Tuesday, May 8, 2007

First Year's Progress, Part 3

And now, for another look back at what we on City Council have accomplished since the last Council election in May 2006 -- this time in the critical area of:

Environmental Sustainability

* Last fall, Council endorsed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, and thereby committed ourselves to making concrete progress on several important fronts: global warming emissions, green space, alternative transportation, renewable energy, energy efficiency, fuel efficiency, green building, recycling, tree canopy, environmental education, etc. This Agreement provides an incredibly valuable framework for shaping our Council decisions in the years ahead, as will the City's new Comprehensive Plan (currently under review by the Planning Commission), which for the first time ever includes a chapter on the Environment. Charlottesville has already made significant strides in the area of environmental stewarship, but we need to aim even higher.

* To ensure that the City follows through on these commitments, Council this winter appointed a Citizens Committee on Environmental Sustainability, whose membership includes environmental advocates, neighborhood leaders, builders, architects, business owners, and even a couple of politicians -- myself and Albemarle County Supervisor Sally Thomas. (The County, I'm pleased to report, has also signed onto the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.) This Committee -- profiled just two days ago by the Daily Progress -- meets quarterly as a whole and has four subcommittees that are working to develop actionable proposals in areas of Urban Ecosystems, Materials Management [Reduction, Reuse, Recycling], Climate Protection, and Green Building. To support some of the initiatives and ideas that emerge from this Committee, City Council created a new "Green City" Fund in our FY2008 Budget and capitalized the fund with an allocation of $50,000.

* The very first recommendation to emerge from our Sustainability Committee, endorsed unanimously by Council this March, was for Charlottesville to become the third Virginia locality to join ICLEI -- the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives. Doing so will give us access to the tools we need to accomplish the very first commitment set forth in the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, viz: "Inventory global warming emissions in City operations and in the community, set reduction targets and create an action plan." Newsweek magazine had a good article about ICLEI and the U.S. Mayors Agreement in its April issue.

* One of the best things we can do for the environment is to provide viable and attractive alternatives to single-occupancy vehicular transportation. Toward this end, the City and the County are actively working to develop a Regional Transit Authority that will hopefully result in a radically improved public transportation system for our region. Imagine if we had a regional transit service in which smaller, less-polluting buses, running on 15-minute headways on all routes, carried passengers quickly and efficiently to mixed-use, transit-ready destinations all over our community, at little or no charge to riders, with real-time arrival information available on-demand (at kiosks, by cell phone, by internet, etc.). Imagine a Bus Rapid Transit loop (or possibly a streetcar line) serving as the trunk route for this new transit network, using a dedicated lane where feasible. Imagine if we had a Park & Ride system in place in which downtown employees (for example) could hop on a shuttle van that would take them from parking areas on the periphery of the City to their places of employment, quickly and comfortably, thus freeing up parking downtown, relieving congestion on our streets, and saving employees from the dreaded "two-hour shuffle" (or the even more dreaded "20% of my hourly wage goes to parking"). A Regional Transit Authority would not necessarily result in all of these things, but all of these things are doable if we have the political will to do them.

* We've already taken a few small but important steps forward in the expansion of transit by agreeing to fund limited CTS bus service on Sundays, starting this summer, and by deciding to pilot-test fare-free CTS service with a "Fare-Free Month" later this year. Thanks to an increase in funding from Albemarle County, CTS has also added a new route to the Southwood mobile home community and to the new County Office Building on 5th Street Extended.

* The City is actively working to reduce petroleum consumption and improve fuel efficiency of our own municipal vehicles. Our City school buses and CTS buses are currently being transitioned to biodiesel and/or compressed natural gas, and the City now has 13 hybrid-electric vehicles in its fleet. For more info., click here.

* During our FY2008 Budget deliberations, Council put a priority on bicycle and pedestrian improvements throughout the City. The City Manager's original budget proposal included an allocation of $1 million in FY06 surplus funds for increased road paving in our community. Council decided to re-allocate 2/3 of those funds to the development of new bike lanes, walking trails and sidewalks. Recently, the Alliance for Community Choice in Transportation presented Council with a set of five proposals for improving our bicycle network (create developer incentives for incorporating bicycle amenities, build a bike-accessible loop trail around the City, improve Old Lynchburg Road for bikes, improve signalized intersections for bicycles, and improve “The Corner” for bikes) and I look forward to seeing progress on each of these proposals in the months and years to come.

* The City has taken a number of steps to enhance monitoring and protection of our natural resources. Last summer the City agreed to join the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District and last fall we voted to become a founding partner in the new Rivanna River Basin Commission. This summer the City will also be considering membership in Stream Watch. Council also approved a Low Impact Development ordinance last summer, providing incentives for builders to incorporate stream buffers, pervious paving, rain gardens, green roofs, swales, etc. in new developments.

* Improving our green spaces also involves investing in our parks and recreational facilities. Council increased funding for parks in our FY08 Budget and we just recently dedicated our newest City park -- "Schenck's Grenway," which doubles as an environmental education/service-learning site for the Living Education Center for Ecology and the Arts. (At that dedication, Charlottesville also received recognition as the newest "Tree City USA" for our commitment to protecting our tree canopy.)

* This January, the City decided to expand our curbside recycling program to include plastics and cardboard, thus making it even easier for residents to keep recyclable materials out of the waste stream. Hopefully we can add paper someday too.

Next up: What else we've done...and what else we still have to do.


Laura said...

I love these posts about your work on city council, and I love your vision for public transportation! I think free fares on CTS is a great idea, and was delighted to learn that UVA students can now ride for free. Thank you!!

DaveNorris said...

Thanks for reading and replying Laura -- and I hope you make good use of that fare-free bus service! Peace, Dave