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13th Street NW at Franklin Park, showing people waiting for food trucks in the shade of the trees.

Food Truck Fiasco

 

I love a food truck. I think it’s also fair to say that the DC region as a whole loves its food trucks. It’s like street food, but more trustworthy because it comes from a branded, often punny, metal box truck. With popularity of food trucks and fight for curbside uses (e.g parking) in prime locations, many jurisdictions have created special regulations and programs to manage how food trucks use the curbside parking. But as I was joining my fellow Nspiregreeners to flock to the DC Empanada truck (best empanadas in the District, btw) at Franklin Park, I noticed a few externalities of how these food trucks operate.

  1. Compacted Soils– This is my biggest concern. Food trucks often set up shop along a Franklin Park as shown in the photo below. People wait on the grass in the shaded areas that are within earshot of the trucks. In addition, people take short cuts through the grass to get to their favorite truck. With all of this foot traffic, the soils in this park near the food trucks is compacted. When soil gets to this extent of compaction, the shallow roots of grasses become starved for growing space, nutrients, and water and begin to die off. The scuffing of feet on the compacted soil loosens the top layers and soil sediment then blows in the wind or is washed into stormwater runoff. During rain, the rest of the compacted soil acts almost similar to impervious surfaces, where runoff can sheet across without being absorbed. If the storm is long enough and it is absorbed, the area becomes a mud pit and a potential tripping hazard when it dries again. 

13th Street NW looking north from Franklin Park. Photo shows People in business attire waiting for food from food trucks. The soil under their feet in the park is compacted and grass is not growing at the edge of the park.

Solution: Temporary waiting areas, with lighter touch on the ground or those that aerate the soil while people use them. These can be formalized waiting areas sectioned off by using ropes or guideposts.

  1. Crowded sidewalks or inadequate public space– Many times when trucks set up along streets there is inadequate sidewalk or public space to accommodate the lines of people and crowds waiting for their food. People that need to use the sidewalk to pass either must cross or zigzag their way through the crowds and lines. This impedes pedestrian flow and accessibility.

Solution: Again, temporary waiting areas sectioned off by using ropes or guideposts can help guide people to wait in designated areas and leave the sidewalks clearer.

  1. Noise pollution – Some food trucks run nice and quiet, but others with on-board generators sound like a continuous jack hammer that resonates across blocks. Even the crowds of people, at peak times, can produce noise pollution in otherwise low volume areas. These areas can then run up against opposition because they become a nuisance to residents and other businesses.

Solution: The potential solution to this could be one of two things- require trucks to operate below a certain decibel reading and/or provide temporary noise screening walls or vegetation against the trucks.

  1. Lack of Shade – Unless it’s the first warm day after a stretch of winter weather, most people want to stand in the shade when waiting for their food. The trucks themselves only shade the person ordering outside. If the trucks are popular, the lines can stretch into public space or down a sidewalk.

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Solution: The solution could be pretty easy- temporary umbrellas or shade structures or enhance the environment. If umbrellas or shade structures, they could be branded for the BID, neighborhood, or supplied by the truck itself. Increasing tree canopies would help offset any air quality issues and improve stormwater quality if designed to capture runoff.

  1. Lack of Seating – In many cases, the public spaces do not have adequate seating to accommodate those that wish to stay outside with coworkers or friends on nice days instead of heading indoors for a SDL (sad desk lunch). Often times seating is limited or unavailable in these cases, forcing customers to sit on the grass (not ideal) or go back to the office and fall prey to the better tasting SDL.

Solution: The solution is pretty obvious, temporary seating, but these could be done as more exciting installations of placemaking and usable art. The Seattle Design Festival hosts a design in public events that encourage people to interact with art and installations.

Seattle Design Festival Block Party 2016

Photo Credit: Trevor Dykstra

As with any project or impact to our transportation system or land use, thoughtful planning can avoid the impacts on the environment and public space. With a little art added into the mix the result can be a unique and attractive space that draws people and encourages sustained activity.

 

Christine E. Mayeur, AICP is an urban planner with a unique set of skills and hobbies, interested in all things creative and challenging. Christine uses her history of working with communities through grassroots organizations along with her planning skills to help plan transportation systems and environmental solutions that meet the needs of all users.

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Together Through Tech

In the past, whenever I would think about technology and the future of this country or even the world, I couldn’t help but worry. It seemed as though the world was full of educated individuals who were creating technology that reduces the need for humans to perform labor, think and be social. That didn’t sound bad until I realized no one was talking to one another outside of some sort of social media or gadget. Then I thought about all of the shortcuts technology provides for just about everything, whether it’s information gathering or figuring out how to get around in your car without actually driving. I thought we were only educating ourselves to 1) wear the “Educational Debt” Badge of Honor and Struggle, and/or 2) to be able to sit back and do nothing, possibly eliminating the need for the badge all together. Essentially humans were trading their human uniqueness, value and autonomy for automation and comfort.

But as I revisit the topic, I have a change of heart: maybe technology is bringing us together and empowering us. Maybe it gives us more power and control in the exchange of information and knowledge; maybe it enables community members to control of how their environment looks and operates. Maybe technology reestablishes old values, such as transparency with those we elect to represent us.

CHBlogPicThink about Smart Cities: in essence, smart cities create a quality of life by using information and communicative technologies to excel in economic development, mobility, environmental justice, safety, and health.  As technology expands to include a variety of accessible data, even those without a 4-year college degree are able to create technology that addresses those areas and link strangers in communities (i.e., Bluetooth, wireless sensors and tech, hybrid cars, Uber Eats, Fitbit, Google Earth, Snapchat). City officials have better access to a wide variety of data and analytical tools, which allows them to better understand and plan for their constituents to address urban problems. Essentially, Smart Cities are gathering so much data and information from technology that answers to various urban problems are available at the click of a dataset.

What’s even better, we, as their constituents, have access to most of the same data and technology. Developments by techies such as search engines, advanced sensors, smart phone apps and even the ability to store information has allowed us the chance to educate ourselves and demand a seat at elected decision makers’ tables to provide relevant information and feedback on the effectiveness of systems and polices. It even provides the option to provide solutions to our own problems rather than rely on decision makers. And of course, the same data and technology has resurfaced an old but overlooked value: transparency in government. Since today’s tech makes workings of the government more accessible to the public, it’s more difficult for our elected leaders to abuse their power. In other words, WE hold the power, thanks to our tech!

It’s easy to fall into the “oh this generation is this and that” mode and blame all of society’s negative traits on technology. But thanks to humans’ dependency on technology, we are gaining more value and power, and are transforming cities and their structure to a more bottom-up system rather than a top down. I believe that cities accepting the digital transformation of society are generally becoming more socially connected and equitable environments where people thrive. “We, the People” are not reduced to our utility; we are more powerful and are a necessity if cities are to bring about any significant, lasting change or improvements through technology. So, I retract my past conclusions that technology will assassinate the value of the human and that education will only create an educated class of lazy individuals; technology will open the door for both the educated and uneducated to work together to design efficient, safe, healthy and people-centered communities.

Christie Holland is an aspiring planner at the University of Texas-Arlington, with a passion in building social equity and transportation planning. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling to new cities and experiencing other cultures and traditions.

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A Little LEED Strategy for buying home

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Recently I’ve been studying for LEED Green Associate exam and the word “density” has been hanging in my mind, this is because “density” this word throughout the whole book. The very beginning of a project is ‘Location and Transportation’. This is a new category that was added to the LEED rating system. This category put more emphasis and attention on reducing one of the main contributors to global warming: transportation. It is clarified through the ideas of reducing the cost, pollution, and depletion of resources related to the daily transportation of people and goods to and from a destination. After reading Veronica’s post last week, it got me thinking about sustainability and how it applies to our daily lives, especially in choosing where to live. I think that LEED principles can be applied to a housing search.

The book divided Location and Transportation (LT) category into 4 points: Location, Transportation, Site Development, and Health and Livability. These points are often similar to what people consider when looking for a house or place to live.

Location:

Locate within a LEED-Certified Neighborhood Development

A LEED-Certified Neighborhood usually is a sustainable site. This is because the neighborhood has to meet the qualification of LEED requirements such as walkability, green infrastructure, floodplain avoidance, etc.

LEEDBeach011

http://www.keenanconstructioncompany.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/LEEDBeach011.jpg

Located within proximity of surrounding density and diverse uses

“Density” is an important word in LEED. The reason behind this is to cut the distance shorter for people to travel to work or visit the building. Also, if the building is within walking distance (0.5 mile), people will not need to drive. Both ways would cut down on greenhouse gas emissions and will help reduce global warming.

 

Transportation:

Limit available parking

LEED-Certified buildings usually have limited parking, because this can encourage people to carpool or use alternative ways of travel.

DCLab6401A LEED Platinum Science Building in DC

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Develop in areas that have multimodal transportation access

This could also inspire people to take public transportation modes like bus or rail.

A Washington Metro train makes its way toward Union Station, Sunday, March 25, 2001. It's not nearly as old as some of the models housed in the Museum of American History, but Washington's subway system is about to turn 25. Amid the celebration, however, is concern about equipment and funds for a system that ranks only behind New York City's in ridership.(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

A Washington Metro train makes its way toward Union Station, Sunday, March 25, 2001. It’s not nearly as old as some of the models housed in the Museum of American History, but Washington’s subway system is about to turn 25. Amid the celebration, however, is concern about equipment and funds for a system that ranks only behind New York City’s in ridership.(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

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http://urbanbohemian.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/df08152005e.jpg

 

Site development 

(This point is more for a someone building a home and their location selection)

Avoid developing on environmentally-sensitive land

This is for the sustainability environment. Considering the local bioregion, watershed, and community can help a project team minimize the sustainable features of the surrounding environment and to climate change. In LT category, sensitive land defines as farmland, floodplains, threatened or endangered species habitats, water bodies, and wetlands.

Locate the project on a pre-developed site

It would be an ideal area, because of the preexisting infrastructure is already in place. Pre-developed location can reduce the cost of installing new roads, sewer, and power lines.

pre_developedhttps://media.licdn.com/mpr/mpr/AAEAAQAAAAAAAAdAAAAAJDM2ZDA2NDYwLTFhN2UtNDExZi1hOTdkLTUyNTQ3MjYwMGU4NA.jpg

Locate the project on a high-priority site such as a brownfield

A brownfield is a property that has the presence of hazardous materials, pollutants, or contaminant that may affect by redevelopment if the property. Remediation and development of brownfield can avoid land waste and reduce urban sprawl.

 

Health and livability

Develop in areas that promote walkability

Sidewalk and shelter for pedestrians should be provided, these make it easy for people to walk to and from the building for basic needs and routine functions.

Provide bicycle storage facilities, shower room, and bicycle networks in close proximity to diverse uses

This encourages the use of non-motorized modes of transportation.

Capital Bikeshare rental station near McPherson Square Metro (WMATA) station, downtown Washington, D.C.

Capital Bikeshare rental station near McPherson Square Metro (WMATA) station, downtown Washington, D.C.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/dc/Capital_Bikeshare_DC_2010_10_544.JPG

Provide a bicycle maintenance program for employees or bicycle route assistance for employees and customers.

This could encourage people to ride bikes, walk, or run errands during the day. This can also decrease greenhouse emission caused by vehicle use and increase the health and welfare if building occupants.

 

Other factors recommended that contribute to this field that speak to “density” are the following:

Provide pedestrian amenities

Promote connectivity

Create a diverse community

Promote access to sustainable food

Provide access to grocery stores.

 

All of these factors would reduce a number of people who use their cars in their everyday lives. This will help contributing less greenhouse emission, at the same time, provide human more options to work out and revitalized neighborhoods.

Hope these points can help you, and Veronica, with your home location selection.

 

Mei Fang, is an urban planner with a strong passion in urban and landscape design, she also enjoy looking for the variety culture inside of the city.





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