February 17: Kenney transition report | PUC and the utility death spiral | 21st Century Library

Ryan Briggs has a new long-form piece at Next City kicking around the question of whether Jim Kenney can carry urbanism’s appeal beyond Millennial transplants. Briggs points out that while Kenney’s official line is that he’ll win more bike infrastructure and mixed-use infill through more collaboration and consensus, the real promise may be that he doesn’t feel the need to please everyone. “As South Philadelphia changes with a younger demographic, you’ll have an easier chance of getting that stuff done,” he says. “I’m from South Philly and I’m very much aware that some people are never going to be happy until the day they close the lid.”

The administration’s transition report [PDF], released yesterday, calls for establishing a Vision Zero Task Force, the creation of 15 miles of new bike lanes in 2016, continued implementation of the 2012 Pedestrian and Bicycle Plan with a focus on protected bike lanes, and “recommendations to encourage bike share and docking station hosting,” among other planning and transportation goals. 

John Henry Scott previews the changes coming to the Lillian Marrero branch library at 6th and Lehigh as part of the Free Library’s 21st Century Library Initiative. “The theme of this new model is flexibility. From the new elevator to laptops and tablets to moveable shelving, the library will provide greater degrees of access through an adaptable interior design. The existing shelving will be taken out and replaced with shelves with locking wheels. These will allow staff to shift the structure of the stacks based on the day-to-day fluctuations in need for space. “

In a setback for rooftop solar, the state Public Utility Commission approved rules limiting the resale of customer-generated electricity back to power companies. The move is a response to fears of a “utility death spiral” scenario, promoted by incumbent utilities, in which competition from rooftop solar eats into the “peak load” profits that make up a large chunk of utility revenues, forcing utilities to raise rates, which incentivizes even more rooftop solar installation, and on and on until utilities go bankrupt. The move comes just 7 days after Governor Tom Wolf recommitted Pennsylvania to fulfilling its responsibilities under the Obama EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

Freight rail firms’ earnings fell by a fifth in the fourth quarter of 2015 after a “second golden age” of rail investment, according to The Economist. The drop was driven by the crash in commodity prices, and if the downturn persists, we may begin to see some railroad consolidations. For a local twist on this, there is a resolution in the PA General Assembly urging federal regulators to oppose Canadian Pacific’s unsolicited bid for Norfolk Southern. Falling commodity prices could also be used to justify further delays in Positive Train Control investment by freight rail operators. (H/T Jim Saksa)


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