Green with Envy over a new Green Street

edmonston

As our plans for a new Route 1 seem to be stalling other communities are moving ahead. The Washington Post reports on Edmonston’s efforts at revitalizing the area by  installing a “green street” that should make folks who travel Route 1 green with envy.

In a few weeks, workers will start ripping up Edmonston’s main road and replacing it with an environmentally friendly street of rain gardens, porous brick and a drought-resistant tree canopy designed to shade the concrete, filter rainwater before it flows into the river and put people to work.

The local mayor Adam C. Ortiz has worked tirelessly to move this project ahead. If that small area just to our south can get things moving in this economy what is stopping College Park?

Commute Green on Earth Day and Everyday

Did you know you can purchase a bundle of one-day parking permits to park on campus, get discounted Metro cards, or even rent a Zipcar on campus?

Many of our readers commute to the UMD campus, and others are effected by the choices made by those who work or study here. To the end of encouraging transit and minimizing the number of cars on campus, the Department of Transportation Services has circulated a list of programs and services that encourage “green” commutes.

Continue reading Commute Green on Earth Day and Everyday

Extend the Paint Branch Trail North?

paint branch trailWe’ve heard the concept tossed around a couple of  times, but what would it actually take to bring this great trail north of its terminus behind Home Depot? Crossing under 12 lanes of beltway traffic doesn’t appear to be the biggest obstacle since there is already a substantial underpass in place for the stream. The real question is will there ever be enough of a political coalition together to convince the USDA’s BARC facility to give up the necessary right-of-way (in red on the map). Once the county bridges that gap and brings the trail to its property (in green) just to the north of BARC, where is there left to go and would it be worth the added environmental disturbance in the first place?

–> See full sized map (produce from PGatlas.com).

Climate Change and City Planning

LRT in DresdenAn impressive environmental movement has been building lately concerned about the warming of earth’s climate and what we should do about it. A major force in it has been the passions of activists, especially college students. The recent Powershift 2007 conference at our campus brought together students from around the country to consider what should be done about climate change.

What has been primarily discussed is the adoption of cleaner, renewable energy sources such as wind, solar-thermal panels, photovoltaic solar cells, or hydroelectric power. Or, they stress the need to develop alternative fuel technologies that reduce our demand for finite fossil fuels such as hydrogen or biofuels. However, I would like to bring attention to another major factor in the climate change debate: the carbon emissions brought about by Americans who continue to support wasteful, unsustainable lifestyle habits that lead to greater sprawl, greater congestion, and greater pollution.

Recently, the study “Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change” was released by the Urban Land Institute and Smart Growth America, in conjunction with the National Center for Smart Growth on the University of Maryland campus. The study found that vehicle-miles traveled (Or, “VMT”) in America are steadily increasing at a startling rate, three times the rate of population growth and at a faster rate than carbon emissions. VMT is scheduled to continue rising 60% over the next 30 years; all the while CO2 emissions would be 40% above 1990 levels even under a best case scenario with new Senate CAFE standards. Transportation CO2 emissions account for a third of total emissions in the US, and while policy initiatives have striven to improving fuel efficiency and carbon fuel content, precious little has been done to reduce the amount of driving that is being done.

Our communities have principally been designed for automobiles, where multi-lane freeways, spread-out subdivisions and expansive strip malls are the norm. Our attitudes have been cultivated from this way of living, with an increased prevalence in people moving farther away from work and eschewing public transit for time spent alone in their cars. These unplanned subdivisions encourage low-density zoning in areas that receive little to no benefit from mass transit, thus forcing everyone to drive to get around anywhere.

Portland Streetcar PlazaMost frustrating has been the lack of attention from environmental activists, especially students, on this topic. While policy initiatives on emissions caps are necessary and welcome, it takes a concerted emphasis on persuading the general public that global warming is real and is impacted by the decisions we make every day. Collective pressure on planning policymaking could bring about real change to the problem. While many “activists” are in tune with the more glamorous topics, such as the headline-grabbing “gloomsday” scenarios, they may be overlooking other aspects of the problem.

So here are the solutions. The best way to discourage driving is to reduce urban sprawl, which pushes communities further out from cities and increases vehicle travel distances that increase fossil fuel consumption and emissions released. These conditions lead to greater traffic congestion, which directly threatens the livelihood of our cities. Higher-density, mixed-use development around transportation centers (termed as “smart growth”), extensively implementing “green” building design features and promoting rural conservation efforts to control sprawl can have a pronounced effect on development patterns.

Environmental activist Mike Tidwell believes that it’ll be “very hard” to wean Americans off their unsustainable suburban existence, but it must happen eventually. We can start by giving citizens realistic alternative options to commuting in automobiles. Currently, the Federal Transit Administration appropriates 30 times less funding towards public transit projects than highway projects yearly, which reflects severe lack of foresight by this administration. The 2009 surface transportation bill (Transportation Equity Act) will decide the allocation of federal funding for the following 5 years and can set a tremendous precedent in reducing the amount of transportation greenhouse gases emitted. Further, cheap gasoline makes driving more financially viable to many compared to transit. Let’s fix that by instituting dramatically higher gas and displacement taxes that not only encourage people to drive less frivolously and carpool, but to use the extra proceeds to fund mass transit projects such as the Purple Line and reintroducing streetcar services. Antiquated zoning codes that worked to separate residential, commercial and retail spaces now work against achieving smart growth and must be reformed to encourage mixed-use development that puts everything within walkable distances. Local governments should also refuse to give sweetheart deals to private developers whose objective is to build over every last inch of open space.

And it’s important to note that I don’t believe that mass transit is the panacea to solve all of our traffic problems. Road improvements are long-overdue and even more necessary than before due to exploding population growth that has overburdened our transportation infrastructure networks. But diminishing the need for long travel distances by conveying changes in public attitudes and the way we plan cities is the vision that we need to start embracing. Promoting responsible planning and development is necessary to foster compact communities that can support lifestyles in the new age of conservation and sustainability. Curbing global warming takes more than just a signature. It requires a real, fundamental revolution in the way we live.

East Campus Update

Proposed East Campus Office adjacent to Ritchie ColiseumThe East Campus Community Review Steering Committee has been meeting since August to hear from the developers and their consultants about a wide variety of issues surrounding the project. We have encouraged our readers to attend these meetings (and many have) and I am an official committee member of this committee. The meetings are preceded by a “student focus group” between graduate and undergraduate students and university officials.

While we have published several items related to the project, I thought it was time for a summary of some of the news that has been discussed at these meetings. Most of the supporting documents have been posted to the East Campus website, and offer a variety of additional information.

Two issues were discussed at the previous (October 8th) meeting about transportation. First, several members of the committee strongly opposed vehicular connections between Old Town and the East Campus project. As I described in a previous post, I believe these streets should be open and strategies used elsewhere to control traffic would alleviate resident’s fears. Second, Foulger-Pratt announced they wanted to design the project choosing the Paint Branch Alignment for the Purple Line. The Maryland Transit Administration’s preferred light rail route is straight through the project, the location that makes the most sense from a planning point of view. The route through the project has been assumed in all the discussions previous to this month. We strongly feel the reasons cited by Foulger-Pratt are not satisfactory and will present a full description of why after Monday’s meeting.

East Campus Routes

Here’s a summary of some of the most germane issues discussed. All of this is subject to change.

City Demands
The “city” (it is unknown who precisely this means) has submitted a letter with requirements for the project to the University and the developer. This document has not been made public, making it difficult for us to evaluate the nature of the requests. It seems clear the project will need some type of public financing (such as a TIF) and will need city approval and support.

Parking
The parking garages will be embedded within blocks where possible. While they had released graphics showing precise numbers of spaces, they declined to discuss them at last week’s meeting saying they wanted to wait until the traffic study had been completed. The developers are negotiating with county officials about the scope of the traffic study they will complete.

Housing
Specifically for graduate students, the project will include 75 units of 2 bedroom graduate housing priced at $900 per person, and 75 units containing five bedrooms that will rent at $650 per person. This is similar to was it required by the RFP. In total, the project will contain roughly 2,000 units of housing, all rental, although not designed specifically for undergraduates. This housing will be priced at “market rate.”

Retail Mix
The “anchor tenants” at the project include roughly 175,000 square feet of retail. They are a movie theater (now perhaps replaced by the Birchmere Theater), a gym, book store, and grocery store. The preferred grocer mentioned is Whole Foods. There will also be a childcare center for children under 3 years old. Other tenants will include a variety of restaurants, neighborhood retail, and destination retail. There will be no bars in the project.

Other Considerations
The project will be under the jurisdiction of the UMD police. The developer has committed to a LEED Silver standard, although hedged about whether they would commit to applying to the USGBC for the official certification.

Maryland’s LEAFHouse Scores Second in Architecture

Maryland's LEAF House at the 2007 Solar Decathlon on the National Mall

(Fawna Xiao of the University of Maryland is ready for the next round of visitors at the 2007 Solar Decathlon on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 15. The Maryland team took second place in the architecture portion of the competition. Credit: Kaye Evans-Lutterodt/Solar Decathlon)

The U.S. Department of Energy inaugurated its biennial Solar Decathlon on Friday, bringing online a neighborhood of twenty solar-powered houses on the National Mall. The University of Maryland School of Architecture’s entry, the LEAFHouse (interior pictured above), already picked up second place in the architecture contest, which compared the houses on firmness, utility, and delight. (Ironically, though the competition highlights new technology, the architectural criteria are derived from three ancient Roman architecture principles).

The decathlon will judge the houses in nine more categories, the results of which will be tabulated on Friday, October 19. A quick tour of the house today proved that environmentally conscious architecture can also be beautiful.

Though the school’s 2005 entry was sadly scrapped after the competition, we certainly hope this year’s superb entry will return home to College Park intact for for public display and enjoyment.

Website: Department of Energy Solar Decathlon
Schedule: The Solar Decathlon houses are open for public tours through Saturday:

  • 11 am – 3 pm on weekdays (all houses will be closed Wednesday).
  • 10 am – 5 pm on Saturday.

Location: On the National Mall, south of the Museum of Natural History, north of the Smithsonian Castle.
Metro: Smithsonian

Friends Community School – Past, Present & Future

old FCS

The Friends Community School (FCS) has been located on 4601 Calvert Road for 21 years, since it was established by the Adelphi Friends [Quaker] Meeting. It has taught K-6 grades, and recently expanded to teach 7th and 8th grades. This past school year was the final term for FCS at Calvert Road. They will move to their new site in Westchester Park on Kenilworth Avenue in the fall. FCS has been leasing the Calvert Road building since its establishment in 1985. The Westchester Park school is being built by FCS through contributions from the FCS community in its Grounding Our Future Campaign. The new site will be the permanent home for the school.
new FCS elevation
There is strong community interest in Calvert Hills for the old school to remain a school.  College Park City Council voted this past week to explore for 120 days a lab school concept (in partnership with the Prince George’s County School District and the University of Maryland) for the Calvert Road site.   If a lab school does not pan out, the city may consider other options for the use of that site including other school options. The latter scenario would fall in line with an interest from new Prince George’s County superintendent John E. Deasy for more small local community schools.

The new school is 27,000 square feet and sits on 17 wooded acres adjacent to Greenbelt National Park. It will be LEED certified and employ non-load-bearing straw bale technology. Straw is a renewable building resource that acts as superior insulation and is fairly easy to build with. It is equally impervious to fires, insects, high winds and heavy rains as traditional insulation. Straw bale structures typically save on 15% of wood used in a conventional structure. The new FCS is now the largest known straw bale structure in the world.

The new FCS will also feature a vegetated roof, a rain garden designed to limit soil erosion and filter pollutants from rainwater, and flooring that absorbs sunlight and stays warm during winter months. On cloudy days, floors will be heated by water pipes installed underneath.

new FCS and surrounding

There is presently a FCS summer camp still at the old Calvert Road school.

See the Gazette’s report on the FCS move.

Mote Signs Presidents’ Climate Challenge

UMD President C.D. Mote, in a move that will surely stun the campus environmental community, has signed the far-reaching Presidents’ Climate Commitment. Maryland joins 284 other colleges and universities who have pledged to take substantive measures to fight Climate Change (see the University announcement). Here is what he commited to doing:

1. Initiate the development of a comprehensive plan to achieve climate neutrality as soon as possible.

a. Within two months of signing this document, create institutional structures to guide the development and implementation of the plan.

b. Within one year of signing this document, complete a comprehensive inventory of all greenhouse gas emissions (including emissions from electricity, heating, commuting, and air travel) and update the inventory every other year thereafter.

c. Within two years of signing this document, develop an institutional action plan for becoming climate neutral, which will include:

i. A target date for achieving climate neutrality as soon as possible.

ii. Interim targets for goals and actions that will lead to climate neutrality.

iii. Actions to make climate neutrality and sustainability a part of the curriculum and other educational experience for all students.

iv. Actions to expand research or other efforts necessary to achieve climate neutrality.

v. Mechanisms for tracking progress on goals and actions.

2. Initiate two or more of the following tangible actions to reduce greenhouse gases while the more comprehensive plan is being developed.

a. Establish a policy that all new campus construction will be built to at least the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Silver standard or equivalent.

b. Adopt an energy-efficient appliance purchasing policy requiring purchase of ENERGY STAR certified products in all areas for which such ratings exist.

c. Establish a policy of offsetting all greenhouse gas emissions generated by air travel paid for by our institution.

d. Encourage use of and provide access to public transportation for all faculty, staff, students and visitors at our institution

e. Within one year of signing this document, begin purchasing or producing at least 15% of our institution’s electricity consumption from renewable sources.

f. Establish a policy or a committee that supports climate and sustainability shareholder proposals at companies where our institution’s endowment is invested.

3. Make the action plan, inventory, and periodic progress reports publicly available by providing them to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) for posting and dissemination.

Campus Sustainability Website Launched

The University of Maryland recently launched a new website detailing environmental stewardship efforts on campus. The website, www.sustainability.umd.edu, outlines Maryland’s approach to sustainability, offers ways to get involved with preserving the local environment, and provides a medium for students to be engaged with sustainable efforts. In addition, the website details a snapshot of eco-friendly events and sustainable initiatives that have occurred on campus. Although some of the links have yet to be completed on the website, we hope is to be a new resource on sustainability for students, faculty, alumni, and others in the university family.

Although this is a positive step, colleges and have long been leading examples of sustainable communities. Schools such as Harvard University, Cornell University, Michigan State University, and the University of British Columbia are all leading successful sustainable initiatives. With any hope, the University of Maryland’s Campus Sustainability website can follow in the footsteps of these precedents and help to foster a local sustainable environment.

At a time when the campus is growing rapidly, talks of sustainability should be at the forefront of new construction and design. According to websites dealing with sustainable architecture, such as www.architecture2030.org, almost 50% of greenhouse gas emissions are emitted from built construction. Although Maryland’s website is a positive step in “talk” of sustainability, the University now has to take action in continuing to make eco-friendly decisions. One of our contributors, Sam Snelling, evaluated some of the claims made by President Mote and offered his own opinion of past University efforts as well as suggestions for the future in a Diamondback column published yesterday.

> Campus Sustainability at UMD
> Diamondback – Sam Snelling Op-Ed: “Focus on the Future”
> Read more about “Student Action on Clean Energy

Student Action on Clean Energy

The following is from RTCP contributer Sam Snellings and does not neccessarily represent the views of this site or its other authors:

When it comes to environmentally friendly buildings it is not just how you build them, it’s also how you run them. Buildings account for 70% of our nations electricity use – electricity that, in Maryland, is generated primarily by the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas.

These fossil fuels each emit varying amounts of environmentally damaging materials. These include nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, mercury, and carbon dioxide along with trace chemicals and particulate matter. These emissions contribute to acid rain, ground smog, mercury bioaccumulation, global climate change, and human illnesses such as respiratory disease and asthma.

Students at the University of Maryland have put together a proposal that would purchase clean energy in the form of Renewable Energy Credits for a cost of 12 dollars per student, per year. This purchase would amount to 137,000 Megawatt hours of electricity, or the same amount used by 11,000 homes. It would be the largest clean energy purchase by any institution of higher education in the United States.

Potential benefits of clean energy:

  1. Rural areas – farmland is usually exceptional for the placement of wind turbines and biomass facilities, bringing investment and jobs into slow-developing farming communities
  2. Energy security – while the minority of electricity is generated at oil burning facilities (about 6% in Maryland), minimizing the amount of imports from unstable areas of the world helps avoid shocks like those in 1973 and the early 1980’s.
  3. Research and development investment – clean energy technology is still in its infancy. The more investment our country has in these technologies the better we can license them to other entities. This strategy is already being used by Brazil in ethanol technology and Germany in wind/solar technology.
  4. Economy of scale – the more we invest, the larger and more numerous these facilities become and the cheaper the energy they produce is. Currently clean energy is marginally more expensive than fossil fuel energy – but the gap is closing.
  5. Capital vs. Operational costs – most renewable technologies require large capital costs to install, but do not have high operation costs. This is because, except for biomass, renewable technologies do not require the preperation and shipment of a fuel source (such as coal, oil, or gas). The longer a wind or geothermal plant has been generating, the cheaper its electricity becomes.

Undergraduate voters in the Student Government Elections will take up the issue of clean energy on April 17th and 18th. There will be a non-binding referendum in support of a 12 dollar student fee for clean energy purchases. If the referendum passes, it will be a clear symbol that students are truly interested in making the right environmental choices.  After that, it will be up to the administration to take action.

For more information on clean energy at the University of Maryland and what you can do in the wider College Park community:

UMD Energy 

EPA’s Clean Power Guide

Interested in purchasing clean power?  Check out Green-e’s guide