Archive for August, 2018

Southwest Florida Beach. (Retrieved from Twitter moment @Daizell118, https://twitter.com/hashtag/redtide)

Red Tide is Polluting Paradise

I lived in the state of Florida for eight years where I worked on a variety of water projects and it was here where my passion for water and concern for water issues strengthen. Florida was the place where I fell in love with the ocean and its creatures, where seeing dolphins jump out of blue crystalline waters with pelicans flying over it never got old. It was where jumping into a freshwater spring, canoeing down a river full of manatees and turtles, or contemplating the sunset from one of Tampa Bay’s beautiful sandy beaches were the highlight of my week. It’s a place that still feels like home. Unfortunately, this image of perfect paradise is crumbling due to Florida’s current red tide crisis.

Red Tide Status Map (August 24, 2018) FWCRed Tide Status Map as of August 24, 2018. (Obtained from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation 2018)

But what is red tide? Red tide is a common term for harmful algal blooms that cause direct toxic or harmful effects on people and wildlife. It is commonly called red tide because the algae can turn the water red. These algae blooms can be common in the state during the summer and fall months due to high temperatures and abundant sunlight. However, increases in nutrients from fertilizers and pesticides, reduced water flows, climate change, and lack of animals that eat algae can exacerbate the extent, duration, and intensity of blooms.

Today, Southwest Florida’s beaches, some previously considered the best in the world, are being plagued by foul smells and carcasses of small and large animals. As of August 8, 2018, more than 15 people have been taken to emergency rooms as a result of the red tide and the economic consequences will soon worsen. In fact, news reports say that some residents are considering selling their beachside homes and tourism is already being affected.

But the beaches and their adjacent communities are not the only ones being impacted by algal blooms. Decades of nutrient pollution mixed with warm temperatures have helped create toxic algae levels in Lake Okeechobee. Originally, the waters from Lake Okeechobee discharged into the Everglades. However, as more people moved to the state, canals and water control structures were set in place to remove water off the landscape. Today, during times of heavy rainfalls, Lake Okeechobee’s waters are dumped into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers ending in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

The end of this algae bloom is uncertain. However, everyone can help to minimize the impacts of this and future toxic algal blooms.

I am saddened by this crisis. I hope this crisis ends soon and that my memories of paradise don’t turn into a picture of the past.

Jimena Larson is an environmental engineer and urban planner from Bogota, Colombia interested in water, infrastructure, and urban design challenges

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Could a Vanpool Work for You?

Are you finding your commutes to work  getting more and more stressful?  Are the commutes taking longer and longer, especially during times of construction? It pays, literally, to consider commuter options beyond the Single-Occupied-Vehicle or SOV. An option that should get serious consideration is the setting up of a new vanpool for you and your fellow employees/close neighbors. They are becoming more and more feasible to set-up and vanpool services may be more available than you realize.

First of all, what is a vanpool? It is a group of individuals, usually seven to fifteen, who have joined together to ride to and from work in the same vehicle. Normally it is a non-profit entity in which one of the members volunteers to drive and the others share in the cost of operating the van, including any cost of owning or leasing the van. The whole group enjoys the economy of sharing their commuting expenses and the convenience of sharing the ride to work. Another alternative is a for-profit vanpool where a fare is charged by the owner or operator, who retains the profits from the excess of revenues over expenses.

The history behind vanpools goes back much further than I thought. Though some of you may not be so surprised, if you remember the so-called company towns in the 50s, 60s and 70s, the fact that some large companies put together company vanpools to provide transportation to their workers every day. Today, you may hear these called employer shuttles. Btw: in a company town, practically all stores and housing are owned by the one company that is also the main employer.

In 1973, the 3M company saw an opportunity in providing a high-capacity commuter vehicle for suburban employees. In other words, higher than a capacity of one. As part of a pilot project, 3M purchased 6 vans and designed vanpools with eight riders with fares covering all expenses for the vanpool. The program was successful and 3M purchased more vans after only three months.

You can click here to read more about the history.

Today, successful vanpool programs are running throughout the country. For instance, the City of Seattle has been very successful in promoting vanpooling. King County’s Metro program has nearly 1500 vans running in the city and throughout King County, according to 2016 data from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). This makes it the largest public vanpool operation in the nation. Metro reported that the number has grown since then.   So far in 2018, there are more than 1600 vans with over 10,000 commuters participating in the program. Read more about it here.

Other successes include:

  1. Los Angeles with 1,378 vanpools,
  2. Houston with 686 vanpools, and
  3. Arlington Heights IL with 664 vanpools.

Closer to home, Woodbridge, VA had 404 vanpools in operation in 2016. According to the Vanpool Alliance, which oversees  the operations of vanpools in northern Virginia, the  number of vanpools has increased to 590 vanpools and is still growing.

Why should you consider a vanpool for your commute?  The Vanpool Alliance, again here in northern Virginia, breaks it down into five strategic reasons for considering setting up or riding in a vanpool:

Reduced Traffic Congestion  – If there are more vanpools out on the roadway, there are fewer SOVs on the road.

Reduced Cost – You may not realize it, but research has shown that with gas, parking, maintenance, tolls and insurance, driving a SOV to work is the most expensive way to get to work.

 Air Quality – Most personal vehicles emit large amounts of pollutants like nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. If there are fewer vehicles on the road due to more vanpools, then there are fewer pollutants in the air.

Better Quality of Life – As I said before, driving in congested traffic can be very stressful and downright miserable, especially for those driving very long commutes. Vanpooling offers people a much more pleasant way to travel and many of the vans these days are modern and wi-fi accessible.

Benefits for Businesses – Companies whose employees vanpool to work frequently report reductions in turnover, improved employee recruitment, better on-time arrivals, decreased demand for parking and lower payroll taxes.

With all that, what will it cost? Well, that can vary depending on the distance the vanpool has to travel and the type of van. The average is right around $170/month in the Washington, DC market, where I live. However, there could be financial incentives to help stave off those costs. These incentives may be a direct subsidy to reduce the cost of fare, payments on your transit subsidy card, and gas card incentives for the operators of the van. Check through the commuter assistance programs within your local or state government, and speak with your employer to see what may be available to you. Happy riding!

 

James Davenport is a TDM Employer Outreach Specialist, on contract with the Virginia Department of Transportation. Before that, James worked for Prince William County/Department of Transportation as a Regional Planner. In that capacity, he represented the county in regional forums and worked with planners and staff from other localities and transit agencies to help the region plan for its transportation future. For many years, James worked with the National Association of Counties as a project manager providing education and outreach to county officials, staff and key stakeholder groups on planning issues such as transportation, water quality, collaborative land use and economic development.

US Government Works

Just Leave It In the Past!

My grandmother used to tell me, “Some things just need to stay in the past.” As I have gotten older, I tend to agree with her.

Rolling back and weakening environmental regulations that protect human health and the environment shouldn’t become the norm; yet, over the past year, we have become bombarded with changes or threats to regulations in the name of business profits and/or potential job creation. Practices that further exacerbate health issues and pollute our environment should remain in the past. As a former facilities engineer and current business owner, I completely understand how regulations can increase operating costs for businesses. While in some cases profit margins may take a hit, health risks decrease, and the quality of life increases when we are good stewards of our environment.

US Government Works

US Government Works

Environmental protections were put in place because all businesses don’t operate with the protection of air, water, land, and people at the center of their operations. The United States of America is one of the world’s most developed nations and should be leading the pack when it comes to yielding new technologies that minimize pollution; but, for some reason, we are looking towards the past instead of the future.

Certainly, we don’t want to revisit a past where we witness places like Love Canal, which helped start the SuperFund Site program or incidents like the Cuyahoga River fire which was the catalyst for the Clean Water Act.

Over the past months, I’ve seen a number of headlines that caught my attention regarding the repeal or weakening of regulations related to asbestos, fuel economy standards, clean energy, and climate change. I could go on, but I won’t.

This is certainly not the path that we should take. I believe that we are better than this and we have to advocate for better policies while moving forward to reduce pollution, mitigate the impacts of climate change, and do our best to protect human health despite anyone enforcing us into good business. The health of our people and our precious resources have to take precedence over our profits.


Chanceé Lundy Russell is the Co-Founder of Nspiregreen LLC a community, multimodal, and environmental planning firm based in Washington, DC. The Selma, Alabama native received her BS in Environmental Science from Alabama A&M University and her MS in Civil Engineering from Florida State University. She is passionate about environmental justice issues and works to create healthy, livable communities for all.





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