Paving over the sixth

Not that one, which is already mostly paved over. Except for the lovely jardin envisioned by Madame de’Medici way back when.

Just as she played her role in helping construct a civilization, are we playing ours in paving over an extinction? That it would be the sixth creates a misnomer, as if in reference to a series and not to an end. We aren’t able to recognize ends all that well, though we are frightened of them and the concept has meaning that we connect to negative consequences. And still the paving continues – not building cities but destroying them to build roads. I know:

That doesn’t matter to Maryland governor Larry Hogan, who proudly touts himself as a good Republican (and is being talked up as a primary challenger to Trump next year), even though he can be as squirrelly as the rest of them. His plan to widen this road would cost between $9 billion and $11 billion and, according to one presentation, would improve commute times by an estimated three minutes. That’s $9 billion plus in funds and umpteen years of construction. For three minutes.

‘This road’ is D.C.’s notorious Beltway, but several major highways into poorly planned cities can be substituted for it. Expanding highways with so-called private toll lanes (hint: not private – only expensive and paid for by the public) that do not ease congestion but do cost several fortunes, as nonsensical as it is, represents one of the only forms of acceptable infrastructure expenditure.

Roads. Look at those dollar amounts again and tell me there’s anything more gaudy than that. And they work, though of course, not as intended.

Public, private or purple, more roads do not lessen traffic. More lanes and wider roads invite more traffic. And more traffic happily accepts!

But there is a thing that lessens traffic, and it even throws a [tiny] wrench into sprawling suburbs, that is, of course, until those plucky little suburbs fight back.

Try driving around North Atlanta between noon and midnight (or, if you like, between the hours of midnight and noon) and you’ll see why they were having none of this train stuff. It. Just. Doesn’t… Actually, I don’t know what it doesn’t do but the lovely residents of the area should hope that Tesla fella is full of it because his auto-autos, were they to ever exist, would be sitting right there with them, not moving, on those same roads.

So the bizarre-o metaphors roll on. The apply named Toll Roads. Pay both ways! 3 hours, round-trip. Personal freedom and individual liberty to sit, and stew, burn and rage. It cannot have a logical end, because there is no logic to it. But surely an end shall it have. Closed Road Now Open. Merge. Expected Arrival Time: Mm Hmm.

Unsprawling

So the New Green Deal is already getting a lot of attention and push-back – both to the good. It’s at least bold enough in some ways to get noticed, if not bold enough in others. For so long, the conversation has been muted by a sense of futility that is quite self-indulgent. Nonetheless…
Not far enough? Correct:

But the Green New Deal has a big blind spot: It doesn’t address the places Americans live. And our physical geography—where we sleep, work, shop, worship, and send our kids to play, and how we move between those places—is more foundational to a green, fair future than just about anything else. The proposal encapsulates the liberal delusion on climate change: that technology and spending can spare us the hard work of reform.

The Environment

America is a nation of sprawl. More Americans live in suburbs than in cities, and the suburbs that we build are not the gridded, neighborly Mayberrys of our imagination. Rather, the places in which we live are generally dispersed, inefficient, and impossible to navigate without a car. Dead-ending cul-de-sacs and the divided highways that connect them are such deeply engrained parts of the American landscape that it’s easy to forget they were, themselves, the fruits of a massive federal investment program.

Sprawl is made possible by highways. This is expensive—in 2015, the Victoria Transport Policy Institute estimated that sprawl costs America more than $1 trillion a year in reduced business activity, environmental damage, consumer expenses, and other costs. Leaving aside the emissions from the 1.1 billion trips Americans take per day (87 percent of which are taken in personal vehicles), spreading everything out has eaten up an enormous amount of natural land.

Tell them what they could win, Jonny:

But the good news is that if we do account for land use, we will get much closer to a safe, sustainable, and resilient future. And even though widespread adoption of EVs is still decades away, reforms to our built environment can begin right now. In short, we can fix this. We build more than 1 million new homes a year—we just need to put them in the right places.*

Unsprawling America isn’t as hard as it sounds, because America is suffering from a critical, once-in-a-lifetime housing shortage. The National Low Income Housing Coalition reported last year that the U.S. has a national deficit of more than 7.2 million affordable and available rental homes for families most in need. Of course, if we build those homes in transit-accessible places, we can save their occupants time and money. But the scale of housing demand at this moment is such that we could build them in car-centric suburbs, too, and provide a human density that would not just support transit but also reduce the need to travel as shops, jobs, and schools crop up within walking distance.

Walking distance needs to become an old/new catch phrase. Also, as another Slate article proclaims, plane trips CAN be replaced by train trips. Not LA to NYC, and not even NYC to Chicago. But most trips under 500 miles and all trips under 300 miles could be taken out of the equation with an updated modest-speed rail system. 100 miles per hour cuts what is a four-hour drive to three (math!), plus airports are never in city centers – you always have to drive in. Bump up the speed to even 150 mph and, well, a 2 hour trip. Math!

Image via Alon Levy on the twitters.

Green Journalism

An inadvertent follow-up to the previous post but, there’s a well-laid out compendium about the media’s culpability in the run up to the current financial crisis, here. Using as its analogue the media’s roll in the breathless rush to war in Iraq, there are some startlingly appropriate comparisons to draw with other situations. In the midst of fiscal, geo-political, environmental meltdowns, we’re accustomed to the print and TV press just playing along, presenting false dichotomies and premises, compromised by corporate conflicts-of-interest, muddying a situation until it’s too late.

And even when the reporting was solid, which was rare enough, news organizations didn’t follow up in appropriate ways. If we can foresee a catastrophe, it’s not enough to mention it once or twice and then move on.

That common practice suggests an opportunity. When we can predict an inevitable calamity if we continue along the current path, we owe it to the public to do everything we can to encourage a change in that destructive behavior.

In practice, this means activism. It means relentless campaigning to point out what’s going wrong, and demanding corrective action from those who can do something about it.

Crushing and important issues with long-term implications become trivialized as a part of the infotainment experience the big media conglomerates, like the Big automakers and their rationales for the huge, gas-guzzling SUVs, say the public desires. It’s the guise of fairness in the trappings of drama and fragmentation that allow enormous and clear stories to become opaque and difficult to piece together. Global warming is one such story; how long will we read and hear stories from the perspective of both sides, about how it might be a problem, until we pass the last tipping point?

TPM’s Gillmor brings up yellow journalism and draws an interesting comparison to the few newspaper editors who decided to embrace racial integration and really forced the issue by keeping it front and center, drawing lines in the sand, digging footings and constructing the edifice that would become our present society. Because they knew it was being constructed anyway, and that if they didn’t, if they supported the status quo with their silence, they would be working in the service of segregation.