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More of these please... (via flickr user bmaryman)

More of these please... (via flickr user bmaryman)

For years, industry officials, planners, architects and landscape architects have been singing the praises of green roofs. But reports from around the country have also noted that in order for green roofs to be implemented, government needs to provide incentives.

The reason that relatively few green roofs have been implemented is largely due to concerns about warranties, membranes, liability, cost, etc etc….all of the “real world” ideas that get in the way of us getting sustainable solutions today.

All of which is why sustainable policy makers matter just as much as “green builders and developers”. That’s why it is exciting to note that Washington’s own Maria Cantwell is getting digital props from folks like the American Society of Landscape Architects and Green Roofs for Healthy Cities.

From the ASLA’s e-blast:

Senator Maria Cantwell (WA) introduced the Clean Energy Stimulus and Investment Assurance Act of 2009 (S.320), legislation geared toward creating high-wage green-collar jobs and revitalizing the economy through clean energy investments. ASLA worked with Senator Cantwell’s office to ensure that a section of the bill was dedicated to green roof tax incentives.

Section 506 of the bill gives a 30% tax credit for qualified green roof property expenditures on residential and commercial buildings. The language puts the cap at $5000 on residential buildings, and no cap for commercial buildings. The bill outlines specific, ASLA-recommended language, defining ‘qualified green roofs’ to mean any green roof at least 50 percent of which is a vegetated green roof system. The credit applies to any retrofit or new construction green roof.

Let’s hope it goes on and get passed into law. We all know that SAM could use a little relief after WaMu, nee Chase,  jumped ship on it’s green roof, pictured above.

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Are you paying $500 a month to park downtown? Or are you, like me, riding a packed-out bumpy, infrequent bus? Why is that our alternative to the more and more costly automobile commute? Really, can’t we do better?

Did you know that King County exports gas tax dollars for roads to many other poorer counties in Washington? We’re the only county to have the surplus dollars to do that.

And even within King County, Seattle doesn’t get a good shake. When a Federal Judge turned over Metro Transit to the King County Council, that body voted to limit Seattle to 20% of the sales tax dollars for in-city transit service hours. The East Side and South King County get 40% each. Hasn’t Metro built out its system to the limits of the urban sprawl by now? Don’t the majority of bus trips in King County begin or end or being and end in Seattle? Hey, give us a break!

Lately Seattle has been trying many things to obtain true big city quality transit alternatives.

The late lamented Seattle Monorail established, and then extinguished, a separate district to fund in-city, off the street, mass transit with a Motor Vehicle Excise Tax slice. But the engineering was so awkward and inflexible that the project couldn’t adapt to the amount of funding available. There went tens of millions of dollars that could have bought us better bus service or at-grade rail or streetcar service.

Then our deregulated “free enterprise” economy went south. Bus rider numbers increased more than 20% over two years. A transit agency’s dream? No, a nightmare, as prices for the polluting diesel fuel skyrocketed, then crashed, then began a new rise this year.

Seattle voters spearheaded the “yes” vote for Metro’s three, yet to be implemented, “bus rapid transit” routes into downtown: West Seattle, Ballard/Uptown, and Aurora. These are regressively funded by new sales tax, but are scheduled currently to begin service in 2011-2012. Why so long? Meanwhile expect long waits and bumpy rides.

At the same time Seattle voted to tax itself on property, commercial parking lots, and employers (by number of employees) to improve key arterials, fix up streets and sidewalks, and buy – yes! buy — more than our 20% share of Metro bus service hours.

In November, 2008 King County voters spearheaded a really big decision to fund major extensions of the Sound Transit Link Light Rail slated to open this year from downtown to SeaTac Airport. At this time the new destinations include Lynnwood, Redmond, and Federal Way.

This January the City, County, and State executives finally agreed on an Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement: a surface Alaskan Way, downtown avenue and street improvements, improved access to the I-5 freeway at Spokane and Mercer Streets, and some more transit. Included in the transit are proposed Central Line, a First Avenue Streetcar service connecting Pioneer Square, Pike Market, downtown, and Belltown, to Seattle Center. Since Sound Transit cancelled the First Hill light rail station, the yes vote for extending Sound Transit light rail includes funding for a streetcar service linking Pioneer Square, First Hill, and Capitol Hill. So by extension the Central Line links to both the existing South Lake Union Streetcar to east Lake Union and to Capitol Hill’s Broadway.

Well, isn’t this boring, and isn’t this a shaky, variously funded mix. Is this our best try for excellent big city transit that will really relieve our main roads at peak travel hours?

In a period of US history when our national government is reducing taxes while fighting wars, the costs of transportation are shifting more and more to states, counties and cities.

We’ll need to find out how to pay for the needed improvements for all kinds of transportation, in-city, regional, inter-city, and international.

There are some viable alternatives: the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax, abhorred by Tim Eyeman, variable hour tolling, bonding against future tax revenues in districts with improved land values. The latter is the funding that built Portland’s Max Light Rail.

Talk to your State Representatives and Senators. Let them know that better transportation planning is needed and better funding is the key.

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(via Capitol Hill Seattle)

Seattle has announced that it will install bike parking on the street beginning next week, with the spaces being ready by mid-Febraury. From the letter:

Taking the place of one to two motor vehicle parking spaces, on-street bike parking will be filled with bicycle racks and surrounded by a raised curb. Bicyclists can enter the parking area from the sidewalk and each car-sized space will accommodate up to eight bikes.

●  Mid block of Broadway E between E Harrison Street and E Republican
Street (by Broadway Market)

●  At the corner of 12th Avenue and E Spring Street (by Stumptown
Coffee Roasters and Café Presse)

●  At the corner of Woodlawn Avenue NE and NE 70th Street (by the
Greenlake Condominium)

Last year Portland garnered national attention when they installed what they called, bike corrals in front of popular establishments. Check out this Streetsfilm about the corrals and get excited that they will be coming here soon!

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Streets for People Kickoff Forum

Seattle’s abuzz with people working to improve their neighborhood streets by making them better for walking, biking, transit and trees. What if we could all find each other, so we could learn from and support each other?  Why  –  that would be a MOVEMENT!*
Join us & connect with others who share your passion. Learn, be inspired, and help create the future we all want to see.*
What: STREETS FOR PEOPLE Kick-off Event
When: 5-7 p.m., Thursday, February 12
Where: Armory at Lake Union Park, 860 Terry Ave N.
Speakers:

James Irwin: Organizing in the Obama era.

Learn how to tap into community values and leadership to create change.  James was trained on organizing by the same team that trained the Obama Campaign organizers, and was the lead organizer on the Sierra Club’s successful 2007-2008 campaigns, including NoRTID, No on 985, Mass Transit Now and Cool State.

Renee Espiau: New York City Streets Renaissance Campaign http://www.nycsr.org/

Hear about the amazing changes occurring in New York as local advocates come together to work for change. Discuss how Seattle can create its own campaign to revive great public spaces and lively streets.

Michael McGinn: Director of Seattle Great City Initiative

The Streets for People Campaign is dedicated to building a community movement that enhances our quality of life by improving our streets as public places, and prioritizing walking, biking and transit as the “new normal.”  This campaign is based on the successful community coalition that passed the Seattle Parks for All Levy.

Event Host: Seattle Great City Initiative

Great City brings together organizations and individuals committed to making positive, lasting change by breaking down traditional barriers that can get in the way of smart planning and helping Seattle grow and thrive as a truly great city.

Event Sponsors: Cascade Bicycle Club, Feet First, and the Sierra Club.

CoSponsors: GroundswellNW, UrbanSparks, Sustainable Ballard, Friends of Seattle, Spokespeople, Sustainable NE Seattle, Sustainable Seattle, Seattle Parks Foundation, Sustainable Green Lake, and the SafeWalks Coalition.

*We’d love it if you’d like to work with us by presenting display at the event, being a cosponsor, and/or joining the campaign.  Please let us know if you have any questions and if you would like to participate.

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This is a great concept — getting Obama to appoint a gardener to plant five acres of the south lawn in fruit and vegetables.  http://whitehousefarmer.com/.  Check out the site, and vote for your choice for White House Farmer, including one nominee from Tacoma.

So — what do we do in Seattle to deal with the 3000 people on waiting lists for P-Patch gardens?  We could all benefit by making more public property available for growing food.  In my neighborhood the Interurban trail right of way has lots of grass that could be turned into gardens, bringing more people into a relatively unused space, making it safer and more inviting.  If you could put a p-patch into your neighborhood, where would you do it?  If Obama gets a White House Farmer, maybe our city could appoint an official Seattle Farmer to get serious about meeting the public demand for p-patches and healthy local food.

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Is anyone else sick of hearing the phrase ‘shovel ready’ in reference to stimulating the economy and rehabilitating our infrastructure? Most projects that are truly shovel ready (drawings, check. permits, check. fire up the bulldozer!) aren’t what will truly aid the regeneration of 21st century cities. They are very likely to be things like road widenings and interchanges that fuel sprawl and shred urban fabric. Some estimates suggest that three quarters of infrastructure stimulus funding will be for roads. The other quarter will be used to buy the silence of all us bike, tree, transit, urbanism, art, ped, waterfront, etc. advocates. We’ll all get in line and try to get a few good things done with the crumbs from the stimulus table, but can’t we HOPE for more?

Republicans are already rallying around giving more money to rich people instead because even the shovel ready projects can’t get started until 2010. I saw a CNN interviewer chew out a mayor that requested money for parks and trails in his city’s stimulus package. She asked him if he was ashamed of himself since everyone knows those aren’t ‘real’ infrastructure projects like roads and bridges. Frankly, i’d rather leave our economy a little less stimulated than waste the resources of many generations on the shovel ready road projects cluttering the shelves our our state highway departments.

Eighty years ago the united states stimulated itself out of a depression, but also made civic art of our public works. will a random-ass extra lane to redmond be viewed as such eighty years from now? And don’t forget that after this splurge funding of all types, perhaps for decades, will be diminished to pay for this bump. Whether we get it right or wrong now, we’ll be paying for it for a long time to come. So it is time for all urban and environmental minded folks to remind our politicians that great projects in this day and age-reconnecting seattle to a healthy puget sound, mass transit and mobility options, vibrant neighborhoods, and a robust network of green infrastructure-are complex in a good way. They will need talented artists, NGOs, designers, engineers, lawyers (yes, even them), inventors, community organizers, legislators, and developers to make sure the bulldozers and shovels are headed in the right direction on the right projects. If we want to strengthen the economic and environmental foundations of cities for the long-term, we don’t want to waste this opportunity on what happened to be shovel ready in the panic of 2008. we need pencil ready, people ready, carbon ready, future ready!

I’d be interested in your thoughts on how we can shift the messaging on this subject.

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Hosted by Darryl Smith, Windermere Real Estate

Sponsors

Gold

JC Mueller LLC

Silver

Renee Staton – Via Suzuki ArchitectureHarbor Properties

Bronze

Last Loft – Dave Rodgers – Uwajimaya

Please join us for a festive evening of food and drink at the Columbia City CINEMA while we celebrate Great City’s many achievements!  We will be sampling appetizers and desserts from Columbia City’s finest eateries including Tutta Bella Pizza, Kallaloo, Roy’s BBQ, and La Medusa.  Help ring in the New Year with friends from all over the city!

When: Thursday, January 29th
Where:  Columbia City Theater, 4816 Rainer Ave S.
Time: 5:30-7:30
Who: Friends of Seattle Great City Initiative including business leaders, community organizers, environmentalists, and activists.

Suggested individual donation: Friend $100, Advocate $50, Supporter $35.

To RSVP Call or email Allison 206.905.6940 or allison.burson@greatcity.org

Individual and Corporate Sponsorships available
Please Contact Allison Burson at 206.905.6940 or allison.burson@greatcity.org for further information.

All donations to Seattle Great City Initiative are tax-deductible for federal income tax purposes.

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Yesterday Governor Gregoire, Mayor Nickels, and County Executive Ron Sims, announced that they would support a new underground freeway as a replacement for the Alaska Way Viaduct. Later that same evening Peter Newman spoke at City Hall about Resilient Cities, and how to prepare for Peak Oil and beyond. While I absolutely love this city, I have never been more ashamed of Seattle than while listening to Newman speak.

The three elected officials who endorsed the tunnel proposal have all talked about their commitment to better transportation alternatives. In 2008, Mayor Nickels started the Give Your Car the Summer Off Campaign which promoted bicycling and walking in the city through the warmer months. Ron Sims has always been a proponent of more transit dollars, fighting to win the money for Transit Now! which added hundreds of hours to King County bus service. And Governor Gregoire signed into law, Bill SB2815, which promised to reduce per capita VMT.

Unfortunately when it came to the Seattle Waterfront, an incredible opportunity to redesign our city around alternatives to personal vehicles, these leaders decided to take the safe route and endorse a plan that catered to everyone’s desires. The plan adds a nice landscaped parkway to our waterfront that pedestrians can enjoy, and buries the current freeway underground, out of the public eye. We’re adding a whole ton of light rail, so can’t we just keep one little freeway?

Unfortunately that freeway is not cheap. With a pricetag of over $2 billion it’s an incredibly large amount of money that now, cannot be used to improve public transit or other alternatives to motor vehicles. In fact, with that money, we could fund the entire Streetcar Network, finish the Bicycle Master Plan, Implement four BRT routes, add 400 hybrid buses to Metro’s fleet, add 1,500 blocks of sidewalks, and build 27,000 affordable housing units in transit friendly areas. Instead, we have decided to makes sure that people can get from West Seattle to Ballard a few minutes faster.

What kind of priorities are these? What kind of city does this makes us look like? Seoul, South Korea removed an enormous central freeway and resurfaced a beautiful river with park land on both sides. And yet, we can’t even move 1.3 miles of freeway to surface streets? Seattle always applauds itself for being a green, progressive city but we are undermining our future by failing to see the needs of the 21st century.

Peter Newman began his lecture yesterday with the story of the Black Swan. Explorers first encountered the black swan in Western Australia but couldn’t believe it was a swan because they had only seen white swans before. The Black Swan is now a symbol for the unpredictability of the world. It shows that you can’t plan for the future, simply by relying on the past.

Our leaders promote alternative transportation when its easy, but during the most difficult decisions, the ones where we rely on their wisdom and foresight most, they are failing us because they think all swans are white. They think that because cars have been such an integral part of Seattle transportation for generations they must necessarily remain a major part in the future. If we don’t start thinking about a different future, a new future with a new model for how we conduct our lives in the urban environment, I guarantee that the Viaduct decision will not be the only opportunity squandered.

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We all love to talk about Seattle becoming a livable city, or a sustainable city by limiting car use and improving public transportation, but what if the situation is more dire than that? What if in fact, our entire survival as a city depends on our ability to minimize our dependence on oil?

Peter Newman, Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University in Australia, believes just that. He sees peak oil as a serious threat and believes that if our urban conurbations are going to survive they must become resilient. Newman, credited with coining the term “automobile dependence”, has been writing and lecturing for over 30 years about how cities need to reconsider their planning methods to make sure they can survive in a post-oil world.

To promote his newest book, Resilient Cities: Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change, Newman will be in Seattle for a free lecture at City Hall!

What: Peter Newman Lecture
When: Monday, January 12th, 2009, 5:30 – 7:30pm
Where: Bertha Knight Landes Room, Seattle City Hall, 600 4th Ave

If you need any more reason to go, check out this interview with Newman:

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By Patrick McGrath

Bet on it: if you participate in a discussion about Seattle’s proposed plastic bag fee long enough someone will eventually wonder aloud why we can’t instead induce businesses to reward customers for using reusable bags. A fee just seems so negative, they say. Can’t we solve this problem positively? Maybe. But a quirk of human psychology makes the incentive route the steeper climb, assuming that the bill’s main goal is to reduce how many bags we synthesize, use fleetingly, and then discard.

Here’s why.

In 1991 two cognitive psychologists at Stanford published a theory* to describe a strange phenomenon that they and other researchers had noticed while studying consumer choice. Their names were Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, and the phenomenon, called “loss aversion,” was causing trouble for the standard model of choice that psychologists and economists had been using up until then. Their theory drew on an experiment performed the year before in which researchers gave decorated mugs to a third of the undergraduates in a classroom, and asked them how much they would be willing to sell it for. They asked the remaining students how much they would pay to get one of the same mugs. The researchers found that the “owners” and the “buyers” valued these identical mugs very differently. The “buyers” said that, on average, they would pay about $3 for one. Sellers demanded around $7 to part with their mugs.

That experiment, and Tversky and Kahneman’s paper in 1991, illustrated an important principle: the satisfaction a person gets from acquiring something of value is lesser than the disappointment they feel should they lose the same item. In fact, later studies showed the ratio holds relatively constant at 1:2.  So for example, the pain of losing $1 is equal to the pleasure of gaining $2. This was counter intuitive; the standard model predicted that consumers would value a dollar equally whether it was coming or going.

If the 1:2 ratio holds true in the case of a bag fee, you’d need an incentive twice the size of the Council’s proposed fee to have the same effect on consumer behavior. Currently, PCC offers a $.05 refund to all customers who bring in their own bags. A laudable policy. But according to my unscientific estimate, this incentive packs only 12.5% of the wallop of a $.20 bag fee.

This hasn’t stopped other Washington cities from exploring resuable bag incentives. Well, maybe “explore” is too strong a word. In early November the Spokane City Council passed a non-binding resolution asking local businesses to offer small cash incentives to customers who bring in reusable bags. “This is much better than legislating it in a different way” declared Council member Michael Allen. By “different way,” I presume he was referring to mandatory fee legislation like Seattle’s, or the Irish bill that cut disposable plastic bag use by 90%.

Mr. Allen and the Spokane Council made at least one big friend with their resolution. In early November the American Chemistry Council, the plastics trade organization which spent $180,000 to challenge to Seattle’s ordinance, issued a press release celebrating the Spokane Council for its forbearance.

* Kahneman; Tversky. 1991. Loss Aversion in Riskless Choice: A Reference-Dependent Model. Quarterly Journal of Economics.

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