Well, I left for the weekend on a slightly more positive note about the future of the treasure valley. While I was still recovering from a bee sting, Karyn and some other friends completed an epic mountain bike ride. While waiting for them I typed in the post below covering some encouraging work going on in the various planning organizations. Well upon my return my optimism was shot to hell by this article on the Ada County planning and zoning meeting - Line Up The Ducks BEFORE You Shoot Them. According to the author, two of our planners voted to approve stage 2-6 of the Avimor development even though the development has not worked out their issues with the Idaho Transportation Department or secured water for the homes. Business as usual.
Here was my original post:
I have been somewhat discouraged as of late with the uncontrolled growth of the Treasure Valley and most noticeably, the rapidly deteriorating air quality. The air quality in the valley has been worse than Los Angeles lately. Ouch. While grass and forest fires have been contributing, the primary pollutant remains to be vehicle exhaust.
Here is a recent picture provided by the Boise Guardian Blog. This is why the air quality sucks day after day after day.
With the primary growth pattern in the area consisting of greater sprawl, instead of more condensed development, the result is not only an increase in cars, but an increase in the distance that those cars travel. When you add increased traffic and congestion, then those vehicles travel slower and pollute even more for the same distance. This provides a multiplicative effect on the pollutants in our area. This is clearly not sustainable, even ignoring the more global impact that these emissions have as well.
I am not aware of any magic bullet that is going to resolve these issues, but I do at least see some hopeful signs.
1. In the community meetings that I am in, and even in the local conservative news stations reporting, there is an increasing acknowledgement of the problem. This alone won't solve anything, but it is a good first step.
2. The treasure valley is quickly approaching the threshold where they will be violating the clean air act. Once they pass this threshold, they will lose access to matching federal funds for roads and transportation capital improvements. This will definitely put the brakes on growth as the federal funds is a significant part of the road budget.
3. Compass Modeling: The Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho (Compass) is considering a change in the modeling used to analyze growth. The official Compass Plan is called Communities in Motion (CIM). This 25 year plan is now two years old and won't officially be updated for another 3 years. The official model is used by developers and public jurisdictions/agencies to analyze and present the transportation impacts of new developments. The problem with this is that growth has quickly outpaced the assumptions in the model and has been occurring in different places than the model represents. Some areas have grown beyond the 25 year assumptions! Everyone in the planning community knows this, so each development often presents using the official model, but then also uses their own model with their own assumptions. This makes it extremely difficult to analyze the impact of two developments consistently. While there is a legal requirement to maintain the official base model until the next official update, Compass is proposing the creation of two other models to help bring some consistency into the picture. The first additional model would still cap the 2030 population to be consistent with CIM (865,000 for the valley), but shift the population growth centers to where the growth is actually happening today. Think of this as a adaptation to the base model to recognize reality that has already occurred. The last new model would not be constrained by the population assumptions in CIM. It will model all currently planned (approved and not approved) developments in the valley. This is likely to end up with a 2030 population assumption of 1.5 million or higher. These additional unofficial models would likely be updated each year. Why do I think these steps show some hope? First, by standardizing these more realistic models, the planning organizations and developers will have a much more accurate and consistent tool to analyze the growth impacts. This will make it easier to compare different developments. The second hopeful aspects is that the "all planned developments" picture will clearly illustrate to all just how bad the valley is likely to get if something is not done to plan and execute grow more effectively. Triple the population with average miles driven per person increasing? We will never see another green air quality day? Give the tools, show the impact, then solve the problem. At least it is a good first step.
4. Ada County Blueprint for Good Growth: The Blueprint for Good Growth consortium is working on a model to better align the city planning processes and the county planning process. If you pay attention to the local news, there are numerous issues with how planning currently occurs. One of the activities of Blueprint is to put together the cooperation model for how the various plans integrate. I was amazed to hear that there was no previous official cooperation model for joint planning, only for integrating the completed plans once the plans were finished. Getting the various jurisdictions aligned on assumptions early in the planning process should help alleviate a number of the alignment issues that end up at the end of the process. I am hopeful for the tool, but I need to caution that it is just a tool. If the jurisdictions are not committed to cooperate, it isn't going to solve anything. For now it appears that most all of the entities are ready to work together to solve this issue. That's a great step forward in my opinion.
I wish I had more hopeful indicators than tools and first steps. Unfortunately I don't. I think the air quality is going to get worse before it gets better. Bummer.