Archive for February, 2009

Green jobs and cars offer hope for U.S. economy

February 6, 2009

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson (above, far right) at the 2009 Washington Auto Show

The latest Labor Department buzz-kill report that Uncle Sam shed almost 600,000 jobs in January is beyond depressing. Could there possibly be a silver lining to this relentless economic attrition?

The people who work at I-GO, for our parent company the Center for Neighborhood Technology, and at other green-industry orgs and businesses across the nation think so.

Consider this: Even as the U.S. Senate drags its Bruno Magli heels implementing President Obama’s economic stimulus shot-in-the-arm (an arm—if we’re to torture this metaphor further—that’s showing some serious junky track marks lately), there are two fascinating trade shows taking place in D.C. that are giving off faint whiffs of optimism and future progress: the Good Jobs Green Jobs National Conference and the Washington Auto Show.

Check out the list of keynote speakers at the former, where more than 2,000 labor, environmental and business advocates are schmoozing to shape the national debate about investment in clean energy and green technologies.

When was the last time anyone saw the CEOs of the American Wind Power Association and the Alliance for Climate Protection mingling with the Teamsters and United Steelworkers unions? Strange bedfellows? Not in these radically changing times, folks. I prefer to see it as a hugely promising sign of collaboration between traditional industry and the emerging green vanguard.

Meanwhile, down the block, at the Auto Show, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood (a questionable Obama-cabinet Illinois pol who probably isn’t going to wash that bad Blagojevich taste from our mouths any time soon) and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson (who may prove just as toxic) are virtually red-carpet celebrities. The Big Three is kissing up to D.C. and giving the emissions-control folks all the green they want—as in green cars, not cash.

A US News & World Report article on the Auto Show’s website and another by Washington Post auto industry reporter Warren Brown make it clear that the balance of power and clout have left Detroit and entered the Beltway, presumably for the long haul.

Green cars are all the rage at the show, which prominently featured a Green Car Summit panel discussion and plenty of grinning greenhorns. Automakers and their lobbyists are working the levers to convince policymakers that Detroit is finally heeding the call to build more fuel-efficient cars:

It’s a radical change for an industry that once used its clout to prevent fuel-efficiency laws from passing. “Has the industry lost its power to say no?” Dave McCurdy, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, asked the Post. “The industry is saying, ‘Yes, however. . . . Yes, let’s work it out.’ It’s a different starting point in the discussion. The nature of the industry has changed.”

Biggest sign of the times at the show: The Chevrolet Volt won the 2009 Green Car Vision Award given by auto enthusiast magazine Green Car Journal. The contestants it beat out included an electric version of the MINI Cooper (OMG, how cute would that be?) and Honda’s FCX Clarity, an all-hydrogen fuel cell sedan (Honda and Toyota—what can you say? ahead of the curve again).

The Volt sounds pretty awesome, though. From the Auto Show’s site:

“The Chevy Volt offers a bold and far-reaching approach that will bring an exceptionally fuel efficient model to consumers at reasonable cost,” says Ron Cogan, editor and publisher of the Green Car Journal and editor of GreenCar.com. “Besides being a great design, the Volt promises exactly what many consumers are asking for – a car capable of driving on zero emission battery power most of the time at pennies per mile, with over 100 mpg possible on longer journeys when electric power from its range extender engine-generator is needed.”

Here’s a slogan I’ll give Chevy for free: “Rock the Volt”

Eh? Pretty good, right?

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Tracking the CTA

February 4, 2009

The sweeping changes underway at the CTA are fueling water-cooler conversation for working stiffs and sustainable-transportation experts alike.

The latter category includes Maria Choca Urban, one of our colleagues at the Center for Neighborhood Technology (I-GO‘s parent org, an urban-sustainability-focused “think and do tank”), who, on Monday’s Eight Forty-Eight program on Chicago Public Radio (WBEZ), gave an insightful assessment of the CTA that comes from firsthand experience. Maria was formerly General Manager for Policy and Strategic Solutions at CTA, and now serves as Program Manager for Transportation and Community Development at CNT.

Listen to the streaming audio file here.

RedEye‘s “Going Public” columnist Kyra Kyles was the other guest commentator on the show, and both women offered a balanced, informed POV on the the agency many Chicagoans have had a love-hate relationship with for decades.

Of course, Daley’s favorite young-gun troubleshooter—ascendent, studly Everyman Ron Huberman, who’s apparently on track to head every major city agency before declaring himself a senatorial or gubernatorial candidate (not too far-fetched, right?)—was the main topic. Maria offered praise for Huberman’s efforts in his too-brief stint at CTA, including better accountability standards in the massive bureaucracy (did you know CTA has 11,000 employees?! and that’s after a recent layoff), making better use of collected data, and the CTA’s oft-beleaguered customer relations.

But she and Kyles both agreed that the new Chicago Public Schools chief (hey, he’s an ex-cop and transit guy—maybe he can get the kids to class on time and bust more troublemakers) wasn’t in charge long enough to see his initiatives truly evolve and pay off.

When a listener called in to ask why Chicago can’t have city agency bosses with experience specific to the orgs they head, Maria said that she and her fellow transit-minded think-tankers at CNT would definitely like to see a experienced transportation professional take the reins at CTA.

Is Dorval Carter, the interim prez, the right dude for the gig?

Carter’s a lawyer who moved up from Executive Vice President for Operations Support, and he’s been responsible for directing the planning and operations functions for multiple departments including Human Resources, Purchasing, Public Affairs, Government and Community Relations and Finance. Prior to joining the CTA in 2000, Carter spent 10 years at the Federal Transit Administration where he was Assistant Chief Counsel for Legislation and Regulation and managed the office responsible for preparing and directing the federal legislative and regulatory agenda for the FTA.

I just ripped that info straight from the CTA press release.

Trying to remain objective here. Because we here at I-GO have high hopes for the CTA’s ongoing transformation. We just partnered with CTA to create a brand-new joint smart card—the Chicago Card Plus/I-GO Card—that gives you access to trains, buses and I-GO’s citywide fleet of car-sharing vehicles. The idea is to make public transit more expansive and green. We’re fans of any form of sustainable transit that decreases congestion on the roads and CO2 in our skies.

Any opinions out there on how the CTA and I-GO might further perpetuate this agenda? We’d love to hear from you. Just click on the Comments link below and give us your two cents.

iTunes and I-GO

February 2, 2009

I-GO may not have electric plug-in cars – yet – but there’s another way you can plug in during your next I-GO trip: with an iPod.

I live in Uptown, and the two I-GO cars I use the most are parked in the Bridgeview Bank lot at Broadway and Lawrence. One’s a Toyota Prius, the other’s a Honda Civic (also a hybrid). As an avid music fan (and critic – I’m a regular contributor to Time Out Chicago), I typically spend a few minutes surveying my music collection to select just the right CD for my next I-GO jaunt.

Until it dawned on me, belatedly, that my trusty #4436 (dedicated I-GOers know their favorites cars’ IDs by heart) comes equipped with an auxiliary input for my iPod. Duh. 3,458 songs versus a 12-track CD? Hmmm.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, as an I-GO staffer I should’ve known this. But, like many members, I’m often making my reservations in a hurry and just clicking through quickly to the car I want and the specified time, so that nobody else can grab it when I need it. I don’t always look at the various search amenities on the online reservation site.

One of those amenities (in the “Find a Car” form) lets you choose a car equipped with an auxiliary mini-jack input (via the headphone port) for a portable digital audio player (or smart phone). Just check “AUX Input” and hit the search button. Lots of I-GO cars have the hookup: mainly new model year vehicles from ’06 to ’09, and lots of the Hondas (Civics, Fits) have them, although many of the Priuses and Scions are starting to get them, too. It’s often located on the dash console, but sometimes it’s part of the storage compartment between the front seats.

So stop by an electronics dealer and drop a few bucks on a mini-to-mini auxiliary cable cord (with two male ends) for your MP3 player. (The Apple version is pretty cool.)

Just keep your hands on the click wheel and your eyes on the road.