Friday, January 17, 2014

A ghost of 2007

This past week there was an exchange between my Dear Hubby and one of his fellow bloggers regarding steps for dealing with walkability and growing economic constraints preventing millennials and even middle class people from buying cars. It was suggested that there was no plan for dealing with these issues, and that the local government did not know what to do.

Bull malarkey.

This is the text of a 10-minute oral presentation that I gave to the LFUCG Planning Commission in February of 2007 (updated just a wee bit). I handed out printed copies to every commissioner and my speech was entered into the public record. DO NOT EVER let the LFUCG say they didn't see this coming, or had no idea what to do.

Here is the presentation I gave them, slightly updated:

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I think it is time for us to realize that one way or another, the issues of peak oil and climate change are going to rise up and bite us in the our exalted posteriors. Reports from respected governments, NGO advisers, and think tanks all over the world, even the German military, have published reports sounding the alarm. To say that there are hundreds of years worth of reserves in the ground is a fallacy as a reason to not take energy issues seriously. Just because they are in the ground does NOT mean it will be economical to develop them, or that the average family will be able to afford the end products. The decline rate of fracking wells is scary - their production becomes negligible in less than a decade.

And they cannot be operated at less than $80-$100 a barrel for the oil. Already there are entire neighborhoods in Lexington that are for all practical purposes priced out of the private automobile market, and as costs for cars/gas/insurance continue to rise, more and more of the middle class will be affected. I can tell you for a fact that if one of our cars broke down today, we would not be able to replace it. And we are hardly the only ones living on the edge of paycheck to paycheck in this economy.

To take a middle of the road estimate, we only have about 20 years 15 years to re-configure planning and development as we know it, both for already developed areas and for those now being developed, and most certainly for all future developments. I would like to therefore throw out a list of things that we need to adopt immediately, whether we like it or not, to try and combat the effects that peak oil and climate change will have on our society.

I don’t have any illusions about anyone actually liking or adopting these proposals. I’m a realist, not an optimist. But after having considered the situation carefully, I have come to the conclusion that these things could be done, if anyone was willing. So in 20 years 15 years, if nothing else, I’ll at least be able to say “I told you so,” when everyone looks back and says, “Why didn’t we…”

1. Electric trolley/streetcar systems need to be installed to service every last neighborhood in our urban area. These neighborhood electric systems need to be served in turn by an electric collector system of express streetcars, subways, or light rail. If that means taking up road lanes, so be it. Gasoline powered buses must be replaced with electric ones, starting immediately.

2. A moratorium needs to be placed on “big box” and “mega-shopping” centers. We have enough of these already. The existing ones need to be tied into the electric mass transit system. If that means taking up road lanes, so be it.

3. Every new neighborhood must be absolutely required to have three things:

a) Small neighborhood grocery, pharmacy, and hardware retail shopping within ¼-½ mile of every home built – in other words, within a reasonable walking distance.
b) A children’s playground, adjacent to at least two acres of open field space, with walking tracks, etc. (This open space can also be used for air-dropping emergency rations, medicine, or supplies, and can be a staging area for a “tent city” of government, medical or military operations during a natural or man-made disaster.) These should be no greater than 1-¾ mile walking distance from every home in the development.
c) A “community center” building, with presentation/classroom space and assembly space, hopefully adjacent to the open field, must be provided for each neighborhood.

4. All existing neighborhoods need to be retrofitted to meet the above requirements. (“Retrofitted” is a nice, polite way of saying that the division of planning needs to select a block or two in each existing neighborhood that more or less meets the walkability requirements and raze it to the ground in order to put in a-c above.)

5. All new development (both residential and commercial) must, starting immediately, be required to have solar panels or solar shingles to supplement the building’s electrical needs. In order to put the electric mass transit in place in an already near capacity electric grid, we are going to have to get serious about this now.

6. Existing development must be retrofitted with solar panels or solar shingles, and the government is going to have to systematically do this in each neighborhood and provide substantial subsidies for owners of buildings to do so. This is not optional. It is not enough to reduce the electric usage of just the new developments. Old neighborhoods MUST be brought “up-to-speed” with solar power. We have a 20 year 15 year time frame to do this. There is no reason that it cannot be done in that amount of time. It is probably too little too late at this point if only half-hearted measures are taken, but it is not impossible.

7. The driving age needs to be raised immediately to at least 18.

8. The government now offers tax help for those who buy hybrid or electric cars, but this is not enough. Starting immediately, a tax adequate to deter ownership must be placed on all households or businesses starting at the 3rd registered standard gasoline vehicle. No exceptions. In five years, that needs to fall back to starting with the 2nd standard gasoline vehicle. No exceptions. In ten years, every standard gasoline vehicle must be subject to the tax. No exceptions. In addition, a substantial sales tax in addition to the regular state sales tax must be placed on the sale of standard gasoline powered vehicles. No exceptions.

9. Toll roads must charge higher tolls for standard gasoline powered vehicles. Ditto for parking permits, etc. You get the idea.

10. Rail freight must be encouraged and provided for both big and small businesses with land for standard rail yards and tie-ins to the local electric mass transit system for special electric “freight trolleys” which can deliver rail freight to local businesses at night or during non-peak hours. Alleys behind and between existing and new businesses can have spur rails for these trolleys to unload so they don’t block passenger service. Underground or basement unloading is also an option.

11. Free or heavily subsidized wireless internet must be made available throughout the urban area. Government must also encourage full or partial telecommuting with tax breaks for businesses – for each employee who telecommutes at least half-time.

12. All government employees should be given free passes for mass transit. Government should encourage businesses to do the same, using incentives of some sort. All students should receive a free mass transit pass from their schools, both k-12 and college (with expiration dates clearly marked).

13. Unlucky 13 I’ll add as my personal wish: All new development must be required by law to be at least 10% “affordable housing” – “affordable” being defined by something like affordable to someone with about 50% of the area’s median income. There are several ways of calculating “affordable,” and most of you already have some way of doing this, so I won’t belabor the point.

14. “Zoning” needs to be changed to allow non-industrial home businesses in all areas, and “homeowner association” rules against home-based non-industrial type businesses needs to be made illegal effective immediately, as well as forbidding HOAs to restrict laundry lines, gardens, composting, backyard greenhouses, and other food security activities.

15. Conservation of electricity and resources needs to be given a top priority. Small wind turbines on buildings and other green energy projects need to be encouraged, and the local government should lead the way.


So here they are – 15 things you can do soon or start doing right now that will greatly help the city deal with climate change and peak oil. There are surely other things, such as bike routes and the new “walkable schools” initiative, but they are just a drop in the bucket. Thank you for your time.

When I submitted this presentation to Planitizen, I added this conclulsion:

The two biggest problems we will face are lack of gasoline and hence lack of transportation, and addressing those will need to go hand-in -hand with electric conservation and alternative electric generation, and eventually the acknowledgement that it is morally wrong – a crime against humanity, even – to let electricity (and water, and local phone service) be for-profit privately owned ventures that can deny people basic necessary-for-life services due to inability to pay. – but that’s another post.

Nothing has changed today, class. Nothing has been implemented. Not one thing.

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