Last week at the Lincoln Institute, planners and leaders in smart growth convened to plot a course for new challenges in energy, climate, and transportation policy as a new administration prepares to take office.
Twenty-one planning directors from the nation's largest cities came together in the annual fall gathering to discuss climate action plans and to prepare for new investments in infrastructure. Cities are making progress, from incentives to reduce lawns in Las Vegas to limits on demolition of existing buildings in St. Louis, but participants warned that meeting goals for greenhouse gas emissions reductions requires a regional approach. "We've gotten green religion, but we haven't read the gospel," said Paul Farmer, president of the American Planning Association, co-sponsor of the meeting along with Harvard University's Graduate School of Design. Even Portland's progress on reducing emissions is limited without broader changes beyond the metropolitan area. The discussion centered on California's landmark AB32 and SB375 legislation targeting land use as a central feature of emissions reduction targets, and the need for a new approach for metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to implement transit strategies on a regional basis.
Regions must be ready with plans for infrastructure that will likely be part of the Obama administration's economic strimulus package, said former Massachusetts Governor Michael S.Dukakis, speaking at a November 19 lecture at Lincoln House and again at the New England Smart Growth Leadership Forum November 20. He recommended that not only governors from New England but all the Northeast, and extending to Virgina, work together to argue for funding for a coherent transportation network. "I don't know how anybody could look at this country and not conclude we need a first-class passenger rail network," said Dukakis, who was vice chairman of the board of Amtrak for several years. Inter-city service with top speeds at 115 miles per hour would improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions around Chicago, Atlanta, in Florida and California; Amtrak could use stimulus funding for projects like replacing overhead catenary wires, old bridges, or laying down double tracks to better coordinate freight and passenger rail. "The danger is, the stimulus turns into a Christmas tree," he said. "We need focus. It can't be 2,000 earmarks." The guiding principle should be transit and inter-city rail that improves the quality of life and economic competitiveness of cities, saves energy, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions, he said.
At the Smart Growth Leadership Forum, both Michael Repogle, transportation director for the Environmental Defense Fund, and Steve Winkelman from the Center for Clean Air Policy, said there was a good chance the rules of the game will be changed in the 2009 reauthorization of the federal transportation bill last known as SAFETEA-LU. Projects will be judged on performance outcomes -- whether they are integrated with land use policy and reduce emissions, for example -- and pay-as-you-go systems, such as insurance based on how much we drive, and congestion pricing will be at the top of the agenda.