Monday, May 07, 2012

Connecting the Climate Change dots on Rochester’s transportation


I’m not bragging when I say that I was pretty good at those connect-the-dots games as a kid. I’d come up with anything they wanted me to connect: a horse, an elephant, or you-name-it. The trick (and I learned this at about three or four years old) was to connect the dots according to the numbers—meaning in order. Those drawings from kids who just randomly connected dots without heeding this operating principle didn’t look anything like the intended project. More like a Rorschach test.

That is all pertinent as’s theme on May 5th is called Connect the Dots. It’s about connecting the dots between what climate changes you are experiencing and the issue of Climate Change. The idea is if you want to solve a puzzle like Climate Change, you have to understand the relationship between the predictions of Climate Change and extreme weather. Otherwise you and your children get buffeted by the winds of change until you cook—seemingly for no reason at all.

With Climate Change there is a reason why our climate is changing, and when you connect the dots you’ll get the picture. You’ll get that large-scale, top-down approaches are the only ones that will actually allow us to adapt to and mitigate the consequences of Climate Change. Because things are warming up quickly (March was in the mid-eighties here in Rochester, and extreme weather is off the charts) there isn’t enough time for small ad hoc changes.

Bold large-scale measures like changing our transportation infrastructure is a way to connect the dots between how we get about and reducing greenhouse gases (GHG). Transportation strategies won’t help us adapt to Climate Change if we don’t connect the dots. (The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says transportation accounts for 27% of the GHG that warms our planet.)

Here’s an example of what I am talking about: The New York Climate Change Advisory Group, created under Governor Patterson, published an exhaustive Climate Action Plan that addressed the issues confronting our transportation system (among other issues) due to Climate Change—flooding, heat waves, and other extreme weather events. The team got the message about the importance of NYS transportation systems contributing to and being affected by Climate Change. They connected the dots.

“Public and private entities will need to assess whether new investments in infrastructure, particularly long-lived infrastructure like power plants and transportation, will be consistent with a low-carbon future, both in terms of GHG emissions and in terms of vulnerability to a changing climate. We should avoid investments that are not highly adapted to a modified climate, such as infrastructure sited in low-lying floodplains.” (Pare E-5) The New York State Climate Action Plan Interim Report

But that effort has been quietly thwarted because Governor Cuomo won’t reconvene the New York Climate Change Advisory Group, according to NRDC’s Ready or Not report. So our government won’t be acting on the kind of large-scale construction projects that would need a governor’s backing to protect our transportation systems from this:

Low-lying transportation systems such as subways and tunnels, especially in coastal and near coastal areas, are at particular risk of flooding as a result of sea level rise and heavy-precipitation events. Materials used in transportation infrastructure, such as asphalt and train rails, are vulnerable to temperatures and frequency of extreme heat event. The Great Lakes may see a shorter season of winter ice cover, leading to a longer shipping season. However, reduced ice cover is also likely to mean an increase in “lake effect” snow events, which often cause transportation-related problems. Air- and land based transportation systems are vulnerable to ice and snowstorms, although requirements for salting and snow removal may decrease as snow tends to turn more often into rain. The number of freeze/thaw cycles, which disturb roadbeds, may increase as winter temperatures rise. (Page OV-10) The New York State Climate Action Plan Interim Report

In all fairness to Governor Cuomo, his vision of a New York Energy Highway does make many strides towards solving our energy problems in the future—but he’s not connecting the dots on Climate Change. It is not a plan to deal with wildlife, water quality, air quality, invasive species, the Great Lakes, the Finger Lakes, wetlands, and public health as our region warms. Energy is a vital component of adapting to and mitigating Climate Change, but it’s not all the dots:

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, in his 2012 State of the State Address, put forward a sweeping public-private initiative to upgrade and modernize New York State’s electric power system. This bold proposal for an “Energy Highway” promises to help provide reliable, economical power to New York’s homes and businesses for the next half century while creating jobs, energizing private-sector investment and protecting the State’s environment and the well-being of its citizens. About - New York Energy Highway

The well-being of our NYS citizenry will not occur if they are enduring the consequences of Climate Change. Our leaders must focus on Climate Change as the lens through which we create jobs, fix our economy, and provide reliable power for the future. If instead, our NYs leaders focus only on energy, then even the New York State Environmental Department of Conservation (DEC)’s work on Climate Change will be completely side-tracked by unnecessary threats to our water quality from Fracking.

Moreover, if our leaders don’t lead on addressing Climate Change by planning and leading the state and our cities, then local activities like those going on in Rochester NY, right now look like a shotgun spray of unrelated pellets, unconnected to anything but saving some bucks and pleasing the public.

Here are some transportation achievements in Rochester, NY that need to be connected to state and federal attempts solve Climate Change.

  • The Genesee Transportation Council (GTC) has finished its new program to help citizens in our area get around without riding around in single-vehicle gas-guzzlers. Without leadership at the top explaining the significance of this program, the media doesn’t inform the public on this new option for getting around our region and it goes unused.
  •         “roceasyride is a free-to-use rideshare solution allowing you to create a commute profile to find carpool matches and smart commute options specifically for you. Online tools allow you to track the money you save and the environmental benefits that result. roceasyride provides information on bicycling, public transportation, and other travel choices that can help you save money while improving our environment. Easy to use Easy on your wallet Easy on the environment Start using roceasyride today! “
  • Public input on transportation center: On Wednesday, May 30th from 5PM to 7PM (with presentation at 5:30PM) at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center, Riverside Court, 123 East Main Street, Rochester, NY come and give your input about public transportation and active transportation (bikes and walking). Will this new transportation center meet the needs of walkers and bicyclists too?
  •         Rochester Intermodal Transportation Center Scoping Study "The City of Rochester invites you to share your thoughts, concerns, and vision regarding Rochester’s Intermodal Transportation Center. On the date and time noted below, the City of Rochester is hosting a Public Meeting for the entire community to participate in. This meeting will involve an brief open house from 5:00pm to 5:30pm leading into a formal presentation beginning at 5:30pm. Following the presentation, a Q/A period will help solicit further dialog. We encourage each and every one of you to join us as we move forward in reshaping and energizing our regions downtown core. "
  • Demonstrating that the public wants active transportation to be easier and safer in our communities.
  •       Walk for our environment on May 16th & 30th: Bike Walk Brighton "Mark your calendars...members of the Bike and Pedestrian Task Force will be making a brief presentation at the Community Forums, WEDNESDAY, MAY 16, 7:00PM @Temple Sinai and WEDNESDAY, MAY 30, 7:00PM @West Brighton Fire Department. Look forward to seeing everyone there. "
  • Conducting a bicycle and pedestrian traffic count to assess the need for better bike trails in our area.
  •       Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project (Traffic Counts) | Rochester Cycling Alliance “The Active Transportation Working Group, a spin-off the Rochester Cycling Alliance’s April 2011 Active Transportation Symposium, is searching for volunteers to conduct bicycle and pedestrian traffic counts in Rochester and Monroe County during May 2012 as part of the National Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project, . We are planning to conduct the counts during commute times in the A.M. and P.M. on May 15-17.”
  • · Connecting college campuses in the Rochester area with bike-friendly trails. Think of the savings in public health, parking lot construction, and the release of GHG if there were bike paths to our area’s major institutions of higher learning.
  •       TRANSPORTATION: Building bike-friendly campus connections - News Articles - Rochester City Newspaper The Erie-Lackawanna bike-pedestrian bridge should open in June, connecting the University of Rochester campus with both sides of the Genesee River. The bridge will provide a convenient way to cross the river, but it's significant in another way, too: it's another step toward creating a cohesive bikeway between some of Rochester's higher-ed institutions. (May 1, 2012) Rochester NY News, Events, Restaurants, Music, Entertainment, Nightlife - Rochester City Newspaper
  • On Saturday, September 15th Greentopia Festival will again host a bike ride for the public to demonstrate their desire for more active transportation options in our region. Last year, we had a hundred riders. But this year, if we had leaders willing to inform the public and the media of the significance of coming to events like these in great numbers, we might get thousands of folks.

These Rochester, NY transportation projects, and many others will not get connected to Climate Change in the public’s mind until leaders and the media and the public start connecting the dots. Without leadership and adherence to Climate Action Plans at the top levels, the media thinks there’s still doubt about the science of climate warming and time to solve this issue when we get good and ready.

But time is running out. Waiting until Climate Change activists come up with the goldilocks’ solution that will please everyone and adapt to the changes coming is unrealistic. Our leaders must shrug off the political risk of educating the public on the true state of our affairs and lead.

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