Thursday, May 25, 2006

Steps towards a Renewable Energy Future

Open Letter to the Oregon Renewable Energy Working Group

There are many things that we can do to increase our use of clean energy and cut global warming pollution in Oregon.

We need to work to take recent technological improvements developed at OSU and other places that allow for biodiesel micro-reactors to convert organic farm waste into biodiesel fuel, and deploy these devices across the state, to be used any place where organic waste matter is produced.

We need to encourage the development of more hybrid diesel-electric vehicles to run on this fuel, so that it is consumed in the most efficient manner possible. These vehicles should all be plug-in electric hybrids, so that they can be charged off the grid for short trips, and run off biodiesel for longer ones. Additionally, solar technology can be built into the skin of the vehicle to allow for additional charging during daylight hours.

Small wind micro-plants (conical wind turbines) could be installed on the roofs of many buildings, along with more solar technology, so that each building could have the capacity to manufacture a significant portion of the electricity that it uses, if not produce a surplus for sale back to the grid.

We need to construct a comprehensive statewide electrified rail passenger and freight transportation system, built both as an expansion of and in addition to our existing rail system. This will allow us to rely less on inefficient automobile and truck transportation, and will also have the side effect of making more destinations in the state accessible to more people, including tourists and bicycle tourists.

As much of Oregon's energy as possible should come from wind and solar by 2025, in addition to tidal, fish-friendly hydro and waste-based biofuels, to power both stationary sources and the transportation system.

Oregon should become a leader in using solar power, small-scale local renewable energy like micro-wind turbines, community wind farms, biodiesel micro-reactors, small community tidal power plants, and other technologies as they are developed and tested for environmental friendliness.

This can be achieved by expanding incentives for residents and businesses to use clean energy sources, as well as encouraging research at the state research institutions, and establishing government policies mandating compliance by government agencies and setting standards for the free market.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Walking and Transit Oriented Development

I'm going to tie together two threads on separate blogs in this post:

The first, on Portland Transport, is this: How Far Will You Walk to Transit?

The second, on Blue Oregon, is this: What would it look like if, instead of paying unwarranted “compensation” to landowners who want to perpetuate the unsustainable post-World War II suburban sprawl model, we revised the land use laws to encourage more light rail oriented development so more people have the choice of living that way in the rapidly emerging era of high priced petroleum?

The first question has always intrigued me. It seems to have different anwers depending on how you ask it.

Is the question, how far away can you build really transit-dependent development? That is, buildings with no on-site parking requirements, where presumably the lions share of their occupants take transit, walk or bike to and fro? This might seem to be a third-of-a-mile radius.

Is the question, how far away can you build developments that are transit-oriented, but not perhaps 100% transit-dependent? This would seem to be more like a half-mile walking radius.

Is the question, how far might somebody conceivably walk from their house to transit, without beginning to think seriously of another alternative? If the scenery is interesting along the way, this would seem to be more of an average one-mile walking radius.

...but some people just like to walk. So, there are probably larger distances that will be reported, too.

As for the second question, there's two main tools that can be used to get at this issue.

1) The first is to supply the transit. There are only a few light rail lines so far in Oregon. Back in the 1920s, there used to be many more, as well as electric interurban lines and other commuter and passenger rail lines, but right now they're all in Portland. First off, right away, more need to be built, opened and operated. Central Oregon could use some service (in the Bend/Madras/etc. area). Southern Oregon could use a line or two or three (in the Grants Pass/Central Point/Medford/Ashland/Eagle Point/etc. area). Eugene is building a BRT (bus rapid transit, buses running in dedicated Right Of Way) system to connect it with Springfield, but I'd suggest that it could use more. As could Corvallis/Albany/Salem.

2) The second is to supply the land for development. How? Zoning. Most zoning laws are artificial restrictions on the maximum level of development and use allowable on any given parcel of land. Single-family neighborhoods are not built simply because it is "what the market demands." Rather, they are built because that is what the local governments zone the land for. So, if you want higher-density development near transit, oriented towards transit so that its occupants use transit, then you zone the land for such and include a design review overlay that has specifications pertaining to the provision of walking, bicycling and community amenities that allow for a transit-oriented development.

It's not rocket science. Most of the older towns and cities in Oregon were built according to these principles, from about the 1870s through the 1920s. It made sense then and it makes sense now. And not just in Oregon. Throughout the West Coast, throughout America, throughout the world.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Eco-Friendly Hybrid Ferries

The new Alcatraz to SF ferry operator is proposing to use some really futuristic hybrid ferry boats, featuring wind, solar, sail and electric power to move the boats, plus the ability to plug in and charge up at the dock, as well as a backup low-emission diesel generator to provide additional power.

How long before ferries like these can start replacing ferries on other runs across the bay?

How can technologies like these be used more broadly to reduce our reliance on foreign oil?



News Story:
New S.F.-Alcatraz ferry operator plans to use hybrids
Bay City News Service

With the signing of a new 10-year contract between the National Park Service and Hornblower Cruises and Events, two hybrid-electric ferries will eventually be crossing to the famed former penitentiary Alcatraz Island from San Francisco, according to the environmental advocacy organization Bluewater Network.

Alcatraz Cruises, a division of Hornblower Cruises and Events, will take over the route, now handled by Blue and Gold Fleet, on Sept. 25, the National Park Service announced today.

The new boats will comply with emission requirements set by the Environmental Protection Agency. Hornblower Cruises and Events has agreed to build the first ferry within two years and the second vessel within five years.

The 600-passenger boats are modeled on ferries designed by the Australian company Solar Sailor and operate at between 12 and 15 knots.

Both ferries will harness solar and wind energy and each will be fitted with a sail that can be used in windy conditions but also retracted in extreme weather, according to Bluewater Network.

The boats will be fitted with large batteries that will power the vessels' electric motors and which can be recharged onshore.

When necessary, the ferries will use diesel generators that are designed to reduce emissions to between 70 and 90 percent of the emissions released by conventional diesel-powered boats, Bluewater Network reported.

The ferries could also serve as transbay shuttles in the event of emergencies such as earthquakes because they are able to run at low speeds on wind and electricity alone, according to the organization.

Copyright © 2006 by Bay City News, Inc. -- republication, re-transmission or reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

New Progressive Vision for America

List of topics:

1: Build a nationwide high-speed rail network. Make this the focus for federal transportation spending, just as building the original nationwide freeway network beginning in the 1950s was the focus during that period of time (and from then until the 1990s, when the focus shifted with ISTEA). Use federal incentives to encourage concentration much of the continued urban growth in the country around the nodes on the high speed rail network. Make the network triple-tracked everywhere to allow for a mix of uses, i.e. passengers as well as freight. Begin construction as soon as possible, using American engineering, labor and materials so as to provide the maximum boost to the domestic economy. Consider raising the gas tax to fund it, but also consider cost recovery from uses fees on built-out system, i.e. passenger fares and freight charges.

2: Raise federal gas mileage standards to 40mpg fleetwide. Encourage biofuel production. Legalize industrial hemp for biofuel input.

3: Look for alternative sources of electricity. California's "Million Solar Roofs" initiative provides one model, of distributing electrical production to, potentially, ever consumer of electricity. Household wind turbines, rooftop solar cells, and biofuel processors/fuel cells could contribute to this. New larger plants could include offshore wave/tidal plants, onshore wind/solar plants, geothermal plants, etc.

4: Continue/expand programs such as HOPE VI that direct federal funding into turning failed public housing projects into mixed-income livable communities.

5: Health care: Let John Kitzhaber's Archimedes Movement lead the way in finding solutions, using Oregon as a testbed. Nationwide, let this be an 2008 issue, aknowledge it as an issue in 2006 but don't start throwing out too many ideas just yet.

Monday, May 15, 2006

MAX, Powell, Foster, Hawthorne and the Streetcar

In Sunday's Oregonian, Jim Mayer has an article about light rail in Portland. It mentions that Tri-Met is seriously considering light rail out the Powell/Foster corridor. Basically, after light rail is installed on the Portland Mall, the first branch would head south to Milwaukie. The second line would branch off of this where it crossed Powell, and head east, probably just past I-205 to 122nd Ave or somewhere thereabouts (see the .pdf here).


This article was the first time I've seen a serious discussion of light rail in the Powell/Foster corridor. (Did I miss something?)

This corridor has been a subject of much debate, in the Portland blogosphere and elsewhere, for some time now. However, I think this is a good proposal. While at first blush, this would actually seem to be a natural streetcar route... the more you think about it, the more you realize that, no, light rail out Powell/Foster makes the most sense.


Two reasons:

1. Capacity
2. Development Potential

1. Combined, that corridor already produces enough capacity on its bus lines to overload a streetcar-only solution. Two-car MAX trains would be the only solution for upgrading transit. The 14-Hawthorne could make a little loop out of 50th, Foster and 52nd, and then turn back around and increase headways down Hawthorne Blvd. (Or, a streetcar could do the same thing, as a Hawthorne-only streetcar line would probably have the capacity handle Hawthorne-only loads.)

2. Development potential. Both Powell and Foster have a *lot* of underdeveloped land, including large parking lots, strip malls, etc., which would be ripe for redevelopment into TODs. Light Rail could be the catalyst to add some significant density to these neighborhoods, and in doing so, raise the general standard of living by bringing the customers to make more and higher-quality services (shops, etc.) available to the neighborhood populations.

If Tri-Met builds a light rail line out the Powell/Foster corridor, then a Hawthorne-only, or Hawthorne to 50th to 52nd & Foster streetcar line would probably work like a charm, and also be able to handle all of the capacity in a basically Hawthorne-only corridor.

And I think that Hawthorne still has some room to densify... that Safeway on Hawthorne could probably be redeveloped to add a couple hundred units, ala the Safeway downtown. Ditto for Freddys and most of the other businesses that currently still have surface parking. So, there might be a little bit of room for additional infill TOD around a Hawthorne streetcar alignment.

Wow. What a great proposal. And finally, it could be funded by a Multnomah-county-only referendum, which would most likely pass, as opposed to recent tri-county referendums or referendums involving Clark County, which have failed.

Three cheers for Tri-Met on the Powell/Foster LRT idea!

Monday, May 08, 2006

Beer, Pubs & Maps

I just knew, when I declared the coming year to be the Year of the Geographical Revolution, that there would be good things in store.

... and this is one of them. Yes, that's right, I've taken this thing (itself a mashup between Google and, uh, I dunno, Tribe and Yelp) and used it to create an online, interactive Fabulous Map O' Beer, along with a companion site, the Fabulous Blog O' Beer.

So, what is it?

It's a way to let people in the Ecotopia region (the Pacific Northwest & Northern California get to know more about the wild bounty o' beer that we have available to us here on the West Coast. And talk about it. And offer critiques. Who has the best ESB? Seasonal Winter Ale? Dopplebock? You get the picture. :-)

Go check it out, and let me know watcha think!