Sidewalk Ends Chalk Message More and more cities in our region—and in the world—are developing plans to reduce carbon emissions. Both Vancouver and Seattle have plans, and Portland just passed the latest version of their plan last week.

To me the importance of these moves lies more in the substance of the plans than in their passage. Portland’s plan is big (literally), with 93 specific actions on 70 printed pages. It’s worth highlighting its focus on the importance of pedestrian infrastructure to curb climate change. Portland’s plan weaves them together into a strategy that will pay off in more ways than one.

Take walking. The Portland Daily Journal of Commerce recently highlighted one neighborhood, Powellhurst-Gilbert, as a place where a higher incidence of obesity correlates with lack of sidewalks. The Northwest Health Foundation has given a grant to the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability to further study the link and to work on improving pedestrian infrastructure, making it easier to walk rather than drive. This pushes the climate reduction agenda while at the same time promoting health.

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    In Portland, residents have shown strong interest in cultivating “20-minute complete neighborhoods”— places where residents can safely walk a relatively short distance from home to most of the destinations and services they use every day. Fundamentally, the 20-minute neighborhood concept is another way to talk about or describe walkable, bikable environments and vibrant, human-scale neighborhoods—in essence, complete neighborhood communities.

    Sidewalk Ends Map

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    So while Seattle also has a climate plan, their City Council , in contrast with Portland’s, has been at work actually undoing a dedicated source of funding often called the “head tax”—a small $25, annual tax charged to businesses for each employee that drives to work—to support neighborhood bike and pedestrian infrastructure. But Seattle isn’t putting their money where their climate plan says it should.

    Since motor vehicle emissions are the single largest source of climate pollution in Seattle, the City must do even more to provide climate friendly transportation choices such as public transit, biking and walking—and to encourage greater use of those alternatives.

    The repeal of the “head tax” during Seattle’s budget deliberations this month will eliminate $4.5 million in dollars to promote walking over driving, a move that seems inconsistent with the City of Seattle’s ambitions to be a global leader in reducing emissions.

    So the best way to judge a climate action plan may not be just by the bench marks it sets for the next 40 years, but where the shoe soles hit the pavement: where are dollars flowing today for long term pedestrian infrastructure?

    Photo courtesy of Flickr user Nicki Varkevisser under a Creative Commons license.