsible use of our states resources, land water and air. This is the most important series of meetings, please mark your calendars, plan to attend and make your opinion count!

The DMAMPO meetings are on September 15 and 16 at the North Side Library in Des Moines. Event details are in the 1000 Friends of Iowa action alert, which I’ve posted after the jump. That also includes talking points as well as contact information for those who prefer to submit written comments to the DMAMPO. Anyone can send a comment; you do not have to have attended a public meeting.

On a related note, today is the last day to submit a comment urging the DNR to protect water quality in Iowa’s cleanest lakes and streams. Please take a minute to send an e-mail to the right DNR officials.

So much policy that affects our lives is made below the radar. If I weren’t involved with 1000 Friends of Iowa, I would never have heard of these discussions about transportation priorities. If I weren’t involved with the Iowa Environmental Council and the Sierra Club’s Iowa Chapter, I would not have heard of the debate over water quality rules either. I encourage you to join some non-profit organizations that are active on matters important to you. You will become much more informed than if you rely solely on the mainstream media.

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Iowa turning stimulus road funds around quickly

The U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has been keeping track of how states are spending the stimulus funds allocated for roads. On September 2 the committee released a report ranking the states according to how much of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding for highways and bridges had been put to work as of July 31. This pdf file contains the state rankings.

Iowa ranked second overall, having put 75 percent of its stimulus road funds to work by the end of July. Join me after the jump for more details from the report and analysis.  

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A few links on passenger rail and transportation policy

Governor Chet Culver rode a train from Iowa City to Chicago Sunday, promoting passenger rail links en route to the Midwest High Speed Rail Summit, which starts Monday.  

After the jump I’ve posted some news relating to passenger rail in Iowa and nationwide, including a follow-up on Congressman Tom Latham’s attempt to transfer funds from high-speed rail to the highway fund.

UPDATE: From the governor’s office on July 27:

Governor Chet Culver and Governor Pat Quinn today signed a Memorandum of Understanding to coordinate efforts by Iowa and Illinois to establish passenger rail service from Chicago to Dubuque and from Chicago to the Quad Cities and Iowa City.

In addition, Governor Culver joined leaders from eight states who signed a Memorandum of Understanding in support of regional high-speed rail. That agreement includes, as a key goal, extending passenger service from Iowa City to Des Moines and on to Omaha. […]

Following the signing of the eight-state high-speed rail agreement, Iowa and Illinois officials signed a separate agreement that spells out action to be taken by the transportation departments in both states.

Click here and scroll down to find links to the rail agreements signed in Chicago on July 27.

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Iowa investing transportation stimulus funds well so far

June 29 was exactly 120 days since the federal government released highway funds to the states as part of the economic stimulus bill (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act). Smart Growth America marked the occasion by releasing a review on how wisely states are spending the transportation money.

The 120-day mark is significant because it is the point by which states and territories are required to have obligated 50 percent of the flexible money granted them for transportation projects by the federal government. The money is meant to stimulate the economy, but also – in the language of the Act – “to invest in transportation, environmental protection, and other infrastructure that will provide long-term economic benefits.”

Iowa received about $358 million in federal highway stimulus funds, and I was pleased to read in Smart Growth America’s report (pdf file) that our state’s allocations compare favorably with those in most other states. Follow me after the jump for more details.  

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Iowa DOT seeking input on passenger transportation funding

I received an action alert from 1000 Friends of Iowa about six important public meetings next week:

The Iowa DOT is presenting Iowans with a golden opportunity to encourage sustainable transportation and land-use before April ends. Whether you feel we need more bike-to-work lanes, passenger rail options, or goals to address climate change – this is your chance to be heard. Six meetings are being held across the state to seek the public’s input on transportation needs.  […] The Statewide Passenger Transportation Funding Study is seeking your input to identify gaps between current public transit, carpool/vanpool programs, intercity bus and rail services, and what you and your neighbors believe are transportation needs.  Using the information from these meetings and through other sources, plans will be made to address Iowa’s future transportation plans.

Event details for the meetings in Ames, Atlantic, Ottumwa, Mason City, Cedar Rapids and Cherokee are after the jump.

Please spread the word among Iowans who would like to see more investment in public transportation and alternatives to driving. You don’t have to be an expert to speak or submit written comments at one of these meetings. Just say a few words about where Iowa’s passenger transportation is lacking and why you’d like to see it improved.

Remember, public transit is not just for big city residents. An express bus or vanpool that takes people from a smaller town to work in a nearby larger city saves riders money while reducing oil usage and greenhouse gas emissions. Last year the weekly Cityview profiled Winterset resident Ann Pashek, who uses the Des Moines Area Transit Authority’s Rideshare program. Taking the van to and from Pashek job in Des Moines saves her thousands of dollars a year, and she can use the commute to “complete work or pay bills that would normally detract from valuable family time.”

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Tax reform stalled, bonding package still moving

I was expecting a showdown in the Iowa House this week over the tax reform package that Governor Chet Culver worked out with key Democratic legislators. Republican State Representative Chris Rants announced his intention to amend the tax bill so that marriage would be defined as between a man and a woman.

However, the tax bill never came up for a vote before legislators went home for the weekend. House Speaker Pat Murphy said on April 15 that he had only 50 votes in favor of the proposal:

According to Murphy, he had lined up 52 Democrats to vote for the bill, but two Democrats changed their minds after adjustments sought by the governor broadened the number of Iowans who would get a tax cut — and amounted to a roughly $50 million reduction in the amount of income taxes collected.

“All we need is one person to change their mind,” Murphy says. “…We’re still optimistic we’ll get it done before we adjourn.”

Murphy is counting on Governor Chet Culver, a fellow Democrat, to help find the extra vote that will get the bill passed.

“We still believe that it is a middle class tax cut,” Murphy says. “We still believe it simplifies the tax code and we are optimistic that we will pass it yet this year.”

Murphy may be optimistic, but I’m feeling a sense of deja vu. Two months ago House Democrats were stuck at 50 votes for the “prevailing wage” bill heading into a weekend. The governor and legislative leaders failed to find the 51st vote to pass that measure.

If Murphy’s assessment is correct, two Iowa House Democrats supported the original tax reform bill but not the deal worked out with the governor. Does anyone know who they are, and why they are refusing to get behind the revised tax bill? Do they disagree with changes to the bill, or are they spooked by pressure they are getting from anti-tax conservative activists? It would be a big mistake for the legislature to let this bill die now. Overhauling the tax system won’t become politically easier during an election year.

In other economic policy news, Jason Hancock reports today that prospects look good for three bills which, combined, would approve $700 billion in bonding for infrastructure projects in Iowa. Click here for more details about the bills and what they would pay for. The main difference between this package of bills and Culver’s bonding proposal is that the governor wanted $200 million from bonding to pay for roads and bridges. Legislators have specified that the bonds must be used to fund other kinds of infrastructure projects.

Many Iowa legislators wanted to pass a small gas tax increase this year and next to fund more road projects, but a veto threat from Culver killed that proposal. The federal stimulus package approved this year did include about $358 million in highway funds for Iowa (click that link for more details). I’m with legislators on this one. I’d rather see money raised through bonding used for other kinds of projects.

I am glad to see Democrats move ahead on the bonding bills despite a recent Des Moines Register poll. The poll indicated that just 24 percent supported “Governor Chet Culver’s plan to borrow money to speed up public works projects,” while 71 percent said the state should “pay for the projects as it has the money over time.” That’s a badly-worded poll question if I ever heard one. I’ll bet that people who say we should only take on what we have cash for right now will change their mind once bonding money starts funding projects in their own cities and counties.

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Obama announces plans for high-speed rail funding

LATE UPDATE: This piece by BruceMcF is a must-read: How to build a national high-speed rail system.

President Barack Obama and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood released a

blueprint for a new national network of high-speed passenger rail lines Thursday, saying such an investment is necessary to reduce traffic congestion, cut dependence on foreign oil and improve the environment.

The president’s plan identifies 10 potential high-speed intercity corridors for federal funding, including California, the Pacific Northwest, the Midwest, the Southeast, the Gulf Coast, Pennsylvania, Florida, New York and New England.

It also highlights potential improvements in the heavily traveled Northeast Corridor running from Washington to Boston, Massachusetts.

The economic stimulus package included about $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, and Obama is seeking an additional $1 billion each year for high-speed rail in the next five federal budgets.

After the jump I’ve got more details on how this funding could benefit Iowa.

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Tell legislators to fund passenger rail in Iowa

Following up on my post from Wednesday, here’s another issue to bring up when you contact your state representatives and senators. (Hat tip to noneed4thneed.)

Iowa Global Warming is calling on supporters to advocate for at least $25 million in passenger rail funding as part of the huge infrastructure bonding package that is likely to pass. $25 million is less than 5 percent of the cost of the bonding bill.

I’m a fan of calling your elected officials rather than e-mailing this late in the session, because I am not convinced they get through all the messages in their in-boxes.

Iowa Senate switchboard: 515-281-3371

Iowa House switchboard: 515-281-3221

If you prefer to e-mail, Iowa Global Warming has made it really easy for you on this page. They also provide some talking points, such as

– The future of our state economy will be determined by the decisions we make now about infrastructure

– Reliable, efficient and economical rail service connecting Iowa to Chicago and other Midwest cities will ensure that Iowa can fully benefit from the regional economy

Iowa Global Warming has a sample letter ready for you to send, although it’s better to put these things in your own words if you have time.

This thread is for discussing anything Iowa progressives should bring up with their representatives and senators before the end of session. Don’t let anyone tell you elected officials don’t pay attention to how many voters they hear from on an issue.  

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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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Action: Public meeting on transportation policy tonight

I didn’t know about this event when I posted my weekly calendar, but I received an action alert from 1000 Friends of Iowa about an important meeting tonight in Des Moines. The full action alert is after the jump, including details on the place and time. Here is an excerpt:

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) & the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) have scheduled a Public Input Meeting to gather comments from citizens regarding the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s (DMAMPO) transportation planning process.

Every four years the FHWA & the FTA conduct a certification review of the DMAMPO. The review evaluates the effectiveness of the DMAMPO’s transportation planning process, and ensures federal guidelines are being followed. Each MPO is required to solicit and utilize citizen input in local transportation decisions. If citizen input isn’t resulting in changes that reflect the unique transportation needs of the community, the public participation process must be adjusted to make certain it does. […]

The experience of 1000 Friends of Iowa is that the FHA pays attention to the comments of citizens. In the 2005 Transportation Planning Certification Review Summary Report under “Overview of Findings From the 2005 Certification Review”, the FHWA & FTA noted that “The Year 2030 Long-Range Transportation Plan appears to be a collection of local transportation desires rather than a document offering a regional focus for the Des Moines metropolitan area’s future transportation system. The Plan needs to provide a regional vision, rather than just serve as a compilation of local priorities.”  

(emphasis added) With federal stimulus dollars on the way and the state of Iowa potentially

issuing new bonds to pay for infrastructure, it is critical that we not blindly follow a bunch of local wish lists for new roads. We should fix what we have first.

Speaking of which, a new national survey by Hart Research Associates found that

An overwhelming majority of Americans believe restoring existing roads and bridges and expanding transportation options should take precedence over building new roads […]

To accommodate future U.S. population growth, which is expected to increase by 100 million by 2050, Americans favor improving intercity rail and transit, walking and biking over building new highways. When asked what the federal government’s top priority should be for 2009 transportation funding, half of all respondents recommended maintaining and repairing roads and bridges, while nearly one third said “expanding and improving bus, rail, and other public transportation.” Only 16 percent said “expanding and improving roads, highways, freeways and bridges.”

When asked about approaches to addressing traffic, 47 percent preferred improving public transportation, 25 percent chose building communities that encourage people not to drive, and 20 percent preferred building new roads. fifty-six percent of those surveyed believe the federal government is not devoting enough attention to trains and light rail systems, and three out of four favor improving intercity rail and transit.

Transportation for America, a new coalition of more than 225 organizations, has called on President Barack Obama and Congress to “launch a new federal transportation mission.” The federal transportation program comes up for reauthorization in Congress later this year.

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House passes economic stimulus bill, no thanks to Republicans

The House of Representatives passed an $819 billion economic stimulus bill today by a vote of 244-188. Here is the roll call. Iowa Democrats Bruce Braley (IA-01), Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Leonard Boswell (IA-03) all voted with the majority. Republicans unanimously opposed the bill, including Tom Latham (IA-04) and Steve King (IA-05), and 11 “Blue Dog” Democrats also voted no.

All the news reports have emphasized that not a single Republican voted for this package, even though President Barack Obama tried hard (too hard if you ask me) to bring them on board.

It reminds me of 1993, when Congressional Republicans unanimously opposed President Bill Clinton’s first budget. The GOP seems to be banking on running against Democrats’ management of the economy in the midterm elections. For that reason, I think it’s foolish for Democrats to try to cater to Republicans. Passing a stimulus bill that truly helps the economy should be paramount.

I’ll update this post later with more details about what made it into the House bill and what got left behind. I’m pleased to note that an amendment significantly increasing mass transit funding passed. A Siegel tells you which Democrats deserve particular credit for this achievement. By the way, mass transit is not just for large cities.

UPDATE: Congressman Loebsack’s office sent out a release with a long list of provisions in the stimulus bill. I’ve posted it after the jump, so click “there’s more” if you want all the details.

The top point of the release is that Loebsack successfully pushed for school modernization funds to be included in the stimulus package.

At the very end of the press release, you’ll see that the stimulus bill “Prevents [Illinois] Governor [Rod] Blagojevich from directing the use of funds provided in the package.” I understand why people would worry about him administering any funds earmarked for Illinois, but I am with Adam B: this provision is tantamount to “bribing the jury” of Illinois senators who are considering impeachment charges against Blagojevich.

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Bleeding Heartland Year in Review: Iowa politics in 2008

Last year at this time I was scrambling to make as many phone calls and knock on as many doors as I could before the Iowa caucuses on January 3.

This week I had a little more time to reflect on the year that just ended.

After the jump I’ve linked to Bleeding Heartland highlights in 2008. Most of the links relate to Iowa politics, but some also covered issues or strategy of national importance.

I only linked to a few posts about the presidential race. I’ll do a review of Bleeding Heartland’s 2008 presidential election coverage later this month.

You can use the search engine on the left side of the screen to look for past Bleeding Heartland diaries about any person or issue.

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Will Blue Dog power decline in the next Congress? (updated)

Many a bad bill has passed the U.S. House of Representatives with the votes of Republicans and Democratic “Blue Dogs.” These representatives call themselves “moderates” or “centrists,” and you often find them voting with corporate interests, against the majority of the House Democratic caucus, when the chips are down.

This Washington Post article about the upcoming debate over an economic stimulus bill cites Representative Baron Hill of Indiana as “incoming co-chairman of the Blue Dog Coalition, a caucus of 51 fiscally conservative House Democrats.”

Hill wants the economic stimulus money to go toward road and bridge construction, whereas others would like to see more of the money spent on “green jobs” and infrastructure projects that are more environmentally friendly than building new roads. Progressives would like to spend the transportation money on fixing our existing roads and bridges while expanding public transit and rail.

Friends of the Earth has launched a campaign to “keep the economic stimulus clean”:

Transportation in the U.S. is responsible for 30 percent of our global warming pollution and 70 percent of our oil consumption. We cannot solve the energy and climate challenge without making our transportation system far cleaner and more efficient.

President-elect Obama and the congressional leadership are moving quickly to pass an economic stimulus package that creates green jobs with a new, clean energy infrastructure. Public transportation, smart growth and green transportation alternatives are a crucial part of this effort.

Unfortunately, the road-building lobby is attempting to hijack this bill and divert billions of dollars to the construction of new, unnecessary roads, highways and bridges that would deepen our nation’s dependence on oil and increase greenhouse gas emissions.

Click here for more details about the economic and environmental consequences of letting new road construction dominate the stimulus bill.

Getting back to the title of this diary, Matt Stoller read that Washington Post piece about debates over the stimulus and was intrigued to learn that Hill claims 51 members for the Blue Dog Coalition:

Last session, there were 49 Blue Dogs, and during the election season the caucus continually bragged about how they would add a substantial number of new members in 2009.  Still, their PAC didn’t give to very many Democratic candidates, two Blue Dogs lost reelection, and a bunch of their candidate prospects lost.  If it’s true that the Blue Dogs have only increased their number by 2, and I’m not sure it is, then they really are far weaker in the House than they were from 2006-2008.  There are 257 Democrats in the next Congress and 178 Republicans.  While the Blue Dogs are still a swing bloc, they only have 11 votes to give.  That’s not very many, considering that this number assumes all Republicans always vote with the Blue Dogs.  If Republicans split off from their caucus on certain votes, even small numbers of Republicans, then Blue Dog priorities are far less likely to matter overall.

Leonard Boswell (IA-03) is the only Iowa Democrat in the Blue Dog group. Once the new House convenes, it will be interesting to see how the Blue Dogs compare in number to the Progressive Caucus, which had 71 members in the last Congress, including Dave Loebsack (IA-02). My hunch is that the Progressive Caucus will add a lot more new members than the Blue Dogs.

After the new year I’ll try to find out how many members Bruce Braley (IA-01) was able to recruit to the Populist Caucus he is forming.

Whether or not Blue Dog power declines in the House, it may be on the rise in the Senate. Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana is setting up a Blue Dog caucus in the upper chamber. Although Senate Majority leader Harry Reid’s spokesman claims Reid is “upbeat” about Bayh’s plans, it’s likely that the Senate Blue Dogs will collude with Republicans to obstruct Barack Obama’s agenda.

Matthew Yglesias advanced a very plausible hypothesis about Bayh’s move:

With Republicans out of power, the GOP can’t really block progressive change in exchange for large sums of special interest money. That creates an important market niche for Democrats willing to do the work. It was a good racket for the House Blue Dogs in 2007-2008 and there’s no reason it couldn’t work for Senate analogues over the next couple of years.

Let’s hope the memory of the 1994 Republican landslide will induce conservative Democrats not to block most of Obama’s agenda. The Democrats who ran Congress in 1993 and 1994 wanted to show Bill Clinton who was boss, but the effect was to make Democrats look incompetent, depressing Democratic base turnout in 1994 and turning swing voters toward the Republicans.

On the other hand, I would not underestimate the Blue Dogs’ willingness to do what big money wants, whether or not it’s good for the Democratic Party.

Share any relevant thoughts in the comments.

UPDATE: Kagro X notes that the Progressive Caucus seems to be a more cohesive voting bloc than the Blue Dogs, which is surprising.

Meanwhile, Chris Bowers argues persuasively than the Blue Dogs have achieved little on their alleged signature issue of “fiscal responsibility”:

If the Blue Dogs only exist in order to promote “fiscal responsibility,” isn’t it pretty clear that, rather than getting their way, they have actually failed across the board over the last eight years? From the Bush tax cuts, to soaring deficits, to making exceptions for war, to making exceptions for bailouts, to making exceptions to stimulus packages, the Blue Dogs have completely and utterly failed at their stated primary policy area and done so at every available opportunity.

The only actual successes of the Blue Dogs appear to be the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] re-write and blank check funding for Iraq. It is notable that 38 of the 47 Blue Dogs voted in favor of both these measures, which jointly render a member a “Bush Dog” in Open Left’s terminology. Given that 70 House members voted in favor of both those measures, the Democratic defectors on those issues were clearly spearheaded by the Blue Dogs.

Mainly, I am impressed that Blue Dogs keep earning press that describes them as fiscally responsible and wildly powerful, when the record shows otherwise. When offered opportunities to actually clamp down on spending over the last two years, the Blue Dogs have balked at every turn, favoring blank check funding for Iraq, blank check funding for the bailout, and massive funding for the economic stimulus. That a group of House members can do all of this and still be described as both “fiscally responsible” and “powerful” is pretty impressive. Maybe what we progressives really need is to hire the Blue Dogs’ PR people.

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How bad is this economy?

Worse than you thought:

Skittish employers slashed 533,000 jobs in November, the most in 34 years, catapulting the unemployment rate to 6.7 percent, dramatic proof the country is careening deeper into recession.


As companies throttled back hiring, the unemployment rate bolted from 6.5 percent in October to 6.7 percent last month, a 15-year high.

“These numbers are shocking,” said economist Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economics Advisors. “Companies are sharply reacting to the economy’s problems and slashing costs. They are not trying to ride it out.”

The unemployment rate would have moved even higher if not for the exodus of 422,000 people from the work force. Economists thought many of those people probably abandoned their job searches out of sheer frustration. In November 2007, the jobless rate was at 4.7 percent.

I knew things were bad (I have a couple of friends who’ve been laid off this fall), but I am surprised the monthly job-loss total is worse than at any time since 1974. That is terrible.

At Daily Kos, TomP has Barack Obama’s response to the unemployment numbers. Excerpt:

At the same time, this painful crisis also provides us with an opportunity to transform our economy to improve the lives of ordinary people by rebuilding roads and modernizing schools for our children, investing in clean energy solutions to break our dependence on imported oil, and making an early down payment on the long-term reforms that will grow and strengthen our economy for all Americans for years to come.”

It looks like Obama will try to fold a lot of energy and infrastructure programs into a large economic stimulus bill early next year. That’s a smart approach, but I hope he won’t make too many concessions to boondoggles like “clean coal.” Also, I would hope that a large portion of the infrastructure spending goes on fixing and maintaining current roads and bridges, along with expanding rail travel. Too often federal spending on the transportation sector goes largely toward new road construction.

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Obama administration wish list open thread

A Siegel wants aggressive action to green our country’s school buildings, which is a “win-win-win-win strategy” because it would:

# Save money for communities and taxpayers

# Create employment

# Foster capacity for ‘greening’ the nation

# Reduce pollution loads

# Improve health

# Improve student performance / achievement

The whole piece by A Siegel is worth reading.

Picking up on Vice President-elect Joe Biden’s speech to the National Governors Association, in which he advocated greater investment in rail transit, BruceMcF wants a comprehensive rail electrification program. Click the link to read more, because BruceMcF is one of the most knowledgeable transportation bloggers around.

Neil Hamilton, director of the Agricultural Law Center at Drake University, wants Barack Obama to establish

a New Farmer Corps and set a 10-year goal of establishing one-half million new farms in the United States.

The New Farmer Corps would link his advocacy for public service with an initiative to plant the next generation of America’s farm families. The program would assist current owners to transfer land and offer new farmers training, capital and markets to make their farms thrive. It would encourage states and counties to plan for supporting new farmers. […]

The New Farmer Corps would build on existing efforts, such as Iowa’s voluntary land-link program, which matches aging farmers with young families seeking a start. It would harness loans offered by USDA and Farm Credit banks, but supplement them with benefits new farmers could earn by caring for the land, conserving energy and producing healthy food. Congress could authorize education, training and health benefits to families investing their sweat, labor and dreams on rural and urban farms.

America has no shortage of people eager to put their hands in the soil to feed us. Thousands of potential new farmers exist – college students laboring on urban farms, farm kids hoping to continue the family tradition, and immigrants and refugees who brought their agrarian legacy to America. What we lack is a coordinated, creative national effort.

The New Farmer Corps could succeed by supplementing current efforts with new funds and tax incentives, such as Iowa’s tax break for owners who make land available to new farmers rather than holding it until death. The New Farmer Corps could offer special training and credit incentives for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, so they can join the ranks of America’s farmers and continue serving, but in more pastoral and nurturing ways.

Speaking of agriculture, jgoodman wants better organic standards for livestock production.

TomP wants Obama to keep his promise to make the Employee Free Choice Act the law of the land.

What’s on your wish list for the new administration?

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King can't face the truth about Highway 20 funding

Representative Steve King has so little to show for his six years in Congress that he used his first television commercial to take credit for a Highway 20 widening project, even though the funding for that project came from the state (not a federal appropriation).

Apparently King just can’t let go of this fairy tale:

FOR RELEASE:                                                                            

Sunday, November 2, 2008


Rep. Steve King continues to mislead voters about state funding for Highway 20 project

       During an interview with KMEG-TV yesterday, Rep. Steve King continued to mislead his constituents about the funding of the forthcoming improvements to Highway 20.  While he acknowledged the appropriation of state funds–which King had nothing to do with, contradicting the claims he is making in his radio and television ads-King still can’t admit that the state had to step in pay for the project rather than wait for King to obtain the federal funding needed to widen the highway.

       For six years, King failed to do his job in Congress to obtain four-lane federal construction funding for his top priority – improving Highway 20.  As State Senator Steve Warnstadt has stated, the Iowa legislature worked in a bipartisan manner to provide state funding for critical projects like four-laning Highway 20.  

       When the state announced that it was stepping forward with funding three weeks before the election, King shamelessly tried to take credit for the project when he clearly had nothing to do with the granting of state funds.

       Steve King is right about one thing.  He told KMEG that people should be offended when a politician “intentionally and willfully misinforms the public for their political gain.”   He should talk to the mirror about that.  He has misinformed the public to get re-elected, by claiming credit for the $48 million in funding that was recently announced by the Iowa Department of Transportation.

       That is separate and unrelated to any federal funds that may have gone toward the highway in the distant past, and not part of some “pool,” as he now claims.  And if such a pool did exist, King has done nothing to contribute to it.  

       If I’m elected to Congress, I will follow the example Rep. Leonard Boswell has set with the widening of Highway 34 in southern Iowa, obtaining funding for at least 10 miles every year.  Had Steve King done that, we would have had at least 60 miles completed for Highway 20.


Iowa DOT Press Release:                  


Steve King Quote:            


If you can afford to do so, please make one last donation to Hubler’s campaign. He’s up on television now with three ads you can view here (scroll down past the text of the Des Moines Register’s endorsement).

UPDATE: Got this e-mail last night from Hubler:

Dear [desmoinesdem],

Have you seen the ads? Heard the radio spots? Or seen the thousands of barn signs, bumper stickers and yard signs out? Travelling the district this week I have been amazed at all the green and white I see popping up amongst the changing leaves of fall.

The seasons are changing and so is the 5th district.

Everywhere I go there are signs that things are moving here on the ground and the whispers in D.C. have turned into rumbles as they talk about the campaign that is going to kick out Steve King.  Check out this blog posted today:


The latest polling shows we’re coming up behind him but this is still a tight race. We can win. And we will win. But we still need your help.

In less than 48 hours the polls will close but before that happens we need your help to get out the vote. Call your local office, email John (our field director), or call us at our headquarters 712-352-2077. But I am asking you to do everything you can between now and 9 PM on Tuesday; to get people to go out and vote in all the great democrats we have on the ticket this year from top to bottom.

Talk to people in the line of your local grocer, bug your neighbors, your relatives, and your friends and make sure they do their part.

After the polls close, come on over and watch the results roll in with me.


2200 River Road

Council Bluffs, IA 51501

Or contact your local county party to find a results party closer to you.

Peace and Justice,


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Please speak out against bad road project in Polk County

This Saturday, September 13, is the deadline for submitting public comments regarding the Northwest 26th Street extension through the Des Moines River Greenbelt, which is part of a larger plan to construct a four-lane northeast Polk County beltway.

I discussed why the beltway is a bad idea here and why the road through the greenbelt is a bad idea here.

Please take a few minutes to send your comments against the NW 26th St extension to the following e-mail address: jtunnell@snyder-associates.com

Like the larger beltway project, this road is not needed, would be a poor use of transportation funds, and would disrupt environmentally sensitive areas.

For many more details and talking points, visit this page on the 1000 Friends of Iowa website, or read the message that Jane Clark posted on the Sierra Club Iowa Topics e-mail loop today, which I have posted after the jump.

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Events coming up this week

There is so much happening this week that I hereby forbid you from complaining that there’s nothing to do in Iowa.

If you can make it to the I-RENEW Energy and Sustainability Expo in Cedar Falls this weekend, I encourage you to go. I have attended the I-Renew expo several times in the past and never been disappointed. There are also great books and progressive advocacy materials (shirts, posters, bumper stickers) available in the exhibitor tent.

I won’t be at the Harkin Steak Fry featuring Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, so I hope someone out there will post a diary with a first-person account of the event.

Please post a comment or send me an e-mail if I’ve left out anything important.

Tuesday, September 9:

School board elections are being held across the state. Get out and vote, even if you don’t have kids in school. We don’t want the religious right taking control of these boards.

From the Iowa Citizen Action Network:

Iowa Citizen Action Network (ICAN) is proud to take a lead role in the “Health Care for America Now” campaign and we hope you will join us and all the coalition partners in Iowa to make our voices heard!

Health Care for America Now is all about raising this very important question in the minds of the public and in decision makers: Do we want a health care system where everyone has responsibility to ensure access for all Americans – individuals, employers, our communities, and our government?  Or do we want to continue with a system that says – “You’re all on your own to deal with insurance companies.”

We’ve been doing just that this summer, and we’re excited to bring this campaign to cities all around Iowa.  




Have you been struggling with your health insurance coverage?  Do you find yourself paying more for less coverage every year?  Have you been denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions?  Have you been dropped from your coverage and aren’t sure how to fight back?  Do you have a family member or neighbor who is struggling?

Here’s your chance to let your elected representatives know what you’re going through, and what you think they should do about it.

September 9,

6:30-7:30 PM


515 Douglas Avenue

Ames, IA 50010

One Iowa Campaign Training RSVP

Today – Tuesday, September 9 – 6:30 PM-8:30 PM

AFSCME Council 61, 4230 NW 2nd Avenue, Des Moines

We’re weeks away from what may prove to be the most critical election of our time. Success this November depends on individuals like you making a commitment to get involved. Join us to learn more about what’s at stake and how you fit into the big picture!

One Iowa Coffee House

Today – Tuesday, September 9 – 5:00-6:45pm

Ritual Cafe, 1301 Locust Street, Des Moines

Sandy Vopalka will talk about PFLAG (Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays) the importance of this organization and the work being done across the state. PFLAG is a national non-profit organization with over 200,000 members and supporters and over 500 affiliates in the United States. Sandy’s presentation will start at 5:30pm.

Wednesday, September 10:

Democracy for America is holding another session of its famous “Night School,” with a focus on recruiting volunteers. The session begins at 7:30 pm, and you can register by clicking here:


The Iowa Citizen Action Network has scheduled an event to give Iowans a chance to talk about what real economic recovery looks like. September 10, 6:30 pm at the Local 6 UFCW, 15 N 12th Street in Fort Dodge. “We are inviting our Congressional representatives and State and Local Officials to hear from US what we need during this week of Economic Recovery talks.”

Iowa’s Office of Energy Independence invites you to attend the public forum on energy issues in Mount Vernon at Cornell College on Wednesday, September 10, at 6:30 p.m., following a Power Fund Board meeting. The forum will take place in the Hedges Conference Room, 600 First Street SW in Mount Vernon.

Thursday, September 11:

The Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa Book Sale opens at 4 pm at the 4-H building of the State Fairgrounds. The sale runs through Monday, September 15. More details here:


The Organization for Competitive Markets will hold an event the Clay County Fair in Spencer, Iowa to learn how to “Take Back” a fair and open seed marketplace. We’ll gather at the 4H building on the fairgrounds from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. to hear speakers talk about the problem of concentration in the seed industry and what we can do about it. Enjoy engaging discussions with farmers and local politicians, as well as a complimentary dinner from Oak Tree Bar-B-Que. The event is co-chaired by State Representatives Marcie Frevert and Mark Kuhn, and speakers include Iowa State University’s Fred Kirschenmann and past president of the National Family Farm Coalition, George Naylor. Tell your friends! For more information, click here:


One Iowa is organizing a PFLAG Des Moines Re-Launch at 7:00 PM, First Unitarian Church, 1800 Bell Avenue in Des Moines. The Des Moines Metro Area PFLAG will meet to discuss relaunching the chapter. Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays provides opportunity for dialogue about sexual orientation and gender identity, and acts to create a society that is healthy and respectful of human diversity. Coffee and refreshments served before the meeting, beginning at 6:30 PM. All are welcome, but confidentiality is required.

Friday, September 12:

From the Iowa City-based Local Foods Connection (http://www.localfoodsconnection.org):

Fundraising event for ZJ Farm



French Dinner at Simone’s Plain & Simple

ZJ Farms Education Programs Fundraiser

Friday, Sept 12, 6:30 p.m.

Susan Jutz of ZJ Farm helped create the idea of Local Foods Connection along with Simone Delaty and Laura Dowd. Local Foods Connection buys vegetables CSA shares from Susan and bread & egg CSA shares from Simone for our clients.

Come enjoy an authentic French dinner in lovely country setting and support the Education Programs at ZJ Farms.  The ZJ Farms Education Programs offer hands-on experience and events that teach young people of all ages that value of land stewardship, nontraditional leadership and nutrition.  Education explorations include milking and petting the farm animals, hunts for vegetable in gardens, work projects to participate in farming experience, lessons on growing food from planting to harvest, leadership and community building training.

Tickets on sale now!

$45 for Slow Food Members/ $50 for non-Slow Food.

Call 621-2484 to reserve a seat.

Saturday, September 13:

From the Polk County Democrats:



On September 13, 2008 at 12:00 PM TO 3:00 PM , there will a community celebration picnic at MLK Park, E. 17th and Garfield (1 block north of University), Des Moines , Iowa.

This will be a time for diverse groups of Asian/Pacific Islanders, African Americans, Persons with Disabilities, GaysLesbians, Latinos, Native Americans, Armed Forces Veterans and Young Democrats  to come together with the whole community, celebrating the diversity in our neighborhoods.  Over good food, communication and networking will be done.

The picnic is hosted by the Polk County Democratic Affirmative Action / Diversity Committee.

For more information, call 515-285-1800.


17th Annual I-Renew Energy & Sustainability EXPO

September 13 & 14, 2008

9 to 5 Saturday

10:30 to 4:30 Sunday

At the UNI Center for Energy & Environmental Education, Cedar Falls, IA

Admission: $10 per day, I-Renew members pay no admission. Memberships available at the door.

Featuring renewable energy, energy efficiency, green building, renewable fuels and sustainable living workshops, exhibits and demonstrations

Cedar Falls, IA – The Iowa Power Fund Board approved a grant to support this year’s I-Renew Energy & Sustainability Expo. The grant will go towards promoting the event statewide as well as to produce DVDs of 12 of the 70 workshops offered at the event. “The Iowa Renewable Energy Association has proven its annual Expo is the place to be to learn about renewable energy and energy efficiency”, said Michelle Kenyon Brown, I-Renew Executive Director. “The support from the Iowa Power Fund and the Office of Energy Independence will enable us to bring in a larger audience, an audience that is growing everyday as energy costs are hitting everyone’s pocketbook.”

The 17th I-Renew Energy & Sustainability EXPO will be held Sept. 13-14, 2008, at the University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Energy & Environmental Education (CEEE) in Cedar Falls, Iowa.  The EXPO feature 70 workshops, 80 exhibitors, and demonstrations providing information on renewable energy, energy efficiency, green building, renewable fuels, and sustainable living.

“The I-Renew Expo is the largest event of this type in Iowa,” says Kara Beauchamp, I-Renew Board President. “This years’ expo will be the biggest and the best we have ever had. Increasing energy prices have generated more interest in energy efficiency and renewable energy. The I-Renew Expo is the perfect place for people to get their questions answered while having a great time.”

The EXPO gives the general public, building contractors, installers and others the opportunity to talk directly with Iowa’s energy experts to learn new ways to build greener and live greener using renewable energy.

Demonstrations of solar power, wind power, a hydrogen fuel cell, electric cars, cars that run on alternative fuels, and much more will be at the site in and around the CEEE building. The EXPO runs 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 13; and 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 14. Admission is $10 per day; however, I-Renew members pay no admission. Memberships are available at the door.

For more information or to register, visit www.irenew.org and click on I-Renew EXPO.

The I-Renew Energy & Sustainability Expo is provided with support from our partners: Iowa Office of Energy Independence, Iowa Energy Center, Alliant Energy’s Second Nature Program, Cedar Falls Utilities, Waverly Light & Power, Frontier Natural Products Coop, Center for Energy & Environmental Education and many more.

Contact: Michelle Kenyon Brown, Director Iowa Renewable Energy Association

(319) 325-2701          michellekbrown@irenew.org

Citizens are organizing a rally against a huge proposed hog lot in Poweshiek County:

Does Poweshiek County want more Factory Hog Farms ? NO!!

Prestage Farms of North Carolina, the nations 5th largest factory hog corporation, has plans to put nearly 5,000 hogs in two buildings near Deep River.

If built, this facility will negatively impact our community by creating odor and air quality problems, harming our areas already poor water quality, creating health risks for neighbors, and reducing property values in our county.

Prestage Farms will take the profits out of our state and leave us with the manure.

Please take the time to join with other concerned citizens from our area at a rally on Saturday, September 13th at 9:45 AM on Highway 21, 5 miles South of Interstate 80, between 470th and 480th Streets.

We want as many people to come out as possible to let the owners of the property know that they need to put the health and well-being of their neighbors before greed, and that residents of this county are against selling our future to out-of-state corporations.

Please call 641-990-2470 for more information.

From 1000 Friends of Iowa:

Dear Friends,

In case you didn’t get a chance to attend the public input meetings on the proposed Northwest 26th Street project/MLK extension and Northeast Polk County Beltway studies, you still have a chance to make your voices heard.

If you did attend the meetings, but didn’t submit written comments, your views still need to be documented for public record. The public meetings and collection of written comments are building the case for approval or disapproval of this project. All are part of the Environmental Impact Statement, a federally required evaluation for projects that have extensive environmental impacts.

The deadline for comments on the proposed alternatives for both projects is on Saturday, September 13. After that date, comments will be compiled and sent to Polk County, the Federal Highway Administration, and other decision-makers. Your comments are like a vote which needs to be counted on the stack of documented opinions that is carried forward in the near future.

To be effective in opposition to projects like these, citizens need to be there each major step of the way. This is one of those steps, and your presence is critical to keeping this current of opposition strong.

Gas prices are soaring along with the costs of road building. Public funds for roads are limited, meaning that not every road project gets funded. If constructed, these two costly projects would take money from much-needed transportation improvements.

You can find more information on these projects, maps, and how to send comments at



Stephanie Weisenbach

1000 Friends of Iowa

From Whiterock Conservancy:

Central Iowa Trail Association invites public to celebrate decade of trail stewardship

Sept. 13 ‘Ales and Trails’ event honors dirt trails at Whiterock Conservancy

Des Moines — Central Iowa Trail Association is celebrating its 10th anniversary as a non-profit trail stewardship and advocacy organization by hosting ‘Ales and Trails’ — a public event at the Whiterock Conservancy near Coon Rapids, Iowa on Saturday, Sept. 13.

‘Ales and Trails’ begins at 9 a.m. at Whiterock’s River House with activities including guided trail rides, a hike with Whiterock’s ecologist Elizabeth Hill, canoeing on the Middle Raccoon River and much more. The evening features a party in the storied Heeter Barn with music by Brother Trucker and a beer contest judged by event participants.

“This had been a very rough year for trail-loving Iowans,” said CITA president Ryan Hanser. “CITA has worked hard to repair damage to trails from this summer’s rains. It’s a perfect time to recognize and celebrate our decade of volunteer work that has brought so much enjoyment for cyclists, hikers, birdwatchers and others who appreciate natural trail experiences.”

Registration is required. There is a $20 fee to cover cost of meals and entertainment. Lodging is not included, but options ranging from B&B pampering to primitive campsites can be reserved through the Whiterock Resort. Visit http://www.centraliowatrails.org for details including a schedule of events and online registration.

As an affiliate of the International Mountain Bicycling Association, Central Iowa Trail Association (CITA) works with public and private land owners to design, build and maintain sustainable dirt trail for shared recreational use. The all-volunteer organization was incorporated as an Iowa non-profit organization in 1998 and does more than 500 hours of trailwork on public land in central Iowa each year.

“CITA was proud to bring the International Mountain Bicycling Association’s trailbuilding school to Whiterock in 2006,” said Hanser, who is also Iowa’s state representative for the International Mountain Bicycling Association. “Returning to celebrate their progress as an organization is important, too. Whiterock’s commitment to sustainable, natural recreation makes it a perfect venue to celebrate our shared values.”

Whiterock Conservancy is a new land trust created to manage a 5,000 acre conservation land donation from the Garst Family of Coon Rapids. Its nonprofit mission is to research and promote sustainable land management practices; provide low impact public recreation and environmental education; and protect and restore the area’s natural resources, including a 30-mile network of dirt trails. In October 2005, the Coon Rapids-Whiterock area was designated by Governor Vilsack as one of the first three “Iowa Great Places.” The Iowa Legislature recently appropriated $1 million to the Department of Cultural Affairs for supporting Coon Rapids Great Place projects.

Directions to Whiterock: Coon Rapids is located 75 miles NW of Des Moines and 100 miles east of Omaha on Highway 141. The Conservancy land is east of Coon Rapids and south of Highway 141. Visit http://www.whiterockconservanc…  for more information about Whiterock Conservancy.


Ryan Hanser, President

Central Iowa Trail Association


Jeana Feazel, Resort Manager

Whiterock Conservancy

712-684-2697 x112

Sunday, September 14:

Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer will headline the 31st Annual Harkin Steak Fry, to be held at the Indianola balloon field. For more details, click here:


Monday, September 15:

Conference Coordinator – Contract Job: Deadline for Application September 15

Iowa Network for Community Agriculture (INCA) is seeking a coordinator for its annual Local Foods Conference to be held in Mason City on February 6 – 7, 2009.  If you are interested, or know of someone who is, then please review the request for proposal on INCA’s website (http://www.growinca.org) and respond by early next week.

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I'm so glad Iowa's first district is not competitive

because if it were I would have to cover Republican candidate Dave Hartsuch a lot more often. He’s the social conservative who beat longtime moderate incumbent Maggie Tinsman in the 2006 Republican primary for Iowa Senate district 41. His main campaign strategy against Congressman Bruce Braley seems to be to repeat right-wing talking points with no basis in fact.

However, I noticed in Sunday’s Des Moines Register that Hartsuch is staking out new ground by criticizing Braley’s support for bicycling:

Braley has joined the Congressional Bike Caucus, a group aimed at promoting safer roads, more bikeways, convenient bike parking and increased recognition of cycling. He is a freshman lawmaker representing Iowa’s 1st District, where bicycling has grown in popularity as a green method of transportation.

State Sen. David Hartsuch, a Bettendorf Republican who is opposing Braley’s bid for re-election in November, said he is not against bicycling. But Hartsuch has a different view on federal involvement in bicycling.

“I don’t think it’s a proper federal function to put money into bicycling,” Hartsuch said. “I think the federal government exists for national defense and the promoting of the general welfare. I think states are quite capable of building their own bicycle ways, and I don’t think the federal government should be having a national bicycle network. It’s not the same as a national highway or the interstate highway system. Bicycling is a rather local thing.”

Braley recently told reporters in Des Moines that one of his priorities is expanding the availability and quality of Iowa’s more than 1,000 miles of multipurpose recreational trails.

He also wants to restore the 52-mile Cedar Valley Nature Trail in northeast Iowa, which sustained millions of dollars in flood damage.

Hartsuch must be joking. Does he have any idea how many local road projects would never get built without federal funding? The proposed northeast Polk County beltway is a perfect example of a road that would benefit only a small number of central Iowa residents and property owners, but would require hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding.

Fortunately, Braley is under no threat whatsoever. Iowa’s first district has a partisan index of D+4, based on how it voted in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. But Democrats have substantially increased their voter registration edge in IA-01 since then. Also, Barack Obama’s coattails are likely to help Braley in his eastern Iowa.

Furthermore, Braley had $419,222 cash on hand as of June 30, while Hartsuch had raised $16,661 for his Congressional bid and had $12,664 cash on hand.

So, I don’t plan to write much about the Braley-Hartsuch race this fall. But don’t let that discourage Bleeding Heartland readers from posting a diary here if there is any interesting news from the first district campaign.

Getting back to transportation policy, I learned from this Register article that Congressman Dave Loebsack of Iowa’s second district and Congressman Leonard Boswell of Iowa’s third district are also in the Congressional Bike Caucus. Good for them.

Since Boswell sits on the House Transportation Committee (like Braley), I hope we can count on him to support new priorities in the highway bill due to be considered by Congress in 2009. I would also like to see Boswell and Braley join Loebsack in backing efforts to make transportation policy part of any forthcoming legislation on global warming.

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Don't put a new road through the Des Moines River Greenbelt

John Wenck, an outreach coordinator for the Department of Natural Resources, had a good guest opinion column in Monday’s Des Moines Register about why building a new road through the Des Moines River Greenbelt is a bad idea.

This road project used to be called the “MLK extension,” because it would extend Martin Luther King Drive north through the river greenbelt. A group of environmental advocates and interested citizens helped defeat that proposal years ago.

Now it has been revived as the “Northwest 26th Street extension,” which is the Ankeny street that would be extended south through the greenbelt to connect with MLK on the Des Moines side.

A new name does nothing to lessen the impact of this road. A Sierra Club “sprawl report” from the fall of 2000 had this to say:

Tearing down urban highways has brought new life to neighborhoods long hemmed-in by the roads. Unfortunately, Des Moines seems to be heading in the opposite direction with the proposed extension of Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway. This project will put a highway in what is now an urban green space and flood-control zone.

The Des Moines River Valley is a unique urban green space that provides a variety of habitats for wildlife, plants and people. It is an important wintering ground for the bald eagle and ideal habitat for many species of migratory birds. This area also serves as a buffer between existing neighborhoods and the current interstate. Two bicycle trails run along the river and improve the transportation choices for Des Moines residents.

Building a highway through this area will clearly harm its value to wildlife, reduce the value of the land as a floodplain and make areas downstream more prone to flooding. The proposed extension will also encourage sprawl outside the city and add to the traffic and air pollution problems of the region. Middle- and low-income neighborhoods near the proposed route will suffer from more noise and air pollution.

Given that new highways draw more drivers onto the road, the parkway extension would do little to ease traffic. Rather than building a major new highway and destroying this open space, a smarter plan would enhance this urban green space and use public transportation to ease the area’s traffic congestion.

The last paragraph is crucial: this road project would do little to ease traffic. I am old enough to remember the debate over extending 100th St. in Clive over the Clive Greenbelt during the 1980s. That was supposed to solve a lot of traffic problems in the western suburbs, but it didn’t do the job. Instead, there has been more sprawling development and more traffic in the area.

The Des Moines River Greenbelt contains outstanding habitat for birds that are very sensitive to noise that would accompany a major road. We don’t have an abundance of riparian forests in central Iowa anymore and should preserve the ones that remain.

If you care about wildlife habitat and/or sound transportation policy, I encourage you to get involved with one or more of the organizations that are fighting the NW 26th St extension. They include the Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club, 1000 Friends of Iowa, and Iowa Rivers Revival.

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Public transit is not just for the east coast

In June, I wrote about a bill passed by the House of Representatives providing $1.7 billion in funding for public transportation.

Noneed4thneed alerted me to this post by Matthew Yglesias, who reports that Hillary Clinton has introduced a companion bill in the Senate. However, only the New York and New Jersey delegations have signed on so far. Some members of Congress are trying to secure earmarks to fund public transit projects in their home states. Yglesias correctly points out that

Organizing needed funding through earmarks, however, is not an especially sound way to proceed. Far better to pass a proper, widely applicable bill that uses the federal government’s ability to engage in deficit spending to help provide some transit stimulus. At a time when booming energy prices are the main factor driving an economic downturn, cutting back on alternative transportation services is extremely foolish and will only prolong economic problems.

With cheap oil a thing of the past, there should be a strong bipartisan consensus in favor of better public transit in every state. I hope Iowa’s senators will support Clinton’s bill on this subject.

On a related note, this past Saturday 1000 Friends of Iowa organized a “tour de sprawl” in northern Polk County as part of its annual meeting. The bus tour took us through several areas in the corridor being considered for a four-lane beltway in northeast Polk County.

It is incredible to realize that Congressman Leonard Boswell will be seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding for this road project. A very small number of people would benefit (primarily developers who are buying up farmland near the beltway’s path).

Meanwhile, valuable farmland could be lost and irreplaceable natural areas such as the Moeckley Prairie could be threatened.

The opportunity cost of spending hundreds of millions on a new road heading north from Altoona and then east to I-35 would be enormous. Traffic flows do not justify this project through sparsely-populated rural areas, especially when gasoline is expensive and many Americans are seeking alternatives to driving.

Imagine how many people in the Des Moines metro area would benefit from a significant federal investment in public transit and making roads safer and more accessible for pedestrians and bicyclists.

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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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I remember when lying to Congress was a big deal

It’s hard to keep up with all the misconduct in the Bush administration. This week four Democratic senators called for the resignation of  Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson. Evidence emerged that Johnson lied to Congress about why he denied California’s request for a waiver of the Clean Air Act last December. Two senators are also asking for a perjury investigation of Johnson. Click the link for more details and background.

California has adopted tougher emissions standards for cars and trucks, and other states have followed suit, but the standards cannot be implemented unless the EPA approves the waiver request. Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and at least 18 other state attorneys general have joined California in suing the EPA over this issue.

I always laugh when Republicans who claim to be for states’ rights object when states try to impose stronger environmental standards than the federal government. But what Johnson did was worse than hypocrisy. In denying California’s waiver request, Johnson blocked state efforts to deal with pollution from motor vehicles, even though surface transportation is the second-largest contributor to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

You would think this scandal would warrant some media coverage, but I’d never have heard of this story if I hadn’t read about it on political blogs.

Braley named to conference committee for Amtrak bill

Representative Bruce Braley, who has been working hard to promote passenger rail service to Iowa, has been named to the conference committee on the 2008 Amtrak Reauthorization Bill. A press release quotes Braley as saying, “I’m excited by the opportunity to continue working on the Amtrak bill and to support Iowa’s passenger rail needs.” The full text of that release is after the jump.

That committee will resolve differences between the Senate and House versions of the Amtrak bill. The House approved a bill last month with language likely to help bring Amtrak service to Dubuque and the Quad Cities.

Speaking of passenger rail, this post from the DCist blog lays out the contrast between Barack Obama and John McCain on transit issues. The whole post is worth reading, but one key point is that McCain says closing down Amtrak would be “a non-negotiable issue” if he became president.  

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Which representative is delivering for his constituents?

I got a press release yesterday from Representative Bruce Braley’s office about the National Highway Bridge Reconstruction and Inspection Act, which the U.S. House approved by a vote of 367-55. This bill includes language authored by Braley “to establish a pilot program to monitor structural flaws in highway bridges.”

The full text of the press release is after the jump. Braley was working on creating this pilot program before this summer’s flooding damaged even more Iowa bridges. That’s an example of how a forward-thinking representative can serve constituents, and not only Iowans living in the first district.

Compare this to Representative Steve King’s record. When the Sioux City Journal tried to answer the question “How effective is Steve King?”, they learned that

Of the 44 bills King has sponsored according to www.GovTrack.us, three have made it out of committee and only one has been acted. The piece of legislation? House Resolution 847: Recognizing the importance of Christmas [in] the Christian faith.

Keep in mind that Republicans controlled the U.S. House during King’s first two terms in Congress. What’s his excuse for not getting more accomplished? He points to helping expand a tax credit for small ethanol and biodiesel producers as well as securing some funding for widening Highway 20. But even King admits that in a Democratic-controlled chamber, he is mainly hoping to block Democratic bills:

“That very well may be the best contribution that I have made in this 110th Congress, is slowing down, sometimes stopping” Democratic-sponsored bills,” he said.

King said the extended 2007 funding debate for reauthorization of the federal State Children’s Health Insurance Program was a key moment. The measure was initially written for an increase of $35 billion, but was scaled back before being signed by President Bush in December.

King took to the House floor last fall with a sign that said the SCHIP acronym should instead stand for “Socialized Clinton-style Hillarycare for Illegals and their Parents.”

“I do believe if you took me out of the equation, there would have been a different (funding) result,” King said.

With the Democratic Party leading the GOP by nine points on the generic Congressional ballot, and the Republicans defending more than two dozen open House seats, it’s clear that the Democrats are poised to expand their majority.

Do Iowans in the fifth district want their representative to set his sights on blocking bills, disrupting the legislative branch’s oversight of the executive and being the loudest anti-immigration voice in the room?

Rob Hubler has a solid grasp of the issues and would be able to get things done for Iowans as a member of the majority party. Click here to get involved with Hubler’s campaign, or head out to meet him in person at a county fair this weekend.

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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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Bipartisan caucus to push for new transportation policies

Representatives Ellen Tauscher (D, CA-10) and Tom Petri (R, WI-06), both members of the House Transportation Committee, are forming a “Metropolitan Mobility Caucus” to revamp federal transportation policy.

Here is the “Dear colleague” letter they are circulating among members of Congress:

Dear Colleague,

We invite you to join the Metropolitan Mobility Caucus.

Transportation congestion is a major economic and environmental problem in metropolitan areas. Although the top 100 metropolitan areas represent only 12% of the land in the United States, they contain 65% of our nation’s population. They account for more than 90% of traffic congestion, transit ridership, and population exposure to autorelated air pollution. Urban areas handle 95% of the nation’s trade, 96% of rail passengers, and 75% of seaport tonnage. Congestion has never been worse. In 2005, urban congestion cost $78.2 billion in wasted time and fuel, which equates to $707 annually per traveler.

We believe that federal transportation policy should take a fresh approach to solving the various metropolitan infrastructure problems. As we continue to examine the structure of the next highway bill, our caucus will advocate for stronger partnerships between federal, state, and local transportation officials; greater use of public transportation, including intercity passenger rail; regional mobility goals; and performance standards.

In the coming months, we plan to hold staff briefings to examine these and other issues. The first briefing will take place on Monday, July 21st at 4:30 PM in 2253 RHOB. Cohosted by the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations and the American Planning Association, this briefing will focus on the role of MPOs in the transportation planning process. If you would like to join the Metropolitan Mobility Caucus, please contact Paul Schmid (Tauscher) or Tyler Schwartz (Petri).


Ellen O. Tauscher

Tom E. Petri

I hope some of Iowa’s representatives in Congress will join this caucus. It’s a natural fit for Leonard Boswell and Bruce Braley, who serve on the House Transportation Committee, but others could get behind this initiative as well. The number of Iowans who do not drive or cannot afford a car will grow as our population ages and gasoline becomes more expensive.

We don’t think of Iowa as having major metropolitan areas, but most of our medium-sized and larger cities would benefit from better public transit options and intercity rail. Even small towns would benefit from express bus service or vanpools that could get people to jobs, shops, doctors or other facilities in larger cities nearby.

Bike-friendly and pedestrian-friendly roads provide alternatives to driving and improve the quality of life in cities and towns of all sizes.  

The Smart Growth America website has lots of information on how federal policies could improve our transportation system.

By the way, of all the presidential candidates, Bill Richardson had the best vision on transportation policy. It wasn’t just talk, either–as governor, Richardson spent political capital to make intercity rail between Albuquerque and Santa Fe a reality.

People often mention Richardson as a possible vice-president or secretary of state, but in my fantasy cabinet he would be secretary of transportation.

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We're already paying for McCain's hostility to Amtrak

Rising gasoline prices are prompting more Americans to seek out transportation alternatives.

In Europe a high-speed rail network links seven countries already. But Amtrak only has 632 usable cars in the whole country.

Unfortunately, John McCain’s hostility to Amtrak over the years blew any chance of building a modern, effective passenger rail system before the price of oil hit record highs:

In 2000, when he was chairman of the Senate Science, Commerce and Transportation committee, McCain killed $10 billion in capital funding for Amtrak. He denounced Amtrak as a symbol of government waste, claiming, “There’s only two parts of the country that can support a viable rail system – the Northeast and the far West.”

He made these claims though Amtrak investment had the support of several notable Republicans. Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi warned that Amtrak “is guaranteed and doomed to failure if we don’t give it an opportunity to succeed. If you don’t have modern equipment, if you don’t have the new fast trains, if you don’t have a rapid rail system, it will not work.”

Tommy Thompson, the secretary of Health and Human Services during President Bush’s first term, was Amtrak chairman when McCain blocked the funding. Thompson said, “The traveling public are sending a distress call to escape our nation’s endless traffic jams and airport gridlock.”

How much better off would we be if we had invested $10 billion in upgrading Amtrak’s equipment eight years ago?

Click the link to read the whole column by Derrick Jackson. While Barack Obama has co-sponsored a Senate bill to increase investment in passenger rail, McCain’s website has no mention of rail in the transportation section.

We can’t afford to let McCain screw up our transportation policy any more than he already has.

If you are interested in passenger rail, I highly recommend these diaries by Daily Kos user BruceMcF:

America, as it turns out, was Made for High Speed Rail.

5 Lessons Learned: America was made for HSR, Pt. 2.

High Speed Rail: The Three Level Program.

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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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Sierra Club slams McCain on "gimmick"

John McCain offered some new ideas on energy policy yesterday at a campaign stop in California:

The Arizona senator proposed a $300 million prize for whoever can develop a better automobile battery, and $5,000 tax credits for consumers who buy new zero-emission vehicles. The latest proposal is in addition to his support for overturning the federal ban on offshore oil drilling.

There was a rapid response from Sierra Club, which along with the United Steelworkers jointly endorsed Barack Obama a few days ago. I received this statement on the Iowa Sierra Club e-mail loop:


CONTACT: Josh Dorner, 202.675.2384

             McCain Falls Short on Fuel Economy, Gas Prices

         America Needs Obama’s 50 MPG, $150 Billion Energy Plan

Washington, D.C.–The Sierra Club issued the following response to John

McCain’s speech on fuel economy and cars delivered today in Fresno,


         Statement of Carl Pope, Sierra Club Executive Director

“Senator Obama has demonstrated the real leadership America needs to

address both our energy and economic crises.  He understands that the

long-term solution to high gas prices is making our cars get better gas

mileage. He pushed hard last year to raise fuel economy standards to 35

miles per gallon and wants to give the American auto industry the help it

needs to hit 50 miles per gallon within two decades.

“By contrast, John McCain has a spotty record when it comes to fuel economy

and seems more interested in offering up a $300 million gimmick rather than

exercising the kind of bold leadership America needs. He has repeatedly

failed to embrace what America really needs — a vehicle fleet that gets to

50 mpg on a predictable and aggressive schedule, and then keeps on getting

better.  Instead of a $300 million giveaway, Barack Obama has proposed to

do what is really needed.  He has a plan that calls for a $150 billion

investment in the technologies we need to fight global warming and end Big

Oil’s chokehold on our economy once and for all. Senator Obama also wants

to end taxpayer-funded giveaways to the oil industry, wants the industry to

pay its fair share on its record profits, and will crack down on the Wall

Street speculators gaming the system at the expense of hardworking

Americans.  Meanwhile, Senator McCain continues to oppose the key

incentives for renewable energy and energy efficiency that we need to make

the clean energy future a reality.”

In other recent McCain campaign news, Fortune magazine quoted the candidate’s adviser Charlie Black as saying a terrorist attack inside the U.S. “certainly would be a big advantage” to McCain.

The Republican nominee immediately disavowed Black’s comment, and Black apologized soon after.

If you’re wondering why the name Charlie Black sounds familiar, he’s a lobbyist who has represented heinous foreign dictators, and I mentioned him in this post a while back.

The Associated Press profiled the man leading McCain’s search for a running mate here.

Meanwhile, campaigning yesterday in New Mexico, Obama said he will “stand up for equal pay” for women as president, unlike McCain. I wrote about McCain’s opposition to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act here. He claims to be “all in favor” of equal pay, but he won’t support a law that would help women who are denied equal pay to seek legal remedy for that discrimination.

Add that to Demo Memo’s list of ten reasons women should not vote for McCain.

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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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"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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