Category Archives: the environment

Lansing Area Logistics to "Go Green"

Source: gogreentrikesllc

Scheduled to launch in Greater Lansing on Earth Day, 2014 (Tuesday, April 22nd), Go Green Trikes, LLC (Facebook webpage link) is the brainchild of local green business entrepreneur, Yvonne LeFave. Utilizing heavy-duty electric-assisted cargo trikes capable of carrying loads of up to 600 pounds, Go Green Trikes will provide prompt and sustainable delivery services throughout the urban heart of Greater Lansing – essentially an area bounded by I-96 on the south and west, I-69 on the north and Van Atta Road to the east. Here’s a maplink of the service area.

These are not your childhood tricycles folks, but industrial-grade cargo trikes designed to efficiently serve businesses while avoiding the tangles associated with trucks and street traffic. They also allow for door-to-door delivery of goods without the hassle of blocking lanes and/or customers in the process.

According to Yvonne, Greater Lansing will be at the very forefront of this cutting-edge form of “last mile” delivery/logistics service. Within North America, cargo trike delivery services such as Go Green Trikes only operate currently in Portland, Oregon (B-line); Vancouver, British Columbia (Shift Urban Cargo Delivery); Boston (Metro Pedal Power); and New York City (Revolution Rickshaws). Needless to say, Greater Lansing will be in good company, while also being the smallest urban center to support such an exciting and sustainable business venture.

If early indications

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are a guide, it appears Go Green Trikes, LLC will be pedaling off to a successful start, as they already have three clients lined up to date. So, starting April 22nd, keep an eye out for Yvonne LeFave as she plies her way about area streets and bike trails. Kudos to her for setting a sustainble standard for all of us to strive for!

– Rick Brown

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"Bikenomics" – An Instant Classic for Planners and Bicycling Advocates

Source: takingthelane.com

Certain books become a classic in their field of study because of their comprehensive nature (i.e. The City in History). Others do from their advocacy and groundbreaking nature (i.e. Silent Spring).  In the case of Bikenomics: How Bicycling Can Save the Economy, both of these reasons apply. Author Elly Blue has written “the” definitive book on bicycle planning that clearly identifies the societal, physical, environmental, and economic benefits of bicycling, while also completely debunking the myths, fables, urban legends, half-truths, and outright lies spread by naysayers and automotive apologists.

Facts are funny things. They tend to get in the way of spurious and superfluous arguments. In Bikenomics, Ms. Blue lays down the gauntlet with factual truths about bicycling and how a vibrant cycling culture can go a long way to curing many of our nation’s ills. If one could quote the entire book in a blogpost, I would.  There are so many quotable gems contained within this publication, that I could fill gigabytes of pages with them. But alas, you should read the book, so I have only provided a few of them at the end of this post.

Believe me when I say this is a book that every planning professional must read and own. It will single-handedly serve as your go-to resource on the benefits of bicycle planning in your community. Kudos to Ms. Blue providing all of us with a fantastic source of information. Enjoy!

Here are a sampling of quotes from the book:

“People who ride bicycles also pay taxes, which means they often pay more into the road system than they cost it. By one estimate, a carfree cyclist would overpay by an average of $250 a year — a few dollars more than the amount that the average driver underpays.” (page 13)

“As it turns out, gas taxes have paid for about 70% of the construction and maintenance costs of the Interstate system to date, with that percentage going down with each passing year. Local roads fare worse when it comes user funding. If you take the nation’s road system as a whole, only 51% of its cost over the years has come from direct user fees.” (page 39)

“When you brush away the rhetoric, though, even the fanciest bikeways are a screaming bargain. For the cost of one freeway interchange, you can completely transform your city and immeasurably improve the wealth, health, and happiness of its citizens.”  (page 49)

“Large road projects are often funded in a down economy because they create jobs. But roads are actually the least job-intensive of any transportation investment. Bikeways are the most, creating more jobs per million dollars spent than roads-this is because there are so few materials involved and most of the budget goes to workers.” (page 51)

“Bikes may not be able to solve our health care crisis singlehanded…But bicycling is one of the rare areas where people can directly and concretely address our own health and the health of our community, and quickly see big results. In this light, bicycling for transportation isn’t so much a lifestyle choice as it’s a form of civic action.” (page 61)

“Minimum parking requirements act like a fertility drug for cars’ – Donald Shoup.” (page 89)

“In the US, 99% of trips by car end up in a free spot [parking spot]. The value of that land—and to a lesser extent, the costs of paving, sweeping, policing, and maintaining it—makes [parking one of the largest subsides going.” (page 90)

“In a car-oriented world, old age becomes a disability for many, long before it might in a more walkable neighborhood. The more car-reliant your daily life, the lower the threshold becomes for frailness, injury, or failing eyesight to be experienced as outright disabling.” (page 104)

– Rick Brown

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Does your community suffer from power pole blight?

I don’t know about your community, but here in Greater Lansing there seems to be an intense love affair between public utilities and power poles. “Holy pincushions, Batman, you’d think they’d all been raised by a family of porcupine.”

In some places, the primary roadway corridors look like a long, linear parade of power pole blight. Sadly, all too often this leaves communities in the region with disjointed and unpleasant streetscape aesthetics to viagra for sale overcome. I know Greater lansing is not alone, as I have seen power pole blight across many parts of the Rust Belt.

Seriously...in the middle of a roundabout?
Seriously…in the middle of a roundabout?

Attempts have been made to convince area utilities to remove portions of the visual blight and bury the power lines, but that is usually greeted with consternation and rebuttals on the costliness of such actions. If the community or property owners wish to pay for burying the lines, they would be glad to oblige. As a result, instead https://twitter.com/drjonesbilly of a modern and efficient electrical grid, numerous locations end up with a cobbled together third-world styled electrical grid that struggles to maintain service during ice, snow, and wind storm events.

One would think that after a certain number of repetitive power outages and emergency repairs to broken, damaged, and fallen power lines, electric utilities would initiate https://twitter.com/drjonesbilly routine burying programs on their own to reduce the number of outages and their firm’s long-term maintenance costs. Throw in discount viagra regular tree trimming efforts and eventually burying power lines doesn’t look so expensive anymore. Apparently the bean counters differ on that assessment.

Years ago, power utilities were often active participants in economic development, community enhancement, redevelopment, and revitalization efforts. It was seen as a way to increase the utility’s customer base. Today, some utilities can be a stubborn impediment to new initiatives and progressive streetscape design ideas. Whether this is a function of the short-term profit mindset or local firms being bought out or merging with multinationals is not entirely clear. Unfortunately, whatever the reason, local communities across the Rust Belt and other parts of the nation are left with paying the price of power pole/line blight with unsightly pincushionesque landscapes dotting the horizon.

No one is advocating for the burying of the entire power line infrastructure. That would be viagra for men impractical. But, in those areas where the power poles have become overbearing and omnipresent, or in places where redevelopment and revitalization efforts are trying to get underway, burying the power lines makes sense. As stakeholders in the community and https://twitter.com/drjonesbilly the Rust Belt generally, it is hoped the region’s utilities will join any and all localized efforts to achieve a more aesthetically pleasant streetscape and overall community vision.

– Rick Brown

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Ten Lessons from Boulder, Colorado

 

View of Boulder from the Flatiron Mountains - photo by author

I had the great pleasure of visiting Boulder, Colorado for the first time over an extended weekend. As an urban planner, I was able to take away many useful lessons for Rust Belt communities from the lovely city abutting the Front Range. Granted, not every place can be set aside majestic mountains, but every community does have unique attributes.

Here are what I would quantify as the top ten. Many of these are remarkably similar to the ten lessons from European industrial cities published earlier this month.

  • Cherish, protect, enhance, and enjoy your natural surroundings, attributes, and amenities.
  • Don’t worry, be active! As one of the healthiest and most active cities in the United States, Boulder residents practice this every day.
  • Active transportation (walking, hiking, cycling, mass transit) is absolutely key to a vibrant, healthy community.
  • Design the city to be human-scaled and pedestrian friendly.
  • There is a place for cars, but not at the forefront (both in the city and on college campuses) – the University of Colorado campus is amazingly compact and is only bisected by a few streets.
  • Skyscrapers and sprawl are not necessary for a healthy community – sprawl, in particular, is the antithesis of a healthy community.
  • Create third places and amenitiesdowntown Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall (a closed street) is an amazing third place filled with people and constant activity.
  • Embrace street art, performers, and vendors – they add life and vibrancy.
  • Preserve and protect your community’s architecture and cultural heritage – they’re the only ones you’ve got!
  • People will pay the necessary premiums (taxes, fees, rent, cost of living, etc.) to live, work, and play in a well-planned, diverse, eccentric, healthy, innovative, and sustainable community.

– Rick Brown

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On the Waterfront: The Possible Future of Youngstown's Riverfront

For many legacy cities in the former Industrial Heartland of America, waterfronts were never much more than alien spaces. Cargo shipping, steel mills, chemical companies, and other industrial concerns ruled rivers and lakefronts. Manufacturing enterprises even rendered waterways into toxic dumping grounds in the decades before the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Water Act. This is especially true of the former steel city of Youngstown, Ohio.

For most of the twentieth century, miles of massive steel mills covered both banks of the Mahoning River, which snakes through the city of Youngstown. The city’s highly developed downtown was surrounded by the maw of local industry for nearly 80 years. By the 1980s, most of the mills had been silenced and the area around the Market Street Bridge—the main gateway to the downtown—was well on its way to becoming deindustrialized. Wean United, one of the last standing large industrial facilities near the bridge, closed in 1982. The Wean complex continued to operate as an industrial space for a variety of companies until its complete abandonment in 2011.

The former Wean facility is now a 300,000 square foot brownfield site sitting next to what is presumably prime real estate on the Mahoning River. The city had been attempting to find new tenants for the building; however recent negotiations with two companies fell through. If the city does not find a tenant for the site, the building itself will come down—opening up the waterfront to a newly revitalized downtown. Youngstown recently received $1,775,418 of Clean Ohio funds for environmental remediation of the site. It’s estimated the clean up will take at least six months, and the funds themselves must be used by December of 2014.

Youngstown officials have indicated the site is to initially become a parking lot. The entire idea of a parking lot represents a shameful lack of imagination. Another prime site, the vacant hole on West Federal Street that once housed the State Theater, is also slated to become a parking lot. This begs the question: What are some REAL uses for the newly opened riverfront?

Water bodies are prime physical assets for cities. In a report entitled Restoring Prosperity to Ohio’s Cities, the Brookings Institute called for creating statewide “Walkable Waterfronts” initiatives in Ohio. The report mentions Youngstown specifically. Of course various waterfront development efforts are either in the planning stages, or are already underway, in a wide variety of legacy cities from Trenton to Toledo. If at all feasible, creative uses for recreation and economic development should be considered for the downtown riverfront. In fact the nearby city of Warren has already set an example for what could be done in Youngtown.

Warren’s Riverwalk project set out to remake the waterfront adjacent to the downtown. The project has already opened up the river area and connected it to the courthouse, which is a high traffic center in the downtown. At the corner of West Market and Mahoning Avenue are a veteran’s memorial and a log cabin, built where the first schoolhouse in Warren once stood. The city installed the Perkins Park amphitheater right below the monument, which now hosts seasonal concert events under the name “River Rock at the Amp.” A pedestrian-bicycle path was installed in the late 1990s. The Riverwalk skirts the Mahoning as it leads through Perkins Park and eventually leads to Packard Park. The entire area has become a showcase for the city of Warren

There has been some riverfront development in Youngstown. On the lower west side at the edge of downtown on the water is the B&O Station Boxcar Lounge and the Rust Belt Brewery. The B&O hosts a number of events throughout the season, including Artists of the Rust Belt, which features local work, and the B&O Night Market—that serves as a place for vendors to sell produce, baked goods, and other edibles.

To the east of the Wean site is the Covelli Center (formerly the Chevrolet Center.) Built on the site of a demolished steel mill in 2005, the center attracts a number of high profile events per year. Additional parking could indeed accommodate any overflow from Covelli, but there are a number of better ideas for the Wean site.

This year, the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation brought in a group of design students from the Technical University of Dortmund in Germany to propose possible new uses for a number of vacant sites in the city, Wean being one of them. The proposals included an indoor sports facility (probably cost prohibitive) and an outdoor skate park/BMX area. Skateboarding in particular is very popular in Youngstown, and there are no skate parks within the city limits.

Another student proposal is to build an industrial heritage park. When the city finally began to address the future of the Wean site, the term “eye sore” became common whenever referring to the complex. Local industrial historian Rick Rowlands questioned the term and appropriately referenced the site’s “unique place in industrial history.” At the very least an historical marker and some information about the history of the William Tod Company (the first company at the site) and Wean United would be in order.

Youngstown’s waterfront could be designed as a hike/bike trail, as the city mentions in Youngstown 2010 Plan: “Mill Creek MetroParks operates a trail west of Youngstown that runs from Green Township in southern Mahoning County to the Trumbull County line, where it continues in various states of development along an abandoned rail line to Ashtabula. The Stavich bike trail begins southeast of Youngstown and runs from Struthers to New Castle links to trail connections to Washington. The missing link between these trails is through Youngstown.” The 2010 plan alluded to connecting Mill Creek Park to Spring Commons (AKA Mr. Peanut Bridge.) This could be further linked to the Wean site by a hike/bike trail, making the downtown much more amenable to recreation, as well as significantly greening a currently blighted area.

However, activities close to, but not too near the water, seem to be the most sensible option, for one very good reason.

The steel industry’s ugly legacy of environmental destruction is still present in the Mahoning River. While the mills operated the river never froze, even during the coldest winters. A wide variety of heavy metals are still present in the contaminated riverbed. According to the Army Corps of Engineers, right up until the late 1970s hundreds of thousands of pounds of oils, grease, and even zinc were routinely dumped EVERY day into the Mahoning. Sediment in the river is contaminated with carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are also carcinogenic and have been linked to physiological abnormalities in animals and humans.

The Army Corps recommends the dredging of 750,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from the riverbed and from the shoreline. To put those numbers in perspective, that’s a mound of sediment one yard wide by one yard high that would stretch roughly from Youngstown to New York City. The estimated cost of such a project approaches at least $150 million, if not substantially more. The Ohio Department of Health issued contact bans in the late 1980s, advising people not to come into contact with the water, nor to eat any fish from the river. Any activities involving direct contact with the water or with shoreline sediment should not be part of any future development plans.

Last but not least, both sides of the Mahoning riverfront are sites of homeless camps large and small. Immediate consideration needs to be given to relocating these individuals to safe housing. Across the river from Wean, the bottling house for the old Renner Brewery is still standing. It needs to be demolished and the persons living in it humanely relocated as well.

Brownfield waterfront development is a complicated endeavor under any circumstance. Downtown Youngstown’s plan should encompass some form of riverfront development besides just surface parking. Community input, environmental considerations, and safe recreational designs should be part of any plan for the riverfront that survives the planning stages; this is a crucial piece for the future of downtown development. Unless the community lobbies for creative uses of the site, it’s assured that the city will install a parking lot, and despite what officials might say, it will likely be permanent. Let’s not allow a botched plan for the riverfront to impede the future prosperity of the downtown.

–Sean Posey

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A literary triumph – “Nothing But Blue Skies” by Edward McClelland

It is difficult to describe how truly outstanding the book entitled Nothing But Blue Skies: The Heyday, Hard Times, and Hopes of America’s Industrial Heartland is to read. As a nearly lifelong Rust Belt resident, I can attest to the fact that Edward McClelland’s newly released book simply nails our industrial heritage, decline, and hopeful potential squarely on the head. From nationally known politicians like Dennis Kucinich or Coleman Young to the everyday blue-collar laborer toiling in our mills and factories, Mr. McClelland personifies the Rust Belt like no other book I have ever read on the subject. As a Lansing native, he has personally witnessed the dramatic (and sometimes catastrophic) changes just in his lifetime. In Nothing But Blue Skies, Mr. McClelland takes the reader on a quasi-chronological step-by-step sequence of events that shook the Rust Belt down it its very core.

From Buffalo and the loss of its competitive edge with the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway to Detroit’s dramatic fall from grace following the 1967 riot, to Cleveland’s multi-decade search for post-Cuyahoga River fire redemption, to Flint, Homestead, and other cities. Mr. McClelland whisks the reader through a series of events that spelled the disaster for America’s Industrial Heartland and gave rise to its current moniker of Rust Belt.

Nothing But Blue Skies is a literary triumph that must be read by anyone who has an interest in history, sociology, economics, demographics, geography, politics, planning, environmental protection, and many other topics. Author Edward McClelland takes the best (and worst) of our post-World War II legacy and paints a tapestry of images that is very hard to put down. I guarantee that you will empathize with many of the everyday folks identified in his book, as they are exactly the same as you and I – Rust Belters.

– Rick Brown

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Repurposing “streets with no name”

Source: flickr.com

In a number of cities, there are certain derelict streets that are nearly denuded of dwellings or businesses. Desolate and forlorn, these streets resemble something out of a post war apocalypse. Detroit may be the poster child du jour of such stark and sad emptiness, but there are many other examples across the Rust Belt and elsewhere. What to do with neglected streets has long been a source of planning discussion and conjecture. In some instances entire abandoned neighborhoods have or are being converted to urban agriculture or community gardens. However, this avid bicycle commuter has another suggestion for a few of these lowly streets without names – repurpose them to active transportation byways.

Quite often bicycle routes consist of abandoned railroad corridors, canal towpaths, or shared lanes in a sea of motor vehicles. I, like many other cyclists, am not necessarily enamored with having to pedal cheek-to-cheek with four-wheeled motorized metal missiles. Seems no matter the efforts to stave off accidents and injury, the metal missiles will always win the contest. The other problem is that there are a finite number of old railroad or canal corridors to choose from, so many populations go un or underserved.

Hence, if a street is already underutilized and virtually desolate, then why not just finish the job? Why not consider purchasing or re-accessing those land uses that have currently sole access to the particular street and then repurpose the entire street into an active transportation byway serving bicyclists, pedestrians, joggers, roller-bladers, Segway users, and others?

In certain instances, “streets with no name” could be converted to mass transit corridors akin to busways. Needless to say, not every desolate street or remnant neighborhood would be appropriate for such a transformation, but I would be willing to bet that in certain cities and in certain locations, there are some excellent opportunities just waiting for foresighted leaders to actively pursue this idea.

Source: flickr.com

Converting an existing street would also seem to be an easier/effective/efficient/economical way to expand a city’s active transportation infrastructure rather than wholly design, acquire, and build a completely new route. Given the extent of economic decline that would precipitate a “street with no name,” it would be hard to imagine any land acquisition costs being a significant impediment. Lastly, necessary public utilities along the byway along the could remain accessible for care, maintenance, and serve the revitalized

areas.

The short-term goals of establishing active transportation byways are to:

· enhance the city’s and region’s active transportation resources;

· reduce the city’s and region’s carbon footprint;

· improve overall community health and fitness;

· reinvigorate the sense of place;

· to rebuild community pride; and

· infuse economic energy and cultural vibe.

Source: phillyrecord.com

In the longer-term, the goal of such a repurposing enterprise would be to effectively stymy and then to reverse the decline found along these desolated streets and their adjoining neighborhoods by utilizing active transportation corridors as the conduit.

Am I missing or overlooking something here? Any thoughts or feedback on these ideas would be appreciated.

– Rick Brown

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