Cities Move Toward Renewable Power for Transit

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by Getty Images/Spondylolithesis
Long Beach Transit’s new inductive charging pad helps boost the range of the city’s fleet of electric buses, making them more viable as whole-city transit.

The transportation sector — made up of the fossil-fueled planes, trains, and automobiles that transfer us to and fro — is the biggest contributor to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. So, in some cities, businesses and local officials are attempting to lower those emissions as well as ease traffic by implementing various public transportation programs — many of which rely on existing infrastructure, rather than the brand-new frameworks required for high-speed rails.

Accessible Transit

In late 2019, the Kansas City, Missouri, city council and Mayor Quinton Lucas unanimously voted to make transit free to ride, becoming the first major U.S. city to pilot free fare. Their decision aims to make transit accessible to all who live in the city, and they believe that the policy will have an especially profound impact on passengers living paycheck to paycheck. Previously, 25 percent of passengers, including veterans and students, were riding free of charge; now, all riders will have more guaranteed access to jobs, education, and health care farther from home. The move could reduce congestion and emissions from private vehicles, and, according to the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, research shows local tax revenue will increase from the boost in economic activity caused by people’s newfound mobility. Zero-fare transport will cost Kansas City $8 million, which the city manager will recover by redirecting funds from the city budget, as part of the council’s resolution to fund changes that will improve equity, safety, capacity, and efficiency.

Cities are also using bus-only streets and dedicated bus lanes to increase ridership and decrease emissions. New York City banned private vehicles during peak hours on 14th Street, a major throughway, creating a “busway” that allows public transportation and pedestrians to proceed unimpeded by congestion. Such lanes boost the speed and ease with which a bus can transport passengers, increasing efficiency without requiring adjustments to the city’s infrastructure. The UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies report “Best Practices in Implementing Tactical Transit Lanes” says such lanes can reduce peak congestion times by 20 to 28 percent, and dramatically decrease variability in travel times, making the system more reliable for riders.

Innovative Energy

Electrified transit is another strategy a number of cities, including Los Angeles and Seattle, have investigated. The public transportation agency in Long Beach, California, is trying a ground charging pad that uses inductive charging to power up buses from below while they idle. The boost gives the buses a greater range throughout the day, which Long Beach Transit (LBT) Executive Director Mike Gold says has helped them expand the city’s electrified transit faster. “We’re really proud that we’re on the forefront of battery electric and zero-emission tech. Long Beach has the second-largest port in the country, so the people we serve are impacted by the emissions that come from the port and freeways. We don’t want to be contributing to the pollution that’s already occurring here, so that’s why we’re testing these and wanting to get to a zero-emissions fleet.”

Certify Your Butterfly Garden

The nonprofit North American Butterfly Association (NABA) runs a butterfly garden certification program to encourage gardeners to cultivate and protect butterfly habitats.

To qualify for certification, gardeners must grow at least three different caterpillar food plants, or host plants and at least three different native butterfly nectar sources. In both cases, NABA prefers the use of native species, and more than one plant of each species, but neither is a requirement for certification. Gardeners seeking certification are discouraged from using pesticides in their plots, which NABA says can inadvertently kill butterflies and other pollinators.

Owners of certified gardens can purchase weatherproof signs to display. The NABA site has guides on choosing regional plants, an archive of tips from other NABA members, and gardening brochures that provide information on starting or expanding a butterfly garden. The site also hosts a map of NABA-certified school, private, and public gardens, so site visitors can see the growing network of butterfly and pollinator sanctuaries across the country.

To learn more about the program and apply for certification, go to the NABA website and choose the “Butterfly Garden Certification Program” tab.

Ogallala Aquifer Conservation

Across the United States, communities are forming innovative partnerships and projects to mitigate the impacts of climate change. The American Association for the Advancement of Science featured 18 such communities in its 2019 report “How We Respond,” including Sheridan County in Kansas, one of the eight states that draws water from the rapidly depleting Ogallala Aquifer.

To address the loss of this essential resource amid intensified drought, Sheridan County’s Groundwater Management District 4 (GMD4) decided to restrict water usage for crop irrigation by 20 percent starting in 2013. Manager Shannon Kenyon says the GMD4 gathered public input on how to proceed, but that its decision was met with resistance at first. After five years, however, the amount of water saved surpassed the GMD4’s targets, and production and profits in the region remained the same — leading the public to support the renewal of the project for another five years.

To counter drought, nearby Kansas State University (KSU) researchers have been approaching water savings with even more precision by gleaning data from GMD4’s project. Rob Aiken, a crop research scientist at KSU, has been working with data scientist and engineer Ramesh Dhungel, using a model Dhungel built, to predict water budgets for various crops and areas by analyzing satellite and weather data. The researchers used the tool to simulate the conditions of the first five years of GMD4’s project, and compared the results with farmers’ records to identify areas that experienced high productivity and confirm successful management tactics. Aiken says, with further development, the tool could be used in the future to direct, rather than simply measure, crop management and irrigation. “Models like Ramesh’s are ways that we can learn more about the environment and try to anticipate where the stresses are,” Aiken says. “That’s a good attitude as we look at changing climate conditions. We must be proactive. Let’s learn what we can so we have the best tools in place, whatever comes our way.”

To learn more, read the full report online at How We Respond.

Beneficial Birds in Farmland

As bird populations decline, so do the benefits they provide to thriving ecosystems — including pest control, pollination, and seed dispersal. Farms are one of the places where such perks are crucial, and a new online resource from Wild Farm Alliance (WFA) helps farmers increase their bird benefits by building bird-friendly habitats.

“Benefits of Birds on the Farm” is based on information in WFA’s Supporting Beneficial Birds and Managing Pest Birds booklet, which, according to co-author Jo Ann Baumgartner, had never before been compiled into an easily accessible resource for farmers.

Among other multimedia features, the resource includes a “Toolbox for Pest Management” tab, which farmers can use to take inventory of existing birds and habitat; learn how to restore damaged habitat; find instructions for building structures to lure birds; and more. Baumgartner says the resource has inspired farmers to pay closer attention to their feathered friends. “We’re hosting beneficial bird events for farmers, and are finding that we’ve inspired the majority of them to install nest boxes, hedgerows, and riparian habitat,” Baumgartner says.

To access the new resource, go to the Wild Farm Alliance website.

barn swallow flies its wings open

New Food Safety Tool

Food safety guidelines for cheesemaking frequently apply to large-scale outfits rather than small-scale producers, leaving the latter with fewer tools for assessing and addressing risk. To fill that gap, Penn State Extension has created a free resource aimed specifically at small-scale commercial cheesemakers, including those who use raw milk to make cheese. Kerry Kaylegian, an associate research professor and co-author of the guide, says she noticed the lack of resources aimed at the unique needs of small-scale processors, and wanted to help them meet the requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act.

Find the guide by searching for “Penn State Extension Food Safety Plans for Small-Scale Cheesemakers” on the Penn State Extension website. It includes guidelines for setting up a food safety system; a comprehensive hazard analysis; and a blank template for building a food safety plan. Call 814-867-1379 and leave a message to receive a printed copy.

Traditional Cheese Making In A Small Company. Cheese Maker Hands

Restoring a Biodiverse Region

In 2019, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) obtained 253,000 total acres of forested land in two phases — in April, it gained 100,000 acres of land in the Central Appalachian Mountains spanning Kentucky and Tennessee, and later in the year, 153,000 more acres in Virginia. The combined acreage, called the Cumberland Forest Project, will be used to restore the region with sustainable forestry practices that support and preserve the land’s health. Funds for the acquisition and restoration come from an impact investment fund, enabling investors to profit from supporting the project. TNC is a co-investor that will manage the properties to ensure both ecological and economic benefits.

The land, home to vital watersheds and wildlife habitats, is essential to global biodiversity, according to TNC, and more recently has acted as a migratory corridor for animals that are adjusting to the effects of climate change. TNC says its management will include safeguarding those qualities and connecting its conservation efforts with nearby communities through supporting local businesses, partnering with like-minded community organizations, and more.

To learn more, go to TNC’s Cumberland Forest Project page.

Hemp Production Plan

The 2018 Farm Bill legalized industrial hemp (a non-psychoactive strain of Cannabis sativa) for production in the United States, and required the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop a regulatory framework, the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program, which it published in late 2019.

Because hemp can become a number of useful products, including fiber, food, and fuel, this change presents an economic opportunity for prospective hemp farmers, who can now pursue a growing license through their state or the USDA. The bill will also enable farmers to receive loans and insurance for hemp production.

The program requires states and tribes with their own hemp programs to seek USDA approval, and it establishes a federal plan for producers in those states that have legalized hemp but lack their own program. It also includes information on hemp licensing, production, sampling, testing, and disposal. To learn more, go to the USDA page on hemp production and licensing.