• Home

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Pittsburgh Has Third Worst Air Quality in Nation

There's a silver lining to today's news headlines. Pittsburgh is no longer ranked worse in the nation in terms of air quality. However, we're still ranked third worst in terms of daily soot pollution, and fifth worst in terms of year-round soot pollution.

Guillermo Cole, a spokesman for the Allegheny County Health Department, said air quality in the region is improving, but objected again to the Lung Association's use of soot readings from the Liberty monitor -- usually the highest in the county -- to characterize the whole region.

To Guillermo Cole, I say the following often-remembered quote:

"Every society is judged by how it treats the least fortunate amongst them." - Thomas Douglas

In Pittsburgh, in terms of air, our residents of Liberty-Clairton are the least fortunate. Area-wide, our air quality results in 4 times the national average of child asthma emergency room visits. The EPA says that the cancer risks for some County residents is 20 times the national average.

The fight is not over.

At the county and state level, we need to update our antiquated air toxic guidelines. At every level, we need to continue retro-fitting our old diesel school buses and public transportation vehicles to improve our air quality. Upcoming Pittsburgh city council legislation promoted by Clean Water Action will require any city-sponsored projects that uses diesel vehicles to retrofit the vehicles to reduce the pollutants released. I beg city council and the mayor to pass this legislation quickly. There is also a program to retrofit Allegheny County's 2000 school buses. I urge every parent to insist that your child's school participates in this program.

The air is improving in Allegheny county, but it is not enough to be third worst.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Pennsylvania Rail in 2035

PennDOT released their rail plan for 2035.

I was happy to see that the Pittsburgh airport connector (and many other small projects) deemed too expensive for the expected results. PennDOT is attempting to focus on the big picture and projects like the Mon-Fayette expressway and MagLev airport connector are just too small potatoes.

As it is, they've come up with a whopping 7 corridors on which to focus, and we'll be lucky to make headway on 3 of them.

1. The I-95 Corridor, also known as the big money corridor, connecting Philadelphia to New York City and Washington, DC. This corridor

2. Keystone East - PennDOT's success story between Harrisburg and Philadelphia. PennDOT has very specific goals in mind for this route - reducing travel time even further and will inevitably meet those goals well before 2035. Earlier this year, the corridor received 26.4 million for improvements along the route.

3. Keystone West - the connection between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. In January, PennDOT received $750,000 to perform a study on improving Keystone West. Given the lack of specific outlined goals for this project, I expect another study will be in the works by 2035.

4. Lehigh Valley - This Harrisburg direct-connect to New York City line is one of the least-developed, but it would be a great coup for Harrisburg.

5. Scranton-New York City. This is the new love-child between PennDOT and New Jersey Transit. The two agencies are working together to make rapid progress on this section of the state. I'm sure it also doesn't hurt that Vice President Joe Biden is from Scranton.

6. The Southwest Corridor. This corridor is vital to the Pittsburgh region, ultimately improving our connections from Washington, DC all the way to Chicago. Right now, this is also the only project in the region on the receiving end of any serious money. Unfortunately, it also has the furthest to go in terms of reaching high-speed passenger rail. Hopefully, by 2035, we're in a state where all the groundwork has been laid.

7. The Erie Corridor. Quite honestly, this one seems like an afterthought. Penn DOT is effectively saying that if New York and Ohio want to plan it, they'll go along.

The real story in this report appears to be the National Gateway project. This is a public-private partnership netting millions of Federal dollars, crossing multiple state lines, and intended to improve our freight corridors. They claim that as a side effect of improving the freight movement in the country that rail schedules will be "freed up for additional passenger and commuter services." The bottom line is that in Southwestern Pennsylvania, freight is king, whether it be coal barges in the rivers or coal trains on our tracks. I just hope that tied to this National Gateway money is a guarantee that the CSX corp will actually make room for efficient passenger rail service instead of just using the rail for more and more freight service.

If you want to see PennDOT's plan for yourself, click here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Women's Health and Environment Conference

Wednesday, April 21, the 14 year-old Women's Health and the Environment conference is coming to Pittsburgh for the third time. This free conference was founded by Theresa Heinz. Unfortunately, the conference is full, but you can check out the proceedings online. Let's be honest: that's probably what you'd prefer since you're reading a blog entry about it. Go to their website to register for the video streaming.

From the press release:

Among the distinguished guests joining Mrs. Heinz as speakers are U.S. Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. Panels of nationally renowned scientists, environmentalists and activists also will share their perspectives on the current science linking the environment and human health. Morning speakers will present scientific data to support the ways in which toxins affect health. Afternoon speakers will share solutions that will enlighten attendees about lifestyle choices they can make to create a healthier environment for themselves and their families.
Thanks to Theresa Heinz for putting the spotlight on women's health and the environment.

Monday, April 19, 2010

On Driving, Biking and Riding in Pittsburgh

Last month, Ray LaHood declared an end to favoring motorized transportation. He should have declared an end to favoring self-motorized transportation. As much as I love the health benefits of biking and walking, I will never be able to get rid of my car until we have serious public transportation for short trips. Taking the 28X to the airport allows me to travel to any major city in the world conveniently, cheaply, and safely but I can't say the same about Penn State, Harrisburg, Cleveland or any suburb. We need to see progress on commuter rails to Greensburg and Latrobe. We need to see progress on train rides to Harrisburg and Cleveland. We need to see progress on service between Oakland and Downtown. Instead, we are seeing cuts.

Nationwide, public transportation is facing cut after cut. According to the Post-Gazette, "Systems in New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, New Jersey, Louisville, Ky., Orange County, Calif., and Fort Worth, Texas, are among those cutting service or proposing to do so."

Closer to home, the recent Federal decision to decline tolling on Interstate 80 is forcing Port Authority of Allegheny County and SEPTA in Philadelphia to ponder yet more service cuts and/or fare increases.

Public transportation fans around the country cheered when the Federal Stimulus bill devoted $8 Billion to high-speed rail projects. This weekend, I drove from Pittsburgh to Albany, New York. I couldn't help but notice the abundance of road construction occurring along that route, but I didn't notice any public transportation project construction. That's because overall, the Department of Transportation received almost $40 Billion, and most of that money is being devoted to highways.

Are we an irreversible car society? I hope not. But we are going to have to keep fighting on all fronts if we want to turn the tide. For now, I'll take hope in news that the megabus has restored service to Pittsburgh and Allegheny County has started talks with Westmoreland County to move forward with a commuter rail from Latrobe through Greensburg to downtown Pittsburgh. They are also considering a line that starts in Arnold and goes through Penn Hills to downtown Pittsburgh. A study determined last year that both lines were feasible.

When I asked my neighbor of 70-something years if he thought the commuter rail would go forward, he said: "Yes. If there's anything I've learned, it's that you can't stop progress." He's optimistic because he's watched the slow but steady progress of Pittsburgh's transition from a steel city to a green city. Personally, I think they should sell it as the "Steelers Training Camp" line. Ultimately, Pittsburgh will fund anything involving the Steelers.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Wanna Free Tree? (Part 2)

Treevitalize and the city of Pittsburgh have plans to plant 20,000 trees by 2012. Yesterday, they gave away 1,000 in less than an hour at the City-County Building downtown. Saturday, they'll be giving away another 1,000. At this rate, they could have 20,000 planted by the end of this year.

To get your tree: Head to Frick Environmental Center in Squirrel Hill on Saturday. Supposedly, they're giving them away from 11AM to 4PM, but if you really want one, show up early.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Great Allegheny Passage

This weekend I headed down to Ohiopyle State Park to enjoy the great weather. While I was down there, I explored about 10 miles of The Great Allegheny Passage. This 135 mile trail connects Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Maryland. From Cumberland, you can connect to the C&O Canal Towpath and head all the way to Washington, DC. After this weekend's visit, I'm inspired to do the whole thing. I figure if this self-proclaimed wonk can do it, so can I.

Of course, we're still waiting for the trail to be finished. There's a one-mile section in Pittsburgh that is waiting on an agreement with the owners of Sandcastle. I can't wait for the day when I can ride from my house to Washington, DC on a bike. Of course, since negotiations with Sandcastle have been on-going since the 90s, it may be my grandchildren that complete the ride.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Green Events

There are a bunch of green events coming up this month in Pittsburgh:

"Unblurred" is a monthly art gallery crawl along Penn Avenue through Friendship every first Friday. This month the line between art and green is getting blurred with the "Geek Art/Green Innovators Festival", Pittsburgh's first art and technology festival. The event will also feature family-friendly activities during the day at the Union Project.

Next week, Thursday April 8 and Friday April 9, the University of Pittsburgh is hosting "Blue, Gold, and Green," their second annual green celebration. The event is free and open to the public but online registration is appreciated. Click here for a full schedule of events and to register.

Gypsy Cafe
on the South Side is launching their "Geek Salon" Monday April 19 with the topic "Going Green". For a mere $5, you can listen to 3 speakers talk about what gets them excited about going green. The price also includes a Q&A, snacks and soft drinks.

Last but not least, we have the monthly "Green Drinks." This group meets every 3rd Friday at Mitchell's Restaurant downtown. Everyone is invited to this casual get-together of about 100 of your closest green friends. The next event is Friday April 16.

Anything I missed?