Simple Sustainable Solutions (S3)

Previously my transportation focus has been predominately on highway facilities. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) embraced Context Sensitive Solutions – CSS (CS2) when they published Flexibility in Highway Design 15 years ago. Today, the FHWA has a robust Context Sensitive Solutions web site.

The Florida Greenbook addresses Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND) communities, and the renovation of downtown neighborhoods and business districts in Chapter 19 TND approach, with its greater focus on pedestrian, bicycle and transit mobility, is distinct from Conventional Suburban Development (CSD).

CSDs are comprised largely of subdivision and commercial strip development. TND communities rely on a strong integration of land use and transportation. A TND has clearly defined characteristics and design features that are necessary to achieve the goals for compact and livable development patterns reinforced by a context-sensitive transportation network. The treatment of land use, development patterns and transportation networks necessary for successful TND communities is a major departure from those same elements currently utilized in other Greenbook chapters.

In urban areas, the challenge is to right size streets ( Rightsizing is the process of reallocating a streets space to better serve its full range of users. Often four lane roads build decades ago in undeveloped areas enabled residential and commercial developments. An exclusive automobile facility now must safely accommodate pedestrians and bicycles. Strategies can include:

  • Converting vehicle travel lanes to other uses
  • Narrowing vehicle lanes
  • Adding bike lanes
  • Improving pedestrian infrastructure
  • Changing parking configuration
  • Adding roundabouts and medians

For communities to move forward faster than a glacial pace, lets look back in history, examine what worked and apply it again today. Most of the information to follow was derived from History of the Electric Automobile: Hybrid Electric Vehicles by Ernest H Wakefield. As we see more hybrids on the highways achieving over 40 mpg, remember this is old technology. The first Petro-Electric vehicles were built before 1900. Thomas Edison predicted in 1895 that the gasoline-powered horseless carriage would prevail over electric-only carriages because of the limited range of the electric storage battery. Here we are over 100 years later with the same limitation.

A bicycle is still the most efficient transportation machine. According to The Environment Equation published in 2008, bicycling saves over 11,000 lbs. of CO2 a year. For trips under 3 miles, it is the fastest mode of travel per the Canadian government. On a good road, compared to walking, a bicyclist consumes only one-fifth the energy in traversing an equal distance and at five times the speed. A bicycle will carry ten times its own weight, a factor probably unique in any type of transportation even today. Because lightweight bicycles are inexpensive, children and adults of all ages and income levels can afford the most efficient of transportation. Human energy is sustainable because of inexpensive and renewable sources (food). Travel to TND cities like Portland, OR and Copenhagen and see first had the efficiency for bicycling. Bicycling is a Simple Sustainable Solution.

The challenge is reverse-engineering of our quality of life by restoring the TND. We walked or rode horses before bikes. We rode trains, trolleys and bicycles before the horseless carriage. We rode bikes before we owned automobiles. Our current love for the automobile is reflected in subdivisions of garage groves where the prominent front entrance is garage doors. Homes build in the early 1900s had the horseless carriage in the back yard where it belonged.

Depicted graphically in the diagram is the triple bottom line (P3), people, planet and profitability a measure of sustainability. Young people need to learn sustainability from seniors. Community gardens are meaningful projects for bonding youthful energy and elderly wisdom. After hours community meetings bring all age groups together to move forward on sustainable living standards. Simple sustainable solutions involve restoring the Transportation Oriented Development (TOD) community structure and density of previously thriving cities.

Our planet provides limited fossil resources, daily solar power, inconsistent wind power and limited water resources. Extraction of fossil fuels seems to be a feast or famine situation and therefore unsustainable. Wind power has been used for centuries for pumping water into cisterns and is therefore sustainable but needs to be harnessed efficiently. Unfortunately, modern wind mills dont pump water like the Amish windmill below (Incidentally, you can still purchase these windmills).

The modern wind farms generate a small fraction of the electricity we need for sustainability.

Solar power is sustainable, but unreliable intensity and duration limits dependence to charging storage batteries for electrical power. Edison correctly identified storage battery technology as the limiting factor in the successful dependence on an electrical car.

Profitability is the primary objective of the consultants and contractors who design and build infrastructure. Conventional Suburban Development practices are not sustainable solutions. The following example illustrates non-sustainable practices.

Storm water drains from the parking area to a drainage structure in the center of the parking lot. The combination of pre-cast concrete parking wheel stoppers and curb and gutter is redundant. Landscaping is dependent on sprinklers for water.

A simple sustainable solution would eliminate the curb and gutter, lower and convert the gravel area into a rain garden. Finally, reverse the slope of the parking space to drain the runoff into the rain garden, flowing between the pre-cast concrete parking wheel stoppers. Eliminating the curb and gutter eliminates the laborious forming, pouring and curing of curbs. Diverting runoff into the lower elevation rain gardens reduces the storm water entering the drainage system. Consultants and contractors may view simple sustainable solutions having a negative impact on their profit opportunity.

Simple sustainable solutions encourage civil engineers to think outside the box within the rules. S3 questions can be sent to Randy Tardy, or 256-616-2496.

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