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Two things Kansas City can do to fight climate change, with or without Trump

President Donald Trump last week announced his decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accords.
President Donald Trump last week announced his decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accords. File photo

While public opinion might be split on President Donald Trump’s recent decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement, former Kansas City Councilman Jim Glover is one who calls the move “an abomination.”

But Kansas City now has the inclination and the funding to do something about it, he said.

Plant trees and synchronize traffic lights.

Glover, along with the community environmental organization Bridging the Gap, wants the city to dedicate a portion of the recently approved $800 million in general obligation bonds toward environmentally friendly investments.

“This is something we can do here, if we’re in (the Paris accord) or not,” Glover said Tuesday. “We can do this, and now we have the money.”

Glover took his message before a City Council joint committee Wednesday as it continued debating City Manager Troy Schulte’s proposed list of projects for the first $42 million in bonds. The committee deferred action and will continue discussions on the work voters approved in April.

Before the election, the council approved a resolution to guide the city’s actions that included a nod to environmentally friendly approaches to road and sidewalk reconstruction.

The city would “include traffic synchronization and other complete street concepts as appropriate, including street trees,” the resolution read.

But Glover and Bridging the Gap executive director Kristin Riott want the city to commit to specific appropriations.

“It’s one thing to talk about it,” Glover said. “It’s another thing to appropriate money.”

The city committed to trees and traffic synchronization as part of its Climate Protection Plan from 2008. But the city has fallen far behind, Riott said.

“Trees are the breath of the city,” Riott said. “Everybody’s pulmonary and mental health depends on trees.”

Urban forestry specialists credit trees with cleansing the air of pollutants, cooling the heat-island effects of city pavement, encouraging wildlife, enhancing children’s play areas and easing mental stress.

“Trees pull tons of pollutants out of the air,” Glover said, quoting Dennis Murphey, Kansas City chief environmental officer, “and synchronized lights stop tons of pollutants from going into the air.”

A new generation of light-syncing technology has already been installed on Main Street in downtown for the streetcar. And the city’s major corridors could be similarly equipped for about $10 million, said Sawyer Breslow, a sales engineer with Rhythm Engineering in Lenexa.

The new sensors, mounted over traffic lights, track traffic movement as well as pedestrian and bicycle traffic the full length of city blocks in all four directions, Breslow said.

When traffic more often flows without as many stops, the steady pace avoids the increase in toxic emissions that occur when cars accelerate and decelerate, he said.

While many cities are putting more traffic synchronization technology in place, the benefits do come with some potential tradeoffs, some analyses have shown.

There are benefits in cleaner air, less driver frustration and less incentive to race through red lights. But benefits can be lessened if the ease of driving attracts more cars and if drivers take the opportunity to drive above safe speed limits.

City tree planting also has had a mixed history. While Kansas City became nationally known for its trees and boulevards in the City Beautiful movement in its early history, many of those now-aged trees buckled some of the city’s sidewalks and curbs with their girth.

City arborists know better now, Riott said. The city can “plant the right tree in the right place,” she said.

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