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News & Notes

Electric car charging.

Electric car charging station in St. Petersburg, FL. Photo (cc) CityofStPete

→ Grist: States promise to sell one new EV for every 24 people by 2025

They’re starting to step up. Eight states that represent, according to the New York Times, “a quarter of the national car market” just announced they’re going to work together on creating a better system for drivers of electric vehicles. They are, in descending order of population size, California, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, Oregon, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Vermont, and they say their goal is to help get 3.3 million new EVs sold by 2025. With a combined population of 79 million people, that means one EV for every 24 people.

How are they going to do it? By creating a system that will give EV owners something only gas-guzzling car drivers have now: certainty about where and when and how they’ll be able to fuel up.

I’m all for things that help improve the environment, but I’ve got to say, I’m a little sad that the environmental press is not being more thoughtful on this story. Reduced carbon emissions are wonderful, but it is not simply the carbon which is problematic, it is safety (for people inside and outside of cars) land-use, household budgets, and more. These are among the things states are supposed to do to encourage electric cars:

  • More charging stations
  • Building codes that require chargers at workplaces and “multifamily residences”
  • Reduced tolls
  • Better parking
  • Cheaper electricity prices

These are all things that encourage more driving; encouraging sprawl, paving land, putting pedestrians and cyclists in conflict with auto-traffic (I don’t think you’re any less dead after getting run over by an electric vehicle than you are getting run over by a gas powered one), and leaving individuals and families tied to the expense of a car (granted, made less so by reducing the costs of powering the vehicle).

Rhode Island seems quite proud of itself for being part of this group of states, but Rhode Island continues to poorly support alternatives to automobile use, namely mass transit and cycling infrastructure.

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State defiantly moves ahead with surface parking

state-house-parking

In spite of Providence Zoning rules and Capital Center rules forbidding it, the State is moving ahead with plans to expand a surface parking lot on the State House grounds and building a new surface parking lot adjacent to the State House.

ecoRI reports that the Department of Administration (DOA) has already started work on expanding the Assembly Members parking lot on the State House grounds. “Work on the two tiers of new parking to the east of the Statehouse, along Smith Street, will replace 2,000 square feet of grass with some 40 parking spaces.”

Meanwhile, as we discussed in July, the DOA has spent $3.1 million purchasing property along Francis Street next to the Veterans Memorial Auditorium for even more surface parking.

The Chairman of the Capital Center Commission, Deming Sherman is none to happy about all this. Sherman told The Providence Journal that there should be less parking around the State House, not more and that a parking garage should be built behind the DOA building.

When the State restarted the project to expand the parking lot on the State House lawn in June of this year, Sherman contended that the plan had to be submitted to the Capital Center Commission for review, the DOA claims that their authority supercedes the Capital Center Commission (which was created by the State) as well as City zoning.

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News & Notes

Detroit - Renaissance Center

Detroit from Canada. Photo (cc) Patricia Drury

→ Spacing: Converting Alleyways to Livable Laneways and Country Lanes

Asphalt paving was removed and replaced with “structural grass,” rigid plastic honeycomb cells sprinkled with ordinary lawn seed and nurtured into green swaths. Concrete strips were embedded on two sides, creating a durable driving surface. Permeable brick pavers were installed in driveways and at the lane way entrances; these allow rain water to infiltrate between their joints and into the ground, reducing run-off, the bane of municipal storm sewer systems.


→ Newshour: Will Other U.S. Cities Follow in Detroit’s Footsteps?

Well, I think cities have realized they’re not going to grow their economies by bribing companies to come in[1].

Just as Bruce said, they’re going to build on their own strategic assets, and as specialized as they are — and Bruce knows this — they also to be diverse. Diverse economies grow. But in the United States, the cities and regions that are having trouble are the manufacturing regions that have not revitalized and developed their knowledge assets and diversified.

And Sun Belt regions that are dependent on real estate and construction, our economy is being reshaped around knowledge centers, big and small. Ann Arbor right outside of Detroit is doing fabulously well, and energy centers — and those are becoming the powerhouses of the U.S. regional economy. But there are very real winners and losers in this economy. And for those falling behind, they have to take steps to specialize, to focus on their niche, but also to diversify their economy.

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Repost: Seeking a solution (to flooding and beach closures)

After the 2010 floods, I wrote about the public desire for some sort of solution to prevent future flooding. Spoiler, we can’t prevent future floods, but we can change what we’re doing to mitigate the impact of flooding.

We haven’t had a giant flood since, but related to the flooding problem is stormwater runoff polluting the bay. Bob Plain writes today on RIFuture about how Warwick has been heavily impacted by beach closures related to pollution caused by runoff.

Also today, Save The Bay is holding a press conference about the high number of beach closings this year. The AP’s Erika Niedowski tweets from the press conference:


That is to say, I believe, that the Providence Combined Sewer Overflow Project is working, but our paved and other impervious surfaces are still causing us harm.

In 2010 it was massive flooding which was supposed to be our wake-up call about the damage our built environment was doing to us. We did not learn many lessons it would seem from those floods, as a year later a smiling Cranston Mayor Fung celebrated the opening of a new Stop & Shop on the banks of the Pawtuxet.

Will we learn any lessons from our 2013 beach closures wake-up call?

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News & Notes

Flying Into Boston 005 - Tilt Shift v2

Boston. Photo (cc) Kevin Tostado.

→ The Boston Globe: Don’t require more spaces; price curbside ones properly

If you give a valuable resource away for free, the inevitable result is overuse and crowding. In the old Soviet Union, groceries sold eggs and butter at near-free prices, and therefore shoppers faced long lines and empty shelves. In modern Massachusetts, on-street parking is available at low or no cost, and therefore drivers can’t find a parking spot. Low parking costs also ensure there are more drivers congesting the roads.

Small comfort I suppose that even in Boston, residents are aghast at the idea of reduced parking minimums.


→ The Boston Globe: Boston’s population boom speeds up

It’s not just the city proper. If you look at the other New England cities of 50,000 people or more you see that in general, the closer these sizable cities were to Boston, the faster they grew. (An exception: the similarly fast-growing cities along southern Connecticut’s I-95 and commuter rail corridor, which fall into the orbit of New York City.) This is an acceleration of a trend that began in 2000-2010, when Boston grew faster than the rest of New England for the first time in more than a century.

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Air Quality Alert – Tuesday, June 25, 2013

canvas-featured-air-quality-alertLet’s do this again tomorrow; all regular RIPTA buses and trolleys, but excluding special services, will be free on Tuesday, June 25th, 2013.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management is predicting that air quality will reach unhealthy levels in all of Rhode Island in the afternoon on Tuesday. A very humid air mass with west to southwest winds will be present at that time, which will lead to unhealthy air conditions. The poor air quality will be due to elevated ground level ozone concentrations. Ozone is a major component of smog and is formed by the photochemical reaction of pollutants emitted by motor vehicles, industry and other sources in the presence of elevated temperatures and sunlight.

Rhode Island residents can help reduce air pollutant emissions. Limit car travel and the use of small engines, lawn motors and charcoal lighter fuels. Travel by bus or carpool whenever possible, particularly during high ozone periods.

The Department of Health warns that unhealthy levels of ozone can cause throat irritation, coughing, chest pain, shortness of breath, increased susceptibility to respiratory infection and aggravation of asthma and other respiratory ailments. These symptoms are worsened by exercise and heavy activity. The children, elderly and people who have underlying lung diseases, such as asthma, are at particular risk of suffering from these effects. As ozone levels increase, the number of people affected and the severity of the health effects also increase.

To avoid experiencing these effects, limit outdoor exercise and strenuous activity and stay in an air-conditioned environment if possible during the afternoon and early evening hours, when ozone levels are highest. Schedule outdoor exercise and children’s outdoor activities in the morning hours. Individuals who experience respiratory symptoms may wish to consult their doctors.

The unhealthy levels of ozone are expected to last as long as the hot sunny weather is present. The Rhode Island Chapter of the American Lung Association reminds people that “when you can’t breathe nothing else matters.”

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Air Quality Alert Day – Monday, June 24, 2013

canvas-featured-air-quality-alertAir Quality Alert means free RIPTA fixed route service on Monday, June 24, 2013.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management is predicting that air quality will reach unhealthy levels in all of Rhode Island in the afternoon on Monday. A very humid air mass with west to southwest winds will be present at that time, which will lead to unhealthy air conditions. The poor air quality will be due to elevated ground level ozone concentrations. Ozone is a major component of smog and is formed by the photochemical reaction of pollutants emitted by motor vehicles, industry and other sources in the presence of elevated temperatures and sunlight.

Rhode Island residents can help reduce air pollutant emissions. Limit car travel and the use of small engines, lawn motors and charcoal lighter fuels. Travel by bus or carpool whenever possible, particularly during high ozone periods.

The Department of Health warns that unhealthy levels of ozone can cause throat irritation, coughing, chest pain, shortness of breath, increased susceptibility to respiratory infection and aggravation of asthma and other respiratory ailments. These symptoms are worsened by exercise and heavy activity. The children, elderly and people who have underlying lung diseases, such as asthma, are at particular risk of suffering from these effects. As ozone levels increase, the number of people affected and the severity of the health effects also increase.

To avoid experiencing these effects, limit outdoor exercise and strenuous activity and stay in an air-conditioned environment if possible during the afternoon and early evening hours, when ozone levels are highest. Schedule outdoor exercise and children’s outdoor activities in the morning hours. Individuals who experience respiratory symptoms may wish to consult their doctors.

The unhealthy levels of ozone are expected to last as long as the hot sunny weather is present. The Rhode Island Chapter of the American Lung Association reminds people that “when you can’t breathe nothing else matters.”

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Video: The Magnificent Bioswales & Stormwater Treatment Along the Indy Cultural Trail

With seemingly no end in site to all this rain, and our rivers quickly rising toward and beyond flood stage, this video which takes a look at bioswales, a form of storm water retention is quite timely.

Many American cities are growing to the idea that they need to do a much better job handling their stormwater runoff at ground level. In Indianapolis, they decided to not only do that but significantly green the city along its newly opened Cultural Trail. The 8 mile separated biking and walking route loops thru the heart of the downtown and as you’ll see in this short (expanded from our larger work) Karen S, Haley, the Executive Director of Indianapolis Cultural Trail, tells us a little about the substansial and verdant bioswales they installed.

Imagine if these became standard for roads in some vulnerable-to-storms- U.S. cities?

From Streetfilms via The Atlantic Cities.

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10 reasons why the Apponaug Circulator is ‘not ready to go’

The Providence streetcar project is not the only TIGER grant application coming from Rhode Island. RIDOT has also submitted an application for the Apponaug Circulator Long-term Improvements Project .

The Mayor has thrown his support behind the streetcar however the Governor (former Mayor of Warwick) is not on board, saying through a spokesperson to WPRI that the streetcar project is, “not ready to go.”

I contend that it is the Apponaug project is not ready to go, here’s why:

apponaug-4-corners

RIDOT rendering of Four Corners in Apponaug.

1. 20th century traffic solutions

The one-way circulation as it exists today was a temporary response to the construction of the Post Road Extension by-pass built in the 1970′s. High-speed traffic from that bypass was dumped into the one-way circulation to reach Routes 117 and 1 at the southern side of Apponaug.

The current circulator project seeks to relieve problems cause by heavy through traffic and fix “numerous roadway deficiencies [that] exist along all legs the circulator, including narrow lane widths, narrow or nonexistent shoulder widths, insufficient horizontal curves, poor curb reveal, and poorly defined curb openings.” At the same time, it seeks to improve the environment for area businesses, pedestrians, and cyclists.

These wide lanes, wide shoulders, broad curves, and etc. are exactly what make a village center environment such as Apponaug a poor place for pedestrians and cyclists and by extension, a poor place to run a business. This kind of engineering perpetuates the high-speed movement of automobiles and will not help get pass-through traffic to stop and patronize area businesses.

Basically, these conditions extend the road environment of the Post Road Extension straight through Apponaug.

2. Walkability

While the plan calls for reducing the section of Post Road between Four Corners and Williams Corner, the main historic business district, to one lane and installing curb extensions leading to raised crosswalks through that section, the rest of the roadways through the project feature four-lane arterials with wide shoulders; not an ideal environment for pedestrians.

The project features four roundabouts and one tear-shaped not quite roundabout at Williams Corner. While the proposal claims that, “A key characteristic of roundabouts is their ability to handle pedestrian crossings safely,” I’m dubious about the safety of pedestrians in any roundabout that has two-lanes of high-speed traffic moving in each direction. ‘Yield to pedestrians’ and speed limit signs can be put up all over the place, but traffic will move at the speed the road is engineered to allow it to move at.

The business district portion has good pedestrian enhancements, the rest of the project area is not ideal and continues to cut pedestrians off from the surrounding areas.

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Rapid bus, other initiatives, coming to RIPTA

ripta-studley

RIPTA CEO Raymond Studley speaking at a June 10th press conference in Burnside Park.

Yesterday, RIPTA held a press conference in Burnside Park to announce transportation initiatives scheduled to take effect over the next year.

Changes include route changes and bus stop realignment resulting from the Comprehensive Operational Analysis, Rapid bus service on Routes 11 and 99, real time schedule information, and more.

Projects highlighted by RIPTA:

SUMMER 2013

Bus Stop Realignment Project

The Bus Stop Realignment Project launches this summer and will consolidate bus stops statewide. RIPTA will be removing and moving bus stops to meet newly adopted guidelines. Fewer stops equal faster buses that can operate on a more reliable schedule. The Bus Stop Realignment Project will reduce energy consumption and emissions, while reducing operating and maintenance costs.

Roof Replacement/Solar Panel Project

This summer, RIPTA will complete the Roof Replacement/Solar Panel project at the Transportation Building located at 269 Melrose Street, Providence. Funds for the project are a combination of Federal ARRA funds, a competitive Federal grant for green investments, funds from the Attorney General’s settlement of an environmental lawsuit, and RIPTA revolving loan funds. The Authority expects to save $30,000 annually as a user of solar energy.

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