Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A Walk to Attendance

My walks were full of incidents. I attended not to the affairs of Europe, but to my own affairs in Concord fields.
Henry David Thoreau

My choice of transportation is changing. I’m using my feet more. I left the car at home in the driveway again at mid-day, and this evening I set out again, walking the mile or so to our Hillsdale Neighborhood Association.

Halfway there, I had a leisurely burger and beer with friends at the neighborhood pub.

Good timing. Good company.

As it turned out, changing transportation habits were on the neighborhood association’s agenda, indirectly. The subtext was global warming and alternative energy as 25 of us settled into the church commons room.

We spent considerable time discussing whether we should approve of the school district's and the City’s plans to install a massive $900,000 solar array of panels along a busy street.

The bad news is that the panels are butt-ugly, functional slabs. The good news is that we don’t pay for them, federal tax incentives attract investors, the array sets a solar example for the area, and the package comes with a solar curriculum for nearby Rieke Elementary School studentes.

Oh, and Rieke buys and uses the power.

But here’s the killer: Because Congress, in its deliberative wisdom, hasn’t extended the tax credits beyond this year, there’s a huge rush to get this thing approved and installed. And the incentive deadline is driving demand for panels. That, in turn, is pushing up the prices.

We seem headed for a good idea executed poorly and expensively. The discussion left me decidedly cranky. My neighbors grudgingly voted for the project. I abstained.

Another long discussion ensued. This one was about an impossibly expensive and unfunded change to a maze of streets north of here on the way to downtown. Having walked all day, I was in a pedestrian frame of mind.

Several of us urged the city officials to drop plans to make commuter traffic move more quickly from here to downtown. Instead, do whatever it takes to get people out of their cars. If General Motors, Ford and Exxon/Mobil can do their parts with road-hogs and stratospheric gas prices, the least the neighborhood association can do is to weigh in on making it more, not less, difficult to get downtown by car.

Get people to work at home on their computers. Dedicate lanes to buses. Cause traffic to back up on the car lanes. Bring back The Red Electric (the commuter train. Note the photo and blog name honoring the distinctive trains. I'm biased.). Raise prices on downtown parking.

Slow down, relax, get real and save the planet.

Afterwards, I walked home along darkened streets that followed paths that early pioneers once followed through deep forests.

With each step, I walk forward and backward in time to a simpler life. We may all be headed there. With our new-found wisdom (solar energy, wind power and zero emissions), fewer material desires and love of where we find ourselves, this is a good place to be.

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