Cascadia Showcases How a Coordinated Corridor Strategy Can Reinforce Urban Innovation

Beautiful Lake Washington Snakes and Turns in the Foreground as the Seattle Skyline Sits Quietly in the Distance
Photo: Meeting of the Minds

A central premise of Meeting of the Minds is that the flexibility, practicality, and focus of municipal governments make them ideal technological and social innovators. But can the ingenuity of U.S. cities be sufficiently amplified to effectively keep up with the pace of climate change, especially in the face of declining federal leadership?

Answering this question requires us to find the most effective scales for replicating urban progress. Metropolitan to regional scale programs can have the greatest impact, while household to district level projects are easiest to implement (Figure 1). Well-functioning cities and their staffs can help society achieve ambitious goals like reversing climate change and relieving global poverty, but that’s not what they are primarily paid to do. Instead, individual cities mostly aim their problem solving at local conditions. Fixing a pothole or increasing bus frequency can bring immediate relief to a neighborhood and kudos to a city council member.

Organizations like ICLEI and the US Conference of Mayors have long facilitated the sharing of these operational insights. As urban environmental issues have become more prominent, groups like the Urban Sustainability Directors’ Network and Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities have become more influential. With the advent of smart technology as an urban focus, new groups like MetroLab Network, Global City Teams Challenge, and the World Council on City Data are now emerging.

These networks help all member cities learn from one another. However, there are added benefits that come from comparisons with adjacent centers that share geographic, climatic, political, or cultural characteristics, either within a single metropolitan area or across nearby metros. Just as with scientific experiments, holding most policy variables constant, as is possible when looking at a set of like-minded cities, allows one to better understand the detailed effects of individual factors.

Forging links across neighboring metros requires a higher level of voluntary coordination, because there is rarely any government organization with overarching jurisdiction. In the 1990s and 2000s, regional planners began focusing on “megapolitan” regions, or “Megaregions,” most of which contain two or more metropolitan areas linked by relatively efficient transportation systems. The best known of these is the Boston-New York-Washington “Megalopolis,” but others in the U.S. include the Great Lakes complex centered on Chicago, the “Sun Corridor” between Phoenix and Tucson, and Florida’s I-4 corridor connecting Tampa, Orlando, and Miami. Figure 2 shows the Regional Plan Association’s representation of eleven megapolitans that contained 70% of the U.S. population in less than 20% of the land area in 2008.

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Originally written by Jonathan Fink

 

Still Not Convinced You Need a Flu Shot? First, It’s Not All About You

Stethescope

Adults also need to get vaccinated to provide herd immunity for others, especially babies and older people.

One of the biggest problems in trying to convince people that they need to immunize against things like the flu is that they don’t really feel the pressure. After all, for most people, the flu shot is an inconvenience, and they’re unlikely to get the flu in a given year. So why bother? Quite a few readers expressed this view after my article “Why It’s Still Worth Getting a Flu Shot” on Thursday, including this one.

I promise this is an honest question: Are people routinely being destroyed by the flu or something? (I mean, first I’d ask, ‘Is everyone but me simply vaccinated, and thus gifting me with herd immunity?’ And so I did. My first Google search brought me to yearly C.D.C. flu-vaccine coverage statistics, and for the last four years, the percentage of flu-vaccinated adults has been in the low 40s. So… nope.)I’m not a particularly healthy person — I get colds, sinus infections, etc. — but I just can’t recall ever having had the flu, or at least *knowing* I had it. This seems to indicate that the flu is either 1) rare enough that it’s possible for me to have been lucky forever (in which case it’s fairly rare, apparently), or 2) not severe enough of an illness for me to have noticed experiencing it.Both lead me to conclude that skipping the vaccine is fine.I’m just a regular idiot, presumably representing other regular idiots, amenable to changing their habits, but who haven’t done so — not due to obstinance or contrarianism, but due to signals so mixed as to inspire ambivalence — and if this article can be said to have provided the ‘why’ its headline promises, unfortunately it hasn’t provided the ‘why’ idiots like me need to hear:Why is the flu a big deal literally at all? — Chrystie, Los Angeles

Although I devote some of my articles to telling you not to worry so much about some diseases or other risks, influenza is one thing you actually should worry about. It’s terrible; it’s also far too common.

Influenza, commonly called the flu, spreads easily. You can catch it from someone who coughs, sneezes or even talks to you from up to six feet away. You can infect others a day before you show any symptoms, and up to a week after becoming sick. Children can pass along the virus for even longer than that.

Influenza is not a reportable disease, so its prevalence must be estimated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes that, since 2010, between 9.2 million and 35.6 million people have come down with the flu in the United States each year. That means that in a bad year, more than one in every 10 people in the United States might get it.

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The Transportation Revolution Is Not Here … Yet

FreewayThe mobility system of the United States, and of many other markets within the developed world, is going through a period of significant change, but whether we should prepare for a revolution or evolution remains a point of debate. The shots of innovation are being heard around the world, but I suggest that their echoes are likely to fade before any real, tangible changes are enacted on a widespread scale.

The Seeds of Change

Throughout the world, the pressure to transition our transportation sector is strong. Consider the underlying pressures being exerted on the market to enact change:

  • Reduce lifecycle carbon emissions
  • Improve local air quality by reducing criteria air pollutant emissions
  • Mitigate traffic congestion
  • Reduce injuries and fatalities associated with vehicle accidents
  • Improve commuting efficiencies

None of these priorities necessarily contradict the others, but the strategies being deployed and considered to address them can lead to very different ultimate outcomes. A recent publication by the Fuels Institute, “Global Initiatives: Assessing Current & Future Global Initiatives on Fuels & Vehicles,” summarizes the global state of regulatory initiatives seeking to resolve these priorities:

  • Almost 60 countries have developed or will be developing biofuels programs such as blend mandates and fiscal incentives.
  • More than 40 countries have implemented or plan to implement mandatory GHG emission/fuel economy standards.
  • More than 20 cities and/or countries have taken actions to ban or limit the use of internal combustion engines.
  • At least 13 countries have programs to support zero emission vehicle markets.
  • The vast majority of countries have mandated a reduction the sulfur content of diesel fuels and implemented light duty vehicle emissions reduction programs.

These policies directly affect the use of vehicle technologies and influence the composition of fuels and energy used to power them. But what outcome will they derive and how might that affect consumers?

Biofuel programs seek to reduce carbon emissions and certain criteria air pollutants, but they also serve to support the continued use of internal combustion engines. Greenhouse gas reduction and fuel economy programs similarly target overall reduced emissions, but do not in themselves change how consumers move from point A to point B. Bans and limitations on internal combustion engines and zero emissions vehicles programs do much more to change the nature of transportation, but do not supplant the number of vehicles on the road.

Each holds forth the promise of cleaner air from reduced emissions, but when might they actually have a realistic and measurable impact and what other changes might be required to achieve the other global objectives?

 

Market Conversion Will Likely Be Slow

Currently, there are no draconian proposals that would require the immediate and complete transition from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles, which means the eventual impact on the market remains to be realized at an undetermined future point in time. Announcements by the United Kingdom, France, and China have set 2040 as the target year for transitioning away from the sale of internal combustion engines – this means that this technology will continue to be manufactured and sold for the next 23 years. In the United States, there is no policy to mandate the transition. In fact, the United States Congress in December 2017 is charting the opposite course by considering a tax reform bill that would eliminate the federal tax credit of $7,500 for consumers to purchase an electric vehicle. What impact might this have?

According to Fuels Institute consumer research, 81 percent of consumers who say they would not consider an electric vehicle for their next car cited the high cost of vehicles as a key factor. Without a tax credit, this factor will become a much more significant detractor. For example, Georgia at one time offered an additional $5,000 tax credit on top of the federal credit for the purchase of an electric vehicle and became one of the most successful markets for EV sales. The year after the state repealed that credit and imposed a $200 vehicle registration fee on electric vehicles sales dropped percent.

Although 44 percent of the electric vehicles sold through November 2017 were luxury models offered by Tesla, the buyers of which may not be heavily influenced by the tax credit, it can logically be assumed that loss of this credit could significantly compromise sales of other more budget-friendly electric vehicles.

But even if the U.S. government were to enact a more dramatic policy to encourage EV adoption, the rate of change in the market will continue to be slow. The following chart demonstrates the rate of fleet turnover if every single vehicle sold in the U.S. beginning January 1, 2017, were equipped with something new, such as a blinking orange light on the dash. Even with ubiquitous adoption, it would take about seven years before half of the fleet was so equipped. The U.S. is nowhere close to mandating a 100 percent EV conversion, which means that the time line for fleet conversion is much longer.

How ‘Not in My Backyard’ Became ‘Not in My Neighborhood’

home with front yard

The expectation that homeowners should be able to reach beyond their property lines has become deeply embedded.

In Seattle, the neighbors don’t want apartments for formerly homeless seniors nearby. In Los Angeles, they don’t want more high-rises. In San Jose, Calif., they don’t want tiny homes. In Phoenix, they don’t want design that’s not midcentury modern.

Homeowners in each of these places share a common conviction: that owning a parcel of land gives them a right to shape the world beyond its boundaries.

The roots of this idea are as old as nuisance laws that have tried to limit how one property owner can harm another. Over the decades, though, homeowners have expanded their claim on the world beyond their lot lines. This means they look out for schools and streets in ways that are vital to American communities. But increasingly it also means the senior affordable housing, the high-rises and the tiny homes — also arguably vital to the larger community — are never built.

“One of the reasons why we always justified the mortgage interest deduction was we wanted people to be rooted in their communities,” said Vicki Been, the faculty director of New York University’s Furman Center and a former commissioner of Housing Preservation and Development in New York City.

 

The idea was for people to be invested in the quality of nearby schools, the safety of neighborhood parks and the outcomes of local elections. In one sense, the triumph of this idea should be celebrated, she said. But the danger of it is becoming more apparent, too.

“Communities always need to be changing,” she said, “and we can’t have a process that gives every individual sort of a veto over change.”

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