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News & Notes

→ USA Today: New tax hikes eyed for roads, transit

States are scrambling to find taxes to pay for highway repairs and their public transit systems, including payroll and sales taxes, and raising taxes paid by gasoline stations.

The proposals, being kicked around in at least 13 states as governors lay out their legislative agendas for the year, come as states find revenue from stagnant federal and state gasoline taxes isn’t keeping up with highways, bridges and urban transit systems that increasingly are falling into disrepair.


→ Next City: For Obama, A Renewed Focus on Urbancentric Topics

One should never expect to glean much policy insight from inauguration speeches, but President Obama indicated today that his administration will seek to take action on climate change and immigration as it moves into its second term. And as always, cities will be the proving grounds for how future policies affecting these issues play out.

During this morning’s inauguration ceremony, Obama touched upon several domestic topics — including investments into sustainable industries — that should have urbanists and urban dwellers perking up their ears.

Though light on specifics, the issues spotlighted today will likely set at least part of the executive agenda for the next four years.


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Air Quality Alert Day, June 20, 2012 – Free RIPTA

Air Quality Alert Day

Due to predicted extreme heat and poor air quality, tomorrow (Wed., June 20th) is an Air Quality Alert Day. RIPTA service will be free.

Air Quality Alert – Health Advisory – Wednesday, June 20th

All regular RIPTA buses and trolleys, but excluding special services, will be free on Wednesday, June 20th , 2012

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management is predicting that air quality will reach unhealthy levels in most of Rhode Island, but especially in southern sections in the afternoon on Wednesday. A very hot and very humid air mass with west to southwest winds will be present at that time, which will lead to unhealthy air conditions. The poor air quality will be due to elevated ground level ozone concentrations. Ozone is a major component of smog and is formed by the photochemical reaction of pollutants emitted by motor vehicles, industry and other sources in the presence of elevated temperatures and sunlight.

Rhode Island residents can help reduce air pollutant emissions. Limit car travel and the use of small engines, lawn motors and charcoal lighter fuels. Travel by bus or carpool whenever possible, particularly during high ozone periods.

The Department of Health warns that unhealthy levels of ozone can cause throat irritation, coughing, chest pain, shortness of breath, increased susceptibility to respiratory infection and aggravation of asthma and other respiratory ailments. These symptoms are worsened by exercise and heavy activity. The children, elderly and people who have underlying lung diseases, such as asthma, are at particular risk of suffering from these effects. As ozone levels increase, the number of people affected and the severity of the health effects also increase.

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News & Notes

Rotterdam

Image from I Make Rotterdam

News & Notes→ Rotterdam’s Crowd-Funded Pedestrian Bridge [The Pop-Up City]

The International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam (IABR) and Rotterdam-based architecture firm ZUS have launched the project I Make Rotterdam, a spectacular temporary pedestrian bridge between the city’s Central and the North districts that will be financed through crowd-funding.


→ The Good (City) Life: Why New York’s Life Expectancy Is the Highest in the Nation [Good]

Most of us take for granted that urban dwellers are more stressed than country dwellers. Hey, it’s even proved by science! Not only that, their day-to-day existence is polluted, crime-ridden, and filled with hedonistic temptations. So they must have lower life expectancies, right? Wrong. In fact, the latest data from the Bureau of Vital Statistics shows New York City-my hometown-has the highest life expectancy in the country. Babies born in 2009 can expect to live a record 80.6 years. That’s almost three years longer than a decade ago, and more than two years longer than the current national average of 78.2 years.


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Fund RIPTA with a Fat Tax?

Fatty Food

Photo (cc) ckforjc from stock.xchng.

Denmark is the first country in the world to impose a “fat tax.” The Christian Science Monitor reports:

The Nordic country introduced the tax Saturday, of 16 kroner ($2.90) per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of saturated fat in a product.

Ole Linnet Juul, food director at Denmark’s Confederation of Industries, says the tax will increase the price of a burger by around $0.15 and raise the price of a small package of butter by around $0.40.

The tax was approved by large majority in a parliament in March as a move to help increase the average life expectancy of Danes.

Denmark already has a tax on sugary foods such as candy and soda, as do many other European countries. The Danish government imposed the tax as part of measures to increase the country’s life expectancy, which has recently begun to fall.

If Rhode Island imposed such a tax, the revenue could be put towards RIPTA. A tax on unhealthy food would help to reduce consumption of such foods, and using the proceeds to fund RIPTA would allow the agency to better serve people providing an alternative to driving. As transit riders walk for part of their trips, improved transit would result in health benefits for riders.

Crazy yes, but we’ve had no problem taxing cigarettes. The Danes put the cigarette tax and the sugary and fatty foods taxes all under one umbrella of improving the health of the country’s citizens.

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News & Notes

→ Could cities’ problems be solved by urban acupuncture? [The Guardian]

“Urban acupuncture is a surgical and selective intervention into the urban environment,” said Los Angeles architect and professor John Southern in an interview, “instead of large scale projects that involve not only thousands of acres, but investment and infrastructure that municipalities can no longer provide.”


→ Urban Green Space Key in Improving Air Quality [The City Fix]

Trees on a street in Seoul

Photo (cc) erasmusa

A new study out of the University of Kent in the UK found that a 10 percent increase in urban tree coverage in mid-size cities, like Leicester, can absorb about 12 percent of carbon emissions, contributing to cleaner air. The study is yet another addition to the argument that any sound urban planning or transit policy to improve air quality must be supplemented with green spaces.


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News & Notes

→ Public access to S.F. bay tied to private projects [SFGate]

“The public-private seam is a delicate one,” APA chief executive officer Paul Farmer mused before the award ceremony here last Wednesday. “There are tricky things involved – how do you negotiate access with a developer? How do you make public access feel truly public? When it’s done well, that’s something to recognize.”

→ Americans not hitting their walking stride [Yahoo! News]

Adults in western Australia average 9,695 steps a day. The Swiss followed with 9,650, while the Japanese clocked in with 7,168 steps. But Americans straggled far behind with just 5,117 steps.

He attributes the more active lifestyle of adults in other countries to their greater access to mass transit

The drive-not-walk mentality has dismal consequences. In the United States, 34 percent of adults are obese. During the past decade Australia, Japan and Switzerland have reported obesity rates of 16 percent, 3 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

Now I want to get a pedometer so I can see how I compare.

→ Plan to reduce sprawl will boost health, environment [The Washington Post]

Oil dependency, climate change and health-care costs are but three of a growing list of ills, rapidly becoming crises, that give us reason to look again at how we build our communities and what policy can do about it.

The article’s authors are Andres Duany, known in Providence for hosting a Downcity charrette several years back, and his co-author of the book Suburban Nation, Jeff Speck.

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News & Notes

→ FTA authorizes $2 million for Pawtucket commuter rail [The Valley Breeze]

→ Cardi’s installs state’s first car-charging station [The Providence Journal]

→ Researchers Confirm Link Between Active Commuting and Better Health [DC.StreetsBlog]

→ 11th Annual RI Chinese Dragon Boat Races and Taiwan Day Festival (Aug. 28) [Pawtucket Arts Festival]

→ Dispelling the Magic Bullet Myth “While increasing numbers of governments at all levels are embracing the use of new media tools for public participation, there’s less understanding about the fact that technology is just a means to an end. And all too often, the conventional government decision making process is not designed to embrace citizen input. Thus, simply creating an opportunity for input – even using the coolest new social media technology – likely won’t lead to a significant or sustainable increase in citizen engagement on its own.” [Next American City]

→ Richmond [Virginia] plans conversion of one-way streets downtown [Richmond Times-Dispatch]
Providence is also working on converting a number of one-way streets into two-way streets including Empire and Weybosset; possibly Exchange Terrace, Sabin, and Dorrance; and likely several streets in relation to the rebuilt Route 195 streetgrid such as Richmond and Chestnut.

→ Wellbeing Lower Among Workers With Long Commutes Back pain, fatigue, worry all increase with time spent commuting [Gallup]

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News & Notes

→ Deadliest for Walkers: Male Drivers, Left Turns [The New York Times]

→ How To Raise Fares [Planetizen]
Incentivize people to use pre-paid fare products to speed bus boarding by only raising fares for slower cash transactions

→ Residents Who Live Near Public Transportation Live Healthier, Longer Lives, Study Finds [American Public Transportation Association]

→ Ceremony kicks off the United States’ high speed future [The Independent]

It is OK to drool

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News & Notes

→ A team of scientists from the University of Rhode Island (URI) has recently published an article describing a self-healing concrete that would be inexpensive to produce. Such concrete could help reduce structure repair costs, lower cement-production carbon emissions, and even save lives, as it will help design safer buildings. [The Future of Things]

→ Markets Investing In Neighborhood Health — Shop Here
Two corner stores on the Southside of Providence will get a healthy store “makeover” this week thanks to the Providence Healthy Corner Store Initiative (PHCSI), a new initiative that unites Rhode Island farmers, corner store owners, and community residents to increase the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain items, low-salt and low-sugar canned goods, and healthier snacks available in Providence neighborhoods. [Providence Daily Dose]

→ Paul Krugman: America Goes Dark [The New York Times]

→ Traffic reduction: An urgent public health priority
Traffic is the leading cause of death among children worldwide and the leading cause of death among 1-34 year olds in the United States. So, why isn’t traffic considered the top threat to public health by the CDC, WHO and federal, state and local governments? [Greater Greater Washington]

→ The WPA’s legacy in Rhode Island [WPRI Blog]

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