by Dr. Brent Blackwelder, President emeritus, Friends of the Earth
The series of oil spills in the U.S. this year—the BP spill, other Gulf of Mexico spills, the million-gallon pipeline rupture in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River- should energize efforts in city after city to revamp transportation and breathe new life into alternatives to the automobile.
Our metropolitan area news over the past year and a half has regularly pointed to the decline in performance of Metrorail, along with a serious lack of investment in capital improvements. Just replacing the old escalators (short-flight ones) is taking months. Riders now have to face fare hikes while drivers never pay the full cost of their automobile usage on the city.
Bus routes are also suffering. The Washington Post reported on August 16 that a popular bus line in Northern Virginia will close in September for lack of funding.
The road strategy continues to fail in the US and around the world. (Moscow story) The Intercounty Connector should be a major embarrassment to a county like Montgomery that prides itself on environmental awareness.
Our nation’s capital should take some bold steps to reduce congestion and to upgrade our public transportation. We can look to cities worldwide that have had success with congestion charges for entering the city. Yes, I know that Congress will likely veto such measures, but let’s bring on the fight and push for new sources of revenue.
In London a $10/vehicle peak-hour congestion fee was put in place for cars entering the center city. The fee was upped to $16 in 2005 and this toll resulted in a 36% drop in peak-hour traffic and a 50% increase in the number of bicycles.
Is there any sign of hope for public transportation on the horizon? On July 25th the Chicago Tribune reported that for the first time, both suburban and urban citizens in the Chicago metro area think that more money ought to be spent on transit than on highways. This poll is one piece of evidence that a crack may be opening in the highway lobby’s stranglehold on transportation choices.
Another promising sign is the growth in U.S. transit ridership. Since 1996 transit ridership has increased by an average of 2.6% annually, and the year 2009 witnessed a 3.3% increase.
Recent economic analyses highlight the costliness of oil and automobile usage, and evidence from these analyses should drive big shifts in policy. For instance, the Department of Transport in the U.K. has found that for each British pound spent to reduce car usage, there are £10 of benefits in the economy from fuel savings, reduced congestion costs, and lower pollution levels.
Why is it that DC, Maryland, and Virginia are not funding Metro to the maximum to reap benefits of attracting more people to leave their cars in the garage? Why is it that every year transit supporters have to scramble to get adequate budgets?
Now is the time to rescue America from the Dark Ages of highway building. A comparison of transportation systems between European cities and US cities is illuminating. A quick look at Atlanta versus Amsterdam demonstrates the gap. In Atlanta 95% of residents commute to work by car. In Amsterdam 40% commute by car, 35% bike or walk, and 25% go by transit.
Here in the Washington metro area, we can feel somewhat relieved that we are better than Atlanta in transportation choices but the statistics from Amsterdam should serve as a reality check on how far behind we still are.
As the fall primaries and general election approach, it is time to demand a commitment from all those running for public office to reverse the disproportionate spending on roads instead of public transportation.
By Katherine Bryant, Food Security Advocate, D.C. Farm to School Network
Katherine Bryant is an intern with the D.C. Farm to School Network, and a seasoned community food security advocate. This blog describes her recent farm to school “field-trip” to Delaware and the Eastern Shore.
I had the honor of joining a small group of DC school food service providers, Network Coordinator Andrea Northup, and a D.C. City Council staffer on a trip to Delaware – a fitting ‘initiation’ into the role of DC Farm to School Network intern, The goal of the trip was to get a feel Delaware’s local food supply, and explore how that supply can connect with the demand for local foods in the D.C. school system. Our knowledgeable and well-connected host, fourth-generation watermelon farmer and Delaware Fruit and Vegetable Association president David Marvel, led our energetic and passionate group on a wonderful journey of learning, networking, and of course – eating!
Just a short distance from DC, Delmarva (a catchy name for the Eastern Shore region of Delaware Maryland, and Virginia) makes its mark as the epicenter of watermelon production, with a notable portion of the country’s corn and lima bean yield as well. Our first stop was the S.E.W. Friel sweet corn farm. We were able to snag a few minutes with the farmers amidst the busyness of a season full in swing – which means around the clock harvesting, packing, distributing and marketing of products. We stood in awe of the over 13-feet tall machines capable of harvesting 60,000 lbs of corn per hour. We chatted with some of the many folks who work in concert to bring that sweet corn all the way from seed to harvester to tractor-trailer truck to storage facility to point-of-sale (e.g. supermarket) to a family’s refrigerator.
Would you have guessed that both schoolchildren and Delmarva watermelons use the same form of transportation? In our exploration of the watermelon’s journey from farm to table, we learned that retired school buses are rendered windowless and accompany teams of migrant workers as they walk through fields tossing watermelons on board. The roads of Delaware are flooded with melon-filled busses on their way to washing facilities, auctions or markets. We saw Lakeside Farms. It was here that we met Sean Cloughtery, Managing Editor of American Farm. He shared our adventures with the farming community.
We watched in fascination at the Laurel Produce Auction, as truckloads of locally-grown produce were paraded and sold to the highest bidder by what appeared to be inconspicuous nods. From mid-July until mid-September, the Auction sells an average of 2,300,000 watermelons!
We paid a visit to the Kenny Brothers cucumber sorting and grading facility, for a glance into how a cucumber becomes a pickle. The facility washes, sorts and ships 15-20 truckloads per day to local pickle manufacturers – each truckload containing five-acres worth of cucumbers!
Over lunch, we had the opportunity to meet and share ideas and best practices with the inspired folks behind the Delaware Farm to School Network – a coalition of Delaware Department of Agriculture, Department of Education, and private/non-profit sector partners led by Nemours Health & Prevention Services. We also stopped at Fifer’s Orchard and Market tasting some of the best peaches in Delaware. And of course, no day would have been complete without a stop at the Delaware State Fair complete with animal auctions, 4-H and FFA displays, kettle corn, and John Deere farm equipment.
The trip offered a valuable perspective on the scale of production needed to feed the children of Washington, DC; the kindness and generosity of those local food producers and their willingness to meet that demand; and the tremendous process involved in getting food from farm to cafeteria tray. In the end, we piled into our van, District-bound and laden with some of the best fruits and vegetables available in Delaware, with big dreams for schools and growers and how to narrow the gap between them.
by Chris Weiss, Director, DC Environmental Network
On July 29th the DC Environmental Network held a brown-bag luncheon on “How Green is the District’s Development Future.” Speakers made presentations on the state of development in the District and focused on specific proposals, past and present, that demonstrate potential problems for the health of our neighborhoods.
Our speakers included:
• Jim Dougherty, Conservation Chair, Sierra Club ( DC Chapter) – Jim spoke about 70 years of unjust land use along the Anacostia River.
• Dottie Yunger, Anacostia Riverkeeper – Dottie discussed plans to develop a shopping center in Ft. Lincoln that could destroy many acres of wetland and forest.
• Tony Norman, McMillan Park Committee – Tony discussed the latest efforts by the membership of the McMillan Park Committee to protect the historic McMillan Reservoir property from unsustainable development.
We had a good turnout of about 37 including 7 on the phone. Organizations represented included the Environmental Health Group, Global Green USA, Defenders of Potomac River Parkland, Urban Solar Solutions, Surfrider Foundation, Anacostia Watershed Society, Just Economics LLC, DC Statehood Green Party, Friends of the Earth, University of Maryland, Casey Trees, Sierra Club, McMillan Park Committee, Anacostia Riverkeeper, League of Women Voters, Restore Mass Avenue and Ecolocity.