We need to build a transportation system that allows people to get around with out driving their cars. Electric cars are not the solution. Adoption can't come fast enough, and even if it did switching to an electric car is just transferring the emissions to the grid and industry, not eliminating them. We need to make it so people can get around with out driving. We need to build public transit, biking, and walking infrastructure that makes the choice not to drive easy and pleasurable.
Indiana's grid is so heavily supported by coal that, right now, if you drive a pure electric car charged from the grid, your emissions are ultimately higher than if you were driving a hybrid. So we need to get renewables on the grid any way we can. The primary barrier to installing rooftop solar for many homeowners is the financing. The city can and should provide that financing. And we can finance other energy improvements as well, like home energy retrofits. We can also support the installation of microgrids on major developments all over town.
We've got limited resources, so we're going to have to plot the path to the infrastructure we need, and then we're going to have to make very hard choices about where we put our resources to have the greatest impact we can.
We need a transit system that allows you to get around town quickly and easily.
We need a transit system that would allow you to walk to a bus stop from anywhere in the city in about 5 minutes, catch a bus with in 10 minutes, and be at your destination with in 30 minutes. With good route design and supporting infrastructure, like lanes reserved for busses, a system like that should be possible in a city of our size. I'm not going to pretend we can achieve that in the next four years, but we should set that goal and aggressively work towards it.
We should also work to establish a better rural transit system, and a network of park and rides, to allow people priced out of the city to minimize their own driving. And we should support both transit systems with bike share docks at major stops, and bike racks on the busses, making it easy to cover the last mile by a different mode.
We need infrastructure that prioritizes biking and walking.
It needs to be easier, faster, and more pleasant to bike or walk for most trips than to drive. Communities have done this, they've rebuilt their infrastructure around cycling and walking, and it works! Not only are they able to make significant cuts to their carbon emissions, they improve the quality of life for everyone in the city. The air is cleaner, life is quieter, and everyone is healthier for the extra walking and biking. Plus, where communities have done this right, local business thrives. The more slowly a wallet moves past the door of a local business, the more likely it is to open. Car culture favors big box stores built out on the edges of town, not the small businesses in the walkable center.
We need to build an infrastructure that prioritizes bikes and pedestrians. We need protected bike lanes on all major thoroughfares. We need neighborhood greenways. We need wide sidewalks.
The transition won't be easy. Changing long in-grained habits is always hard. But this is one of those times where making the hard change is not just better for the climate and necessary for our futures, it's also better for our quality of life.
We need to make the transition in a way that protects the most marginalized.
As I've been saying, this transition isn't going to be cheap or easy. We need to do it as fast as we can manage. We've wasted 30 years when we could have acted, and now we're out of time. That means we can't do this in a way that doesn't place some burden on some people. We should strive to do it in a way that places the burden on those who can best carry it, and protects those who can least afford it. We can do that by building out the new infrastructure in low income neighborhoods first. New bus lanes, and new bike lanes, should be prioritized in those areas of town where people are struggling.
Beyond transportation infrastructure, we need to work to reduce emissions in every way we can. Obviously, we have no control of Duke energy. But there are still ways we can work to get renewables on the grid.
We should fund the installation of rooftop solar panels.
Indiana's electric grid is heavily powered by coal energy - to the degree that if you're driving a pure electric car charged from the grid in Indiana, your carbon footprint is higher than those driving hybrids powered partly by gas. We have to get renewables on the Indiana grid to outcompete that coal any way we can. For many homeowners, the main barrier to solar is the down payment. Luckily, financing is something the city can do!
We're already doing it a little. The City works in conjunction with Indiana Solar for All (a project of the Center for Sustainable Living) to give grants to low income homeowners to put solar on their roofs. In 2018, they put solar on eight roofs. In 2019, they're slated to do twelve. It's not enough. We need to expand that program by several orders of magnitude. We should completely fund initial solar installation of several hundred homes a year, and ask homeowners to pay us back through their utility bills. In this way, we could very quickly make drastic reductions in Bloomington's electric emissions. Again, we can prioritize those most marginalized, and work in other ways to help those who are better off to solarize.
We should make home retrofits easy, and provide funding for those who need it.
We need to make it as easy as possible to retrofit older homes for energy efficiency. We need to carve out exceptions in historic district zoning to make energy retrofits, fast, easy and smooth. A fund should be created to help low income home owners afford such retrofits. Apart from the emissions benefits homeowners would benefit from reduced utility bills and the money spent on home retrofits would go right back into the community -- into the pockets of our hardworking local builders.
We need to support dense, walkable, sustainable development.
The city is going to grow, whether we want it to or not. In the short term, I-69 is likely to increase the number of people living in Bloomington and commuting to Indianapolis. In the longer term, climate impacts are likely to drive migrations out of the west and away from the coasts as fires and powerful hurricanes make those places unlivable. How many hurricane Harveys can one survive before deciding that it's time to move inland? We already have an affordable housing crisis, and if we don't allow Bloomington to densify, it will get worse.
We need to identify areas we're comfortable allowing to urbanize, and then we need to encourage sustainable, dense urban development in those areas. We need to go up, and not out. We should encourage developments that place retail on the ground floor with healthy sidewalk culture, offices on the next floor or two, and then go up with several floors of housing. This is what sustainable development looks like. It's compact, dense, walkable and it can provide space for all the needs of living.
I would propose we encourage urbanization up and down the Walnut / College corridor. I would work to turn Walnut and College into major transit routes and to build a bike highway running along it, to make it easy to move north and south. Other areas we could look to urbanize would be the college mall area, and the area of big box stores west of I-69.
By encouraging urbanization in these areas, we can retain the core neighborhoods as single family housing, and ensure that the core neighborhoods have services and amenities within a walkable or bikeable distance.
Change is never easy. But change we must, if there are to be many more generations.