Tagsustainability

Livable cities in Russia

When you blog, you “meet” a lot of interesting people around the world. Russian blogger Vladimir Zlokazov writes LiveStreets in both Russian and English. Although he doesn’t translate everything into English, what he does is high quality and methodically written.

His latest English article is a critique of a developer’s plan for a neighborhood in Yekaterinburg, population 1,293,537.

Academichesky – is promoted by the developer (Renova Stroygroup) as a project that utilizes the most innovative practices in architecture and urban planning. However the first built blocks clearly show that advertisment promises are not always consistent with the reality.

He offers suggestions for curb radius, intersection design, bicycle paths through intersections, appropriate locations for parking spaces (stay off the sidewalk!) and curb cuts. The draw for his particular critique are the beautiful 3D architectural renderings to show the suggested solutions in place.

“In places where pedestrian and bicycle crossings are located afar from the intersections additional measures should be taken to make them clearly visible for motorists. Such as using coloured asphalt for instance.”

Readers Ask: Recommending bioswales

The second post in “Readers Ask,” from a planning student in Chicago.

I want to recommend bioswales for my Complete Streets project area which consists of a part of Grand in Chicago, Illinois  There are a lot of surface parking lots over there, and a big shopping mall which is built on a weird arrangement of slopes (Brickyard).  Since I know nothing about bioswales, I’m wondering what you could tell me about how I could go about recommending this. I have no idea what the rainwater runoff issue is over there, but I could only imagine that there would be one, with all the surface parking and weird slopage.

Bioswales are just one of many solutions to water runoff and stormwater collection. Another option is using permeable pavers in the parking lot. The real experts on this are Janet Attarian and David Leopold at CDOT. As a project manager at the Streetscape and Sustainable Design Program, he’s dealt with and implemented bioswales, permeable parking lots, and pollution fighting bike lanes – the works. There’s a parking lot, designed by CDOT, built with a bioswale AND permeable pavement on Desplaines between Polk and Taylor in Chicago (photo below)/

Parking lot has permeable pavement and a bioswale. The site is monitored by CDOT to see how it performs in the winter. Photo by Bryce.

EVERY parking lot has runoff – every parking lot should do a better job managing it. By not better managing our stormwater, we all pay the costs, be it through flood insurance, recovering from floods, or having to build bigger pumps and sewers.

Permeable pavement at Benito Juarez High School in Chicago, Illinois.

Perhaps you shouldn’t recommend a bioswale, but a parking lot that “captures 80% of its runoff” or something through a “variety of methods.”

Bioswale in Portland, Oregon, as part of a green street transformation.

The EPA lists additional Best Management Practices. The Cities of  Seattle and Portland are experts in this. Portland was even able to get parts of its bikeway built by rolling them into the Department of Environment’s Green Streets program, their efforts to reduce stormwater runoff and thus reduce the costs they pass on to their customers that pay for sewer service (like, everyone). I recommend this blog article about Portland’s sustainable design, written by a fellow planning student.

My endorsements for Metropolitan Water Reclamation District

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) is in charge of treating sewage, managing storm water runoff, controlling for floods, and keeping pollution out of our waterways (the District only covers Cook County). It operates seven water treatment plants. It has a board of elected commissioners. Three commissioners are elected every two years for six–year terms. Tuesday, November 2, 2010, is the day on which you can help control the future of the District.

Why should you care about the MWRD and its Board of Commissioners?

  1. If you own property, then you pay taxes to the MWRD. Look at your property tax bill and you will see a line item on there for “Metro Water Reclamation Dist of Gr Chgo” – you’ll pay more to have everyone’s sewage cleaned and storm water collected than you will to pay for the Cook County Forest Preserve District and City of Chicago libraries.
  2. If you rent property, your rents will be somewhat based on the property taxes the property owner pays for your unit.
  3. If your basement has flooded, you have probably been affected by unsustainable and incomplete storm water management. This is MWRD’s responsibility but the organization seems too hellbent on building more voluminous tunnels to store water before it can be cleaned and discharged into Lake Michigan.

Read on for my endorsements if any of the preceding situations or events apply to you, or if you believe there are more sustainable ways of doing the District’s job.

Nadine Bopp

Nadine is my favorite candidate. What are her credentials you ask?

  • Bachelor’s degree in Ecology
  • Master’s degree in Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning
  • Teaches environmental science, botany and sustainable architecture
  • Works at the Cook County Forest Preserve District as an environmental planner in writing a conservation management plan
  • Works as a board member in the Chicago chapter of the the U.S. Green Building Council (posts about U.S. GBC)

Her credentials and her answers to the Chicago Tribune questionnaire are directly in line with my values, my experience, and my vision for storm water management in Chicago and Cook County. If you’re not sure how this is, then you haven’t been reading enough on Steven can plan!

Jack Ailey

In Jack’s answer to the Chicago Tribune about specific initiatives he would seek to accomplish in his term, he said he would stress,

“a vigorous campaign to keep storm water out of our sewer system, promoting all the various methods to do this. We need incentives for homeowners to install rain barrels. We need incentives for green roofs. We need incentives for installing permeable paving. Property owners need to get some tangible benefit from doing the things needed to reduce the amount of storm water entering the sewer system.”

Chicago has a combined sewer system, so it also collects storm water. The additional water cannot be cleaned fast enough and there’s not enough Deep Tunnel to store it so much of the dirty water is discharged into Lake Michigan. By reducing the demand on our systems with sustainable management practices, we will also reduce our costs AND the risk and prevalence of flooding.

Also, I’m a bit partial to the topic of using rain barrels as part of water conservation and storm water management: I was ecstatic watching my rain barrel work so well during its first storm.

The organization in charge of managing storm water should better promote the use of rain barrels and other water conservation techniques that reduce the workload on our already over-taxed sewer system.

Michael Alvarez

In Michael’s comments to the Chicago Tribune about a proposed watershed management ordinance, he said,

“New development on or adjacent to the existing flood plain should be required to increase the storage rate, rather than simply meeting the pre-construction run off rate. Additionally, the ordinance should provide incentive for property owners, with existing structures, to implement water conservation techniques. In all instances we should encourage the use of permeable pavers and other technologies that will alleviate the strain on our environment.”

By mandating an increase in water storage rate, this would ensure that properties are built to better handle storm water. What I don’t see, and would like to see from Michael, is more about his ideas on which techniques would be allowed. Dedicating a large portion of a housing development to water retention – a popular technique in low-density areas – is not a productive use of land, nor does it promote sustainable storm water management. But Michael’s comments on water conservation and permeable pavers sell me on his candidacy.


ThinkBike – The opening ceremony

Cross-posted to Amsterdamize.

The Netherlands seems to have it all when it comes to people riding bikes: safety, facilities, normality, sensibility. But I’ve already written about that (and here, too), and since you’re reading this on Amsterdamized, you would have seen that in the 1,000+ photos Marc has published on Amsterdamize. The Netherlands hasn’t always had expertise about making it safe and easy for people of all ages to ride bikes. There was a period of time when bike use declined dramatically as the popularity of driving rose. In the three decades since the central and civic governments started acting to change this scenario, the country has learned a lot about what works.

Hans Voerknecht’s presentation shows bicycle use dropping (red line) from 1960-1975 and rising from 1975 to now.

The City of Chicago’s Bike 2015 Plan promotes two goals that echo the sentiments of almost all North American cities and the Netherlands:

  1. Increase the number of people riding bikes
  2. Decrease the number of injuries and fatalities.

People riding home from work on Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. Before stopping in Chicago, ThinkBike paid a visit to Toronto, Canada.

Regardless of what the press release claims as the role of the ThinkBike workshop, it seems to me an opportunity for the Netherlands government to share its expertise on achieving these goals (and possibly drum up some business or economic partnerships for the country). For more on bicycling conditions in the Netherlands, I urge you to read John Pucher’s excellent paper, “Making Cycling Irresistible” (PDF). The country’s four representatives (think tank, private consultancy, and municipal planning) also want to promote imaginative and innovative solutions for Chicago bicycling.

This post is about the “opening ceremony” on Thursday morning, which was open to the public. I took great notes during this part!

Previous write ups on ThinkBike from friends:

Before the four representatives got up to speak, there were introductions:

  • Geoffrey Baer, documentarian and from WTTW channel 11, introduced us to the two-day workshop. He told attendees that in Chicago there were once 88 bicycle manufacturers (Schwinn was founded here). There was once a mayor that ran on the platform that he was “not the champion cyclist, but the cyclist’s champion.” The mayor-to-be rode his bike 100 miles on the campaign trail.
  • Luann Hamilton*, Deputy Commissioner at Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), talked about how she got into bicycle planning in Chicago that I doubt many people had known. She started at CDOT as a transportation planner. For the first five years of being on the job, there was not a word or mention about bikes. But then she got a “blue note” from the mayor’s office asking about bike racks, specifically in front of the Board of Trade building. Now, many years later, CDOT has installed over 12,000 bike racks, more than any other American city.
  • Hans Heinsbroek, Consul General in Chicago, wanted to ensure everyone knew that the Dutch didn’t invent the bicycle, but a German named Karl Drais who created the velocipede. “The Dutch are merely responsible for putting the bicycle to vast use. [The Netherlands] is the birthplace and utopia of cycling.” More tidbits from Hans. Unflattering to the Dutch, Hans broke the ice by saying, “As you know, Dutch is not a language but a throat disease.” In any case, the Dutch know English very well.

Now it’s time for the Dutch experts to tell us about the good stuff.

Arjen Jaarsma, Balancia

Arjen talked little about bicycling. Instead he talked about eco-cities and sustainability. Because of this, I’ve moved my summary of his presentation to a different post.

Hans Voerknecht

Two parts of the Dutch bicycling philosophy are joy and safety. Hans wants us to think bigger than 1-2% ridership (expressed in portion of workers commuting by bike). The Bike 2015 Plan has a goal of 5%. Currently, Chicago has a 1.15% rate (workers 16 and older riding their bikes to work) according to the 2009 American Community Survey – slightly above the nation’s rate of 1%. In the whole of the Netherlands, the bike to work rate is 27%. We should aim for 10%.

Joy

How does joy fit in? “I’ve been driving. I don’t feel free siting in a cage in a traffic jam.” People of all ages bike in the Netherlands. Girls aged 12-16 cycle 7 kilometers daily! (The United States only tracks cycling rates to work for people 16 and older.) “My father is 83 years old; he’s not allowed to drive but he rides his bike.” [Read more about 8-80 criteria]

Safety

Perceived safety is secondary to joy in the Netherlands. (I would say if not already first priority in America, it should be. We can work on joy simultaneously.) How does one make a situation where riding a bike is perceived as a safe thing to do? (Please comment if you don’t understand these – as a transportation planner, this is firsthand knowledge for me.)

  • There cannot be a large speed difference between adjacent road users.
  • There must be forgiving situations.
  • There must be recognizable infrastructure.
  • There must be a legal system that protects vulnerable users. Drivers are 100% liable for collisions with children on bikes (because children cannot help but to behave unexpectedly and the driver should always be aware of this). For other collisions, drivers are at least 50% liable.
  • There must be continuation of the bikeway through the intersection.
  • Use color!

The bike lane continues through the intersection (denoted by white squares) while intersecting drivers must yield (denoted by shark teeth – the triangles). Photo by Daniel Sparing.

Hans explained the three road types in the country and how bicycle riders are accommodated.

  • Highway – No bikes are allowed here. This is like our interstate system, which has limited and controlled access. Bikes are almost always banned on these roads, but some states, like California, allow people to bike on interstates when no substitute road is available.
  • Distributor – On these roads, there are separated lanes. There are many ways to implement this. In the extreme, bike lanes appear to be American-style off-street trails 20 feet away from the main roadway. Or the bike lane occupies the same roadway as the main lanes but is somehow separated or segregated.
  • Access – These roads have mixed traffic, but people riding bikes always have priority. Think permanent traffic calming or the ultimate “complete street.” This may include the woonerf and the “bicycle street” (car drivers are not allowed to overtake bike riders).

Bike lane adjacent to, but separated from, a distributor road.

A woonerf, or shared space. Many “traffic calming” devices prioritize people on foot and on the bicycle. Photo by Joel Mann.

Hans also talked about transit, but I’ve moved that to the end of this article because the final speaker, Ruud, also talked about transit. Continue reading

ThinkBike – Arjen Jaarsma’s comments

Arjen Jaarsma is a consultant in sustainable mobility with Balancia in Amsterdam.

He talked little about bicycling. This is all he said about it before he moved on to talk about making cities sustainable:

  • Electric bicycles go up to 25km/h
  • “You’ll notice that helmets are not worn – cycling is normal and safe”
  • In the Netherlands, for vehicles that travel 25-40km/h, riders must wear helmets

We’re in the age of sustainability – the current generation of young people is more likely to read their news online, travel by train instead of plane.

Arjen has an interest in the low carbon city with net zero emissions (emissions are compensated within the city’s own boundaries).

He believes that living with no collisions [sometimes called “vision zero”] and without traffic congestion is possible.

Amsterdam has many strategies in play that will help it become a low carbon city: use of solar power, bicycling, and rising popularity of electric vehicles.

Also of note is Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco City and Masdar City.

Arjen forecasts: In 2090, 90% of people will live in low-carbon city.


Masdar City, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Photo by 350.org climate campaign.

Keeping score: Portland, one million and Chicago, zero

UPDATE 10-15-10: There’s good news. The Chicago situation is nearly resolved.

Up the score for Portland and bicycling by another gazillion points and keep Chicago at zero.

New Seasons Market grocery store (think Whole Foods lite) opened a new store Wednesday in Portland. On a bike boulevard. With 50 bike parking spaces (almost used up on the first day). Grocery delivery by bike. Free air and patch kit. You can even borrow a cart to tow stuff home. (By the way, the store provides only 36 auto parking spaces, on its roof – where it belongs.)

What do we have in Chicago?

A Dominick’s (part of Safeway companies) grocery store that refuses to install a single bike parking space, even after major renovation in 2008-2009. Don’t worry though – I’m on the case! I just mailed my letter to Safeway CEO Steve Burd in Pleasanton, California, yesterday. (Read about my recent struggle getting bike parking installed here.)

And Dominick’s, when you do get around to installing it, please don’t pick this piece of garbage.

Abysmal bike rack selection at Dominick’s near Roosevelt and Canal in Chicago, Illinois – notice how the bike can’t be properly locked here. Don’t repeat this mistake. Learn what’s best when it comes to bike parking.

Thanks to BikePortland and Tucson Velo for the story.

Verifying LEED certification and eco-friendly features

Read more commentary on LEED certification.

If a building claims it has environmentally friendly features (is that the same as eco-friendly?) but hasn’t applied for and received LEED certification, should we still call it “green”?

I’m talking specifically about Emerald, a two-tower (mid-height) condominium development on Green Street in Chicago’s Greektown/West Loop neighborhood. I watched its construction from beginning to end because I passed it daily on my commute to work.

The development’s sales website claims that because it sits on Green Street, it’s “naturally eco-friendly.” The website says the building has “bamboo flooring, low-VOC paint and beautiful fabrics made from recycled fiber. Even our marketing materials utilize recycled paper manufactured with windpower and printed with soy inks.”

These scaffold panels are advertising office space in a new tower that has since been built on this site. The one on the right reads “Reflect the social conscience of your organization.” Photo by Payton Chung.

Additionally, it has a 4-pipe HVAC system versus an “inferior” 2-pipe system, and high efficiency windows.

But I looked in the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Certified Project Directory and didn’t find a project named “Emerald.” Let’s assume my search and the results are correct and Emerald does NOT have LEED certification. Are the claims on the website accurate? How can we trust that the paint truly has less volatile organic compounds?

If it was LEED certified would we trust it more then?

The building advertised in the photo above, 300 N LaSalle, received two certifications: Silver in Commercial Interior, and Gold in Core & Shell. The advertisement’s claims have some verification, but how trustworthy? My photo.

I’m not a LEED AP (Accredited Professional), but I understand that LEED certification requires thorough documentation. After a review of your application and submittals (essentially an audit), the USGBC makes its determination. I don’t believe anyone representing the USGBC inspects the building.

We then have to question why the Emerald developers didn’t seek LEED certification. Or did they?

Open letter to Blair Kamin about Safeway and Dominick’s

Blair Kamin, the Chicago Tribune’s architecture critic wrote about the new LEED-certified Dominick’s* (Safeway) grocery store in Lincoln Square at Lincoln and Berwyn. This store features copious bike parking of a decent quality and design (see photo below).

In February 2009, I wrote a letter to the General Manager at their 3145 S Ashland store (read my letter). Someone at the company promptly made a request to the City of Chicago in March 2009 for a bike rack. The request was denied because the store is too far away from the nearest public right-of-way.

The following is my letter to Blair Kamin, John Hilkevitch (Tribune transportation writer), and the CEO of Safeway, Steve Burd.

Dear Blair,

I would like your help in getting better accommodations for bike riders at a local Dominick’s.

I read your article about the new, LEED-certified Dominick’s in Lincoln Square with copious bike parking available. (This should help with the potential auto parking issues you identified by encouraging people to bike to the store.)

The Dominick’s nearest me, at 3145 S Ashland, underwent major renovation in 2008 and 2009. People who ride their bicycles to the store (myself included) locked them to the shopping cart guard rails that were removed during renovation.

Bike parking was not included in this renovation.

LEED certification shouldn’t be the only impetus for installing bike parking. Currently it only gains the development 1 point and more than 40 are needed (more for Bronze, Gold, Silver, or Platinum). Installing bike parking should be an economic decision.

A single bike rack (holding two bikes) will cost less than $300 and require no maintenance for at least 5 years (some bike racks installed by the City are over 10 years old and look/work fine). A car parking space costs $1,000 per year to maintain.

We currently lock to garbage bins in a sheltered area near the store entrance. I ask that Dominick’s install real bike parking here in 2010. If they do, I’ll then ask them to work on the bike parking situations at their other stores (like the store at 1340 S Canal).

Thank you for your attention to bicycle infrastructure matters in Chicago.

Steven Vance
http://www.stevevance.net

P.S. The Dominick’s at 3145 S Ashland also has the unfortunate situation of being in a strip mall far away from any public roads. This precludes the City from installing bike racks; the nearest public space is more than 50 feet away.

Jewel…you’re up next!

The bike parking area at the new Dominick’s grocery store in Lincoln Square. Sure beats locking to a garbage bin at the Dominick’s at 3145 S Ashland in Bridgeport. That store underwent renovation in 2008 and 2009.

What bike parking at 3145 S Ashland looks like.

*The store is not yet LEED certified. Blair reports it’s expected to receive a Silver rating.

New blogs I like

Now that I’m without a job, I’ll have more time for reading, commenting, and writing. And job finding. I just started reading these two blogs today and they’re quite exciting. Both blogs started this year.

  • MAX FAQS – MAX means Metropolitan Area Express, the name for Portland, Oregon’s regional light rail system. I’m not sure who writes it (that’s left out on the introduction post), but they’ve very knowledgeable about the operations of TriMet and light rail in general.

Two trains at the Rose Quarter Transit Center, northwest of the busy and multi-modal Steel Bridge in Portland, Oregon.

Sustainability is more than individuals installing rain barrels to water their lawn (for free). But we all should so less water goes down the drain and into costly water treatment plants.

Philadelphia Water Department moves away from Deep Tunnel-style water management

West North points out that instead of spending $8 billion to build new sewage holding tanks throughout the city, the Philadelphia Water Department plans to conver impervious surfaces to pervious, natural surfaces. The American Society of Landscape Architects has more information on The Dirt:

The green infrastructure proposal would turn 1/3 of the city’s impervious asphalt surface, or 4,000 acres, into absorptive green spaces. The goal is to move from grey to green infrastructure. Grey infrastructure includes “man-made single purpose systems.” Green infrastructure is defined as “man-made structures that mimic natural systems.” As an example, networks of man-made wetlands, restored flood plains, or infiltration basins would all qualify as green infrastructure. The benefits of such systems include: evaporation, transpiration, enhanced water quality, reduced erosion / sedimentation, and restoration. Some grey / green infrastructure feature integrated systems that create hybrid detention ponds or holding tanks, which are designed to slow water’s release into stormwater management systems.

And, like Portland, Philadelphia is accomplishing more than just better stormwater management.

…the city is calling for a triple-bottom line approach, aiming for: more green spaces, improved public health, and more green jobs. [The Dirt]

Portland is building “Green Streets” that combine bicycle facilities with green infrastructure like bioswales inside curb extensions. This plan did not arise perhaps as altruistically as Philly’s (actually with a little controversy), but more as a way to build bicycle facilities with bioswale funding.

Meanwhile, the Deep Tunnel system in Chicago continues to expand. But it’s not all bad. The City of Chicago will showcase green infrastructure in a new streetscape in the Pilsen neighborhood.

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