Beyond the Bus-vs.-Rail Debate

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Beyond the Bus-vs.-Rail Debate: Cultivating Transit Discussions that Take Us Where We Need to Go

A talk by Jarrett Walker, international transit consultant and author of the weblog

Tuesday, May 31, 2011, 7:00 p.m.
UW Pyle Center, Room 313
702 Langdon St., Madison, WI

Like many cities, Madison has spent years debating rail and other ideas for improving area transit. Yet few of these proposals have moved forward, and new threats to transit funding could undo what progress has been made.

Why are debates over transit often so frustrating and contentious? Can we frame them differently to foster more productive conversations and stronger consensus, both about the kinds of transit systems we want and about the value and benefits of transit to our communities?

Jarrett Walker, international transit consultant and author of the popular transit policy weblog, thinks we can, and will discuss how in a talk on Tuesday evening, May 31, at 7:00 p.m. in Room 313 of the UW Pyle Center, 702 Langdon St. in Madison.

A fundamental problem, he maintains, is that heated quarrels over transit technologies have made it harder to think and talk clearly about what we really want for our communities and which choices best achieve those goals. The relationship between transit technology and transit outcomes is not always as clear as it seems, and categorical opinions about any technology, rail or bus, can blind us to many other ways to improve our transit systems and thereby enrich our communities and our lives. Approaching transit issues from a different point of view may make them easier to resolve.

Jarrett Walker, PhD, has been a consulting transit planner for 20 years, and has worked on a wide range of projects, from small-city bus re-structurings to major transit corridor studies. He has written since 2009 and his book Human Transit, expanding on themes from that writing, is forthcoming this fall from Island Press.

The talk is free and open to the public and is sponsored by the UW Center on Wisconsin Strategy’s State Smart Transportation Initiative, the Dane Alliance for Rational Transportation, the DaneTransit coalition, and the Madison Peak Oil Group. For further information contact Fred Bartol at (608) 251-6126.

Interactive Workshop on “Express Carpooling” - June 2, Madison

What: Presentation and Interactive Workshop on “Express Carpooling”

When: Thursday, June 2nd , 7:00-8:30 PM

Where: Room 202 of the downtown Madison Public Library

Here is a synopsis from Fred Bartol of DaneTransit:

What is “express carpooling” and how could it make getting around Madison and Dane County easier? Paul Minett, founder of Raspberry Express, an express carpooling initiative in Auckland, New Zealand, will describe what it is, how it works, and who might benefit from it.

Unlike formal ridesharing programs which match participants in advance for regularly scheduled car- or van-pooling arrangements, express carpooling enables riders and drivers, screened through a membership process, to meet at designated collection points for shared rides over established routes to designated drop-off points, then reverse the process later in the day. The route, rather than the ride, is what the service provider organizes based on commuter demand.

Minett believes the express model could make carpooling easier by making it more flexible and spontaneous, something commuters can use as needed, rather than having to arrange in advance and commit to for an extended period. The benefits could be significant, for commuters seeking to cut costs, for communities seeking to expand transportation options, and for regions seeking to manage traffic.

Born in the United Kingdom, Paul Minett was raised in Canada and has lived in New Zealand since 1987. An accountant and business consultant who holds an MBA from the University of Auckland, he is the co-inventor of a patented express carpooling system and has published and presented widely on the topic of carpooling and ridesharing. He has been a leader in founding the Ridesharing Institute, a research organization committed to expanding ridesharing practices worldwide, and will be in Madison to participate in the Congress for the New Urbanism conference, taking place June 1-4 at Monona Terrace.

The downtown Madison Public Library is located at 201 W. Mifflin St. in Madison. The presentation is free and open to the public and is sponsored by the Dane Alliance for Rational Transportation, the DaneTransit Coalition, and the Madison Peak Oil Group.

Electrified Steel Interstate - Planning meeting, June 2, Madison

Friday, May 27, 2011

What: Electrified Steel Interstate meeting (Alan Drake’s concept)
When: Thursday, June 2nd from 6:00 – 7:30 PM
Where: Sequoya Public Library, Meeting Room A, 4340 Tokay Blvd, Madison

The room has been reserved under the auspices of the Madison Peak Oil Group.

Overall goals of the meeting include:

(1) Develop and refine the Steel Interstate concept for Wisconsin (or perhaps the upper Midwest, given the central role of Chicago in the nation’s rail network)
(2) Identify key stakeholders
(3) Identify key advocacy partners
(4) Identify possibilities for collaboration (with the CFIRE group at UW Madison, for example – i.e. the National Center for Freight Infrastructure Research and Education.)
(5) Tally how much time/energy each of us is willing to contribute to this effort
(6) Come up with a reasonable action plan

I will send out a more detailed agenda by Sunday the 29th; if there are matters you want covered please let me know before then.

To prepare for the meeting, I would ask that you carefully read and make notes on Drake’s posting “Multiple Birds”.

What we need is something like a “peer review”: we want to make sure our logic is sound, our data is accurate, our goals are realistic, and our arguments are persuasive.

Sorry for the delay in scheduling this but I’m volunteering at CNU 19 this year and I needed to find out what my time slots were before I finalized this meeting.

Energy groups oppose bill to undermine Wisconsin's renewable energy commitment

Thursday, May 26, 2011

From statements issued by three groups in opposition to Assembly Bill 146:

"Clearly, this bill is a drastic step in the wrong direction for our state. The Wisconsin Energy Business Association therefore opposes this attack on renewable energy in our state." - Wisconsin Energy Business Association. Full statement.

We strongly recommend that this bill not be approved as it solves no known problem in Wisconsin and seeks only to roll-back policies on renewable energy that have served the state well and are otherwise benefitting Wisconsin residents with cleaner air and lower prices for electricity. - Wind on the Wires. Full statement.

Fresh attack on Wisconsin voters’ desire for a renewable energy standard would kill wind projects and sap state’s economy, say wind energy advocates - American Wind Energy Association. Full statement.

Chicago plans for heat wave -- a permanent one

Monday, May 23, 2011

From an article by Leslie Kaufman in The New York Times:

City planners in Chicago have been told that as temperatures rise, some plants native to the region will die out.

Climate scientists have told city planners that based on current trends, Chicago will feel more like Baton Rouge than a Northern metropolis before the end of this century.

So, Chicago is getting ready for a wetter, steamier future. Public alleyways are being repaved with materials that are permeable to water. The white oak, the state tree of Illinois, has been banned from city planting lists, and swamp oaks and sweet gum trees from the South have been given new priority. Thermal radar is being used to map the city’s hottest spots, which are then targets for pavement removal and the addition of vegetation to roofs. And air-conditioners are being considered for all 750 public schools, which until now have been heated but rarely cooled.

“Cities adapt or they go away,” said Aaron N. Durnbaugh, deputy commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Environment. “Climate change is happening in both real and dramatic ways, but also in slow, pervasive ways. We can handle it, but we do need to acknowledge it. We are on a 50-year cycle, but we need to get going.”

State clean energy mandates have little effect on electricity rates so far

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

From an article by Don Huagen in Midwest Energy News:

One of the larger reviews of renewable portfolio standards was a 2008 report (PDF) from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The study looked at data on a dozen state renewable policies enacted before 2007. The estimated impact on electricity rates varied by state, but it was a fraction of a percent in most cases and just over 1 percent in two states, Connecticut and Massachusetts. “There is little evidence of a sizable impact on average retail electricity rates so far,” the report concluded.

One of the report’s co-authors, Galen Barbose, said in an interview that they are collecting data for an updated version of the report. So far he said he hasn’t seen any new information to suggest their conclusion about rate impacts will change significantly in the next edition.

A 2009 study by the U.S. Energy Information Administration modeled the potential impact of a 25 percent nationwide renewable electricity standard. It, too, noted that rate impacts would vary by state, with renewable-rich regions like the Great Plains and Northwest meeting the targets more easily. Overall, though, it projected no impact on rates through 2020, followed by a less than 3 percent increase by 2025. By 2030, however, it projected little difference in rates with or without a national renewable mandate.

The Minnesota Free Market Institute and American Tradition Institute reached a very different conclusion in an April 2011 report (PDF), which claims Minnesota’s renewable electricity standard is going to cause rates in the state to skyrocket by as much as 37 percent by 2025.

Utilities’ experiences vary
Xcel Energy, the state’s largest utility, has come up with a much smaller number: $0.003. That’s the difference Xcel forecasts between its projected per-kilowatt-hour energy price in 2025 under its proposed wind expansion plan compared to a hypothetical scenario in which it stopped adding new wind capacity after 2012.

Asked to comment on the Free Market Institute’s study, Xcel Energy spokesman Steve Roalstad said, “It doesn’t seem to be moving in that direction.” The cost of adding renewable energy sources, especially wind, continues to fall and has become very competitive with traditional generating sources, he said.

Without aid, Hiawatha is in a pinch

Monday, May 16, 2011

From an article by Larry Sandler in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Wisconsin scrambles to replace federal money

After being turned down for federal high-speed rail funds, state officials are now pondering how to pay for millions of dollars of work needed to keep the existing Amtrak service running between Milwaukee and Chicago.

Last week, the federal government rejected the state's request for more than $150 million for new locomotives, passenger cars and a maintenance base to upgrade the Hiawatha line. Also rejected was a bid for nearly $60 million in related track, signal and engineering work.

That decision followed Gov. Scott Walker's refusal to build a 110-mph extension of the Hiawatha to Madison, as part of a larger plan to connect Chicago to the Twin Cities and other Midwestern destinations. After Walker's election, the federal government pulled nearly all of the $810 million stimulus grant that would have paid for the long-planned Milwaukee-to-Madison stretch.

But Walker supported keeping and upgrading the existing Milwaukee-to-Chicago service, with backing from the Milwaukee-area business community. And since some of the $810 million would have been used to improve existing service, the state asked for $213.3 million for that purpose.

Now, after the federal rejection, the state is faced with at least $209.1 million in potential costs for the existing service. But only $69.5 million in state and federal funds has been committed to those expenses, leaving a gap of $139.6 million.

Some of that gap could be filled by borrowing. From 1993 to 2009, lawmakers approved $122 million in borrowing power for passenger rail projects. To date, state officials have used $49.5 million of that authority, leaving $72.5 million available.

Transportation officials have asked the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee for permission to use some of that bonding power. But even if they could use all of it, they would still come up more than $67 million short.

We Energies terminates its renewable energy program

Friday, May 13, 2011

For immediate release
May 13, 2011

More information
RENEW Wisconsin
Michael Vickerman

We Energies Terminates Its Renewable Energy Program
Utility Pulls Plug on $6 Million a Year Commitment

As reported on its Web site, Milwaukee-based We Energies will discontinue an innovative and effective renewable energy development program that supported scores of renewable energy systems throughout its service territory. [The announcement can be accessed at]

“It’s a sad day when the state’s largest utility decides to walk away from its commitment to a clean energy future,” said Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a statewide organization advocating for public policies and private initiatives that advance renewable energy.

As indicated in various filings with the Public Service Commission, We Energies had committed to spend $6 million a year over 10 years to increase its renewable energy supplies and make renewable energy more affordable to its customers through grants and incentives. We Energies’ commitment came in the wake of a settlement with RENEW over the utility’s plans to build two coal-fired power stations in southeast Wisconsin.

Of the $60 million committed, the utility has spent approximately $30 million since 2006. This program will be zeroed out in We Energies’ next rate filing, which will cover 2012 and 2013.
This program supported numerous customer-sited renewable energy installations [see list below], conferences and workshops, research and development activities, and innovative buyback rates.

“Perhaps not coincidently, the decision to terminate this program comes just months after We Energies placed its second coal-fired plant in service. The $6 million a year was a small price to pay for the all of the renewable energy advances that occurred while the utility built two coal plants,” said Vickerman.

“Now that the coal plant is up and running, it appears that the program has outlived its usefulness to We Energies,” Vickerman said.

Six million dollars equates to about .025 percent of We Energies’ annual expenditures.

“This cancellation comes as a blow to area contractors and businesses that were relying on the program to create jobs and clean energy,” said Vickerman. “The achievements leveraged far outweigh the program’s negligible cost.”

“Between utility program cutbacks and state government rollbacks, Wisconsin’s policy framework for supporting renewable energy will be largely dismantled by the end of the year.”

Rail money went to states with "farsighted leadership"

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

From an editorial in The New York Times:

None of the money in Monday’s announcement will be going to Wisconsin, for example, where Gov. Scott Walker has also decided that his strapped state could do without rail improvements and the construction jobs that go with them. Nor will it go to Ohio, where Gov. John Kasich preferred rejectionism to the improvement of rail service among the state’s largest cities, which could have produced 16,000 jobs.

Instead, it will go to 15 states that have more farsighted leadership, who understand the important role federal dollars can play in stimulating the economy, moving people quickly from place to place and reducing tailpipe emissions. Some of those states are led by Republicans: Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan happily stood beside Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Monday to accept nearly $200 million to upgrade the rail line between Dearborn and Kalamazoo, the bulk of the Chicago-Detroit corridor.

Boneheaded move on transit

Monday, May 09, 2011

From an editorial in The Journal Times, Racine:

In a lamentable vote last week, state Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, led the state’s Joint Finance Committee to vote 12-4 along party lines to do away with recently authorized regional transit authorities in southeastern Wisconsin and four other areas of the state.

It is a boneheaded and short-sighted maneuver that could well ring the death knell for commuter rail linking Kenosha, Racine, Milwaukee and Chicago.

Unlike the high-speed rail proposed for Milwaukee to Madison by former Democratic Gov. James Doyle, KRM would connect a corridor of highly populated areas in the southeastern corner of the state. It would give businesses access to willing workers through the region, provide those workers with the means to get to jobs, give residents a car-free alternative to taking in the sights, recreational and entertainment offerings of Chicago and Milwaukee — and it would lessen the reliance on the Interstate highway system.

It was perhaps prophetic that the Vos-led vote last week came as gasoline pump prices roared well past $4 per gallon.

For good measure, the Joint Finance Committee also threw state funding for bike and pedestrian paths under the bus as well, eliminating $5 million in spending over the next two years.

Vos said the transit authorities were unpopular, unelected “abomominations” as he guided the vote for disbandonment.

Unlike during the Gov. Tommy Thompson era, in recent years Republicans have taken a Goldilocks and the Three Bears approach toward mass transit, complaining that plans — whatever plans — were too hot, too cold, too this, too that. The unelected “abomination” criticism from Vos that transit authorities would spend tax money, even though their boards were not elected, feeds into the recent rise in anti-taxing frenzy — including an advisory referendum in Racine County on “new taxes” for transit or rail that was defeated by a large margin.

In fact, Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget would have preserved transit authorities, but required a binding referendum before an authority could levy a tax.

That’s a more reasoned approach . . .

Epic fires up solar array

Friday, May 06, 2011

From an article by Jim Ferolie in The Verona Press:

They could have picked a better day for it, but on Tuesday, the new covered parking at Epic became fully functional.

Almost 1,300 solar panels over the company’s only large permanent outdoor parking area went online early that morning, supplying up to 360 kilowatts of electricity to the roughly 4,000-office campus outside Verona.

The system, supported by deep blue geodesic structures that perfectly match the much-maligned blue streetlights on Verona Avenue, has been in the works for months and is just the first big step in the company’s effort to become carbon-neutral and energy independent even as it continues to add buildings and employees.

Though the new solar panels account for only about 5 percent of the company’s current usage – and in fact, under the cloud-covered drizzle Tuesday morning it produced only about a tenth of its capacity – it’s an important training step along the way to the company’s goal of getting “off the grid” in terms of peak energy usage.

Epic facilities director Bruce Richards confirmed Tuesdaythe company’s roughly 2-acre array eventually will be dwarfed by a 15-acre solar field that will cover its more than 2,000 geothermal wells there and yet still allow the land to be farmed. It’s also looking into large-scale use of wind power and biomass to offset its almost 8-megawatt power consumption – about the same as all the homes in the city and town of Verona combined.

Budget commitee slashes energy efficiency funding

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

From an article by Mike Ivey in The Capital Times:

Cuts to key environmental programs continue in Wisconsin, with a sharp reduction in future funding for Focus on Energy, a statewide energy efficiency effort.

On a party-line vote Tuesday, the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee rolled back the budget for Focus on Energy to less than $100 million annually. The monies come from a tax on electric utility revenues and are distributed to businesses and individuals for energy savings projects.

The Focus on Energy program has been administered over the past years by the Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corp., a Madison-based non-profit. But the contract was awarded earlier this year to the Shaw Group, a Baton Rouge, La., firm with offices in Milwaukee.

The Public Service Commission in November 2010 had proposed new energy savings goals for Focus on Energy by hiking the utility assessment. Those budgets were then approved by the Democratic majority in Joint Finance and would have upped money in the program from $120 million in 2011 to $256 million by 2014.

But with the committee action, funding for Focus on Energy will remain flat for the foreseeable future.

Co-chairman Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, led opposition to the increase, calling it a redistribution of utility ratepayer dollars.

Launched in 2001, Focus on Energy has helped residents and businesses save nearly $2 billion on their energy bills, supporters of the program say.

New report drives home the benefits of high-speed rail

Monday, May 02, 2011

From a column by Dave Zweifel in The Capital Times:

With a guy like Scott Walker as governor, it’s probably tilting at windmills, but once again a comprehensive report has called attention to the importance of modernizing the Midwest’s rail system.

Late last week a group of transportation advocates and legislators released a report titled “The Economic Impacts of High-Speed Rail: Transforming the Midwest,” which showed that expanding passenger rail service in Wisconsin and the Midwest could create more than 100,000 jobs and $13.8 billion of economic activity.

During a press conference in the Capitol, the group noted that after the governor turned down $810 million in federal stimulus funds to improve passenger rail between Chicago and Milwaukee and extend it to Madison, he now is seeking federal help to upgrade the rail beds and add a train set on the Chicago-Milwaukee route. . . .

Despite the size of the Midwest’s economy, the report noted, it doesn’t have the transportation infrastructure to compete in today’s global marketplace.

Walker could have made sure Wisconsin was part of a new network that one day will transform the nation’s reliance on automobiles and the uncertainty of air travel.

His shortsightedness will cost us dearly for a long time to come.