It's time for Bend to stop acting so provincial and step into a leadership role. Our city of 80,000 could do so by implementing the Oregon Department of Transportation's lauded data analysis tool, GreenSTEP, a relatively new software that sets up various transportation and lifestyle scenarios and estimates greenhouse gas emissions.
GreenSTEP came about as a tool to help the state meet agreed-upon goals of reducing greenhouse emissions. State lawmakers have said by 2050 Oregon must slash its emissions to 75 percent below 1990 levels, a modest proposal given the severity of the consequences. This software is an important tool toward reaching that goal; it shows how new infrastructure like bike lanes, neighborhoods and roads would alter greenhouse emissions. The GreenSTEP software is so useful that the U.S. Department of Transportation has adopted the Oregon platform for its own use—and other states are getting on board.
But so far, Bend has not adopted the software—and is dragging its feet. Meanwhile, cities like Portland, Corvallis and Eugene are nearly halfway done with their analyses.
For Bend, the timing to forecast how transportation habits affect carbon emissions could not be any more prime: As the city takes another look at expanding/flexing the Urban Growth Boundary, GreenSTEP could provide useful planning information in regard to land use patterns. Wouldn't it be nice to base policy on hard numbers rather than hand waving arguments? Mayor Jim Clinton, a forward-thinking physics professor with a background in green technologies, certainly thinks so.
Clinton says there are two ways to think about this. One is crying woe is me, and citing city budget problems, an overworked city staff and a lack of time. Said more boldly: continuing to aim for the bare minimum, to just clear the hurdles. The other, more thoughtful way to think about this is, Hey! We're the biggest Oregon city east of the Cascades! We should be the leader in tackling issues that are important now and will continue to be so. Anyone who thinks cutting greenhouse gas emissions isn't an important task is hopelessly uninformed.
What makes adopting and using this software even easier is that the city wouldn't even have to devote a single penny for the data collection and crunching! That's right: ODOT will pay city staff to gather the necessary information—a fact that really takes the wind out of the sails of the argument that the city doesn't have the time and money to pursue such a project.
By not stepping up and implementing software that's already being used in Portland, Eugene and Corvallis, Bend needs to evaluate whether it should consider itself part of the problem and not the solution. In the seven years since An Inconvenient Truth was released, Bend has failed to enact any major policy or infrastructure changes regarding carbon emissions, at a time when nationwide carbon emissions continue to grow exponentially. Meanwhile, other cities in Oregon are doing their parts.
Two years ago, for example, the Environmental Protection Agency recognized 50 communities in the U.S. that are undertaking considerate and innovative programs to change those trends. Three such programs were rewarded in Oregon with modest-sized grants to promote those programs. Corvallis, for example, has expanded its "Energize Corvallis" program that provides incentives for residents to reduce energy use.
No such programs in Bend were recognized by the EPA—and it seems as if city council, by not seizing a very easy opportunity to find solutions once again, is erring towards complacency at a time and with an issue that demands immediate action.
This week we give city council The Boot—as a boot in the ass to get going—for forgoing the GreenSTEP project.