Sunday, June 29, 2008

Airport expansions: like buying buggy-whip stock after Model T arrives

This is not a blip --- this is the new reality.  Flying will soon once again be the province of the very rich.

Fitting: Creationist Institute backs new highway spending

You just can't make this stuff up. Two writers for the creationist "Discovery Institute" in Seattle uses a variety of faith-based "arguments" for backing the $4.2 billion boondoggle on the Columbia, a massive plan to increase greenhouse gas emissions and bankrupt transportation budgets in two states -- even as rising gas prices are already working to eliminate congestion.

Better yet, the two suggest ignoring that the project directly undermines Oregon's statutory commitment to reducing greenhouse emissions. They suggest continuing business as usual while we wait for a miracle solution to the problem:
Control of man-made greenhouse gas emissions in the Northwest will best come from a comprehensive North American carbon tax. Regional pacts or too-easily-gamed cap-and-trade schemes are destined to fail. FedEx CEO Frederick Smith was on target earlier this month, when he told a and Brookings Institution forum that the best public policy to combat global warming is a gradually phased-in carbon tax that will change habits of energy consumption and yield monies that can compensate for accompanying reductions in Social Security payroll taxes on employees. Employers, employees and the environment all would benefit.
In other words, although the supposedly greenest corner of the country is not supposed to actually make any greenhouse gas reductions---and is instead supposed to squander billions to promote increased highway usage---we can expect a miraculous continent-wide tax that will address the climate crisis. No wonder these guys write for a creationist outfit --- they expect miracles daily.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Great explanation of why oil prices are never coming down

Sorry, SKATS (Salem Keizer Area Transportation Study) --- oil prices will fluctuate (noise) atop a strong and insistently rising trend (signal). Meaning that all your plans for a third bridge over the Willamette and all your other plans for roadway expansion, based on $1-$2 oil as they are, are not worth the paper they are printed on.

The Speculation Explanation:

Framing the Energy Crisis

By Matthew S. Miller, AlterNet
"There is nothing in that equation that says oil should cost what it costs today. Nothing! With one exception -- speculation." -- Mike Norman, Fox News Central
"A major contributor (to high oil prices) is the rise in speculation." -- Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., to CNNMoney
"Perhaps 60 percent of today's oil price is pure speculation." -- F. William Engdahl, Global Research

The $11 spike in the price of crude oil on Friday, June 6, pasted a great big exclamation point on the sentence, "Something is wrong with oil prices" banging around in the worried minds of America's happy motoring hoi polloi. With the national average for a gallon of liquid mobility hovering around four bucks, fear, now the only motive for action among the populace of fortress America, inevitably initiated some reflection among them. Such instinctive fear-inspired attention developing around the plug-in of the matrix must be deflected, and so it was: Enter the speculation explanation.

The speculation explanation blurs the issues involved in our present energy crisis by suggesting the wrong semantic frame to truthfully explain high oil prices and the likely consequences of depletion. Oil futures speculation is only tangentially relevant to an honest discussion of the price of oil. In fact, it is harmful because it undermines and replaces a reality-based appraisal of the problem. This meme arose simultaneously from a variety of sources by institutional necessity from within the propaganda apparatus to serve the interests of the military-industrial- congressional-cultural complex. Those interests are "business as usual" at all costs. The story will sound familiar.

. . .

Pairing the words oil and speculation ubiquitously and uncritically, the usual cable news talking heads faithfully disseminated the meme to the masses. The cacophony reached new heights in congressional hearings last week. Politicians from the auto state opined repeatedly about speculation for an obvious reason -- the inverse relation between high gas prices and Michigan's economic survival. The notion of speculation as the principle cause of recent price spikes also found a defender from among those who also believe that oil comes from a magic oil fairy that lives at the center of the Earth and abiotically refills oil reservoirs as they deplete (making the 60 percent speculation quotient easier to estimate presumably?). So what is the average American to make of this?

Economists employ the term speculation to refer to a specific kind of market activity. Markets generate wealth in four ways: profit from direct financing of business activity or investment; profit through risk minimization or hedging; profit from price differences between two distinct markets, or arbitrage; and profit through price differences in a single market, known as agiotage, or speculation. The speculator tries to buy low and sell high, thereby profiting from the market uncertainty about the future supply. Speculation and market manipulation are two different things. The speculator is simply betting the price will go up.

. . .

While the Saudis announced plans last week to increase their production by a quarter of a million barrels, they -- or even a unified OPEC -- cannot lower price by increasing supply. The proposed increase represents a mere quarter of a percent of daily world production, and it has no chance of making even a minor dent in price. Considerable doubt remains about whether such an increase can be sustained for long. The Saudis cannot increase supply to match demand in any event, so that's it for supply-side price controls. It should come as no surprise that even Abdullah joined the speculation sing-along lest he witness his vast dollar-denominated assets devalue further.

According to many prominent geologists, the planet reached or will reach very soon its all-time petroleum production peak. No amount of investment or innovation can alter that fundamental geologic fact. Because of this, according to legendary oilman T. Boone Pickens, only demand destruction can lower prices now. . . .

In an economy where Bubbles Greenspan blew hot air into tech stocks and the housing market in rapid succession, it is easy to view any steep rise in prices as the result of a speculative bubble. The real long-term value in the underlying market remains the question. There is no oil bubble, only a widening gulf between the amount of oil available and the amount of oil we want to use. Since world supply has remained flat since 2005, prices have risen and consumers in poorer nations simply quit buying, creating the facade of equilibrium and postponing inevitable shortages in the industrialized nations. According to energy analysts Matt Simmons and Dr. Robert Hirsch, oil at $140 remains significantly underpriced.

We in the United States have come to expect low energy prices as a birthright; however, because our economy and infrastructure cannot function without massive amounts of hydrocarbon energy, we will pay whatever it costs for as long as possible to keep the lights on and the trucks moving. Given rapidly growing demand from Chindia, the only direction for the price in the near term is up. As the true picture of future supply becomes apparent to all, oil at $140 will look like a real bargain. . . .

If it is true that oil supply is not being artificially but geologically and politically constricted as I have suggested, then the whole discussion of oil speculation as the cause of high prices must have a different purpose. It does! A quick dose of cognitive science reveals it. . . .

Evoking the speculation frame serves to keep the entire discussion of our energy crisis within the province of economics. The implication is that markets, investment and economic growth are primary considerations in understanding it. This frame interprets high oil prices as an economic problem and thus infers that the problem has an economic solution. The appropriate tools to handle the problem are market oversight, tax incentives for business, and removal of restrictions to free enterprise, i.e., permit offshore and ANWAR drilling immediately. The solution is to do more of what we are doing now. The market will adapt and all will be well.

While the energy crisis will have severe economic impacts, it is not fundamentally about economics. It is about human ecology and the limits of growth. Our cultural institutions like driving and consumption conflict directly with the material conditions that make them possible. When the discussion of energy remains in the province of economics, the key assumptions of the economist that the planet is an infinite resource, that the free market will solve all problems, and that growth is a universal good are effectively concealed beyond the focus of critical evaluation. The speculation frame hides the truth by suggesting the wrong context to understand our energy predicament. It just keeps us speculating about what percentage of the price is speculation.

If there is anything the public relations executives running the propaganda system have learned, it is that perceived uncertainty about factual issues generates apathy among the proles. It's no wonder that the Fox News presentation of the "speculation" story is to simply repeat the word speculation as many times as possible. The last 20 years of public discourse on global warming perfectly illustrates the technique: Just keep saying "there is still a debate," and the masses tune out and flip back to HGTV.

Pairing the word oil with the word speculation and repeating it over and over creates the impression that there is some uncertainty about the future of oil rather than merely about the price of oil futures contracts. This short-circuit thought about the issue and reasoned prognostication, like that made by the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, becomes mere speculation. Just think of the vernacular uses of the term speculation, as in "that's just speculation" or "he's only speculating." The speculator is somebody who believes his own ill-founded conjectures.

We are led to reason that there is not enough information about the energy problem to take drastic measures. It's as if the system is screaming, "Don't revolt, don't revolt." While the facts of oil depletion and peak production are undeniable and the inferences about the likely effects of depletion on global politics and economics are very strong arguments, the speculation frame undercuts actions based on these facts. This framing just reinforces the petroleum preservation paralysis that is the precondition of the status quo energy use paradigm.

This oil uncertainty is paradoxically palliating to boomers who lived through the '70s and thus learned to understand energy issues in exclusively economic and political terms. Their apathy stems from the mistaken inference that this energy crisis will be like the last one: painful for a while but only a blip in the permanent bliss of our American petroleum paradise. News flash: There will be no Prudhoe Bay this time around, boys and girls.

The uncertainty associated with oil in the average American mind leaves room for the hope and belief that we'll get back to normal soon enough. Maybe, just maybe, gas prices will drop. Americans will soon realize that a drop in oil prices will only come after the global economy, one that now uses every available drop of crude, crashes and burns in an entropic catastrophe. It will take more than airline inconvenience or high gas prices to get Americans to unplug themselves from the hologram, but remember, petroleum powers the propaganda system, too. It's the lubricant that makes social order possible. I'm betting they will come unplugged in droves when the "Out of Gas" signs start showing up at 7-Eleven, that is, the ones that don't just go postal on the spot. The near future won't be normal!

Joe Average experiences high oil prices as a constriction of discretionary income, or worse, a shortfall for basic needs. This fact requires an explanatory narrative. Such a downgrade in one's standard of living requires someone to blame. Price shocks ascribed to speculation provide this framework.

Speculation that artificially restricts supply through hoarding in order to gouge consumers is a crime. While this is not actually occurring, it makes compelling news copy. There are victims, perpetrators, law enforcement, and a predicable sequence of actions and outcomes. The poor schmuck driving an hour each way to work from his McMansion and the homemaker who can't afford eggs and milk any longer easily recognize themselves as the victims in this cruel petroleum farce. The big boys on the trading floor running up the price of crude, consumed with greed and lust for profit, play the role of dastardly yet faceless criminals. The affable sheriff Levin and his slapstick deputy Stupid, uh, I mean Stupak, investigate the complaints and haul the speculators in for questioning. After some reprimand for the bad apples, all will be back too normal in Consumption County.

While it remains a comforting thought to some that Congress is exercising some sort of oversight, the whole episode of investigative hearings is about creating a scapegoat and thus political cover for the next election. It also provides voters with the illusion of potency and action from their elected representatives. When you can buy whole city blocks of houses for $5,000 apiece in Detroit, "somebody's gotta do sumthin."

Michigan's senatorial contingent likely believes their own speculation about why oil prices have spiked; however, the political calculus remains the proximate cause of their hearings. The speculation explanation pacifies both the drivers and former factory workers composing the Michigan electorate by postponing the grim news that the American auto industry and our personal transportation system are on their way to the morgue. Kudos to Carl for such an exhibition of political jujitsu!

The speculation explanation simply delays the arrival of the moment when we will begin, as a nation, to address the reality of our energy crisis. No market solutions will address the geologic and cultural roots of the problem. Enforcing apathy through uncertainty will only buy time for the status quo to profit from the collapse and temporarily deflect the political wrath of the proletariat. The hope for a return to normalcy afforded by the contention that today's price shocks resulted from criminal behavior also postpones the tipping point of the national consciousness necessary to demand reality-based energy policy. It won't be long until disruptions and disasters that are the face of the energy crisis make it impossible to keep the accoutrements of the American Way of Life up and running. . . .

I hated to edit that down some --- it's an outstanding analysis. Worth sending to the politicians who represent you.

Meanwhile, here in Salem, we can't afford to maintain what we already have

Salem is a great place -- the weather today for the World Beat Festival is superb, the Farmer's Market is booming, and generally life is good.

That's until you notice the implications of this story:

Capitol Street Bridge will undergo repairs

Work will begin soon and close one lane of traffic

Salem will spend as much as $60,000 to make temporary repairs on a failing bridge, even though the state plans to build a replacement in two years.

City leaders have determined that Salem can't wait until 2010 for the Capitol Street Bridge over Mill Creek to be replaced. Instead, the deteriorating bridge will undergo a round of stop-gap fixes this summer.

Stricter weight restrictions were placed on the Capitol Street Bridge last year in hopes it would last until 2010, when the Oregon Department of Transportation is expected to build a $3 million replacement using federal funds. But the city didn't count on the many drivers of overweight vehicles, who have crossed illegally the bridge despite multiple warning signs and the risk of substantial traffic fines.

. . .

Salem Mayor Janet Taylor grilled public works officials about the need to fix a bridge that's on track for replacement. City officials responded that environmental permits from various state and federal agencies needed to be processed before the bridge replacement could begin, and ODOT could not move the project ahead of schedule. Becktel also noted that Salem's bridges would last longer if the city had a comprehensive maintenance program.

"This is an example of where we have deferred maintenance and it's come back to bite us," he told the council.

City officials say tight budgets prevent them from allocating more money for bridge work. Revenue from gasoline taxes, which have been declining and not keeping pace with inflation, provide funds for street and bridge repairs. In the current budget, the city set aside about $10,000 for bridge repairs and those limited funds go to making minor repairs, not major structural work, Becktel said.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Must read--Canadian bank: 2010: $7 gas, much reduced driving

A very mainstream, respectable Canadian bank gets it: Business as usual is OVER. That means any money spent on highway projects (third bridge, anyone?) is basically being poured down the drain.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Good interview with Kunstler on future of suburbia (NPR discovers PO)

James Howard Kunstler does a good job here, discussing the future of suburban development.

A Word to the Wise

Surviving peak oil will require rethinking our transportation policies
A. Robert Thurman
Salt Lake Tribune

There should have been banner headlines in every newspaper in the country. It should have been the lead story on every newscast. On June 7 U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman announced that the world had reached peak oil output and that demand was outracing supply.

Instead, Bodman's pronouncement in Japan, before the energy chiefs of eight industrialized countries, drew virtually no notice. Bodman did not use the term "peak oil," but the situation he described, flat global oil production dating back to 2005, coupled with ever-increasing demand, including hefty increases in demand from China and India, precisely fits the paradigm of peak oil.
. . .

The implications of peak oil are unnerving, to put it mildly. One of the most far-reaching implications is the decline and eventual end of the use of the individual automobile. With gasoline at $4-plus per gallon, we are already seeing the beginning of the decline. Behemoth SUVs are rapidly becoming unmarketable, and, according to a June 10 Washington Post story, car owners are starting to curtail their driving.

With the problematic future of the automobile in mind, perhaps it's time to reconsider transportation policy for the Wasatch Front. [And in Salem, and Oregon, and all over the US---ed.] New highways may not be what we need. In fact, they may not even be economically feasible. . . .

Instead of new highways, we need more mass transit, and we are likely to need it soon. Transportation monies should be spent on mass transit projects to tie together the sprawling Wasatch Front communities, not on highway projects that are all too likely to become virtually useless white elephants.

Even Cleveland acting smarter than Salem

Task force to address future of fuel

By the end of the year, a new task force created by Cleveland City Council will make recommendations on how city departments, businesses and residents can better prepare for a future of permanently high fuel prices.

Cleveland will be the first major city in the Midwest to have such a task force to address the topic of "peak oil," said Jesse Auerbach, special projects coordinator at the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center.

"It's great to see Cleveland take a leadership role on this issue," Auerbach said. "Peak oil will affect all of us. In fact, it may already be affecting us."

Peak oil is the point at which oil production for a region, nation or the planet reaches its maximum output and then starts to fall. No amount of investment in more wells or new technology can prevent the oil from depleting since oil is a finite resource, said Tom Whipple of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas.
. . .

Everything from the cost of getting to work to the price of food, the expense of policing and trash collection, and the cost of doing business is rising and is likely to rise higher. Whipple made that sobering prediction at a recent meeting of the National League of Cities environmental and energy committee, held in Cleveland.

Similar peak oil task forces were formed in Portland, Ore., San Francisco, Calif. and Austin, Texas. As a result, those cities reallocated funding to help businesses become more energy efficient, provide guidance to residents seeking to reduce their commuting costs, encourage urban gardening and promote land use development patterns that require little or no driving.
. . .

Monday, June 23, 2008

Must read: James Hansen on 20th Anniversary of His Testimony to Congress

James Hansen should probably have received the Nobel Peace Price as an individual, along with or instead of Al Gore. Here's some of his thoughts on the 20th Anniversary of his first major appearance before Congress.

Nice: Commuters try bikes

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Funding airport expansion at the dawn of peak oil: looking reality in the eye and denying it

Thanks to a transportation watcher, you can see a table showing that the folks deep in denial gave a much higher priority (6th in the region) to "improved baggage processing" and "expanded passenger drop-off/pick-up areas" and "additional parking" at Salem's airport than they did to helping Cherriots serve Salem (23rd).

In other words, our transportation experts believe that, as we are on the cusp of peak oil, we should pour more money into amenities that will be completely worthless when scheduled service stops, which it will inevitably do soon. Not to mention the even greater sum to be squandered on expanding a runway.

Funny how, when people are complaining about all the traffic, this sort of thing is never mentioned as a giveaway to airlines or a subsidy.

City of Salem - McNary Field
Passenger Terminal Expansion –
Salem’s airport activity has picked up with the addition of daily passenger service. This project will expand the terminal waiting area to allow improved baggage processing, additional restrooms, expanded passenger drop-off/pick-up areas and additional parking.
$ 1,200,000
Lane Transit District and City of Veneta
Veneta Transit Center – Eugene –
A new Veneta Transit Center will stimulate economic activity, reduce congestion on busy Oregon 126 and offer residents more options for commuting. It includes an enhanced Park and Ride facility in the city’s growing downtown area.
$ 656,000
Albany and Eastern RR
Mill City Branch Bridge Rehab and 286k Rail Upgrade –
Bridges on the critical “Mill City Branch” will be rehabilitated in this project, supporting several key industries and improving safety along the line. The new bridges will better accommodate today’s heavy rail loads and enhance the area’s economic appeal to businesses.
$ 3,777,280
City of Newport-Port of Astoria
Coastal Oregon Air Service –
Scheduled passenger air service, funded through this project, will provide important connections from two major coastal communities to the Portland International Airport. It will reduce travel time and costs for people needing to get to and from Oregon’s northern and central coast.
$ 3,600,000
Salem-Keizer Transit District
Keizer Transit Ctr. –
This project will create the Keizer Transit Center, a new facility designed to improve connections, provide options and reduce congestion, with parking spaces, bike facilities, room for eight buses, a pedestrian plaza and more.
$ 2,516,000
City of Salem / McNary Field
Runway / Safety Area Extension - McNary Field –
This project will extend the primary runway/safety area for aircraft by up to 1000 feet. As growth continues at the facility, runway extensions give a greater margin of aircraft safety and growth capacity and make the airport a more viable option for travelers and businesses.
$ 2,600,000

Insanity: Lottery dollars to fund airport upgrades

Both the source of the money (gambling, mostly by those who can least afford it) and the use of it (pouring money into an airport to attract bigger jets just as the days of mass travel by air are ending) are equally productive. This is truly the perfect illustration of the fantastic depth of the local leadership's state of denial. Oil is $140 a barrel and will likely hit $200 soon -- and never see $80 again -- and we're planning for more aviation -- even as our bike infrastructure is woeful and our local bus system doesn't offer Sunday service and has 1-hour gaps between buses on most routes.

Lottery dollars will help pay for $4.75 million worth of improvements at Salem Municipal Airport, including a longer runway and a larger terminal that could position the airport to attract more passenger flights, city officials said Friday.

Salem's airport has received a grant from the Connect Oregon II program, which provides money for transportation projects other than highways. The Oregon Transportation Commission met Friday in Enterprise and approved grants for the Salem airport and 29 other projects across the state.
. . .

"For us to ever grow and get another airline, we've got to have more terminal space," Alexander said.

. . .

Salem's 5,800-foot runway is the shortest in the state that receives commercial jet service, Alexander said. The airport's master plan has called for extending the runway up to 1,000 feet on its south end.

. . .

1. Runway extension, $3.25M -- Connect Oregon II funds: $2.60 million
Matching funds: $650,000 ($617,500 from federal funds and $32,500 from local sources)

2. Passenger terminal expansion, $1.5M -- Connect Oregon II funds: $1.20 million
Matching funds: $300,000 ($285,000 from federal funds and $15,000 from local sources)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Carmaker knows most efficient freight system: trains

(Well, barges actually, but where rivers don't flow ...)



TORRANCE, CA, June 19, 2008 --/WORLD-WIRE/-- Honda ( has fully deployed its fleet of Auto-Max® railcars, achieving a significant reduction in the fuel consumption and CO2 emissions associated with its automobile distribution activities in the United States. The 400-car fleet of more space-efficient Auto-Max; railcars is the only such automaker-operated fleet in use in the United States. Including the Auto-Max fleet shipments, American Honda currently transports about 82 percent of its Honda and Acura automobiles across the country by rail, achieving the highest rail-shipping rate of any automaker.

Each multi-level Auto-Max railcar holds up to 22 vehicles and can hold both trucks and cars to reduce unused space. The result is less fuel usage per vehicle shipped and no compromise to quality. An average bi-level railcar can transport only 10 trucks, generally of a single vehicle type. Honda's Auto-Max railcars have a 50-year estimated lifespan versus standard railcars, which typically require a major overhaul after just 20 years of service. Honda participated with the Greenbrier Companies (NYSE:GBX) in designing Auto-Max, which is exclusively manufactured by Greenbrier.

"Honda is adopting a holistic approach to minimizing its greenhousegas emissions, addressing not only the production and on road use of our products, but also new, more fuel-efficient strategies for how we transport our products to dealers," said Dennis Manns, assistant vice
president, Sales & Logistics Planning for American Honda Motor Co., Inc. "Rail is the most environmentally responsible method available to move our products, and our Auto-Max railcar fleet can make a good system even more fuel efficient."

To further support Honda's strategy to increase product distribution by rail, Honda this year invested approximately $7 million to redesign the rail infrastructure at its automobile plants in Marysville and East Liberty, Ohio. The redesign added rail capacity, enabling American Honda to ship more units via rail. Further, inbound and outbound trains at the plant can now operate at a faster pace; pull easier on upgraded tracks; and, require less railcar switching in the yard, reducing fuel consumption, CO2, and other air pollutants emissions that are produced while engines are left idling.

According to CSX, which serves Honda's rail operations in Ohio, the
infrastructure improvement contributes an annual savings of 2,436
gallons of fuel and 54,432 pounds of CO2 per year. . . .

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The best 12-minute video you're likely to see this year

A concise, calm, easy-to-follow explanation of why it is so urgent that Salem and Marion County wake up to the new reality.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The inimitable Tom Toles

Another gem from the best editorial cartoonist in America.

Oregonian Wakes Up, Remembers Peak Oil Task Force

This is Portland-focused, but the thrust is even more applicable in Salem, where we are in a far worse position to meet the new reality on energy. There have not even been any mentions of peak oil in the Statesman Journal, the City Council chambers, or the County Commissioners' meeting room. The local transportation planners, SKATS, has heard about peak oil but has chosen to adopt the fingers-in-the-ears-and-shout-"I can't hear you" strategy.

One year ago, the Peak Oil Task Force delivered a report to the City Council, but the whole region needs to mobilize

Think of it as a commuter version of "Some Enchanted Evening." At a recent graduation party in Cedar Mill, two neighbors squint at each other across a crowded kitchen island. Kinda scary, isn't it, they agree, about those gas prices headed toward $5 a gallon. Then a bit shyly, they circle a new question. Maybe it's time to take it to the next level. Both, they know, work downtown. Both leave home and return each day at roughly the same time. Turns out, they even park right next door to each other. Maybe this is a match made in post-Peak Oil Heaven.

All over the metro area, people are flirting with new transportation hookups. Bus and train ridership are soaring; interest in car-sharing is, too.

That should help Zipcar (formerly Flexcar), which has 202 cars available in Oregon. Except the same spikes in fuel costs that help the company attract new customers also eat into its profits and limit its ability to expand. (It has only three cars in Vancouver, three in Beaverton, none in Hillsboro.)

In fact, many businesses, governments and families are in the same fix: They must ride the ice cube while it melts. We need to fuel a transformation, and it may ultimately improve our lives. But only if we can fuel it fast, while supplies last -- of diminishing fuel.

Two years ago, when Portland created the Peak Oil Task Force, it sounded apocalyptic. Not anymore. Summer of 2008 may be remembered as the moment we awoke from our long national gas binge. Whether oil production has peaked or will do so in a few decades is almost academic. Every fill-up knocks home the realization that we can't afford to go on like this.

With oil prices headed toward $150 a barrel, the Peak Oil Task Force's key recommendation -- that the city must cut its oil consumption in half by 2030 -- seems ever more prescient and prudent.

The report belongs on Mayor-elect Sam Adams' bedside table. But it deserves an equally close reading by business and community leaders in car-oriented suburbs. There, some residents face a triple trap: a decline in housing values because they're so far out, an inability to buy anything closer in and too little income to keep filling the tank -- at least all on their own.

Never has the wisdom of the region's investment in TriMet been clearer. The key is to maximize it, in part by persuading businesses to stagger their hours of operation or go to four-day workweeks, so everyone isn't scrambling into a train at once. Another key is educating people, not just with maps but with one-on-one advice.

As of last week, 10,000 people had signed up for Metro's, an increase from 9,000 in April. No doubt at summer potlucks, some neighbors will figure out on their own that one plus one equals a carpool.

But the research also shows that intensive hand-holding and "green guidance" of the sort Portland's SmartTrips offers can alter behavior. Gas prices have sparked a desire to change. Door-to-door help on a massive scale could ignite regional transformation.

Will they, won't they? The neighbors part for the night, promising to rendezvous again soon. No worries. No big deal, except that it actually would be huge if they could align their lives even once or twice a week.

The party's over.

But a deeper community connection has just begun.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Another Hidden Cost of Auto Dependency

DAILY GREEN  A study of nearly 6,000 children in Munich has found that children are much more likely to develop asthma, allergies and skin rashes if they live near major roads. Vehicle tailpipes emit nitrogen oxides, volatile organic chemicals and fine particulates (soot). While U.S. laws have cracked down on the worst polluters, diesel engines, air quality near major roads is known to be worse than in other areas. . . 
Those children living within about 165 feet of a major road had a 50% greater chance of developing allergies. "We consistently found strong associations between the distance to the nearest main road and the allergic disease outcomes," Heinrich wrote.  "Children living closer than 50 meters to a busy street had the highest probability of getting allergic symptoms, compared to children living further away." 

Friday, June 13, 2008

Stunning Example of Full-Blown Denial

The Statesman Journal Editorial Board writes

Support Delta in Salem or risk losing service

pretending that "There’s no question that the Mid-Valley benefits from regaining commercial air service in Salem, especially for business travelers and for companies shipping cargo."

Funny, I thought business travelers and companies needed a stable climate too. And aren't they the very ones who most often rage about taxes --- like the taxes needed to subsidize a service that obviously makes no sense economically (else why the need for a subsidy?)

The clutch play, of course, is an appeal to ego. When you want to do something irrational, appeal to irrational symbolism:

The symbolism of airport service is equally important. It makes the Mid-Valley more appealing to businesses. The alternative — a state capital without even air service — seems absurd, although that’s what residents and businesses endured for years.
What seems absurd is a city that can't even manage to offer bus service on Sundays that's throwing money at airlines when it's crystal clear that jet fuel will never, ever be cheap again and that the whole air travel paradigm is going to change radically, with flying again becoming the mode of travel for only a select few. On top of beating the drum to blow 2/3 of a billion dollars on a third bridge over the Willamette to speed the cars and trucks that will soon run less and less as prices of oil keep shooting up.

The argument that we need to appeal to businesses with jet service is also absurd. What we need are businesses who don't have their heads so deep in the sand that they are clueless about what's coming down in the climate and in the energy markets as a result of our century-long energy waste party.

Flying from SLE won’t always be more convenient or as financially feasible as flying from PDX. Those are judgment calls that each family, business and government agency must make when deciding which airport to use. But the money spent flying through Salem is an investment in the Mid-Valley's economic future.
Indeed --- every time you fly, you help degrade our economic future by increasing our greenhouse gas emissions, increasing the demand for fossil fuels (and thus the prices), and diverting the money from investments in the infrastructure we will need as oil sails through $250 per barrel on its way to eventual pricelessness.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Ecovelo Blogger on Cars and Alienation


Driving a car is so effortless, hardly a thought is given to whether a trip should or should not be made. Cycling for transportation requires concerted effort, and consequently, encourages consideration and efficiency. Cycling, by its nature, discourages wasted energy.

We pay a heavy price for the convenience offered by the automobile. Dependence on foreign oil, global warming, smog, traffic fatalities, and many other problems are all part and parcel of our desire to extend our creature comforts beyond our homes by driving our cars. The question is whether it's worth it, and if not, what we choose to do about it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Salem paying the price of ignoring the signs

More than a year ago, a citizen told a meeting of the Salem-Keizer Area Transportation Study group (SKATS) -- the federally required metropolitan planning agency for the Mid- Willamette Valley Council of Governments -- that oil at $100 a barrel would soon be a fond memory, and that instead of planning an unnecessary third bridge for the Willamette, they needed to start thinking about how to preserve vital public services like police, fire, and ambulance, and to be thinking about how the impact of high oil prices would devastate their budgets.

Oil was under $60 a barrel at that point, and the SKATS members were, with the exception of Lloyd Chapman, uniformly unreceptive to the message. The SKATS members went on about their business, figuring out how to pour more pavement to serve the ever more cars and driving that they expected to see. Like ostriches sticking their collective head in the sand.

Today, the Salem Statesman Journal reports that the ostrich strategy doesn't work all that well:

Gas burns through Salem city budget

Spike in fuel prices was not factored into its planning

The spike in diesel and gasoline prices has city government suffering from sticker shock along with consumers.

In the next fiscal year, fuel for Salem's fleet of police cars, fire trucks, public works vehicles and other equipment is expected to cost nearly $559,000 more than was estimated last fall.

Salem City Council on Monday approved additional money for fuel in the city's 2008-09 fiscal budget. City funds set aside for fuel purchases will go from little more than $1.2 million to about $1.8 million.

"We knew there was upward pressure on fuel over the last few years, but we didn't expect it to skyrocket,"said Debra Neville, Salem's budget officer. . . .

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Fwd: $4/gal gas is having an impact on travel

[Click image for a larger version (in Firefox anyway, your browser may vary).]

Something to think about as we're told that between Portland and Salem, we have to spend nearly $5B (before overruns, and presuming that materials prices don't keep skyrocketing) on two bridge spans or else the world will end.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

They Can't Say They Haven't Been Warned

The letter below was just delivered to the
  • Mayor of Salem
  • eight Salem City Council members
  • two Salem officials (Community Development Director, Public Works Director)
  • three Marion County Commissioners
  • two Mid-Willamette Valley Council of Government Staffers (the Executive Director and the Transportation Planning chief), and
  • the editorial board of the local newspaper
With each letter came a free copy of the Post Carbon Institute book "Post Carbon Cities."

June 6, 2008

Dear Salem/Marion County policymakers and influential people:

As an engineer who has studied climate change and energy issues intensively, I am quite concerned about our area’s unpreparedness for several significant emerging challenges, namely the global peak in oil extraction and the need for what many people would today call unthinkably aggressive actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Every day, careful scientists produce more evidence that we have little time left to prepare for a new world. In this world, energy, instead of being cheap and abundant, will continue to become and remain ever more costly and even scarce at times. Climate disruption will compel us to see our atmosphere as the very limited and irreplaceable resource that it is and not an infinite sewer that can absorb whatever we care to (or carelessly) emit.

Given foresight, inspired leadership, and great effort, Salem and Marion County can adapt to the new reality. However, like fire insurance, this assurance cannot be obtained once the calamity is clearly here. We have only a limited and fast-dwindling time to act: to inform ourselves, to educate the community, and to develop an action plan for responding.

You no doubt have heard about the Portland Peak Oil Task Force. You may not know that Bellingham, Washington has improved on that model, commissioning the first joint city/county task force to begin planning for peak oil and the climate crisis. It is time for Salem and Marion County to do the same. I offer you this book, Post Carbon Cities: Planning for energy and climate uncertainty, as an introduction to the problems. I hope you will read it and that you will take the time to look into the many additional resources highlighted. At the least, I ask you to read the executive summary and pass the book on to your staff members and advisors.

I would be delighted to speak with you about this matter, privately or in public work sessions, and I hope you will set aside time to consider these important issues as soon as possible. We need to start a serious community conversation on this subject, and we have very little time to lose. I would like to do everything possible to assist you in helping the people in Salem and Marion County prepare for these daunting challenges.


"Reinventing Collapse" author's perceptive comments

The invaluable has a nice piece by Dmitry Orlov, author of "Reinventing Collapse," an important book for our future. A choice excerpt:

"You compare the US to the Soviet Union, but didn't the Soviet Union fail because of its backward Communist system? We have the free market, we can innovate and solve our problems in ways that they just couldn't even imagine!"

"The central planning system in the Soviet Union was quite inflexible and inefficient, and caused hoarding and black market trading. It directly allocated resources to things like central heating for entire neighborhoods, public transportation and government services. Market psychology had nothing to do with it: these were all physical flows of energy. Our system is certainly better during normal times, but when key resources become scarce, it suddenly becomes much worse: people are priced out of the markets for the things they need to survive, hoarding and profiteering become the norm, municipalities are driven into bankruptcy while oil companies make record profits and find nothing better to do with them than buy back their own stock, and so forth."

"But still, can't we innovate our way out of this? I was shopping for a new car yesterday, and there are all kinds of new hybrids and electric cars appearing on the market... when there is a crisis, the free market system responds, and gives us products that solve the problem!"

"The idea that the problem of too many cars and too much car dependence can be solved by making more cars is preposterous. What makes the problem insolvable is that Americans have been conditioned to treat access to private automobile as a birthright, and taking away their cars is about as advisable as trying to take away their guns. The most commonsense thing to do would be to ban the manufacture, import, and sale of new vehicles, except for some specific fleet vehicles used for public services, as was done during World War II. But this problem will work itself out to some extent: it takes a lot of energy to make a car, and new cars are still affordable only because the new oil prices haven't percolated through the entire economy yet."

"Some people are concerned about the falling dollar and what the Federal Reserve is doing. What do you make of their policies?"

"They are making a strenuous effort to make insolvent financial institutions look solvent by lending them bushels of newly printed dollars. The effect is ever more US dollars chasing after same or smaller quantities of key commodities, such as oil and food, causing huge run-ups in prices. This is what the start of hyperinflation looks like. Eventually, this will ruin our ability to continue borrowing and financing our huge trade and budget deficits. It will also cut off our access to key imports, such as two-thirds of the oil we use, because nobody will want to continue stockpiling our worthless dollars. If that happens, the US economy will go into a state of severe shock.

"The economists have suddenly been thrust into a world they can't understand. They are used to thinking of energy in terms of money, and in terms of driving economic growth. They can't possibly be expected to turn around and learn to think of money in terms of energy, and of driving a gradual powering-down of the economy in ways that will provide the population with the essentials and avoid needless suffering. What it means to the rest of us is that we should stop looking to the economists for answers. There would be too much retraining involved to make them into competent practitioners of this new discipline."

Friday, June 6, 2008

A great blog to get to know

Low Tech Magazine


Excerpt from an article on why electric (wireless) cars have no future:

So, then, we have green cars, right? Alas, no. The electric car has a serious environmental drawback compared to a car running on a combustion engine: the battery. The ‘fuel tank’ of an electric car consists of hundreds of connected batteries, each of them comparable to the battery of a mobile phone (the Tesla Roadster, an electric sports car, has more than 6,000 of them). After some years, they all have to be replaced, and already before that time there is a reduction in storage capacity.

The environmental profit gained by a higher efficiency (or by green electricity) will be negated completely by the massive amount of batteries required. Batteries have to be manufactured, and that process is very energy-intensive and environmentally harmful. Batteries also have to be discarded or recycled - both processes again require extra energy and inflict environmental harm.

A history of what we've lost

Great two-part series in the Oregonian on what we've lost -- a rational transportation system that let people get around without having to own a car.

Part 1

Part 2

Kunstler's "Farewell to Suburbia"

James Howard Kunstler is an incisive observer who, years ago, started warning that our devotion to carburban design was going to come to a bad end (See The Geography of Nowhere). A couple of years ago he wrote a terrific book, The Long Emergency, expanding on the themes of TGON and tying into the emerging recognition that we are at an energy transition point (called "peak oil," after the shape of a plot of oil supply vs. time) that is going to be most wrenching to those places that have gone the deepest into the madness of converting themselves into carburbia -- the sprawlscape that defines much of Salem (and especially West Salem) today.

The effort to build a third Willamette Bridge crossing is probably the last gasp of the disease, as carburbia is expiring before our very eyes. A culture built on cheap energy -- literally built around the premise that, in your every decision, you would not have to think much about the cost of energy -- cannot long survive when energy costs start to approach its true value.

The essential question is whether we blow two-thirds of a billion dollars on a bridge that would be like the great pyramids of Egypt: monuments to the egos of the builders and their waning ability to extract the necessary wealth to do so from the masses. Or can we be foresighted enough to recognize a tsunami before it hits?

Anyway, good article from Kunstler in an Ottawa paper:

Farewell to suburbia

Car-dependent communities, the greatest misallocation of resources in history, have no future -- but that's just one of the shocks the global oil crisis is going to bring

James Howard Kunstler
Citizen Special

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Huge efforts are being made, and hopes invested in, what are called 'alternative fuels' in a desperate effort to keep all the cars running by means other than gasoline, writes James Howard Kunstler.
CREDIT: Peter J. Thompson, Reuters
Huge efforts are being made, and hopes invested in, what are called 'alternative fuels' in a desperate effort to keep all the cars running by means other than gasoline, writes James Howard Kunstler.

The fog of cluelessness that hangs over North America about the gathering global oil crisis and its ramifications seems to thicken by the hour. One reason for all the fog is that the key part of the story is so broadly misunderstood -- namely, that it's not about running out of oil; it's about how the complex systems we depend on for everyday life begin to destabilize as the global demand for oil starts to outstrip the supply.

By "complex systems" I mean very precisely:

- the way we produce and distribute our food;

- the way we do commerce and manufacturing;

- the way we move people and things around the landscape;

- the way we accumulate and deploy capital investment;

- the way we get and allocate energy resources (i.e. the oil markets themselves);

- plus many other activities such as education, medicine, governance, and so on.

All these systems are visibly wobbling these days, and mutually reinforcing each other's instabilities, multiplying and accelerating our problems. For instance, our ventures in bio-fuels are affecting worldwide grain prices so severely that food riots have broken out in several poor countries. Whoops! Bitten by unintended consequences.

The capital markets have been faltering conspicuously for half a year now and the failures occurring there are not so mysterious if you understand that a major implication of the oil story is the prospect of industrial economies being unable to generate the kind of regular "growth" that we've become used to. Hence, a loss of faith infects the common investment "instruments" that represent the conventional idea of growth. Under these conditions stocks, bonds, and currencies themselves lose legitimacy and a desperation sets in among the financial community to find some other way to make money.

It is no wonder, then, in the face of this crisis of confidence, that sharp minds on Wall Street turned to the creation of unconventional new "engineered" securities -- based on algorithms and equations incomprehensible to non-insiders -- and that many of these new paper investment vehicles, such as mortgage-backed-securities, have turned out to be badly engineered, shall we say. These failures, in turn, amplify the instability in the financial markets and make things worse, with banks now fearful of each other's holdings and the regular operations of credit falling into a state of paralysis -- with further ramifications for the mortgage markets, for the house-builders, the suppliers of lumber and sheet-rock, the furniture-sellers, the strip-mall builders, and a long chain of other participants in the so-called "regular" economy.

That economy is not so regular anymore in light of the oil predicament.

Look at it from another angle. The big builders and the realtors seem to think that we've entered the lower arc of a cycle that will turn up again sooner or later. I think they are mistaken. This is not a dip in the real estate cycle, it is the end of the entire suburban program in North America as we have known it.

The new reality of the oil situation informs us that we will not have the energy to run this automobile-dependent infrastructure for daily life. The material assets of suburbia are destined to lose both their monetary value and their sheer usefulness as 100-kilometre daily commutes become economically insupportable, not to mention the cost of heating 3,000-square-foot houses.

We're going to discover the hard way that the project of suburbia represents the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. We will have to occupy the landscape differently in the years ahead. Yet, the enormous sunk costs of suburbia are very likely to provoke a furious campaign to sustain the manifestly unsustainable. The political implications of that are pretty unappetizing.

As in our living arrangements, so in our manner of moving around the landscape, a.k.a. transportation. Start by recognizing that the entire system of Happy Motoring is unlikely to continue as we have known it. This should be taken for granted by anyone seriously reflecting on our future. Unfortunately, the wish to rescue this system trumps the desperate need for us to make other arrangements. Thus huge efforts are being made, and hopes invested in, what are called "alternative fuels" -- the desperate wish to keep running all the cars by other means than gasoline.

I think the stark truth of the matter is that no combination of alternative fuels will allow us to run the North American highway network, Wal-Mart, and Walt Disney World -- or even a substantial fraction of those things. Because of our sunk costs in Happy Motoring, we will surely try everything -- solar, wind, nuclear, bio-fuels, used french-fry oil -- and we will surely be disappointed by what they can actually do for us. The problem is that they don't scale.

Indeed, the whole question of scale is another key element of the larger story. I would state categorically that the energy predicament implies we will have to downscale all of the systems of daily life named above, and that we will also have to live far more locally and self-sufficiently than has been the case in recent history.

The notion that the global economy is a permanent condition of life -- famously touted by Thomas Friedman in his book, The World Is Flat -- will prove to be erroneous. The world will get rounder as our energy diet ramps down. Globalism will prove to have been a set of transient economic relations that came about because of special circumstances during a particular period of history: five decades of cheap, abundant oil, and relative peace between the powerful nations. The first of those two conditions is now palpably over, and the second may fade as the great nations commence a contest over the remaining oil resources in the world, which is sure to affect our economic relations.

The public discussion in both the United States and Canada about how we will manage this epochal transition out of the oil age ranges from incoherent to delusional these days. For instance, among the "other arrangements" we must make, which I alluded to, is the desperate need to revive the North American passenger rail system.

In case you haven't noticed, the airlines are dying. In mid-April alone, four smaller airlines declared bankruptcy: Frontier, ATA, Aloha, and Skybus. I happened to be in Minneapolis the other day when Northwest and Delta announced their planned merger. Minneapolis happens to be the headquarters of Northwest, and all the local chatter concerned fear that Delta would cut service to small cities all over the upper Midwest. Of course, this geographically large region has almost no railroad service (besides the daily Amtrak run through Minneapolis to Seattle).

There is no project we could take up right away that would have a greater impact on our oil use than reviving the passenger rail system. The infrastructure is already in place, rusting in the rain, waiting to be fixed. It would employ scores of thousands of people at good jobs, at every level. It would benefit people in all ranks of society. It would take enormous pressure off the airlines in serving short-hop routes that are much better allocated to rail. Most of all, it's a doable project that would build our confidence to address the many other systems that will require re-scaling and reform in the years ahead. The fact that there is almost zero political discussion about restoring the passenger rail system shows how un-serious we are.

Right now, with transport, finance, and food production in disarray, we have entered the period of history that I call "the long emergency." Despite the techno-triumphalism rampant among our governing classes, we are not likely to see (nor are we entitled to) an orderly transition from where we are now to where we are heading. We are unlikely, for instance, to "come up with" a miracle rescue remedy for motor transport. We will have to confront the sheer loss of capital that is at the heart of the financial fiasco rather than continue to play a shell game with loans from central banks to cover up for failed securities. The crisis in grain prices is an early warning that our current methods of food production are hostage to the petroleum markets.

In the absence of a coherent political discussion, we are fated to a merely reactive response to the linked failures of all these systems. One product of the long emergency will be the creation of a new social phenomenon called "the former middle class." They will be a large group of people who have lost jobs, vocations, and incomes. Quite a few are just now in the process of losing their homes. They will be full of anger and grievance and they will demand political action to return their "entitlements" to well-paid jobs, comfortable houses, and limitless mobility.

There is no telling how they will behave when they discover that those things are gone forever. We are not doing ourselves a favour by ignoring these issues.

James Howard Kunstler is the author of The Long Emergency, and a new novel of the post-oil future, World Made By Hand, both from The Atlantic Monthly Press. He lives in upstate New York.

Destroying Minto to Serve Commuters?

One of the best---if not THE best parts of Salem is Minto Island, a wonderful sanctuary ... or, according to this letter to the Salem paper from a reader who lives in Dallas, Oregon, it's merely a convenient platform for yet MORE concrete designed to serve cars:

Address traffic woes with third bridge
April 18, 2008

I am amazed by the persistent plans to build a new bridge in north Salem to connect to some part of Wallace Road NW and its congestion.
Indeed, that sort of traffic could be handled by a morning and evening one-way transit over a modification of the existing railroad bridge.

Consideration should be given to a bridge crossing onto Minto Island from the area of Mission Street SE. Such a bridge system would then connect with Highway 22 in the vicinity of Capital Manor or any suitable place before the river turns to the south.

Such a plan would cost more but would address the real problem of reducing traffic over the existing bridges by commercial traffic in and out of Polk County and the increasing volume of travel between I-5 and Highway 22 going to the coast.

The Mission Street plan would also accommodate a portion of the present commute traffic and open up the flow over the existing bridges.

Sleazy Public Process Lesson 101: Never give the suckers an even break

Now we really see the Salem River Crossing revealed for what it is --- a scaled-up version of a bad used car sales lot, where the hustle is intended to get the mark (that's us, folks) on the hook before he can even realize he's been had.

The first lesson they teach salesmen in boiler room operations and payday loan parlors is "Never ask the mark a question that has the wrong answer as a possible response." Thus, you never get asked "Would you like to finance that here?" Heck no, it's always "How long would you like to finance that for?"

So too with the Salem River Crossing -- they've come up with a spiffy new "funding tool" designed to get you to "interact" with it around the idea of figuring out how to pay for this boondoggle --- leaping right over the "Do you even need one of these?" or "What else could be done with all that money?" or "Does a new auto bridge conflict with the need to dramatically reduce vehicle miles traveled?" questions. Here's the latest "important update" on the hustle:

Important updates on the Salem River Crossing Project
In early 2008, the range of alternatives recommended by the Task Force and Oversight Team was modified to respond to advice from the Federal Highway Administration and the Oregon Department of Justice. View the revised alternatives now.

The project is also continuing to work on how to pay for the alternatives. Check out the new Funding Tool to learn more about these different funding options then take a survey.

What a surprise! A hand-picked "task force" steered by a "steering committee" of public officials bent on destroying a low-income neighborhood in NE Salem in order to ease the daily life and the commute for the wealthy white zip code on the other side looked at alternatives and recommended a new bridge! Imagine that! Now the only step left if to somehow persuade the rubes not already being foreclosed from their homes that they should tax their property even more to pay for it --- because the people the new bridge is supposedly going to serve have made it clear that it's not worth more than a buck to them.

Same Sprawl Monster, Different City

Great website on the Columbia River boondoggle, the spiritual twin to the third bridge idea for Salem. Virtually every bit of this applies in Salem in exactly the same or only a slightly different way.

The Plan of Attack -- How the Sprawl Lobby Proposes to Overcome Common Sense

Here's the memo about the financing discussion you (nor any other member of the regular public) weren't invited to, although "business leaders" were:

Funding workshop summary

TO: Salem River Crossing Project Management Team
FROM: Kristin Hull, CH2M HILL
DATE: April 7, 2008 (REVISED)


The Salem River Crossing Project hosted a workshop to consider potential local funding sources for the project on March 5, 2008. The workshop was attended by more than 50 local elected officials, business leaders, and senior-level staff from the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and local jurisdictions. The workshop agenda included:

* Presentation on local funding options and considerations.
* Breakout groups to develop and discuss potential funding scenarios.
* Large group discussion of next steps to advance development of a local funding plan.

This memo provides a summary of the key themes that emerged during the small group work and large group discussion at the workshop.

Funding analysis tool

To support discussion at the workshop, CH2M HILL developed an Excel spreadsheet tool that allowed participants to test different tax and fee structures for funding of a new bridge. Participants were given a goal of raising $30 million each year, the annual debt service on bonds to support a theoretical $500 million bridge project. The $500 million cost was used as a placeholder for the cost of a the project since the project location and design, requirements for developing detailed cost estimates, and the amount of state and federal funding have not been determined.
The spreadsheet tool allowed participants to input amounts for the following potential local funding sources:

* Vehicle registration surcharge (Marion or Polk counties)
* Local gas tax (cities of Salem or Keizer, or Marion or Polk counties)
* Property tax (cities of Salem or Keizer, or Marion or Polk counties)
* Toll on new bridge
* Toll on existing and new bridges

Participants could enter a range of values for each tax or fee type, or geography to explore different ways the project might be funded. The 2012 annual total in the upper right portion of the input sheet indicated the surplus or deficit associated with each funding scenario.

Breakout groups

Participants were divided into six groups. Each group included a Project Management Team member who acted as the table’s scribe and facilitator. The goal of the breakout groups was for each group to develop one or more possible funding scenarios and to discuss the opportunities and challenges associated with each potential funding source. The breakout groups each shared one scenario and a summary of their discussion with the larger group.

Discussion summary

The breakout groups developed a range of funding scenarios that included different funding mechanisms. As part of the local funding scenario:

* All six groups identified a toll on both bridges, though the toll amount varied among groups.
* Four of the six groups identified a vehicle registration surcharge.
* Three of the six groups identified a local gas tax.
* Two of the six groups identified a property tax.

The large group discussed the key issues associated with each funding source. Some people noted that a property tax would be more progressive than other sources because it is keyed to property values and not a flat fee, and that a property tax would give people a voice in the decision about how to fund the bridge because it would require a vote. Some participants noted that a vehicle registration surcharge or fuel tax would unfairly tax low-income people. Other participants preferred vehicle registration surcharges and fuel taxes because those fees are directly related to transportation.

The group discussed how to involve the public in making decisions about funding and concluded that community members should have the opportunity to use the funding analysis tool to understand the funding choices and challenges. Some participants noted that it might be too early to ask the public to weigh in on funding choices since a bridge location has not been determined and detailed cost estimates are not available.

Many participants said that the community must be educated
[emphasis added] about the funding need and choices and why local funding sources are needed before they are asked to weigh in on a funding package. The group discussed the need for public opinion research on the acceptability of different funding sources and discussed the idea of an advisory question on a ballot during a regular election as a way to take the pulse of the community.

Group 1
Group 1 noted that they were not satisfied with any of the alternatives because they did not allow for asking West Salem, the part of the community that would benefit the most, to pay a larger share than the rest of the area. This group suggested that a Local Improvement District (LID) contribution from West Salem should be considered in conjunction with other sources. Group 1 noted that if a property tax in the cities of Salem and Keizer was part of the strategy that the taxing district should take in the entire urban growth boundary, not just each city’s limits. Group 1 also suggested that more distant jurisdictions that might benefit from a new bridge, such as Lincoln County, should contribute to funding the bridge.

Group 2
Group 2 identified a combination of a tiered property tax and tolls as the most equitable way to fund the new bridge. The tiered property tax would levy a higher tax rate on properties in the cities of Salem and Keizer and a lower rate on properties in Marion and Polk counties (outside the cities). Group 2 suggested charging a $0.75 toll per crossing, but exempting residents and businesses in Salem, Keizer, Marion County, and Polk County. [In other words, the people the third bridge -- the cross-river commuters -- would cater to would not pay any more than their neighbors who oppose the bridge entirely and refuse to use it. emphasis added.] Group 2 said that this type of system would ask both users and the area’s residents and businesses to help pay for the bridge. The group also noted that the public could easily understand how much they are paying to construct a new bridge.

Group 3
Group 3 identified a combination of sources including a fuel tax, vehicle registration surcharge, property tax, and toll to fund the bridge. This group noted that a property tax is likely to be the least popular part of this scenario since it is not related to transportation. [Amen -- although they forgot to note that it also requires people who are trying to avoid making climate change worse support a project that does exactly that. Emphasis added.] The group noted that it was important to consider sources beyond tolls because the bridge would benefit people and businesses beyond those who actually use the bridge and because it is important to have more than one source of revenue as a risk management measure. The group suggested variable tolling as a way to reduce the negative impact to downtown businesses. The group also noted that some state funding such as lottery bonds might be available to help fund the bridge and that it might make sense to consider a larger city/county transportation funding package that would pay for the bridge as well as other needed projects.

Group 4
Group 4 suggested a combination of tolls, fuel taxes in both counties and a vehicle registration surcharge to fund the bridge. The group suggested that any funding package should raise more money than is required for capital costs and create a funding stream for bridge maintenance. The group said that a property tax should not be used to fund the bridge because property taxes are needed to fund other important services, but that the City of Salem could look to urban renewal districts to fund some pieces of the project. The group noted that a $1 toll/per crossing would not be palatable to the public. [Emphasis added]

Group 5
Group 5 developed a scenario in which one-half of the costs would be paid by tolls and one-half of the costs would be paid by residents through a combination of fuel taxes and vehicle registration surcharges. The group noted that this scenario would be fair to both users and area residents and would have relatively low collection costs since the state already collects these taxes and could easily collect the surcharges in the identified jurisdictions. The group noted that property taxes should be reserved for other needs in the cities and counties that do not have other funding sources.

Group 6
Group 6 suggested a vehicle registration surcharge and tolls to fund the bridge. The group suggested that the toll vary by time of day, be different for the old and new bridges, and be reduced for residents of Marion and Polk counties. The group noted that fuel taxes are not equitable and are generally quite regressive. [Emphasis added] The group discussed how a local gas tax, as opposed to a statewide gas tax, could penalize gas station owners inside the taxing district by making their gas prices higher than stations outside the district. The group noted that, while tolls are fair because users pay for the new bridge, a funding package that includes other sources needs to be developed to reduce the burden on commuters. [! -- Emphasis added]

Next steps
The group directed staff to move forward with the following next steps:

* Develop a strategy about how best to engage community members in discussions about local funding sources for the project. Consider when and how public opinion research might be used to test acceptability of local funding options.
* Post funding analysis tool to the project web site to allow community members to explore funding issues.
* Use the analysis of local funding options that will be completed as part of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement as a basis for further funding discussions.

Why More AutoSprawl Infrastructure is NOT an Option


TREE HUGGER A new report funded by the Natural Resources Defense Council has confirmed . . . that the U.S. West has been heating up much more rapidly than the rest of the world. Analyzing temperature data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for 11 states, the authors, part of the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization, recorded average temperature rises in the Colorado River Basin that were 2.2 degrees warmer than the historical average for the 20th century - or more than twice the global average rise for the same period. If these trends continue, that will spell especially bad news for southwestern cities, particularly those in Arizona and New Mexico, which have been growing at a fast clip and have already suffered through some of the region's worst droughts.

As study author Stephen Saunders points out, the droughts have dealt the region a heavy economic blow, depriving it of over $2.7 billion in crop revenues and revenues from recreational activities, such as fishing, hunting and skiing.

What if all road users were treated as if they mattered?

I've been thinking a lot about how screwed up our thinking about energy and transportation is lately, as the signs of peak oil and the permanent transition to a much lower energy economy become stronger and stronger.

A post about bikes as tools vs. bikes as toys at a bicycling blog helped crystallize something I've been mulling over -- how do we undo the damage caused by the "Driver's Ed" moment that serves, for most people in our society, as the only clear dividing line between childhood and adulthood? That is, people think of bikes as kids' toys and cars as "adult" because you have to take a special class and pass a test to drive a car.

How about we reorganize our thinking and start licensing people to use the roadways instead?

That is, instead of giving people a license to drive, we create a single roadway user's license with various endorsements for various modes -- so if someone wants to use the roads on a bicycle, they get the basic roadway user's license; if they want to add a motorcycle endorsement, they can use the roads on a motorcycle; and if they want to add an automobile endorsement, then they can drive a car (and so on up through commercial vehicle licenses ...).

The point being that everyone (except those waived due to physical disability) who wants to get one of the motorized endorsements has to get the basic license first, which teaches how to be a basic non-motorized road user and tests the person's ability to ride a bike safely. We wouldn't have to use the DMV -- schools and community groups (YMCA, Scouting organizations, neighborhood centers) could be trained to administer the tests and grant the basic license to anyone 10 or older, upon completion of a basic course of instruction, and it would provide safety training, basic rules of the road, explain the helmet and its use, etc.

You could exempt current motorized license holders if you think teaching older folks how to be bicyclists is too much to ask (although I think we should not).

I think this would help people's thinking a lot -- they would start to see that bikes are valid road users, and it would sure help bike safety if every motorized road user had firsthand experience as a bike-only user.

A comment further down in the original thread made some interesting points:

As a Dutchman it is very strange to read something like this. For us a bike is first a mode of transport and then a toy, not the other way around. I guess that’s because bikes were an established mode of transport here long before cars became affordable.

To get people to use bikes as tools you need more than available utility bikes. You need a change of mind.

In the Netherlands where I’m from school kids can voluntarily enroll in a theoretical and practical traffic course and test. The practical test is of course done on a bike. In the Netherlands most kids take the bicycle to school, so most of them take the test. This early start is invaluable, because it teaches the bike as a mode of transport.

It is a fact that cyclists are more vulnerable than car drivers. So car drivers need to be very aware of cyclists, and/or you have to separate bicycle and car traffic. We’ve done both.

Holland is riddled with separate bicycle paths, which makes for much safer and nicer cycling. Even if the drivers are mindfull of cyclists, it is unnerving to have cars zoom past you with a 40 mph speed difference.

The best ways to make drivers aware of cyclists are driver education and to give the latter enhanced legal protection. In the Netherlands in case of an accident between a car and a bike, the driver of that car is assumed to be responsible for the accident unless he can prove that the cyclist acted recklessly. This makes drivers much more mindfull of cyclists.