A new study calls for more investment in public transit to reduce commutes and congestion. (Photo by James Lin)
More and more cities are experiencing serious traffic congestion. A new report looked at travel data from 2003 and found that, without massive investment, our daily commutes are likely to increase. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Allee has more:
More and more cities are experiencing serious traffic congestion.
A new report looked at travel data from 2003 and found that, without
massive investment, our daily commutes are likely to increase. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Allee has more:
The new study from the Texas Transportation Institute suggests the nation
would have to build five thousand miles of new roads every year just to keep
pace with the growth in car traffic.
Alternatively, they say massive investment in public transit could keep the
problem from getting worse. But co-author Tim Lomax says we’re not paying enough through
gasoline or other taxes to make those big investments.
He says one reason is that we often don’t calculate the cost of what he
calls the “congestion tax.”
“It should be pretty clear that we are paying for congestion right now.
We’re sitting in our cars. We’re not spending time with our businesses or
our families. We’re wasting gas because the operation of our vehicles is
The Texas researchers say those costs add up, to the tune of about three
point five billion hours worth of traffic delays each year. The study also recommends that traffic engineers raise tolls in some cities and work to curb suburban sprawl in less developed areas.
Having a plaque like this on the outside of a building means that the construction, materials, and utilities of the building are eco-friendly. "Green" building has started to increase in popularity. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Green Building Council)
The Chicago skyline as seen on a beautiful day from the roof of the Chicago Center for Green Technology. (Photo courtesy of the City of Chicago, Department of Environment)
Screened by native plants, this cistern is one of four at the Chicago Center for Green Technology collecting over 12,000 gallons of rainwater off of the roof. The water is stored and used to irrigate the
landscape. (Photo courtesy of the City of Chicago, Department of Environment)
Buildings consume 70 percent of the electricity and create
most of the landfill waste in the U.S. Some cities are looking at “green building” methods to lessen the burden on the environment. The mayor of one major city has set “green” standards for all new buildings, using a mix of mandates and incentives. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Robbie Harris reports on the economic tug of war over building green:
Buildings consume 70% of the electricity and create most of the landfill waste in the U.S. Some cities are looking at “green building“ methods to lessen the burden on the environment. The mayor of one major city has set “green” standards for all new buildings, using a mix of mandates and incentives. Robbie Harris reports on the economic tug of war over building green.
(sound of PA system)
Last year, the first green police station opened in Chicago. It will use 20% less energy, and 30% less water than a typical police station. It’s built of recycled and locally available materials. But it looks pretty much like the other newer police stations you see around the city. Officer Jeffrey Bella who has worked here since it opened, says most people have no idea this is what’s known as a “high performance green building.”
“…and the fact that nobody talks about it and nobody notices it is pretty much a testament to how well it does work.”
This is the first police station in the country to earn a LEED Silver rating from the US green building council. LEED – that’s L-E–E-D- for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a rating system that awards points for features such as energy conservation, site usage, indoor air quality, light pollution reduction, even proximity to public transit. Levels range from basic certification to silver, gold and platinum.
Last spring, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley announced every new building built by the city, must meet basic LEED standards. Private developers aren’t required to meet LEED standards but they must meet the less stringent city Energy conservation code.
Even that has the development community concerned about higher costs. The Mayor had this to say at the Building and Design conference in February.
“Here in the city of Chicago we have to really educate architects, and engineers and I mean you talk about challenges, that alone – and contractors- because they look at money. Money is the source of their profession, like any other profession. How much money… developers, engineers, archiects, contractors, and subcontractors …so green technology to them means money, it doesn’t mean the technology that maybe you and I think about.”
Even the mayor wouldn’t dispute that most LEED certified construction costs more up front. Washington D.C. economist Greg Kats puts it at roughly 2 percent more. Kats ran a performance study of 40 LEED-certified buildings around the country and found higher initial costs were offset ten fold by a variety of benefits.
“And those benefits pay back very quickly in the form of lower energy costs, lower water costs lower operations and maintenance costs, better building operations. And frankly, people are more happy, they’re more productive, kids’ test scores go up, asthma and allergy problem, which is a real concern for a lot of parents like me, tend to go away in green builings.”
On February 14th, one of the city’ largest real estate firms, LR Developers broke ground on what will be the first LEED-certified luxury high rise in Chicago. LR’s Kerry Dixon says, they built green to differentiate themselves in the luxury condo market, and although they’re not required to be LEED certified, they knew it would please the Mayor. But Dixon says it hasn’t exactly been an important selling point.
“We’re not getting feedback from the marketing and sales staff that yeah, everbody’s interested in it.”
If most condo-buyers are not showing much interest in green buildings, more and more large corporations that want to project greener images are.
“We are one of the nation’s largest energy producers. We are by far the nation’s larger operator of nuclear power plants. Some love us for that, and some are skeptical because of that.”
John Rowe is the CEO and chairman of Exelon. The company is looking to consolidate 3 corporate offices into one location and Rowe was fascinated with the idea of building a new green headquarters.
“But it basically worked out so that it would probably be cheaper. And that if we worked on being green we could probably get just as much credit for using an existing building as a new one.”
That’s because the U.S. Green Building Council also certifies commercial interiors. When it’s finished in 2007 Rowe is confident Exelon’s new corporate headquarters will qualify for LEED’s silver rating. He’s hoping it even makes gold.
For now, the Daley administration has chosen to LEED by example – and hope the private sector follows.
If you compare a ten-year-old map of any urban city in North America with a recent one, you’ll notice that almost all of our major cities are getting bigger. That means more suburbs, more cars, and according to traditional ways of thinking, the need for more roads. But is road building the solution? Or is it part of the problem? The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Victoria Fenner takes us to a place where the debate has been going on for half a century. As she reports, not everybody agrees that the debate is settled:
If you compare a ten year old map of any urban city in North America with a recent one,
you’ll notice that almost all of our major cities are getting bigger. That means more
suburbs, more cars, and according to traditional ways of thinking, the need for more roads.
But is road building the solution? Or is it part of the problem? Victoria Fenner takes us to
a place where the debate has been going on for half a century. As she reports, not everybody
agrees that the debate is settled:
On this sunny morning, a hawk sits in watch high atop a power line in the Red Hill Valley in
Hamilton. It gazes down over the valley – 1600 acres in the middle of this gritty industrial
steel town on the western tip of Lake Ontario. And soon, if the current city council has its
way, the hawk will be looking down on an expressway.
This is a story that happens over and over again in communities throughout North America.
This expressway plan in Hamilton has been on and off again for fifty years. It has polarized
the community, and with a municipal election happening soon, decision day for the valley is
looming. If a pro-expressway council is elected, it will go ahead.
Don McLean is with the Friends of Red Hill Valley, an organization that has been mobilizing
opposition to the freeway plan since 1991. He explains why he doesn’t want the expressway.
“The Red Hill Valley is potentially the largest urban park in Canada, and the expressway proposal
comes right down the middle of it, takes down twenty five percent of its forest and so on. There is
a large creek running through it that drains half the urban area of Hamilton. It has twenty four
species of fish that have been recorded since 1995. It’s quite an interesting place because it’s
completely surrounded, really, by urban area.”
But other people say there are also good arguments why the freeway should be built. Larry
Dianni is running for mayor and is building his whole campaign around this single issue. He
says he sees no other options, especially since parts of the freeway have already been built.
“This has been a project that has been fifty plus years in the making, and of course people have
now turned it around to say this is a fifty year old solution to current problems. Wrong. This is an
overdue solution to problems that manifested themselves fifty-four years ago, and by virtue of
ignoring them, the problems have gotten worse.”
The problems Larry Dianni is referring to are all about economic growth. His arguments for
the expressway are not a lot different from other cities across North America. He says as
more people and businesses move into the area, the road is necessary to accommodate
But Don McLean says this is outmoded thinking.
“There are good studies now in the U.S., and this has been understood in Europe for a long time,
that building more roads mainly results in generating more traffic. It does not address congestion
issues, it actually increases them because it encourages more driving and it encourages people to
move further and further away from their destinations.”
Don McLean’s position is one shared by the Sierra Club of Canada. The Sierra Club
recently published a major report called “Sprawl Hurts Us All.” Janet Pelley, the report’s
author, has heard the full range of the debate on both sides of the border. She is an
environmental journalist who recently moved to Canada from the U.S.
“The fact that you see on both sides of the border that there are these battles over freeways that
have been going on for fifty years just shows it’s an outmoded way of thinking, that the
government hasn’t caught up with the new smart growth initiatives and the new ways people are
looking at cities.”
The bottom line, Janet Pelley says, is we’re too dependent on motorized traffic. She says we
have to find ways of reducing our dependency on our cars.
“If you’re assuming people have to have cars, then you’re going to be sucked into that whole “car
junkie” habit of “we have to have more freeways to get people to move around. It’s really key
how you build your city. If you build your city for pedestrians and for public transit then you don’t
have to worry about the car traffic.”
It’s a story that is repeated over and over again as communities such as Hamilton try to
balance economic growth with environmental responsibility. In Hamilton, it’s still not a
foregone conclusion whether or not the freeway will proceed. November’s municipal
election is shaping up to be a single issue campaign, with pro-expressway and anti-
expressway candidates staking their political future on the issue. Whether or not this will
settle the matter is another question. With many sides to this story, this is an issue that
many communities will be wrestling with for a long time to come.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Victoria Fenner.
A new study puts nine Great Lakes cities near the top of the list of cities where transportation costs strain household budgets. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Bill Rice reports:
A new study puts nine Great Lakes cities near the top of the list of
where transportation costs strain household budgets. The Great Lakes
Consortium’s Bill Rice reports:
The study by the Surface Transportation Policy Project in Washington
transportation is the second highest household expense across the
led only by housing.
Michelle Ernst, who authored the study, says Americans spend an average
about 19 cents per dollar on transportation. She says cities that rank
tend to have less-than-optimal public transit.
“What we found is that investing in good public transportation
service tends to lower private costs, family costs for transportation.
what we call for in the study is providing people with more
And not just public transit, Ernst says, but safe bicycle paths and
sidewalks as well.
Cleveland is among the top five cities where families’ transportation
exceptionally high. The list includes eight other cities in the Great
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Bill Rice.
Lawmakers in Michigan are working with Amtrak officials to keep passenger service on two major rail lines from being discontinued. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jerome Vaughn has details:
Lawmakers in Michigan are working with Amtrak officials to keep passenger
service on two major rail lines from being discontinued. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jerome Vaughn has details:
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Amtrak officials say they will have to end service on its Chicago to Grand
Rapids and Chicago to Toronto routes unless Michigan provides additional
The train system says it needs just over seven million dollars per year to
operate the two routes, but the state currently caps aid to Amtrak at
five point-seven million dollars.
State Representative Lauren Hagen has introduced a bill to increase
available funding. He says the routes are vital for residents throughout
“It’s a need for many people: for handicapped people, for senior
citizens, and people who want an alternative way to travel.”
Amtrak says about 150-thousand passengers traveled the routes last
year, but that’s still not enough riders to pay for the service through
Rail service in Missouri is also threatened because of reduced funding.
The Michigan legislature has found enough money to keep the service running
until mid-May, but additional funding may be hard to find with the state
facing a one-point-nine billion dollar budget deficit.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Jerome Vaughn in Detroit.