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Lifestyles for a small planet

Sierra Club Principles for Renewal of the Federal Transportation Bill (T5)

Strong Goals in T5 Authorization can direct federal agencies and constrain states, MPOs, counties and cities to spend federal funds to meet our goals below. Federal transportation funding is handled by separate congressional committees but we have included goals for it too.


Our goal for the federal T5 legislation is that it will increase connectivity between people and destinations, and  minimize Greenhouse Gas and other pollutant emissions while moving people and freight.

Our goal for state funding initiatives is that they empower and incent local governments to take positive advantage of federal programs to initiate policies and programs that build healthy communities.

Healthy communities yield positive benefits for people:  Vibrant, walkable communities that enable people to combine short trips resulting from higher densities and mixing housing and commerce with safe, enjoyable walking and cycling (resulting from short trips, complete streets, unbundled driving & parking costs, and reduced driving speeds) and great public transit. It's "healthy" for the individual because she walks a lot. It's "healthy" for the community because commerce flourishes and open spaces are abundant. It's healthy for the economy because less money is wasted on gas, construction materials, etc. It’s healthy for the planet because dense, compact construction requires fewer resources for streets and buildings and saves heating, cooling and transportation energy and emits less GHG and other pollution.

Therefore, T5 and state legislation should encourage, incentivize and fund projects and strategies that will reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT), by means such as:
* complete streets, including narrowing roadways, widening sidewalks & extending them at intersections, creating a network of protected bikeways, and calming traffic to encourage walking and cycling as safe and attractive alternatives to driving,
* local zoning designed  to achieve dense mixed-use infill development, to shorten trips to jobs, markets, services and recreation,
* safe speeds (30 km/h) in built up areas to reduce injuries and fatalities for all road users – motorists, pedestrians and cyclists, to achieve Vision Zero goals,
* safe, convenient and cost-effective public transit service that provides connectivity between concentrations of destinations,
* right sized parking, including elimination of unnecessary parking minimums, unbundling parking charges from rents, jobs (Parking CashOut), shopping and transit, commute alternatives  and Transportation Demand Management, and
* continued national efforts to construct a modern intercity passenger rail system.


* Transportation Projects, including federally funded, must address land use plans including effects on land use and evaluation of total and per capita VMT (increased or decreased) as a result. Projects intended to reduce VMT should be incentivized
* Projects should be evaluated on the basis of a comprehensive set of performance measures which include minimizing climate change and road collisions.
* Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) must evaluate risks to highways and transit systems and strategies for adaption and resilience.
* Require state DOTs and MPOs to investigate transit, TOD and Complete Streets solutions when evaluating traffic problems. Replace Level Of Service (LOS) requirements with accessibility and reducing regional VMT.
* Projects should be designed and prioritized to increase multimodal access.
* MPOs and local governments should be authorized to have flexibility in using all funding.       
* Rename the Highway Trust Fund as the Surface Transportation Trust Fund (STTF)
* Spur innovation and local initiative thru:
- national merit-based grants (e.g.TIGER) to states, MPOs and localities to improve infrastructure for moving people and freight while reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT),
- giving communities increased access to state administered funds for reducing VMT, increasing bicycle and pedestrian programs and achieving the legislation’s Goals,
- reward communities that raise local funds to address transportation efficiency.
* Spur Transit Oriented Development (TOD) near stations and intermodal centers thru innovative financing programs, including upfront credit.
* Measure performance to learn from and replicate best practices.


Increase freight efficiency thru:
* continued development of a national multimodal freight plan and optimize multimodiality by removing impediments to mode sharing using alternatives to trucking whenever possible,
* competitive funding of projects, without regard to mode, to relieve bottlenecks and improve last-mile connections,
* promote funding of projects that encourage shift of freight from trucks to rail,
* electrification of passenger and freight rail, and
* removal of capacity barriers to track sharing with passenger service. 

Spending Priorities

Reverse the traditional imbalance toward high-VMT modes by funding: 
* Transit and road maintenance first;
* Transit design and construction; and
* Road design and construction, weighted toward complete streets.


 * Pricing should reflect fuel efficiency / GHG emissions like the current gasoline tax, and ZEV drivers should pay least
* Pricing should vary by weight to reflect road impacts
* Favor ease and low cost of administering the collection of taxes and fees
* Ensure privacy of electronic vehicle location data (if collected) and handling of  non-equipped vehicles
* Drivers should pay their fair share of the full costs of transportation infrastructure without subsidies
* It is appropriate for driving fees to fund transit, biking, and walking because these reduce vehicles using roads
* Land value capture, such as thru special tax districts, should be considered for funding transit.
* Truck only lanes should be a last resort and paid for from truck user fees.

See the Sierra Club's Transportation Policy for underlying principles which guide these recommendations.


Deconstruction is the environmentally sound side of building demolition. It is a process by which a building is taken apart in order to salvage all or part of the building materials. Deconstruction is the reality is some parts of the world—the most impoverished and the most progressive.

Please view the webpages and documents below for some innovative and effective deconstruction programs, including the stellar Dutch example of one of the most advanced deconstruction and waste minimization programs in the world.

A Sustainability Plan for San Antonio

Five grad students in UTSA's Urban and Regional Sustainability class presented research at the April 15, 2014 Sierra Club meeting showing where we are now and where we need to be in 2040. Areas were water, energy, transportation and land use, waste, and climate. This was fascinating because all the information is there, and the recommendations for each area. What we use, distance we drive, carbon dioxide we need to reduce--it is all there in numbers.

Creative new solutions are also presented in area of solid waste. Congratulations to the class for producing such a valuable resource for the public use. The class was fully engaged in learning the process of city planning and also researched various cities to learn about their sustainability plans. We wish the students well in their future pursuits. Also thanks to their professor, Bill Barker.

For more info: the Rivard Report covered this event and the program with an article, UTSA’s Next Generation Imagines San Antonio 2040. The Rivard Report is an online magazine serving San Antonio’s urban core.
Barbara McMillin, Alamo Group Transportation Leader

Alamo Region Livability Summit

Here is a link to the power point presentationsfrom the Alamo Region Livability Summit. It is on the MPO website Look at the rotating carousel and click on presentations.

I recommend checking out the presentations Downtown Transportation Study by Kerri Collins, Pape-Dawson Engineers,and Innovation and Livability, by Mukul Malhotra, MIG, Inc..  These can give you an idea of changes that we can hopefully look forward to here in SA.  But it will take major efforts to get across the idea of multicenter cities, that are walkable, bikable to a town center, with energy efficient housing, and jobs nearby, and the role that transportation options play in making all these changes possible. 

I recommend reading Peter Calthorpe's Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change.  The reasoning, the solutions, and scenarios are all laid out in the book.  Calthorpe says that developers are seeing the need to move from sprawl to smaller footprint over a region, more compact, and Smart Growth lifestyles.  And that developers see the advantage of permanent tracks on the ground for rail and want to build around rail.  Transportation options save cities and families a huge amount of money over operation and maintenance costs in the future.
Barbara McMillin

Climate crisis is not just an inconvenience

Loretta Van Coppenolle, Conservation Committee Vice Chair, wrote this op-ed piece which was published in the August 31, 2011 Express-News.

Those who deny human-caused climate change, particularly if they hold positions of power, imperil us all. The time for skepticism about climate chaos has long since passed. Climate scientists acknowledge the climate crisis and they have the evidence to implicate fossil-fuel use.

Climate events in recent decades and just in the last year make it clear that we have a very serious problem on our hands. In 2011, the northeastern U.S. saw a far greater number of blizzards occurring than ever before. Tornadoes in Alabama and Missouri wreaked untold havoc. Flooding in the Midwest and elsewhere caused irreparable loss. Hurricanes in recent years have increased both in number and intensity, with this year shaping up to be a significant one.

In Texas, summer temperature increases are unlike anything in the past, with this year rivaling 2009 for the record number of 100-degree-plus days. The period from February through July 2011 was the hottest ever recorded in Texas. San Antonio summer nights go down only into the 70s, and that low only toward dawn. High nighttime temperatures reveal radiation from some source other than the sun (streets, rooftops, parking lots, etc.) since the sun doesn't shine at night.

The current drought could outpace the legendary Texas drought of the 1950s. So far this year it is the worst single-year drought ever in the state. Exceptional drought is now affecting more than 70 percent of the state, and it is predicted to continue. Some municipalities are running out of water. Others are drastically restricting irrigation. San Antonio may soon be in Stage III water restrictions for the first time ever.

The loss from heat and drought to Texas agriculture is staggering. There has been a $5.2 billion loss since last fall, higher than the record $4.1 billion loss suffered in 2006.

In other countries, climate devastation is taking its toll. We may choose to ignore what happens elsewhere, but it nonetheless affects us politically, economically and physically.

Carbon dioxide levels of 350 parts per million are considered normal. The CO {-2} level measured just last May was at 395 parts per million. While this may not seem like a huge increase, it is astronomical in terms of what it can do to us.

Some might say that addressing climate change would be economically too costly. The opposite is true: Not addressing climate change will cost us far more.

The time to act is now, and we must all act — even those whose political or religious beliefs cause them to shun acceptance of climate chaos. We owe it to ourselves, our children and our Creator to conserve energy and to call on our political leaders to come up with sweeping responses to the crisis.

Mayor Julián Castro has proclaimed September to be Climate Change Awareness Month in San Antonio. The culminating event will be Moving Planet, a climate solutions rally at the Pearl Brewery on Sept. 24. To learn of other events planned for the month, please go to

Loretta Van Coppenolle is conservation vice-chair for the Alamo Group Sierra Club and a life-long environmentalist.