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With election season now in full swing, the time has come to decide which candidate we think will best lead us for the next four years. Here on Transit Miami, we’ll be taking a close look at the presidential hopefuls to determine which candidate is the strongest on smart growth and livable cities issues.
Without further ado, let’s break down the remaining presidential frontrunners:

The Republicans: Now while Transit Miami is a non-partisan blog, Republicans and Libertarians generally do not have a strong record for supporting smart growth or transit-oriented urban policy. The Republican candidates for this year’s election are no exception. All of the front-runners are soft on climate change, using the typical rhetoric of voluntary reductions on greenhouse gas emissions. Fred Thompson, who has fortunately dropped out of the race already, at one point even mentioned considering opening up the Everglades for oil exploration.

The Democrats: Though far from meeting our high standards, the leading Democratic front-runners are unquestionably more dedicated to livable cities issues than Republicans. Here’s a breakdown of where the top three candidates, Clinton, Obama, and Edwards stand on planning-related issues:

Hillary Clinton:
From “Powering America’s Future: Hillary Clinton’s Plan to Address the Energy and Climate Crisis”:

“Hillary’s big three goals: “Reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% from 1990 levels by 2050 – the level necessary to avoid the worst impacts of global warming. Cut foreign oil imports by two-thirds from projected levels by 2030. Transform our carbon-based economy into an efficient green economy, creating at least 5 million jobs from clean energy over the next decade.”

“Creating a market-based cap and trade program, and auctioning 100% of greenhouse gas permits. Hillary would raise fleet-wide fuel economy standards from the current level of 25 miles per gallon (mpg) to 40 mpg in 2020 and 55 mpg in 2030.

“Increased public transit usage is one of the best strategies for addressing the energy and environmental costs of transportation…As President, Hillary will increase federal funding for public transit, including buses, light rail and subways, by $1.5 billion per year. She will also link federal public transit funds to local land use policies that encourage residential developments that maximize public transit usage and discourage sprawl. She will also invest an additional $1 billion in intercity passenger rail systems. Intercity passenger rail is an environmentally efficient alternative to highway driving and short flights; it elieves congestion on roads and airports; reduces the emission of automotive pollutants; and it timulates economic growth by linking metropolitan areas.”

Barack Obama: From Obama’s “Plan to Make America a Global Energy Leader”:

“Build More Livable and Sustainable Communities: Over the longer term, we know that the amount of fuel we will use is directly related to our land use decisions and development patterns, much of which have been organized around the principle of cheap gasoline. Barack Obama believes that we must move beyond our simple fixation of investing so many of our transportation dollars in serving drivers and that we must make more investments that make it easier for us to walk, bicycle and access other transportation alternatives.”

“Reform Federal Transportation Funding: As president, Barack Obama will re-evaluate the transportation funding process to ensure that smart growth considerations are taken into account. Obama will build upon his efforts in the Senate to ensure that more Metropolitan Planning Organizations create policies to incentivize greater bicycle and pedestrian usage of roads and sidewalks, and he will also re-commit federal resources to public mass transportation projects across the country. Building more livable and sustainable communities will not only reduce the amount of time individuals spent commuting, but will also have significant benefits to air quality, public health and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

“Level Employer Incentives for Driving and Public Transit: The federal tax code rewards driving to work by allowing employers to provide parking benefits of $205 per month tax free to their employees. The tax code provides employers with commuting benefits for transit, carpooling or vanpooling capped at $105 per month. This gives drivers a nearly 2:1 advantage over transit users. Obama will reform the tax code to make benefits for driving and public transit or ridesharing equal.”

John Edwards: From Edward’s “Achieving Independence and Stopping Global Warming Through a New Energy Economy”:

“Transform the Auto Industry to Lead the World in Cars of the Future: Edwards believes that everyone should be able to drive the car, truck or SUV of their choice and still enjoy high fuel economy. American automakers have the ingenuity to lead the world in building the clean, safe, economical cars of the future.”

“Raise Fuel Economy Standards: American cars and trucks are less efficient than they were two decades ago, despite the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards. Standards in China, Japan, and the European Union are between 40 and 100 percent higher. Edwards will raise standards to 40 miles per gallon by 2016, a step that could single-handedly reduce oil demand by 4 million barrels per day. [Pew Center on Global Climate Change, 2004; Reicher, 2007]”

“Reduce Vehicle Miles Traveled: Edwards will create incentives for states and regions to plan smart growth and transit-oriented development with benchmarks for reductions in vehicle miles traveled. He supports more resources to encourage workers to use public transportation and will encourage more affordable, low-carbon and low-ambient pollution transportation options.”

Transit Miami will not take the position to endorse any particular candidate at this point in time but we will however attempt to portray how the candidates stack up on the key issues. We believe Hilary Clinton has the best climate change policy and has the strongest ties to the type of people who will bring about positive environmental changes over the next four years. Barak Obama has the clearest development policy of the three democratic candidates and his platform specifically addresses the benefits of smart growth. Obama is endorsed by many bicycling groups and has even stated that he will push for better pedestrian and cycling oriented policy as president. John Edwards presents the most conservative approach, concentrating much of his policy of fuel efficiency and alternative fuels. We’re concerned about all of the candidates’ positions and emphasis on coal energy and alternative fuels and are disappointed to see that none adequately address better growth principles.

Streetsblog: London street closings a resounding success

Huffington Post: Fighting fat and climate change

George Monbiot: The western appetite for biofuels is causing starvation in the poor world

Miami Herald: Push for Miami port tunnel funding begins

Miami Today News: Soccer may join Marlins on Orange Bowl land

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It shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s been following U.S. politics on climate change, but a new report has been released by the House Oversight Committee revealing the White House’s effort to stifle climate change science.

According to the report, the Bush Administration censored 150 federal climate scientists from eight federal agencies and “exerted unusual control over the public statements of federal scientists on climate change issues.”

“The Bush Administration has engaged in a systematic effort to manipulate climate change science and mislead policymakers and the public about the dangers of global warming.”

Dr. James Hansen, head of NASA’s top institute studying climate and widely regarded top climate scientist on Earth, has said it. The world’s most outspoken journalist reporting on climate change, George Monbiot, describes it in his book. Now the House Oversight Committee shows how low the Bush Administration is willing to stoop to avoid taking action on climate change. It’s absolutely reprehensible, not to mention a little fascist for the executive branch of any democracy to manipulate science and censor what it doesn’t agree with.

Meanwhile, in Bail, talks continue in an effort to develop a post-Kyoto pact to take aim at climate change beyond 2012. Embarrassingly, it is again the U.S. that is the outcast here, refusing to commit to any kind of binding regulation to cut carbon emissions. I guess the Bush Administration must have chosen to ignore the recent IPCC report that warns of accelerating climate change and demands immediate international action. UN Chair Ban-Ki moon, who recently called climate change “the defining challenge of our age”, has called on the U.S. and China to take a “more constructive role” in the fight against climate change, yet the Bush Administration remains completely out-of-touch with reality.

Photo: Dan Wasserman, Boston Globe

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A recent report conducted by Tufts University paints a very grim picture of Florida’s future if we don’t take swift action to fight climate change. According to the report, South Florida will be particularly vulnerable to warming effects.

Throughout the report, the researchers discuss two scenarios; the first, known as “rapid stabilization”, is the most optimistic scenario in which global emissions decrease at least 50% by 2050 and U.S. emissions decline at least 80% by the same period. The second scenario, referred to as “business-as-usual”, is a pessimistic scenario that projects the damages to our state if we continue to take little action.

Some of the reports noteworthy conclusions in the “business-as-usual scenario”:

  • Within vulnerable zones:
  • residential real estate now valued at over $130 billion
  • half of Florida’s beaches
  • 99% of Mangroves
  • Sea level could rise by as much as 23” by 2050 and 45” by 2100
  • 70% of Miami-Dade would be under water
  • 99.6% of Monroe would be under water
  • The Everglades would be almost completely inundated by salt water, and effectively destroyed
  • Heat waves will become more severe and more common, with new record temperatures and a gradual decline in nighttime cooling. The average heat index in summer will increase by 15-20% in much of the state. Miami will become several degrees warmer than Bangkok (probably the world’s hottest, most humid major city today) and daily highs in many Florida cities will exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit for nearly 2/3 or the year.
  • Annual statewide economic losses (that’s right…this is per year)
  • $92 billion by 2050
  • $345 billion by 2100
Of course there are those within the rapidly dwindling skeptic community that feel the negative effects of climate change are nothing that good ‘ol human ingenuity can’t solve. Such a reliance on technology to fight nature’s fury is such a dangerous and fleeting philosophy. The Miami-Dade County Climate Change Task Force’s Science and Technology Committee had this to say in the Tufts Report:

“The highly porous limestone and sand substrate of Miami-Dade County (which at present permits excellent drainage) will limit the effectiveness of widespread use of levees and dikes to wall off the encroaching sea.”

However, even if levees and dikes did present a viable option for fighting rising sea levels, it would be inordinately expensive to build such infrastructure in a state with over 1,200 miles of coastline (this doesn’t even factor in Lake Okechobee and other vulnerable watersheds).

This is serious business we’re talking about here. If we don’t start taking swift action to fight climate change, we all lose. Environmentalists lose for obvious reasons, business interests suffer as insurance rates skyrocket, tourism declines, and billions of dollars tied up in real estate become threatened. If you’re indifferent, you’ll still suffer from unprecedented heat and humidity, extremely high costs of living due to insurance and energy price hikes, and more frequent major hurricanes that threaten the lives of us all.

This makes the recent vote to move the UDB line all the more disgraceful. If there is any place that should be leading the fight on climate change, it’s South Florida and Miami-Dade County. Few places are as vulnerable geographically and no other region on Earth can lay claim to an ecosystem like the Everglades. However, this hasn’t stopped self-interest and incompetence from making South Florida one of the most sprawling, unsustainable regions in all of North America.

Click here to download the full report, “Florida and Climate Change: The Costs of Inaction”.

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Today’s Transitography comes to us from It’s Knuttz and really puts US oil consumption into perspective. Keep in mind, these figures are nearly 5 years old…

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  • Climate Change: Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise even faster than projected
  • Transit: The Miami philosophy on transit is exposed
  • Pedestrian Safety: Woman hit by car in Allapattah

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  • Parking: “…parking is one of the biggest boondoggles — and environmental disasters — in our country”

  • Local Poverty Peddlers: Herlad reports on Miami-Dade Empowerment Trust corruption

  • Miami’s highly touted Community Partnership for the Homeless program is going national.
  • Vermont ruling on automobile emissions standards is a small victory in fight against climate change.

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As planners, advocates, and community groups, we can condemn poor localized planning to our heart’s content. Heck, we may even win a few battles now and again. However, if we want to win the war, we must carefully examine how federal policy affects transportation and planning.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at the Federal Department of Transportation’s budget for project funding in Fiscal Year 2008. Using completely backward, archaic philosophies, DOT has set aside $42,000,000,000 for highway projects, and a trifling $1,400,000,000 for transit projects. That’s right - $42 billion for highways and $1.4 billion for transit. We can certainly see where DOT’s priorities still lie.

How on earth are we supposed to improve inner city and regional transit, with the feds only dolling out $1.4 billion for transit projects? How are cities supposed to improve sustainability, reduce congestion, and improve mobility? Plus, when you consider all the money going towards highway building/expansion, it makes it even more difficult for transit systems to compete.

“There’s still a lack of understanding how fundamentally broken the transit program is. The demand for transit has never been higher…at the same time, the federal government substantially underfunds transit, so it’s very competitive to get those funds”, says Brookings Institution fellow Robert Puentes.

The Washington Post elaborates:

Unlike federal highway funds, which states receive based on a formula and may spend as they wish, money for new transit projects is awarded at the discretion of the FTA. The agency doesn’t have much to dole out. The FTA has proposed spending about $1.4 billion on new transit projects next fiscal year, compared with $42 billion that states will receive for highway maintenance and construction, according to federal figures. More than 100 transit projects across the country are expected to compete for federal money in coming years, according to a federal report.

In deciding which projects deserve funds, FTA officials consider primarily which would attract enough riders and save them enough time to be worth the investment. They also consider the state and local governments’ ability to help pay for construction, maintenance and operating costs. Other considerations include impact on air quality, development around stations and the ability to move lower-income workers to jobs.

FTA evaluations can take years, because it rates a project — and grants permission for it to move forward — at several different points, controlling it from preliminary engineering through construction.

So there you have it. This is what Miami is up against; this is what America is up against. It goes to show that our federal government is not serious whatsoever about curbing driving demand, pursuing sustainability, or fighting climate change. Until this gross discrepancy is corrected, we cannot expect any appreciable improvement in transit, traffic congestion, or the quality of our urban environments.

How do we fix this? It comes down to politics. We need to help elevate smart growth to the forefront of political issues for subsequent election campaigns. These planning issues are so important, so critical to millions of people, it’s unfathomable that they have not commanded more press time. I mean, after all, smart growth lumps together so many classic issues like the environment, energy, oil (gas prices), climate change, health care, and poverty. The trick will be finding a way to consolidate these issues, which will require a unified effort by leaders of each sub-issue.

Sooner or later it will happen, so let’s do what we can to make it sooner.

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When Paris unveiled its massive bike-sharing program earlier this month, it was the largest in the world, proving to be the envy of other global cities.

Not for long.

Beijing recently announced its plan to have 50,000 bikes available for share by 2008, when they will be hosting the Summer Olympics. The bike-sharing program is expected to take a bite out of traffic congestion and air pollution, which are becoming increasingly damaging problems as more people drive in the city.

Fifty-thousand bikes in a city of 17 million may seem insignificant, but it’s all part of a larger transportation strategy, which includes expanding the subway system to be one of the world’s greatest. It may also include odd-even day driving privileges, where license plates would be divided by odd and even numbers so that only half of the city’s motorists could legally drive each day. This hinges on the success of a four-day pilot program that was completed with mixed results earlier this month.

According to experts, eliminating 1.3 million cars from the streets of Beijing would translate into a 40% cut in carbon dioxide emissions. How does this relate to Miami? Well, beside serving as another example of a another city implementing bike-sharing, it’s very important in the global context of climate change. If China, which per capita only emits a tiny fraction of carbon dioxide that the United States does, continues to rapidly increase vehicle miles traveled, it will make it almost impossible to stabilize global CO2 levels at 550ppm (the largely agreed upon threshold for stemming the worst effects of climate change). Given the geography of South Florida, we should be very much concerned about Chinese emissions and sustainability.

It’s all interconnected.

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Many of us hear, on a fairly consistent basis, how harmful our daily actions are to the environment and global warming. We drive too much, live in houses too big (that are poorly insulated), and expend way too much energy with a shmorgishborg of energy-gluttonous appliances. However, I find it’s very rare that any of us can actually quantify these outputs.
I find this very troubling. It serves to distance ourselves from the realities our consumption. It’s like swiping a credit or debit card and never looking at the receipt - it’s much less painful that way because we don’t see the numbers were spending, and thus do not feel the full weight of the transactions. Similar to money management and cutting one’s budget, if we never see (or know) how much carbon dioxide we’re responsible for emitting each year, how will we know where to make cuts? The answer is, we probably won’t.

Fortunately, however, the EPA has done most of the legwork, creating an easy-to-use personal emissions calculator. It takes just a few minutes to fill out, and you’ll have a fairly accurate projection of your personal annual emissions. Even better, once you’ve quantified your emissions, you can check out the EPA’s thorough “What You Can Do” page, which breaks down how and where you can improve your energy efficiency, translating to carbon emissions cuts. There are links at the top and sidebar of the EPA’s page to a few other calculators related to energy consumption or emissions, that are worth checking out as well.

I mean, it’s a win-win to take advantage of these resources. If you care about making a difference and fighting climate change, then this tool will allow you to quantify your energy consumption and where you can make cuts. If you could care less about global warming, then this calculator will still point you in the direction of energy savings, which translates into more money in your pocket each month.

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If you haven’t read George Monbiot’s Heat yet, you need to check out this week’s Newsweek. In this week’s edition, the news periodical does an excellent job exposing the shameful, yet intricate workings of the global warming denial industry. Click here to read the article.

This is significant, because as far as I know, this is the most mainstream and widely circulated piece of literature to date breaking down the tactics of climate change naysayers.

The article does a good job naming names, connecting the dots, and following the money trail. Let’s hope this wakes up politicians and the general public, because we cannot afford to be paralyzed by pseudoscience while the world becomes increasingly destabilized by climate change.

Though I highly recommend reading this Newsweek piece in its entirety, regardless of how you feel about climate change, I’ve summarized some major tactics used by naysayers below, as mentioned in the article:

  • Exxon Mobile, the world’s most profitable corporation, has been paying “scientists” $10,000 to write articles undercutting peer-reviewed climate change reports.
  • The deniers have been employing similar tactics used by the tobacco industry, such as relying on the notion that there is too much “scientific uncertainty”; to do this, they regularly print white papers and “studies” (not empirical research, but critiques of others’ work).
  • Former employers from the coal/oil industries landing high-ranking government jobs related to environmental action, largely resulting from connections with Washington conservatives who feel action taken to fight global warming will harm business (and thus, those lining their campaign pockets), have been avoiding action, and even editing the research and reports of top climate scientists to portray “scientific uncertainty”.
  • Constantly changing their story; for example, first they claimed the “world is not warming”, then they claimed warming was occurring, but that it was natural instead of anthropogenic (caused by humans). Now, their most recent claim is that the world is warming, but the effects will be small and harmless.
  • Their main goal is not to argue global warming is good, or even neutral, but to create doubt among politicians and the general public that it poses a serious threat to global stability. This, they hope, will keep us from achieving the consensus and support necessary to act.
  • Making up “think tanks” and disguising them with names like “The Global Climate Coalition” and “Information Council on the Environment” (aka ICE - a not so subtle acronym).
  • The use of lists and petitions that aim to portray climate science as divided; funny thing is these “petitions” are mostly signed by a motley crew of folks who’ve never done any real climate research.

Though the Newsweek piece does a solid job exposing the global warming denial industry, I still recommend Monbiot’s book, Heat. He does an even better, more comprehensive job articulating how the denial industry functions.

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In the wake of the Live Earth concerts on Saturday, I want to take a moment to recommend a powerful book addressing climate change and what it will take to beat it.

In the book, titled Heat: How to Stop the Planet From Burning, by popular columnist for the UK’s Guardian newspaper, George Monbiot, it is stated we must cut carbon dioxide emissions by 90% by 2030 in order to avoid reaching a catastrophic tipping point.

To read a good review by Streetsblog writer Aaron Donovan, click here.

There is also an excellent interview of Monbiot on YouTube, where he discusses elements from his book as well as some very well articulated insight on climate change.

One of the many moments during the interview that stood out to me was Mobiot’s outlook regarding Africa and food a few decades from now. According to Monbiot, climate change as we currently know it has initiated a process leading to net global drying, which will be especially pronounced in Africa. In turn, this could lead to crop failures, ultimately creating a global food deficit as population continues to grow by the billions.

“It is beyond my powers of description to tell you what a world of 9 billion people in net food deficit would look like. It makes all previous human crises - wars, acts of genocide, famines, plagues - look like a side show at the circus of human suffering.”

To see Part 1 of the interview, click here.

I highly recommend watching these interviews, at a minimum. The book will knock your socks off, and hopefully it will get you thinking about and comprehending the issue of climate change and the urgent action we must take. Perhaps the best thing about this book, though, is that you come away feeling energized by the “can do” tone of the book, instead of demoralized by the defeatist tone that many previous climate change books have emanated.

Click here to buy the book on

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Herald: Global warming blamed for vanishing lake

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Given the urgent action that must be taken to fight climate change, it is important to be searching for ways to cut our harmful emissions. One particularly simple, yet important area that has not received much attention thus far is work hours. Is it possible that we could curb our emissions significantly just by working a few less hours per week?
According to a study led by Harvard economics professor Mark Weisbrot, it’s very possible. The study, conducted for the Center of Economic and Policy Research and titled Are Shorter Work Hours Good for the Environment?, claims that if Americans adopted European standards for work hours, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions in 2000 would have been 7% lower than its actual 1990 emissions. This assumes U.S. workers would average 35 hours of work per week, as is typical throughout much of Europe.

Not only would this help the world’s worst global warming offender curb its emissions, it would provide workers with the equivalent of seven weeks of additional time off per year. This is time that could be spent with families, friends, relaxing, or even getting more sleep. Sound unrealistic? A survey issued by the Center for the New American Dream found that half of all Americans with full-time jobs would prefer to work a four-day week at 80% of their current pay.

Perhaps even scarier, though, is if the inverse were to occur. According to the study, if Europe was to move in a new direction and adopt the American standard of work hours, it could consume 25-30% more energy per year. However, this isn’t just a US vs. Europe issue. As the economies of developing countries grow, they will almost certainly move in a direction to adopt either the American or European standards for work hours. If these countries were to choose the American standard, they would likely consume between 15% and 30% more energy than if they had adopted the European standard. What’s the significance? All the extra carbon emissions could result in a devastating 1-2 degrees Celsius of additional warming.

Considering that we need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80-90% this century, changing the American standard of work hours deserves some serious consideration. Perhaps at a minimum, we should be given a choice of whether we want to to take an “hour cut” or not, as is argued by the Preservation Institute.

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