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Sonoma County startup Solectrac builds electric tractors for vineyard managers, hobbyists

Susan Wood, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

Steve Heckeroth is a natural for running a novel electric tractor business — which is believed to have environmentally created a line in the “soil” to get generations of farmers to know the dirt on noisy, unhealthy diesel engines.

The 72-year-old businessman, who moved his Solectrac operation from Mendocino County to Santa Rosa near the Charles M. Schulz–Sonoma County Airport a few weeks ago, has dedicated his life to finding alternatives to burning fossil fuels.

Through the years, he has dug deep into his imagination and will to reduce humankind’s carbon footprint by coming up with farm equipment that’s designed to heal the Earth and help the land’s stewards — known in industry circles as the ultimate environmentalists — operate more efficiently and with their own health in mind.

Read more at: https://www.northbaybusinessjournal.com/article/industrynews/sonoma-county-startup-solectrac-builds-electric-tractors-for-vineyard-manag/?ref=moststory

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This California city banned the construction of any new gas stations

Kristin Toussaint, FAST COMPANY

Petaluma has decided it has enough gas stations to last until we transition to electric vehicles.

In the California city of Petaluma, which covers less than 15 square miles, there are currently 16 gas stations. But there will never be another one, even if one of the existing stations goes out of business. The ones that are left also can’t ever expand the number of fuel pumps, either, though they can add electric charging stations and hydrocarbon pumps. City officials recently approved a permanent ban on new gas stations in a move that climate activists say is national first, and a crucial step towards curbing our reliance on fossil fuels.

“It’s a really important sign of things to come where, because we haven’t seen sufficient action at a state or federal level, cities have an opportunity to do the right thing and make sure we are planning a transition from a carbon economy to a clean energy economy,” says Matt Krogh, an oil and gas campaign manager with the environmental nonprofit Stand.earth. “There’s no need to build new fossil fuel infrastructure of any sort. We have all the tools we need for a clean energy economy, and these wasted investments are things that are going to become polluting liabilities, and communities get left holding the bag.”

Across the country the number of gas stations has been steadily declining, as big businesses like Costo, Sam’s Club, and Safeway have been adding gas stations to their existing stores. This can run smaller gas stations out of business—but also creates large environmental repercussions. “If they go out of business, there’s no one to pay for the cleanup or to offer new services like transitioning to electric charging or hydrogen,” Krogh says.

Gas stations have underground storage tanks which can crack and leak, polluting the soil and groundwater. That land has to be completely remediated before the ocation can be used for anything else, a process which often costs millions of dollars. In the U.S., there are currently 450,000 “brownfield” sites—previously developed land that currently isn’t in use and may be contaminated—and the EPA estimates half of those sites are contaminated by petroleum from underground tanks at abandoned gas stations.
Continue reading “This California city banned the construction of any new gas stations”

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The growing importance of bike infrastructure

Bridgette DeShields, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

There is also a growing movement in the U.S. called “Complete Streets” – streets designed to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists, enhance walkability, and increase transit efficiency. Already proven successful in London, Amsterdam, Stockholm, and Copenhagen with encouraging bike commuting and actually revitalizing downtown areas by bringing more people to these safe spaces, features include: protected bike lanes, dedicated bus lanes, accessible public transportation stops, safe crosswalks, and ADA compliant walkways, curbs, signals and more.

Last month, I wrote about the benefits of bike riding, and how attitudes about cycling differ between the U.S. and Europe (and other places). Now I want to examine why that might be and how that could change. One big difference is the investment in safe, convenient bike infrastructure. Bike infrastructure often appears to have a high price tag, but in comparison to the costs to build and maintain roadways for vehicles, the cost is relatively low. A study was conducted in the Portland, Oregon area (a mecca for cycling and bike commuting) in 2013 and found that the city’s entire bicycle network (over 300 miles of bikeways) “would cost $60 million to replace (in 2008 dollars), whereas the same investment would yield just one mile of a four-lane urban freeway.”

So where are we at in Sonoma County? We have really a very small and fragmented network of dedicated bike infrastructure with the main trails (e.g., Joe Rodota, creek trail, SMART path) making up maybe 50 miles at most. It is pretty tough to commute or even take the kids out for much of a spin without having to face less safe road conditions just to get from one trail segment to the other or utilize roadways with bike lanes. In comparison, there are over 600 miles of bike trails in the Denver Metro area. However, even places like the Denver area continue to have challenges. Denver is looking to the future with a plan to institute “Vision Zero,” a transportation planning philosophy about making streets safe for all users, “no matter their choice to walk, bike, drive or take transit.” Several California cities have adopted Vision Zero plans. Los Angeles has committed to end traffic deaths by 2025 in their ambitious Vision Zero Plan.
Continue reading “The growing importance of bike infrastructure”

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Petaluma City Council moves to ban new gas stations

Kathryn Palmer, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

The Petaluma City Council this week moved to ban new gas stations, cementing a nearly two-year moratorium as leaders accelerate ambitious climate action goals.

The prohibition, approved unanimously late Monday, caps a years-long effort by city leaders and climate activists who have pushed an ambitious, zero-emission-by-2030 timeline. The council must approve the ban during a second reading before it takes effect.

It also streamlines processes for existing gas stations seeking to add electric vehicle charging stations and potential hydrogen fuel cell stations, with city staff underlining an urgency to support alternative fueling in order to meet state zero-emission infrastructure targets.

“The goal here is to move away from fossil fuels, and to make it as easy as possible to do that,” Councilor D’Lynda Fischer said. “Right now, we have existing fossil fuel stations, and what we want them to do is add (electric vehicle) chargers and create another source of fueling people can use.”

The city of roughly 60,000 people is host to 16 operational gas stations, and city staff concluded there are multiple stations located within a 5-minute drive of every planned or existing residence within city limits.

A contentious Safeway gas station at McDowell Boulevard and Maria Drive, which drew the ire of residents for its proximity to a school and residential neighborhoods, will see no impacts from the ban.

The controversial project has been locked in a legal battle with resident group Save Petaluma since 2019. The group is suing Safeway and the city in an attempt to compel the company to complete an additional environmental study of the project, with the hope that the study will help block the fueling station first proposed in 2013.

Read more at: https://www.petaluma360.com/article/news/petaluma-city-council-moves-to-ban-new-gas-stations/?sba=AAS

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For Buttigieg, ‘generational’ transportation change may not be easy, experts say

Pranshu Verma, THE NEW YORK TIMES

The new secretary has stirred excitement among transportation experts, but they warn that deep institutional change is likely to remain difficult.

Now that Pete Buttigieg is secretary of transportation, he faces a challenge: delivering on his promises of infrastructure overhaul.

During his Senate confirmation hearing, he said there was a “generational opportunity” to change infrastructure. In a string of news appearances over the past month — including ABC’s “The View” and an interview with the actor Chris Evans — Mr. Buttigieg said that climate change, racial justice and job creation could all be addressed through infrastructure overhaul.

We “have a historic opportunity to take transportation in our country to the next level,” he said on Mr. Evans’s website, “A Starting Point,” which interviews elected officials and policymakers. “We should actually be using transportation policy to make people better off, make it easier to get to where you’re going, easier to get a job, easier to thrive.”

His statements have generated excitement among transportation experts, who are unaccustomed to seeing the secretary of transportation adopt a news strategy to communicate about the nation’s infrastructure. But deep institutional change remains difficult, and reform will not come easy, they said.

“It’s an exciting time,” said Paul Lewis, the vice president for policy and finance at the Eno Center for Transportation, a nonpartisan transit research center in Washington. “But I do think a lot of the big things — the reform efforts — are going to take more time and effort than a lot of people are expecting.”
Continue reading “For Buttigieg, ‘generational’ transportation change may not be easy, experts say”

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Santa Rosa panel floats redesign for dangerous stretch of road

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa is looking to revamp a stretch of Stony Point Road bisected by Highway 12 in a bid to provide more protection for cyclists, a move that would follow a string of deaths that underscored the area’s status as one of the most treacherous in the city for cyclists and pedestrians.

A package of new bike paths, pedestrian crossings, curb expansions and lane adjustments is in the cards for Stony Point Road from Occidental Road to the Joe Rodota Trail — the heart of a half-mile highly trafficked stretch between West Third Street and Sebastopol Road that includes two highway on-ramps and two exits.

The area has been highly dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians. In one seven-week span of 2018, three people on foot or bike were fatally struck along Stony Point Road near Highway 12.

They included Sidney Falbo, a 20-year-old Santa Rosa Junior College student on her way to class. On Thursday, cyclist Wayne Morris trained his camera on a memorial to Falbo that sits close to where she was struck and killed by a truck, at the point were the Joe Rodota Trail crosses six lanes of Stony Point Road.

Morris, 82, said that cycling at his age is a great way to keep his legs in shape. But while taking the trail from Sebastopol to Santa Rosa five weeks ago, he was badly shaken up when he was struck in the Stony Point crosswalk.

“I was waiting to cross on the light. It changed, I got up on the pedal to go across and bang, this lady hit me,” Morris said. “I hit the ground and cracked some ribs and my clavicle.”

The dangers of that stretch of road are called out in Santa Rosa’s latest bicycle and pedestrian safety master plan, adopted in early 2019. It’s one of only three traffic corridors in the city labeled as a “high-injury network” for both those on foot and bike.

Read more at: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/santa-rosa-panel-floats-redesign-for-dangerous-stretch-of-road/

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Bay Area transit can be a complex, costly ‘nightmare.’ The pandemic might help fix that

Mallory Moench, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

At 3:15 every weekday morning, Richard Burnett leaves his house in Vallejo for the 45-minute walk to the downtown bus station. Two buses and a train later — all run by different agencies, with different schedules and different fares racking up — he’s at his job in San Francisco an hour before clocking in.

Eight working hours later, he turns around and does the whole thing over again. He gets home by 7:30 p.m., eats and goes straight to bed.

“If you live that far, you have to do that sacrifice to make it work,” said Burnett, a customer service representative for a tech company who endures the six-hour commute because he can’t afford both a car and rent. “There’s no time to do anything else.”

Burnett, who advises the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Bay Area’s transit coordinating agency, on policies affecting low-income and disabled riders, dreams of express buses to main job centers and fares based on zones that would make traveling cheaper. But that would require what Burnett calls the “fiefdoms” of Bay Area’s 27 transit agencies — encompassing buses, cable cars, trains and ferries that stretch across nine counties — to agree on changes.

The pandemic, which created an existential crisis for Bay Area public transportation, has reignited a long-running debate over how to make the system better and who should control it. Each of the agencies now sets its own fares and schedules. Few other U.S. metropolitan areas have such vast and disjointed transit: Los Angeles County, smaller in size but larger in population, has nearly the same number of agencies, but only one county transportation authority.
Continue reading “Bay Area transit can be a complex, costly ‘nightmare.’ The pandemic might help fix that”

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What’s the future of Sonoma County’s fire ordinance?

Deborah Eppstein, Craig Harrison & Marylee Guinon, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

Amid another extreme fire season, concerned Sonoma County residents wonder why their Board of Supervisors is fervently working to exempt new development on unsafe roads from Cal Fire safety standards.

Residents as well as the following advocacy groups submitted opposition letters: Bennett Valley Residents for Safe Development, Forests Unlimited, General Plan Update Environmental Coalition, Greenbelt Alliance, Preserve Rural Sonoma County, Save Our Sonoma Neighborhoods, Sierra Club, Sonoma County Conservation Council and Wine and Water Watch.

For the fourth time this year, the State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection (BOF) has refused to certify Sonoma County’s Fire Safe Ordinance, as it does not meet safety standards. Subsequently, on November 4, the BOF unanimously adopted a moratorium on considering county certifications, having wasted untold hours and public dollars during 2020 evaluating Sonoma County’s flawed ordinances.

Cal Fire standards require new development to provide concurrent emergency vehicle access and egress of residents during a wildfire. We question why our Supervisors refuse to protect firefighters and the public in the wildland urban interface.

• What motives could justify knowingly sacrificing lives and property? Is it to promote unfettered housing and commercial development in high fire hazard locations?

• Does the County strive to eliminate all constraints to new development thereby preserving its micro-management of the approval process? Given the Supervisors have put off the General Plan indefinitely, perhaps the County lacks the strategic framework and fortitude to lead with policy?

• Or were the Supervisors woefully misinformed by County Counsel concerning the Ordinance’s lack of standards, which failed to meet Cal Fire standards?

An October 23 BOF letter (p. 2) stated BOF staff “have significant concerns” that Sonoma County’s standards do not “allow concurrent civilian evacuation.” It emphasized (p. 8) the County’s failure to cooperate, refusing even to respond to direct questions: “Sonoma County has had repeated opportunities to identify and provide citations for these standards. Sonoma County repeatedly declines to do so.”

Sonoma County finally acknowledged this fiasco and removed its request for certification from the November BOF agenda.
Continue reading “What’s the future of Sonoma County’s fire ordinance?”

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Focus on roads, bikes and pedestrian projects as Measure DD passes

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Voters this month agreed to lock in tens of millions of local dollars each year for road improvements and upgrades to Sonoma County’s bus network and bicycle and pedestrian paths, ensuring transportation officials have dedicated funds for infrastructure projects into 2045.

In an countywide election that saw near-record turnout, Measure DD comfortably passed with 71% support, 4 points clear of the two-thirds majority it needed for approval. The extension of an existing quarter-cent sales tax won’t kick in until spring of 2025, but allows the county and its nine cities to start initial planning and grant work on the next generation of road and transportation projects.

While Measure DD, also known as the Go Sonoma Act, carries forward similar objectives as Measure M, the 20-year tax that voters narrowly passed in 2004, it has a reconfigured spending plan for the projected $26 million in yearly revenue. No major projects were included in the renewal measure after the initial tax allocated 40% of its annual funds to widening Highway 101 from the Marin County line north to Windsor.

The new measure puts more emphasis on smaller upgrades, including a greater share of funding for local roads, transit, bike and pedestrian projects.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/county-eyes-road-upgrades-as-measure-dd-passes/

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California makes zero-emission trucks and vans mandatory by 2045

Sean O’Kane, THE VERGE

California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) has passed a new rule that says all commercial trucks and vans sold in the state in 2045 must be zero-emission, in a bid to move the industry away from the dirty and harmful diesel engines that currently power most of these vehicles.

It’s the first rule of its kind in the United States, and it follows California’s 2018 decision to mandate that transit agencies purchase all-electric buses starting in 2029, as well as its long-standing Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program for passenger cars and trucks.

Other milestones will need to be hit in the years leading up to that date, too. California regulators are mandating that half of all trucks sold in the state must be zero-emission by 2035. All short-haul drayage vehicles in ports and rail yards must be zero-emission by 2035 as well, and all last-mile delivery trucks and vans must be switched over by 2040. Smaller sales requirements go into effect as early as 2024.

It’s a bold move that should help curb one of the worst-polluting sectors of the transportation industry. Despite only making up 7 percent of vehicles on the road in California, diesel trucks account for 70 percent of the state’s smog-causing pollution and 80 percent of diesel soot emitted, according to CARB.

Read more at https://www.theverge.com/2020/6/26/21304367/california-electric-trucks-vans-clean-air-pollution-mandatory-rule