Final Sustainability Plan Includes Bigger Goals, Tighter Deadlines

Mayor Greg Fischer has released the final version of the city’s sustainability plan, and it has several more ambitious goals and initiatives than the draft version.

The Office of Sustainability released the draft last month, and opened it up for public comment. At the public meeting, the majority of the comments urged Sustainability Director Maria Koetter to aim higher and set bigger goals for Louisville.

Koetter says this new plan does that, but is still realistic and attainable.

“We put out the first plan and received a lot of public comment,” she said. “And then from there, internally, we took a hard look at it and did some hard thinking and came up with where we thought we could do better and where we could stretch and focus efforts to achieve goals more quickly and more bold goals as well.”

There are a few key differences between the draft and the final version of the plan. The final version:

  • Moves the deadline for decreasing energy use by 30% in city owned buildings to 2018, from 2025.
  • Increases the percentage of renewable energy technologies in city owned buildings; it used to be a 20% increase, now it’s 50%.
  • Adds a planned expansion of the traffic light coordination program, to help the city reduce air pollution.
  • Changes plans to restore one mile of riparian vegetation; the plan now includes a pilot project to restore ten miles of riparian vegetation.
  • The original plan listed a goal of reducing vehicle miles traveled by 15% by 2025; the goal is now 20% in the same time period.
  • Adds a plan to launch a clean economy business plan contest.
  • Sets out goals to re-establish the city’s tree canopy and mitigate the urban heat island effect by 2018; the draft set the deadline at 2020.
  • The final plan also lists timeframes for each initiative. The initiatives that are listed as “underway” are already being worked on; the “planned” ones will be launched or completed within three years; the “proposed” initiatives are four years and further out.

Koetter says one of the most significant changes is the city’s commitment to decreasing energy use in Metro buildings by 30 percent over the next five years. And she says adding timeframes for the initiatives will help the city stay on track.

“I think our commitment to actually put those timeframes in there was huge,” she said. “A lot of the most successful plans nationally have dates, and while our major goals had dates, our initiatives weren’t initially listed with timeframes. So I think that’s a big commitment on our part to actually include that in the plan.”

When the draft plan was released, concerns were raised by several in the environmental community that the plan lacked details, or seemed hypocritical in light of the Ohio River Bridges Project (which invests money into car transportation, rather than public transit). Here’s what was said at the time:

Bud Hixson is the attorney for the Coalition for the Advancement of Regional Transportation, or CART. His group has spent years fighting against the Ohio River Bridges Project and advocating for public transportation.

Hixson says the transportation sections of the sustainability plan are good in theory, but seem slightly disingenuous after the Bridges Project has been approved and all other lower-carbon alternatives were ditched.

“Now to turn around and to announce a sustainability plan that cites as one of the big mistakes of transportation planning the 30 percent carbon footprint contribution of single-occupancy vehicles is a day late and a dollar short,” Hixson said.

Kentucky Waterways Alliance director Judy Petersen says the sustainability plan’s broad goals sound good, but she found several of the plan’s initiatives lacking detail. The plan sets out a goal of “decreasing impervious surfaces and improving water quality by 2018,” and mentions two programs: one a pilot project to restore a mile of riparian vegetation, and one to decrease the amount of impervious surfaces in the watershed. (Impervious surfaces, like streets and parking lots, don’t absorb rainwater, so the water and pollution runs off into nearby streams.)

But the goal and the second initiative didn’t include any benchmark. How will the city know if water quality is improved by 2018? By how much will the city decrease the amount of impervious surfaces? Petersen says she would have liked to see more detail.

“One thing I’d like to see explored a little bit more would be the opportunity for green infrastructure and reducing things like impermeable pavement with the area schools and government buildings,” she said.

There is a section on green infrastructure—with the goal to just expand green infrastructure by 2018—but the initiative was similarly vague.

The most scathing criticism came from former mayoral candidate and bike shop owner Jackie Green. The plan sets a goal of reducing vehicle miles traveled 15 percent by 2025 through a combination of increasing bicycling, TARC ridership and possibly car share programs.

Green says if Louisville wants to increase bicycle ridership, it should focus on slowing vehicle traffic within the Watterson, because the city doesn’t have the resources to build separated bike lanes. But he says all of the city’s environmental problems boil down to one thing: “we need to challenge private motor vehicle use,” he said.

Green says the sustainability plan could have just focused on two core issues: public transportation and land use. “By doing so you address the climate, the air, the water,” he said. “By doing so, you address energy. By doing so, you address economic development.”

Click here to read the final version of the plan; for some comparison, here’s the draft version.

Erica Peterson

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL.

@ericampeterson

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