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Greening Neighborhoods promotes, educates, and supports
neighborhood efforts to conserve our natural resources, save
money, and reduce dependency on nonrenewable resources


 La Belle et le Bete

Earlier this year, the U.S. Congress, after the obligatory amendment to kill all funding, unanimously passed a funding bill for Amtrak, Congress’ first (and only?) bipartisan action of the year. The funding was less than had been requested and certainly does not include monies for capital expansion, but Amtrak will soldier on for another year, carrying record numbers of Americans, many millions more than its first year, 1972, when it had more extensive routes. It seems Americans like their trains. There just aren’t enough of them. (The largest deluge of mail and messages –before email! to Congress ever was in 1972, when rail passenger service was threatened, just before Amtrak was established.)

             For a review of what Amtrak is planning for Train Days click Celebration Schedules.

Atlanta, Georgia, is boasting a new vehicle-on-rails-in-the-street the city is calling the Atlanta Streetcar, so marked, painted, and advertised.  As the marketing promises, it is truly a wonderful vehicle, connecting the National Park Service’s Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site with Centennial Park and Georgia State University and downtown in between. Hiking between any of these pairs is a good walk, but more than that from end to end.

Atl Streetcar

Atlanta Streetcar opposite Ebenezer Baptist Church, Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site

This railed people mover moves quickly enough when traffic permits, without the emissions and noise of carbon fueled vehicles, utterly quiet – thus posing yet another hazard to the ear-bud impaired and cell phone compulsive-addicted. As a well-connected people mover, it is a real asset to the city. But it is not a streetcar.

The nostalgic appeal to the common streetcar notwithstanding (streetcars are very much alive and well in thriving North American cities like Philadelphia, Boston, Toronto, Pittsburgh, Charlotte, and a major tourist attraction all their own in New Orleans), this railed vehicle employs a technology which bears only scant resemblance to the streetcars found everywhere in the first half of the last century.

Contemporary city systems thrive because their older technology has been renewed, revised, and rebuilt. Other cities, like Atlanta, actively destroyed their older systems to make way for those who could afford automobiles. Their 50-year old systems usually needed extensive reinvestment and renovation to serve contemporary needs, were usually operated by undercapitalized private enterprise that needed more profit than an unsupported public utility could provide, and many Americans were more excited about driving their automobile as far and as fast as they pleased than in pedestrian mobility.

old streetcar


A recent visit to Los Angeles found much lamenting of the old Pacific Electric, now totally gone.  Once  the largest electric railway system in the world, with 4-track mainlines and high speed, frequent  service  on routes to far-flung destinations in Southern California, Angelinos first built the PE, then  expressways  along the PE, then expressways in place of the PE, at a time when most citizens still did  not have cars.  Such were the political and economic pressures of the day.

However, while the PE did a marvelous job moving thousands of people and its rights-of-way were      irreplaceable, the truth is that current standards of comfort and service would not tolerate the Red  Cars.  The expressway system of the 1950′s and 1960′s, themselves employing now outdated  technology, may  not work so well either, but that new Lexus still feels good inside.


Atlanta streetcar, Peachtree St., 1944.*

The Atlanta Streetcar is no Lexus – in fact, a bit utilitarian — but it is much closer to present-day standards of comfort and quiet. More importantly, it represents an almost wholly new technology with the aim of knitting back together our cities fragmented by the automobile. With the infelicitous name “light rail vehicle (LRV)” (no wonder they called it something else), this technology represents a new/old way of thinking about and living in the city, one that is mobile, connected, safer, and can dramatically reduce our utter dependence on the auto.

The Atlanta Streetcar, as an articulated vehicle, actually lacks some of the nimbleness of the old streetcar. Its proposed $1 fare may be fine for tourists with small families but prohibitive for GSU students or daily commuters. Likewise its lack of an interconnected fare structure with MARTA. Its raised platforms permit speedy boarding/unloading, but sacrifice the increased connectedness of corner stops. Fifteen minutes is too long to wait for a car (the old streetcar slogan: “Always one in sight.”). It is not yet a system. It needs its planned connections to the Beltline, Midtown, and on Peachtree. Its biggest drawback, lack of an override control on numerous stoplights, has already been resolved by MARTA buses on select routes. But these are flaws of a new prototype, easily corrected.

The Atlanta Streetcar is not the streetcar of old, and it is only new to Atlanta. Other cities are using its technology quite successfully. But it is here finally, and it is the future.

Streetcar map








*This car actually exists and operates at the Seashore Trolley Museum in Connecticut.





Our neighbor, Charlie Hoot, forwarded us this article from the Guardian by George Monbiot.


Basically, it is saying that if governments agree to limit the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees centegrade as preliminary agreements mandate, the current monies being invested in fossil fuel production will leave the world with much more fuel than it will be allowed to burn. This means that the trillions of dollars already invested will not be recovered through fossil fuel sales.  The investors will be left holding the bag.

Here’s the Guardian article.


Geo-politics isn’t always kind, and is always beyond our control.  This time the continuous high production of oil, which some experts say is to punish Russia, Iran and Venezuela while forcing North American production down, is helping us Americans at the pump with prices nearly on par with 1970 dollars.


One would think that this is welcome news and it is — and isn’t.  We can use the money saved at the pump to pay down personal debts, make critical purchases we’ve been putting off, and infuse money into the economy that is still recovering from the 2008 recession.  There is also potential good news for the environment.  With lower oil prices it will be harder for oil companies to invest in expensive  extracting of natural gas by fracking and extraction of oil from Canadian tar sands.  This should stall environmentally risky gas and oil production practices.

One the other hand, gas powered car production has increased to round-the-clock manufacturing in some factories.  With an influx of  new cars that will certainly find their way to the roads, they will contribute to increased greenhouse gas production.

What to do?  Greening Neighborhoods’ suggestion is to behave as if gasoline prices were at the $4.00 a gallon price point. In other words, use public transportation, car pool, walk, bike and trade in the gas powered car for one that runs on batteries.  Low pump prices are not forever.





Last post we listed widely available electric cars that save us money on gas and maintenance and take advantage of substantial government rebates.  The downside of the all EV cars is the limited range.  If our daily travel is greater than 80 miles and we still want to save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions we can do so with hybrid gas/electric cars.





Government incentives are still in effect for hybrid cars, but are not as great as with 100% electric cars.

Here’s a chart of some of the cars now at dealers.




Tax Credit***

BMW i8




Chevrolet Volt




Ford C-Max Hybrid




Ford Fusion Hybrid




Honda Civic Hybrid




Honda Accord Plug-in




Honda CR-Z




Hyundai Sonata




Kia Optima Hybrid




Lexus CT200h




Mercedes E 400 Hybrid




Nissan Pathfinder




Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid




Toyota Avalon Hybrid




Toyota Camry Hybrid




Toyota Prius c




VW Jetta Hybrid




Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid




*MPG is the combined mileage of the car utilizing battery and gasoline.

**MSRP is the manufacturers’ list prices.  Individual dealers offer much lower sales prices, which include federal and state incentives.

***Tax incentives.  Georgia still offers a $5,000 incentive for lease or purchase that dealers can discount from the sticker price.  The federal tax credit is still in effect and will be until each manufacturer, starting in 2010, has sold 200,000 cars in the US.  This hasn’t happened yet.  For Hybrid cars, since mileage based on batteries is only a percentage of the total mileage, only that percentage of the $7,500 federal rebate applies.

More fuel saving all electric cars are at dealers than ever before.  With government incentives still in effect, owning or leasing can save us considerable amounts of money in fuel costs, service costs, and maintenance costs while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The 80 mile range of most EV cars makes them practical for most city driving situations.







Here’s a chart of the cars now at dealers.





Tax Credit***

BMW i3





Chevrolet Spark EV





Fiat 500 e





Ford Focus E





Honda Fit EV





Kia Soul





Mercedes B Class





Mitsubish iMEV





Nissan Leaf





Smart Fortwo





Toyota RAV 4 EV





Tesla Model S





VW E Golf





*MPGe is the equivalent mileage if the car were gasoline powered.  EV cars still depend on grid power to recharge the batteries.  The majority of that power still comes from coal burning generators.

**MSRP is the manufacturers’ list prices.  Individual dealers offer much lower sales prices, which usually include government incentives.

***Tax incentives.  Georgia still offers a $5,000 incentive for lease or purchase that dealers can discount from the sticker price.  The federal $7,500 tax credit is still in effect and will be until each manufacturer, starting in 2010, has sold 200,000 cars in the US.  This hasn’t happened yet.

What the EV Future Promises:

  1. Solid state batteries that will increase range
  2. Fuel cell technology as an alternate to EVs
  3. Tesla Model 3 with a low sticker price and a 200 + mile range.


I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s going to get cold.  And based on all the indicators I’ve seen it’s going to be super cold this winter.  The cherry trees at our house blossomed in October.  Normally they blossom in late November.  The same is true for holly – the berries have turned red earlier than normal and the wooly caterpillar is nearly all black instead of the normal black and brown.

And that brings me to the point of this warning — cold weather can freeze outdoor faucets and the connecting pipes can burst.  The last thing we want to happen is for cold water to run wild inside our walls causing more damage and headaches than we ever need to even imagine.  Here’s what we need to do to minimize problems.

Many newer homes have frost proof outdoor faucets where the washer is on a long stem that extends inside the wall and is protected by insulation or a warm room.  This type often (but not always) has a vacuum breaker above the faucet handle.

Hose Bibb w/ Vacuum Breaker

Hose Bibb w/ Vacuum Breaker




In many homes there is an indoor shut-off for outdoor faucets.  Shutting off this valve will take care of the freezing potential.

Hose Bibb Shut-off

Hose Bibb Shut-off









If there isn’t a shut-off, or if we’re not sure whether or not we have a frost proof faucet, hardware and home improvement stores carry faucet covers for about $1.00 that will provide freezing protection by forming an insulating shield around our faucet.

Cover In Place

Cover In Place

Cover Being Put On

Cover Being Put On








A little planning and a little protection can save hundreds of dollars in repairs.


The weather is getting cooler and we will start heating our homes again.  So, once again it’s time to change our furnace air filter.

Changing Our Furnace Filter
Here’s what to do:
1)  Our filter might be located behind a return air grill near our thermostat.  If this is the case click on this return air grill video.

2)  More likely our filter will be located in the furnace where the supply air leaves the unit.  In this case watch this video on changing a furnace filter.

Old FilterNew Filter

Old                                                                                                                       New

The importance of changing our filters at least twice a year (filter manufacturers recommend changing three or four times a year) is: 1) improvement in indoor air quality with less dirt particles to breathe and 2) increasing the life of our furnaces with less dirt particles to blow heated air through.

A few weeks ago I got to visit Glacier National Park for the first time, and I made it just in the nick of time.

The scenery was breathtaking as we wound our way up the shear mountain sides to tiny parking spots where the best vistas were had.  As always at national parks there were plenty of informative signs explaining the significance of what lay before us.  The information that stuck most firmly in my mind was that the glaciers will soon be gone.  Some glaciers will be around for another 5 years, and all will be gone in the next fifteen.

Certainly the park will attract hundreds of thousand visitors glaciers or not.  But what is most significant is how not having glaciers will impact the environment.  Glaciers store precipitation in the wet winter months and slowly release water in the dry summer and fall months.  Without glaciers excess water is released in the winter and spring causing flooding.  In the dry months there is no longer stored water to relieve draughts.  This condition is becoming evident from the Himalayas to our own Rocky Mountains.

As individuals it may seem hopeless to try to do anything about the glacier melt, but collectively we can reduce our personal carbon footprint by using less fossil fuel and by conserving water. Twenty-one percent of the national energy use that aggravates climate disruption is residential energy use.  We can reduce what we use.  On average half our water use goes to watering our lawns and gardens.  Stored rain water can replace municipal water for that.




I went to Home Depot the other day to buy a light bulb.  I knew exactly what I wanted.  A PAR 38, LED bulb, 1600 lumens, 3200 K was what I was looking for. PAR 38 is the size I needed, commonly called a down light. 1600 lumens is as bright as the old 100 watt bulbs and 3200 K is the color of the bulb, which is referred to as soft white sometimes.  I wanted an LED light because I want to die before I have to change it out again.

After rummaging through the bulb selection for about five minutes I came to the section where the bulb I was looking for is offered for sale.  I got it home, screwed it in, flicked on the switch and the room looked like an interrogation chamber.  I looked at the package and sure enough, in tiny print, was the color temperature listing –“screaming bright daylight”.  The bulb had been misplaced in the display, the packaging is not uniform, and I was in too much of a hurry to read every scrap of information on the box.  I had to go back, exchange the bulb and start my hunt all over again.

The solution to the light bulb dilemma is simple.

  1. Display similar bulbs in the same general location.  Things do get misplaced so
  2. Put uniform notations on the package – bulb type, lumens, color temperature.  I know that the proper notation is not what we are used to and we Americans couldn’t spend a week to learn the metric system, SO, make the proper notation in large type with the common notation in smaller type.  We will learn.
  3. Have a nice interactive display with pictures explaining the proper terminology plus a schedule of the amount of money purchasing CFL or LED bulbs will save us and, by the way, show how much we are reducing our carbon footprint by purchasing a “green” light bulb.

I’ll go talk to Home Depot about this right away.  Meanwhile here are some charts we can download and take with us to the store AND a web site for discounted LED coupons.

LED Flood Soft white coupon, LED Daylight coupon, LED Flood daylight coupon and LED Soft White.

Follow this link for a light bulb chart