Issue March 13, 2007

City Strobe

Finally … FINALLY … a politician brings up light rail again
The Metro Council’s Democratic caucus, the majority-wielding 15-member body that has brought us the dog ordinance, smoking ban and a pending throw-down over banning trans fats in local restaurants, outlined its legislative goals for 2007 last week. Guess what? They said the magic words that progressives (and people tired of writing checks to Exxon) long to hear: Light Rail.

Not that it means anything yet, except another quiet gesture acknowledging how ideal some form of rail transit would be for a city flogging its redeveloping downtown (hey suburbanites, come down, get urban and live near other people, things to do and places to work) while very loudly acknowledging that traffic has become a major sore point. But it’s good to hear it from this bunch, who can be pretty effective when they agree on something (or when it’s politically expedient to do so).

“We need to move people in and out of our city’s core and the automobile is not the answer,” majority leader Jim King said. “A metro connector that moves people between downtown and our airport, university, Churchill Downs, KFEC, etc., is a potential solution and the time is now to address it. Our city needs to go ‘green.’”

You may recall the most recent excuse for passing over light rail: There’s no money so it’s off the table. That’s only sort of right. There should be no expectation of federal money because our most recent federal representative (hint: She’s running for Gub’ner now) never tried to get any, favoring instead to chase bridge money that might not really be there, at least in the quantities we’ve been led to believe. So KIPDA, the Kentuckiana Regional Planning and Development Agency, scrapped it from the city’s long-term transportation strategy.

Now Louisville has a federal representative (hint: He started this rag) who not only sees the value in expanded public transit but has professed on multiple occasions that he’d like to find a way to bring it here. The Metro Council members with the power to control the agenda aren’t afraid or embarrassed to sound progressive.
Mayor Jerry Abramson, who regularly avows his desire to make Louisville “green” and drives a hybrid (Ford Escape) when he’s not being driven in that black, kinda menacing Lincoln Continental, has remained guarded about light rail, instead choosing to focus on the Ohio River Bridges Project, which will eat most all the federal and state transportation dollars set to come to Louisville for a damn long time.

The cost of the Bridges Project keeps going up, though, and several public officials involved — including Rep. John Yarmuth — have flatly rejected the 17-year timetable most recently proposed. Abramson, Yarmuth and Indiana Rep. Baron Hill are exploring public-private partnerships, which could help reduce the cost while speeding up the construction process significantly.

As if to put a nail in the coffin of the badly flawed excuse many have given against needing light rail in Louisville — that there’s no critical mass of people to ride it — a report issued Monday by the American Public Transportation Association said Americans are using public transit more now than any time since the 1950s. In Louisville, TARC reports that its ridership has never been higher, and it’s expanding service to include park-and-rides from Southern Indiana.

And guess what public transit system had the largest increase in ridership last year, nationwide? Yep, light rail.
The caucus plans to study light rail this year. They also seem to understand that the way to solve the city’s traffic problems downtown is not necessarily to allow more cars to drive there. —Stephen George

No fuel like an alt-fuel —
coming to Louisville
With oil destroying the planet faster than a neocon with an intercontinental Christian Hummer dealership, nearly everyone is looking for an alternative fuel source. Enter “For The People LLC,” a loftily named Hoosier company that wants to build an ethanol plant at Riverport. The plant, which would employ 60 people and produce 50 million gallons of corn squeezins per year, would offer a fuel that can be mixed with gasoline to burn in conventional automobile engines. The plant would use some groovy technologies not often bandied about in these parts: geothermal, wind turbines and solar panels. It would also provide a market for regional grain farmers.

The bad news: While renewable, corn is inefficient. It takes three gallons of fuel to make four. That creates pollution and greenhouse emissions. Ethanol demand also drives up corn and soybean prices, which can drive deforestation and inflation, especially in the price of that tasty, delicious meat Americans like to cram into their cakeholes seven times per day. And growing monoculture corn requires a nasty dollop of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers that are almost as dangerous to the planet as our oil addiction.
The good news: Ethanol doesn’t come from oil. —Jim Welp

Rubber, meet road
Ya know how Rubbertown smells like your microwave caught on fire and you put it out by peeing on it? That, plus the fact that people tend to die there a lot, makes some people think the air and water in Rubbertown might not be healthy. So in 2005, the state announced plans to test 30,000 residents for cancer, heart disease, and other health problems, using a $1 million water-pollution settlement with MSD to fund the screenings.

Unfortunately, the MSD money will cover screenings for only about 10,000 residents. Now the state has pledged to find the money to conduct health screenings for all 30,000 residents — if that many agree to the screenings — by June 2008, and to refer any ill residents to health services. The Louisville Department of Public Health and Wellness will conduct the tests. With the Governor’s goal of “creating a healthy community,” the final cost of providing health services could dwarf the initial MSD outlay and would require some serious political and corporate courage — something Rubbertown hasn’t seen much of in the past half-century. —Jim Welp

Attention domestic partners

Who loves ya, baby? Your domestic partner, that’s who. But also Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, and the Democrats on the House Health and Welfare Committee. They stopped those mean Republicans from trying to take away your health benefits at U of L, UK and all state agencies. So enjoy those benefits while you can: The General Assembly likes the idea for now but they’re not domestic-partnered to it. Republicans vowed to revisit the hateful issue in the future. —Jim Welp

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