July - August 2010
Sierra Club Yodeler
Vol. 73 No. 4
For over two months a British Petroleum well has been pumping millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
And for over two months now, the Sierra Club has been working to hold that corporation accountable for the human and environmental tragedy that continues to poison our waters and our fragile wetlands and shores.
But the crisis is not just in the Gulf of Mexico, and the responsibility is not just BP's. The BP disaster is just one more reminder that we need to stop guzzling oil. We already have clean energy solutions and the technology for a 21st-century transportation system, but we need the political will to implement them.
We applaud the steps the president has taken to increase oversight of the oil industry and halt new drilling. But we need more. We need a bold plan to move our nation off of oil. The Sierra Club has asked President Obama to deliver a plan to get us off oil in 20 years. Now it's our job to provide him with the motivation - and political capital - to really do it. This is the Club's current top priority.
What can we do here in the Bay Chapter?
The Chapter has been working hand-in-hand with the rest of the Club in the response to the crisis. We have organized petitions and letters to the editor, we have recruited volunteers for June 26's worldwide Hands Across the Sand event, and we even staged a mock oil disaster at an Arco station in Oakland. For more information and ideas on getting involved, see: http://letsmovebeyondoil.org
But in fact we were working on this crisis even before Deepwater Horizon erupted. For months we've been planning this issue of the Yodeler to focus on transportation. Transportation is one of our main sources of greenhouse gases, and it is one of the main consumers of petroleum. Reducing the use of gasoline for transportation must be one of the key components of any solution to our great national and worldwide environmental threats. (A sound transportation system can also help reduce the sprawl development that threatens our open space, our habitat, and our wildlife.) For all these reasons transportation has long been a key focus in our Bay Chapter's efforts.
Fortunately there are a lot of good alternatives to driving, and Bay Area communities are taking important steps towards adopting them.
We start with a pair of articles focused on San Francisco's efforts to become bicycle-friendly - one about the city's history of progress over recent decades and one about important decisions coming up just this year. People sometimes don't recognize the importance of bicycles. After all, they're awfully small and cheap compared to cars, and lots of people ride them for recreation. But when people switch from driving cars to riding bikes - for commutes, for errands, even for deliveries and other business - bicycles become one of the most cost-effective ways to replace auto use. That's why San Francisco has invested in facilitating bikes - and why those efforts are bringing great payoffs.
The city's Better Market Street Project is making Market a better corridor for pedestrians, bicyclists, and buses. For example, by directing cars off Market at Eighth and 10th Streets, the city has cut a full minute off bus times in that two-block stretch. When such improvements are multiplied along the entire length of the street, San Francisco will be a much better city for mobility - and once again at amazingly low cost.
Muni's proposal for increasing the parking tax offers a good opportunity to raise funds for Muni. Because of the economics of parking, this tax would not cause increases in parking rates, but everyone - drivers, bus riders, pedestrians, and cyclists alike - would feel the benefits of smoother, faster transit and reduced congestion.
Bus Rapid Transit is a possibility being pursued in both San Francisco and the East Bay for speeding up buses. It offers most of the benefits of light rail at far lower costs. Oakland and San Leandro have voted to study a project on the busy Telegraph Avenue-International Boulevard-East 14th Street corridor. Unfortunately the Berkeley City Council has declined to study the possibility of dedicated bus-only lanes; this decision greatly reduces the possible benefits and may even cause Berkeley to be dropped from the project. San Francisco too is pursuing BRT projects, on Van Ness Avenue and Geary Street.
The Bay Chapter is also advancing another amazingly cost-effective proposal for switching travel from cars to buses: to give free bus passes to all middle- and high-school students. Getting kids to school generates a lot of traffic - over 10% of morning peak-hour trips. Encouraging them to ride buses will not only save gas and congestion, but will help train a new generation of public-transit users. Alameda County, which is now preparing a plan for renewing its transportation sales tax, may have the first opportunity to implement the passes.
In eastern Contra Costa County, eBART will provide new transit options by utilizing existing tracks for passenger rail extending from BART's Pittsburg/Bay Point station out to Antioch and perhaps even some day to Byron. The Antioch station unfortunately will not be at the best location for encouraging transit-oriented development, but BART is cooperating in modifying station designs to improve bicycle and pedestrian access.
An intern with transportation expertise has written an article on the complex relationship between funding for capital and operations in the transit world.
In a very different part of the transportation spectrum, the Chapter has been working to reduce truck pollution in West Oakland coming from the Port of Oakland, and we conferred with other communities facing similar problems at the national "Good Jobs, Clean Jobs" conference.
At the national level, the Club is working to advance a restructuring of transportation policy and funding in federal legislation (page 9). A policy option that the Chapter is promoting here in the Bay Area is to eliminate minimum-parking requirements for developers.
Plug-in electric cars offer a leading opportunity to reduce our dependency on oil. Sierra Club California's Drive Green California campaign will help reduce auto emissions and use of gasoline in our state.