Sunday, December 27, 2020

Local Chapter Comments on Our Salem and Climate Action Plan, Centers Driving

Last week the City blurbed all the sustainability features at the new Library.

via FB

In addition to the seismic engineering, they said "We're striving for LEED Silver level for sustainability and energy efficiency." It's all about rooftop solar, insulation, more efficient light fixtures, low VOC building materials, and low-flow water fixtures.

Those are good things. But as is so often the case, we have erased driving from "sustainability." (LEED stops at the building envelope, and does not include how a building functions as part of a city or neighborhood. It's atomic rather than relational.) 

Over at City Observatory, they wrote about this in "Sustainability is about more than electrification," introducing the notion of a "car island," a new subdivision greened-up with all kinds of neat solar installations and associated gadgetry, but utterly car-dependent.

We must look beyond energy use to consider how people move and accomplish life’s daily needs. A car island is not human-scaled or sustainable. For too long, we have focused on building height when thinking about “human-scale” development. Yet, this is the wrong reference point. Human-scale development is about distance, not building height.

If you have to use a 2-ton vehicle [whether internal combustion or battery electric] for every need, it’s not human-scaled and not sustainable. And even EV cars have a ton of embodied energy/emissions.

Previously we have noted this at the new Fairview developments, which have focused on green building, driveways, and garages, but essentially remain dominated by single detached housing and have no walkable commercial redevelopment yet.

And in the digital sticky note "visioning" exercise, a couple of people called for less compact housing, is if it were in fact more sustainable, and confounded a literal reading of "green" and the metaphorical reading of "green."

Instead of turning green spaces into housing, how about keeping them as green spaces and growing more trees. Despite protests from neighbors, a large part of the green space around Oregon State Hospital was turned into a housing lot. We can't keep doing this.

Require more space between homes in new developments and less impervious surfaces.

We have a real blind spot at the moment.

We have to center that 53% better

Any realistic analysis of sustainability should include parking arrangements, driving trips, and emissions they generate. We have to talk more about transportation.

As part of the on-going process to update the Comprehensive Plan in "Our Salem" as well as the process to write a brand-new Climate Action Plan, our local chapter recently published a letter to the City.

They rightly center driving's place in our total emissions.

From the letter's introduction:

To meet the state greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals requires reducing driving (vehicle miles traveled – VMT) per capita by 20-25% over the next 30 years....

We can reduce VMT by expanding transportation options and incentives and building most new housing and jobs in walkable, compact mixed-use neighborhoods and in areas that are well served by transit. While current plans allow infill and redevelopment in these closer in, mixed-use areas, the focus of most City plans, policies and investments is to encourage and support auto-dependent development in outlying parts of the city. These are the areas with the highest rates of VMT per capita and that are least amenable to walking, transit and cycling. If we’re to be successful in reducing GHG and VMT, the City needs to completely shift its focus to support and give priority to walkable, mixed-use developments mostly in closer-in areas.

The comprehensive plan vision should adopt a goal of accommodating 50% of new housing and jobs in walkable, compact mixed-use neighborhoods along Cherriots’ core transit network. Even for outlying developments the City should investigate ways to encourage or require mixing commercial buildings with denser residential developments and with sufficient open space and parks. This will make it easier to expand transit to outlying developments in the future. The comprehensive plan should guide implementation of this vision by setting specific targets for adding housing and jobs to areas that are planned for walkable mixed-use development. For example, the goal could be to add 2,000 housing units and 4,000 jobs in downtown. Similar jobs/housing goals should be set for each area around the city that the city identifies as appropriate for mixed-use development.

The full letter and its recommendations are worth taking a few moments to read. This is the kind of framework we should be using to structure the overall plans and to situate more detailed debate on particular policy recommendations.

Even so, it might not be enough. Reducing per capita VMT by a quarter may not be sufficient. At least internally, the City of Portland has been talking about the need to reduce by half, for example.

A reduction of 20-25% is not likely enough
via Twitter

But altogether the framework would be a serious start, serious in a way the City's "Preferred Alternative" was not, and it deserves much closer attention and general support.

Previously on that Preferred Alternative:

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