Category: Community Voices #3: Urban Agriculture/Hunger
Community Voices #3: April 6
| April 20, 2010 | 12:16 am | Community Voices #3: Urban Agriculture/Hunger | Comments closed

I attended the MHC event based on the presentations by Wiley Norvell and Chris Neidl on transportation alternatives and renewable energy. Both showed how planning and initiative can be applied to two different subject areas. Wiley Norvell’s presentation was called “Winning Livable Streets.” As the presentation title implies, his organization’s advocacy is for the implementation of “green transportation” for NYC. By green transportation they mean that this organization is promoting the use of public transportation, bicycling, walking, and restricted local driving, if necessary. Their model city is Copenhagen, the city that contains the “complete street.” A complete street implies that there is equal protection for walkers, cyclists, and transit workers and riders. Essentially, what are they attempting to combat? They claim that the city has been eroded by the use of automobiles, as the famous Jane Jacobs has once proclaimed. On one of Norvell’s slides was a quotation by Vince Lombardi, “Football is a game of inches and inches to make a champion.” At first, this sounded a bit off topic to his presentation, but as Norvell stated, his organization fights to protect and gain as much of the city street possible. As the present mayor of Bogota Enrique Penalosa said, “ A city not for businesses or automobiles, but for children and thus for people.” I highly agree that if a city was built with the elderly and children in mind, we can make an exceptionally safe and habitable city. These generations have jeopardized the green space of NYC. The Park Avenue of 1922 was a lush park with many places to sit, which I picture to would have been a model design of space according to William H. Whyte. Unfortunately, to this present day this image is just a figment of the past. Present day Park Avenue is a dangerous crossing with rushing cars, and there are no longer places to sit. This is an example of how some of the city planners have “focused on moving traffic” and allowed the automobile to dominate NYC with their carbon emissions. Luckily, advocators for reclaiming city streets have made some advances, and they have shown that these advances can indeed bring about safety. Eight Avenue in 2006 has been revamped to allow safer crossings and bike riding, but in 2009 an actual bicycling lane has been added. An estimated 200,000 New Yorkers are now cycling through this avenue, which is a 57% increase from the past. General injury in this once precarious street crossing is down by 50%, and crashes have also decreased by 41%. Times Square also experienced one of the greatest improvements with 74% approval rate compared to the past ratings. It has transformed into an even better tourist attraction with the new “island” at the center, where anyone can bring a chair and observe the infrastructure around them. Before this improvement, tourists were teeming in the narrow side streets and struggling to get a decent picture of Times Square. As a consequence, pedestrian traffic is down by 11% and injuries are down by 63%.

These changes aren’t simple to bring into realization. They require the support of legislative bodies ranging from Congress to City Council, and there’s always the issue of getting the attention of the media. Wiley Norvell and Transportation Alternatives (T.A.) manage their 8000 members and 25,000 devoted activists to rally and employ creative methods to demonstrate their cause such as featuring a bicycle in the annual NYC auto show.

The next presentation I watched was by Chris Neidl from SolarOne. This organization has been around for approximately seven years. Neidl demonstrated that NYC has been a leader in innovation, and one of the most novice constructions ever done was the Erie Canal. It made NY harbor more feasible to the rest of the country, and he conjectured that without this feature, NYC would probably have been a second rate potential in the U.S. Neidl claims that present day New York should continue its past dominance by implementing the use of Renewable Energy Payments (REPs). This is another step towards the “green” movement. REPs use “clean” power such as hydro, wind, biogas, and solar energy. This is not only a means to safeguard the planet, but also theoretically saves money for the present and future citizens. By participating in REPs, homeowners or businesses can aid in the present technologies drastically improving over time with the incoming funds. This should lower the payments for the renewable energy sources.  This can also contribute to the 30% renewable usage in 2015, and an 80% CO2 cut by 2050. REPs also give back to people’s sustainability. For example, Germany currently employs 300,000 people in these clean energy plants. In the current situation, the American people can use as much job availability as possible. In addition, tax revenues can also be collected, which can be used to improve a city’s infrastructure. In essence, Renewable Energy Payments is a financial incentive. The utility users and the producers both obtain financial incentives such as rebates and tax credits. I found it to be almost cynical but truthful with how Neidl has shown what policy is. A policy is generally made for a greater purpose, but at times it must be featured like a “sweetened” appeasement to gain an audience.

Community Voices #3- Transportation and Energy
| April 15, 2010 | 9:01 am | Community Voices #3: Urban Agriculture/Hunger | Comments closed

On April 6, two grassroots organization presented the promise for a greater New York by improving two very outdated aspects of New York City life, transportation and energy. The two groups are Transportation Alternatives, represented by Wiley Norvell, and Solar One, represented by Chris Neidl.

The goal of the Transportation Alternatives was, as its mission statement states, “to reclaim New York City’s streets from the automobile and to advocate bicycling, walking and public transit, as the best transportation alternatives.” The organization was founded in 1973, influenced by the work of Jane Jacobs, who helped save Greenwich Village and Lower Manhattan from the Lower Manhattan Expressway project that was proposed by Robert Moses. Mr. Norvell spoke about the great importance of walking and bicycling, and how New York City’s streets were slowly eroded over the years to give preference to automobiles. Park Avenue was a great example, which showed how in the 1920s there was ample sitting and walking space in the middle of the street.

Mr. Norvell spoke about how they hold public petitions to send to local government officials to gain sidewalk space in major streets, on an inch-by-inch method. He emphasized his role in attending community boards to try to influence local leaders to approve safety measures to protect bicyclists and pedestrians. One major example shown was the transformation of 8th Avenue, and how the physical separation of bicyclists and pedestrians enabled automobiles to move more efficiently. It also saw an increase in bicycling and decrease in crashes. Mr. Norvell presented ideas to similarly make physical changes on 1st and 2nd Avenues to allow for buses to move beyond the turtle-like speed they move at today.

The Transportation Alternatives also tries to promote cycling by holding closing major streets in the city, and opening them for cycling. Park Avenue is closed every August for three Saturdays to vehicular traffic to allow for people to cycle. They stated that approximately 100,000 cyclists ventured through Park Avenue in the three Saturdays combined.

Solar One advocated the Empire State Renewable Energy Payment Project, as presented by Chris Neidl. He demonstrated how New York has a long legacy in energy, starting with the steamship, the building of the Erie Canal, the subway, incandescent lighting, power plants, power grids and its venture in hydroelectricity from Niagara. Mr. Neidl explained how New York State wants 30% of power to come from renewable sources by 2015, but noticed how the incentive to venture into renewable energies is not there. Therefore, his organization is trying to advocate for the Renewable Energy Payments, or REPs, REPs allow people to own market-ready renewable power and sell it to utilities for a period, usually by means of a 20-year contract in order to secure the investment. The utility will pass the cost on to consumers by a modest rate increase that is offset by the decrease in fuel importation. REPs also will decrease over time as clean energy technologies become cheaper, which is designed to encourage investment today, rather than in a few years. This will help adopt renewable energies much quicker.

Mr. Neidl provided us with the example of Germany, arguably the greenest country in the world, who has implemented REPs as the core of their green movement. Germany employs nearly 300,000 people as a result of REPs and has led to less than a 5% average rate increase. The benefits of REPs is that it is very rapid in cleaning the environment, gives power to the people in that they are in control of their energy source, and it is a low-risk investment because it offers low interest rates for loans which provides for better financing.

I found that both representatives were very passionate about their work and in what they and their organizations believe. I thought that they made very good points about the benefits about their ideas, and how difficult it is to present their ideas to their respective audiences. It seems that people who are willing to devote their lives to present ideas that will help everyday city life are able make a positive difference to make the city appealing and a world-wide leader. Both presenters made it aware that important city-based reforms in transportation and energy are vital in keeping New York’s status as an important world city, which I found to be true.

Community Voices #3

Michelle Pelan

Community Voices #3 Response

The two speakers who presented in Community Voices #3: Transportation and Energy Use, Wiley Norvell and Chris Neidl, were both very informative, passionate, and concerned with the leadership of New York City as a sustainable and livable city. Although I was, admittedly, not very interested in or captivated by these two subjects before attending, both speakers perked my interest because they demonstrated the importance of them in our daily lives.

The first, Mr. Norvell, from Transportation Alternatives (TA), outlined the goals and progress of this organization. Their stated mission is to reclaim New York City’s streets from the automobile and to advocate for bicycling and public transportation. He explained that currently 90% of the streets are given to cars; they seek to reverse this because streets comprise ¾ of public space in NYC. TA believes that cities are for people, not cars, and wants to design streets so that they are safe for people who embark on other modes of transportation, particularly children. A “complete street” is one with equal protection for walkers, cyclists, and transit riders. They accomplish this goal “inch by inch.” For instance, they have pushed for the installment of protected bike lanes on 8th Avenue and a pedestrian plaza in Times Square. Currently, plans for 1st and 2nd Avenues are underway, which will include bus lanes and physically separated bike lanes. Though this will slow down automobile traffic, it will open up new modes of transportation. Additionally, less deaths in transit will occur; since each death generally costs the city over $3 million, there are ultimately financial benefits to complete streets as well. I had never thought about how much of our streets are devoted to automobile traffic and how unfair that actually is since many residents of New York City do not drive. I look forward to witnessing the improvements over the years on 1st and 2nd Avenues.

The second speaker, Mr. Neidl, from SolarOne, emphasized the importance of New York City becoming a leader in the use of renewable, clean energy sources, such as solar and wind power. One way of doing this, he explained, is by implementing a policy called renewable energy payments (RAPs). They work as a renewable incentive policy because clean producers sell power to the utility with a 20-year contract. Globally, they have been effective because the energy source is clean and rapid, and the program spurs job growth and reduces dependence on foreign imports. In NYC particularly, SolarOne is seeking to implement The Empire State Renewable Energy Payment Project (ESREP). Although I am slightly unclear about the exact inner working of REPs, I was made aware of one organization promoting renewable energy, which is important for the future of NYC if we are to become a more sustainable city.

The presentations were both interesting and relevant to our lives in New York City. They portrayed how important the role of the active citizen is in determining the future of the city. These seemingly small steps made, such as the bike lanes on 8th Avenue, can actually have a long-lasting effect on our lives and on the city. The presentations made me appreciate more fully the people and organizations that seek to make NYC a more livable city for its residents.