August 17, 2009
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Federal Agencies, Policy, and Partnerships: Themes of Sustainability, Livability Discussed at Workshop
BY SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor
With sustainability at the forefront, the federal government is working to develop green policy through an unprecedented partnership. Representatives of U.S. DOT, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) addressed APTA’s Sustainability and Public Transportation Workshop, attended by more than 130 people in Salt Lake City on Aug. 3.
Panelists at that session, “Greener Communities, Greater Economic Opportunities, Federal Perspectives on Livability and Sustainability,” were Beth Osborne, deputy assistant secretary of policy in the office of the DOT secretary; James Lopez, senior advisor to the HUD deputy secretary, Office of Sustainable Development; and John W. Frece, director of the Development, Community, and Environment Division of EPA’s Smart Growth Program.
“The panelists made various comments about how they intended to work together and the themes they wanted to stress, such as livability and how we connect land use and transportation issues,” said moderator Fred Hansen, general manager of Portland’s Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (TriMet). “They noted how this kind of interconnection has not worked well in the past, but the heads of their agencies reached the exact same conclusions on their own: the importance of land use connections, affordable housing, fewer greenhouse gases, and improved quality of life. When they got together to launch a joint statement of goals, they were able to create it in a very short time.”
The participating agencies originally announced their “Partnership for Sustainable Communities” at a June 16 hearing before the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, with presentations by DOT Secretary Ray LaHood, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.
Therese W. McMillan, deputy administrator of the Federal Transit Administration, picked up on the same themes in her luncheon address following the panel session. “She focused on the broad issues of the connection among DOT, HUD, and EPA,” Hansen explained. “We need to remove the barriers separating these agencies, she said, but we also need concrete examples of what really works so we can marry the various components of sustainability. Land use, affordable housing, economic development, and minority and low-income communities all have to be part of the plan.”
McMillan also stressed that federal agencies should create a framework in which agencies receive recognition for making positive changes that lead to increased integration of land use and transportation to create more livable communities.
Signatories Speak Up
Another highlight of the workshop was an Aug. 4 roundtable that brought together signatories of the APTA Sustainability Commitment, currently in its pilot stage with 33 signers. Hansen joined J. Barry Barker, APTA vice chair-government affairs and executive director of the Transit Authority of River City (TARC) in Louisville, KY; Kevin Desmond, general manager of King Country Metro Transit in Seattle; Tim Fredrickson, general manager of Ben Franklin Transit (BFT) in Richland, WA; Susannah Kerr Adler, vice president and manager of the Architecture & Buildings Resource Center with Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB); and Lawrence Yermack, president of Telvent USA. “All the participants shared one broad message: that all their communities understand the need to make their operations more sustainable,” Hansen said.
Christopher Leinberger, a visiting fellow in Metropolitan Policy Programs at the Brookings Institution, discussed how the "American Dream" has changed over the years. Specifically, Americans after World War II made their goals a suburban home and a car; these days, he said, people have begun asking for choices that don’t have to include car travel, because they want to walk and be part of a community.
In her remarks at the opening session, Natalie Gochnour, vice chair of Envision Utah and chief operating officer of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, emphasized that public transit and highways must work together to create a balanced solution to environmental issues. “When we’re driving down the street, we need both the gas and the brakes,” she said.
Gunnar Heipp, director of strategic planning for the Munich Transit Corporation in Munich, Germany, and Heather Allen, senior manager-sustainable development with the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) in Brussels, Belgium, spoke about sustainability efforts in Europe and elsewhere. Allen specifically cited New York City’s turning part of Times Square into a non-vehicle zone and said: “When I see this happening in the U.S., I realize you have come a long way and you are becoming leaders again in sustainability.”
The workshop program also included several technical tours. Visitors to the Utah Transit Authority’s (UTA) Meadowbrook bus facility learned about the host agency’s ongoing sustainability efforts (such as working to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 80 percent by 2015 through the introduction of new buses with cleaner diesel engines and diesel-electric hybrids, according to Ed Buchanan, manager of safety and environmental) and how UTA is meeting the environmental management commitments made four years ago when the system signed on with ISO 14001 environmental standards.
A major change to this workshop: about half its participants were attending for the first time. “We’re not just preaching to the choir,” said Hansen, “we’re getting new members to join.”