International Day of Climate Action - In the Trenches

Saturday was the International Day of Climate Action organized by Check out their website for the photos, which are inspiring.

I personally participated in three different events. The site claims over 5200 events in 181 countries, which is enormously impressive, but might be padded slightly based on my own experience.

The first event took place in the Twittersphere. Between noon and 1:00 PM EDT, everyone with a twitter account was to twitter to Barack Obama this message:
"@barackobama USA MUST formally adopt the 350ppm CO2 target at Copenhagen 09 – the ONLY WAY to prevent runaway climate change NO EXCUSES!"

For those not familiar with Twitter, the "@" sign is used to direct a message to a particular twitterer, but all your followers can see it. The idea was that the White House would receive literally thousands of tweets with this message in it. Unfortunately, by my count, fewer than 200 people actually did it (including me; you can follow me on twitter at @steveoffutt).

Second was an event at Bourbon Coffee at 21st and L. I wanted to join the big rally at the White House at about 4:00, which I was biking to, so I passed literally right past the coffee shop. This event was described on the site thus:
Come to Bourbon Coffee on at 21st & L Streets NW at 3:50 pm! Join other like-minded supporters in grabbing an afternoon coffee drink.
I used this as an excuse to get a cup of coffee to take with me to the rally. The girl behind the counter when I got there (at 4:03) had no idea what I was talking about. Good thing I stopped in, so at least that event had one participant.

Finally I got to the rally at the White House. This event had started in Malcolm X Park at noon with entertainment, speeches and other activities. The crowd then marched down 16th St. to Lafayette Park, which is where I met up with them. They got soaked on the march, because it was raining like crazy (I got a bit wet, too, on my bike).

This event was more successful. Even with the rain, there were probably at least 1000 people there at the White House with a 350 foot banner, encouraging the administration to take a strong leadership role in the Copenhagen negotiations in December.

I hope you were able to participate in an event. If not, keep an eye on for more opportunities to help in the effort to avert dangerous climate change.

International Day of Climate Action This Saturday, October 24

This Saturday, October 24, is the International Day of Climate Action organized by, an organization co-founded and directed by famous environmentalist, Bill McKibben. 6055 The number 350 represents the maximum CO2 concentration the atmosphere can hold without causing significant climate disruption according to highly regarded climatologist, James Hansen. As of the writing of this blog, more than 4000 events in 170 countries have already been organized. Join an event and show your support for strong action on climate from our political leaders.

More Silver Line Dreaming

I live not far from the East Falls Church Metro in Arlington VA, and so I have seen some of the actual construction of the Silver Line (Metro's 17-mile extension to Dulles Airport)--which certainly makes it more real after many years of talking and debating.

Recently there were a couple of posts discussing the Silver Line and a discussion of a high-speed link from Dulles (here and here). Ideas included triple tracking the Silver Line or creating a new line along the W&OD trail.

I think there is another opportunity that planners are missing (and it's probably too late without an additional big investment), that would be really visionary. Make sure the rail infrastructure being built at the junction with the Orange Line can accommodate connections to a future line that continues southeast along Route 7 through Falls Church and Fairfax County to King Street and all the way into Old Town Alexandria. Call it the "Gold" Line. Done right, it would be underground most or all of the way and would be accompanied by land-use policies that would re-create the entire corridor.

Imagine if planners in Fairfax took the long view like Arlington did thirty years ago and created the incentives and plans that would transform this road like the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor in Arlington has been transformed. Stops would be relatively closely spaced to encourage transit-oriented and pedestrian-oriented development.

I realize this is a pipe dream, but I like to dream. One can imagine stops along the way at:
-West Falls Church Metro
-Falls Plaza
-Broad and Oak (or thereabouts)
-Broad and Washington (center of Falls Church)
-Seven Corners West
-Seven Corners East
-Near Nevius St. (close to Jeb Stuart High and several large apartment complexes and the Culmore shopping center)
-Baileys Crossroads West
-Baileys Crossroads East
-Jefferson Street/George Mason (allowing connections to the Columbia Pike streetcar line)
-Walter Reed/Beauregard
-(one or two intermediate stops along this next stretch as it crosses I-95)
-Quaker Lane/Braddock Road
-(this next 1.8 miles is all single-family residential--not sure where good stops would be)
-King Street Metro/VRE
-One or two stops into Old Town

Here's a notional map.

I'm not an engineer, so I have no idea how possible the actual construction might be. I do believe that a vision like this, though, could have a huge positive transformative effect on a big section of an already densely populated--but poorly planned and designed--area of Fairfax County. It would also connect the West Falls Church station with the King Street station, moving toward more of a web and less of a hub-and-spoke design for Metrorail, which is reflective of how our region has evolved.

Given how enormously expensive and controversial a project of this scope would be, and the obstacles that tend to stand in the way of expanding the heavy rail MetroRail system (how many years for the Silver Line? being a case in point), one could also imagine other options for this corridor with different solutions and possibly different futures.

Given that Arlington County and Fairfax County are working together on the Columbia Pike streetcar, which will cross Route 7 at Jefferson St. and terminate near Route 7 and Carlin Springs, adding extensions to that project (which is hinted at in this map), would allow for a more incremental approach. Extending the streetcar or creating a new streetcar line from the Columbia Pike streetcar line terminus near Bailey's Crossroads west to Falls Church or east to Alexandria would create impetus to improve land use and urban design along those sections (assuming smart and committed county leadership).

Effectively designed light rail would also be easier to add other linkages to, such as connections to Shirlington--either along Walter Reed Drive and Arlington Mill Road or via Quaker Lane. The line could also split from King Street with another line along Braddock Road to the Braddock Road Metro, then connecting north to Potomac Yards. Arlington County has also been looking at the possibility of a Pentagon City to Potomac yard streetcar, so these two could then tie together. These kinds of additions and extensions would be much more difficult with a Metrorail type project.

This road, Route 7/Leesburg Pike, is not just a traffic disaster in Tyson's Corner, but pretty much for its entire length east from there to Alexandria (try navigating Seven Corners most anytime!). It cannot be fixed with more or differently configured asphalt. It requires a new and imaginative vision--a vision that takes advantage of and builds on the density that is already there.

The Saga of the Ski Train

I just recently learned that the Denver to Winter Park Ski Train, that has operated since 1940, was sold last spring and it's long run as a fixture in Colorado came to an end.

But maybe not. Recent news articles (and discussion) indicate that service may be reimplemented with a new owner and partnership with Amtrak this winter.

Although I lived and skied in Colorado, I never took the ski train, although I know people who did.

According to the owner, the ski train never made money and its costs were escalating, making it even more unprofitable. It cost too much to run the train. Clearly, there is something wrong with this. It can't possibly cost more to carry several hundred people from Denver to Winter Park on a single--albeit large--vehicle than it would cost to have them all pile into individual cars and drive themselves in groups of twos and threes. And so it is true.

The problem is that the train is expected to support itself and its infrastructure while I-70 is paid for by everyone through their taxes. There isn't even a toll; it's a free road. Other costs of driving are lost as externalities--most glaringly the traffic delays that have become legion on weekends. When I was growing up, we could drive from Colorado Springs to Winter Park in about 2 1/2 hours. Now it takes that long from Denver, which is 50 miles closer.

Some have suggested adding a 3rd lane in each direction on I-70, which would cost more than $4 billion. Others have countered that it would be possible to implement high speed rail to alleviate the traffic for less than that. If I were betting, I'd probably bet on the highway, even though there are almost certainly several other solutions that would cost less. That's because until we can change the institutional and societal expectations that roads are "free" and other transportation is "subsidized," we'll keep building the roads, even if they are the least efficient solution.

So let's bring the ski train back, and let's subsidize it just enough to fill it to capacity every trip. And then let's add a second train 45 minutes later and fill it up, too. And then another. And we can have the drivers, whose trips are now made faster and easier, because there are several hundred fewer cars, help pay for the trains. That seems fair to me: we reduce traffic, pollution and stress for all, and everyone shares the costs and benefits.
(train photo by Zach Graves; I-70 traffic photo by Sarah McGee)