Tag Archives: planning

Strengthening our region’s response to climate change

My latest at streets.mn is a review of how the draft version of Thrive MSP 2040, the new regional plan for the Twin Cities, addresses climate change.

Our region certainly can’t address this issue alone, but we have a responsibility to do our part.  The science also says we can’t wait another ten years to start addressing the problem.  However, as this plan is currently written, the specifics on climate response are too ambiguous, and risk being watered down during implementation.The regional plan is one of the state’s most significant pieces of land use and transportation policy. By fully embracing state goals and calling for strong response, this could be a document that makes Minnesota a national leader in climate change response.

Read the rest.

Water for our future

Over at streets.mn I have a new post on the importance of water supply planning for the next regional plan.

What does all this have to do with Minnesota?  We have tons of water, right?  Well, on the surface yes, but we’re using our groundwater much faster than it’s being replaced, and that’s a problem.  That was one of the main topics at a Thrive MSP 2040 Roundtable discussion I attended a number of weeks ago, and have been meaning to post about since.  The 7-county region now gets70 percent of our water from groundwater sources, up from 15 percent in the 50′s.  In some places this means we’re reducing groundwater levels by over a foot a year.

Solar access, land use and 30-year planning

Over at streets.mn, I wrote a piece about the mostly unknown requirement that cities in the metro address solar access in their comprehensive plans, and how we could improve to address the purpose of the requirement.

By law, every community in the seven-county metro is supposed to adopt a comprehensive plan that includes “an element for protection and development of access to direct sunlight for solar energy systems”.  This requirement dates back to 1978, when there was anoil crisis and gasoline was $1.30 per gallon (or, close to what it was in 2011inflation-adjusted).  In 1979, Jimmy Carter put solar panels on the White House.  Reagan took down the solar panels in ’86 and oil got a lot cheaperthrough the late 90′s.

The requirement remains however, even if few communities have ever done anything related to solar after they developed some language for their comprehensive plan.  As we enter this season of plan updates, perhaps it’s time for another look at how solar access, land use, energy and other issues are interrelated, and what are vision is for our energy systems.  Solar power is cheaper than ever, and the message is pretty clear on the need to start decarbonizing our energy system.

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My comments on the Statewide Multimodal Transportation Plan

The Minnesota Department of Transportation wants your comments on their new Statewide Multimodal Transportation Plan.  In general, I found many of the strategies overly ambiguous, at least when compared with the old plan.  But they score points for including context-sensitive design and land use-transportation connection references.

Most of my comments deal with the almost total absence of discussion in the document of climate change, transportation system’s contribution to it, or potential solutions.  Here are my comments:

  1. Page 9 – The plan inaccurately states that the Next Generation Energy Act calls for a 25% reduction in GHG emissions by 2025.  The Act calls for a 30% reduction by 2025.  It also calls for an 80 reduction by 2050.  The plan should note this last goal, since by 2032 (the time horizon of this plan) we’ll be well on our way there.
  2. Given that these goals are adopted state law, I think the plan should spell out transportation’s contribution to the problem (24% in 2005 according to the State’s inventory).
  3. These contributions and the adopted state law should also be referenced in Chapter 3, which identifies the policy framework that impacts transportation planning.
  4. Given these impacts and adopted targets, I find chapter 4 almost totally lacking in any reference to MNDOT’s approach to meeting these targets.  The words “greenhouse gas emissions” do not even appear in this chapter.  Approaches to mitigating emissions from the transportation sector are many, but basically boil down to: 1) reducing VMT, 2) switching to more efficient modes (transit, bicycle) and/or 3) switching fuels (The Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group’s Final Report includes a robust set of transportation-related recommendations).  I understand that this is a high-level policy document, but failing to address this issue at this stage is a very significant oversight in my opinion.  In addition, this document actually appears to be a step backwards from the previously adopted Statewide Transportation Plan, which specifically references the emissions reduction goals adopted by the State, pledges that MNDOT will advance these goals, and identifies strategies it will pursue in accordance.
  5. I appreciate the plan’s focus on “System Security”.  However, all the strategies listed here (page 79) address responses to “emergency events”.  I recommend another strategy be added to begin assessing potential risks MNDOT’s systems may face in the next 20 years.  The Upper Midwest has seen a 31 percent increase in “intense” rainfalls in the last 50 years.  A focus on designing our systems differently, rather than reacting to “emergencies” will likely be much more cost-effective in the long run.
  6. The first strategy on page 72 seems to imply the application of cost-benefit analysis to new projects.  While this is a positive step, I think the plan should describe how MNDOT will begin to identify all those “costs” and “benefits” and apply them in a rigorous way.
  7. The section on “Transportation in Context” starting on page 78 is very welcome, especially reference to the importance of the connection between transportation and land use decisions.
  8. While the plan references MNDOT’s performance measures, no measures are identified for the multimodal plan as a whole, or for specific strategies identified within it.  The previous version of the system plan included performance measures to track progress and I would suggest that MNDOT continue this approach.

Taking local action

Minneapolis Skyline

Over at Grist, David Roberts lays down the brutal logic of climate change:

With immediate, concerted action at global scale, we have a slim chance to halt climate change at the extremely dangerous level of 2 degrees C. If we delay even a decade — waiting for better technology or a more amenable political situation or whatever — we will have no chance.

And what’s so special about 2 degrees C?  Well, that may be something like a point of no return.

The thing is, if 2 degrees C is extremely dangerous, 4 degrees C is absolutely catastrophic. In fact, according to the latest science, says Anderson, “a 4 degrees C future is incompatible with an organized global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation’, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems, and has a high probability of not being stable.”

Roberts is citing the work of Kevin Anderson, former head of the UK’s leading climate research institution.  Other scientists are making similar predictions.  James Hanson, director of Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, says, “The target of 2C… is a prescription for long-term disaster“.  Increasingly, you don’t have to look far to find words like “apocalyptic” being used to describe the path we’re on.

So we need to reverse course on emissions by 2015, and in dramatic fashion.  But the latest round of international talks seem to be on shaky ground.  All US climate bills have so far failed.  So what’s a local planner or public official to do?  Decry the problem as global in scope and thus unsolvable? Shrug shoulders and pour a stiff drink?  While I have a healthy amount of skepticism about the ability of one jurisdiction or even one state to have a measurable impact on the global trendline, I think we absolutely must be making our best efforts now, for a number of reasons:

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Streets.mn

In the near future, a group of smart and attractive Twin Cities bloggers will be launching a new site dedicated to Minnesota land use and transportation commentary and analysis called Streets.mn.  We’re hoping to improve the quality and quantity of discussion around city-building issues.

We’re also hoping to build some economies of scale, tapping many great individual blogs to provide content in one location, providing more consistency in post frequency and hopefully increasing readership and impact.

For now, that URL redirects to tcstreetsforpeople.org, a predecessor to Streets.mn.  Much or all of the content you see on that site will continue with a new design and mission.

Watch for greater fanfare after the start of the new year.  For now, click over to Streets.mn for a flavor and be sure to follow us on Facebook.