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Vision Zero: Less Talk More Action

Crossing the street in the nation’s capital shouldn’t be a death sentence. Unfortunately, for far too many, it has become just that.

How many more people will be injured?

How many people will have to lose their life before we see real change?

When Nspiregreen led the development of the District’s Vision Zero Plan, I was excited about the opportunity to prioritize vulnerable users such asvzpedestrians, cyclists, and disabled individuals in transportation planning and engineering. What surprised me as I talked to hundreds of residents in all eight wards of the District was the number of people who had either been hit themselves or knew someone who had been hit by a car while crossing the street. I have definitely encountered my share of reckless and impatient drivers but listening to the experiences of others was both eye-opening and humbling. What I didn’t know then, is that I would witness an accident just as tragic.

By 9:00 am, I am usually in my office downtown; but, as the universe would have it on this bright and sunny morning, I was taking my son on a long walk to daycare from his morning Doctor’s appointment. We were crossing eastbound on the southside of 15th St. and H St. NW paying attention to the heavy traffic around us and people who like me just wanted to get to their destination. As soon as we crossed the street, I looked immediately to my left and saw a man jumping out of his truck. He was distressed and yelling something. My eyes went from him to the road in front of him and that’s where I saw the body of someone laying in the road. I immediately dialed 911. I wasn’t on that side of the street, but I knew it was bad because the person wasn’t moving. As the operator asked me what seemed like a million questions, I made my way across the street to see a woman lying there – Starbucks cups laying on the ground – with no movement. Things were happening so fast. There were some men assisting her and someone checked and discovered that she did have a pulse. There was blood and she wasn’t conscious. I couldn’t believe the scene unfolding before me. We were crossing the street at the same time (with the walk signal) but someone made a left turn and hit her. How did this happen? Why did this happen? Where in the hell are the police? The ambulance? My mind was racing. I was anxious. But mostly my thoughts were on her.

I stood around a while hoping that I would get some signal that she would be okay. By the time the paramedics arrived, I decided to get my son to daycare and come back. I was moving but I was so unsettled. Throughout the workday, my thoughts were with her. The next day I found out the unfortunate news that Mrs. Carol Tomason a wife, mother, grandmother and lifelong educator didn’t survive the hit. I can only imagine what was on Mrs. Tomason’s mind that morning – enjoying her vacation spending precious time with her children and grandchildren. Like many of us in the District she was looking forward to enjoying her coffee drink and getting on with her day. Unfortunately, she wouldn’t get to live out this day. Her family is now left to mourn her death caused by an accident that should have never happened.

This is only one of the regrettable stories of tragedy that have become all too common on DC streets. In her obituary, Mrs. Tomason’s family asked people to support DC Vision Zero. Without swift action and accountability, DC Vision Zero is just a plan with pretty graphics. We developed it with policies and enforcement mechanisms that should be implemented. It is a tool to address what has become all too common behavior in the District. There should be less talk about Vision Zero and its possibilities and more actions that prioritize the District’s most vulnerable users. While getting to zero may seem ambitious if everyone does their part it is attainable.

Update: As I write this blog, I was sent a link to Mayor Bowser’s new Vision Zero announcement. I won’t go into the details of the announcement here; but, I will say that I hope these new changes significantly reduce the number of tragedies that we have seen in the District.

 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.

 

Interstate highway 45 is submerged from the effects of Hurricane Harvey seen during widespread flooding in Houston, Texas, U.S. August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Richard Carson - RTX3DKUO

The Impacts of Heavy Rainfall on the Environment

The recent rain events this past week caused extreme flash flooding throughout the Northeast region. Parkways, streets, and metro or subway stations in New York, Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and Massachusetts flooded leaving motorists, pedestrians, and commuters stranded and exposed to horrid conditions. I have become worrisome, not particularly of the increase in the intensity and frequency of torrential downpours, but of our current incapacity and mismanagement to handle all of this water. Every time we face intense rain, I have to think to myself: What towns or streets will face flooding? Who would want to walk through a transit system with murky water past their ankles with absolutely no knowledge of what bacteria or toxins lurk in that water? How much more can our water systems take from the toxic materials and untreated wastewater due to outdated infrastructures and sewer systems? Are we really placing public and environmental health, safety, and the quality of life for all as a top priority? Climate change has brought an increase of rain intensity and frequency. Rainfall intensity is the measure of the amount of rain that falls during a period of time while rainfall frequency is the amount of times it rains during a specified period of years. An increase in air and water temperature brings an increase of precipitation.  But we cannot isolate climate change, we must also pay close attention to the factors that it engages with. I can certainly name a few: presence of impervious surfaces, lack of greenspaces, outdated infrastructures and sewer systems. All of these factors exacerbate flooding and can be detrimental to our water systems.

Impervious Surfaces…

The large surface area of impervious surfaces like roads, parking lots, and roofs, that have replaced our natural landscape, do not allow water to infiltrate into the ground and speeds up the process of rainwater runoff entering the drainage systems. The runoff and the pollutants collected from impervious surfaces are either turning into floods or entering our water systems at a faster rate than it can be managed.

Lack of Greenspaces…

This kind of ties in with impervious surfaces. I think it’s safe to say that the more impervious surfaces we create, the less access to greenspace we have. Greenspace is extremely crucial. It provides benefits such as reducing and filtering polluted stormwater runoff, reducing soil erosion, and improving air quality. When we lack greenspace, we have to deal with a lot of preventable challenges. With a lack of soil and vegetation to absorb and filter the rainfall, we experience flooding and overloaded sewers. With a lack of vegetation, we experience an increase in air temperature (Note what I stated earlier about the effects of an increase in air temperature).

Outdated Infrastructures and Sewer Systems…

The outdated infrastructures and the combined sewer systems were built only to hold a certain capacity of rainfall. In addition, transit systems and roadways aren’t effectively updated or repaired. Poor management leads our infrastructures to dilapidate and become swamps. In the recent floods, water leaked through the concrete vaulted ceilings of the WMATA Capitol South metro station. In a few of New York’s subway stations, water entered through the ceiling and stairways flooding the stations. Combined sewer systems are typically found in older cities. When the capacity of the system is surpassed, the untreated wastewater and stormwater runoff flows into our waterways or can back up into buildings through the pipes or overflow from the storm drains onto the streets.

 

GW Parkway

Flooding on the George Washington Memorial Parkway

GW Parkway at DCA

Flooding on the George Washington Memorial Parkway

Martha Custis Drive in Parkfairfax

Flooded street on Martha Custis Drive in Parkfairfax, Virginia

Capitol South Metro_02

Water leaking through concrete vaulted ceiling in Capitol South Metro Station, WMATA

Capitol South Metro

Flooding conditions in Capitol South Metro Station, WMATA

Flooded NYC Subway Station_03

Flooding conditions in NYC Subway Station, MTA

Flooded NYC Subway Station_02

Flooding conditions in NYC Subway Station, MTA

Flooded NYC Subway Station_03

Flooding conditions in NYC Subway Station, MTA

Now What…

With climate change there will be an increase of storm intensity and frequency, but how do we plan and design for worsening conditions? As the climate changes we must adapt our habits, the way we design, and our management of infrastructure. Stormwater management practices are used to reduce stormwater runoff, control flooding, reduce erosion, and improve water quality. These practices include green stormwater infrastructure (GSI), flood control reservoirs, and tunnels (SMART Tunnel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and the Deep Tunnel in Milwaukee, Wisconsin addresses flash flooding and stores millions of gallons of overflow and sewage). Green infrastructure can be used to not only address our stormwater issues but to beautify our communities by creating healthy environments. Just imagine walking, driving, or riding your bike down a green street filled with a canopy of trees, native vegetation, GSI interventions, enhanced sidewalks, public art, and other street design features. A green street utilizes green infrastructure, improves public health and safety, and can even yield economic benefits.

We also have to contemplate all of the paved vacant lots or unused parking lots. For an example, malls all over the United States have an immense amount of parking.  What can we do with these spaces? These are opportunities to implement green infrastructure and green spaces for public spaces that can incorporate activities, pop-up spaces, farmers markets, etc.

In addition to the stormwater management practices, the timely repair and maintenance of infrastructure needs to be a requirement or else it will not function properly. Also, funding should be appropriately allocated to ensure that the proper solutions are identified and instated.

The strategies will not be the same in every location because the approach should be acclimated to the specific needs of that region based on in-depth analysis, research, and community engagement. However, with careful and purposeful consideration and action we can move in the right direction. I leave you with this: How can you be a part of the movement to create safe, equitable, and sustainable infrastructures and communities?

 

Jazmin Kimble is a Geo-Designer, Urban Designer, and Architectural Designer from Long Island, NY. She has a passion for empowering and planning adequate, equitable communities through the lens of Geodesign, Urban Design, Community Development, Sustainability, Environmental Solutions, and Community Engagement. Jazmin believes the culture and the history of a community is what makes it unique. This approach allows her to design with communities from a holistic viewpoint.

A Tale of Three Cities – Brussels: Biking because I could

As I mentioned in my previous post, I vacationed in Europe this past March. My friend and I visited Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam. While I was there for vacation, most of my photos are of transportation. In the first part of this series, I discussed meeting my daily step goals walking around Paris. In this post, I reflect on traveling around Brussels by walking, biking, and riding public transportation.

We took the train from Paris to Brussels. While I love Amtrak, riding the Thayls in Europe was the next level of train experiences. I liked that my seat was assigned, which meant not having to walk up and down the aisles of the train to find a seat. They also screened all bags and passengers before boarding the train. After an hour train ride, we arrived in Brussels. To get to our accommodations in Brussel’s city center, we took a subway train to the neighborhood and walked the rest of the way.

My transportation takeaways are:

Most streets are for People

Brussels was a nice change of pace. In Paris, people walking and biking were a priority only on the streets for biking and walking. On streets with cars, people were walking and biking at their own risks. However, in Brussels it seemed like people walking and biking were a priority even on streets with cars. Most of the secondary streets in Brussels are for walking and biking only or walking and biking priority. I could walk from where we were staying to other places around Brussels without ever interacting with a motor vehicle. Even on the main roads, people drive slow and give priority to people walking and biking.

The density and street layout of Brussels encourages a walking and biking lifestyle. Brussels was design prior to the invention of cars, so most of the buildings have retail on the bottom and residential or office on the top. Most streets are narrow and/or are cobblestoned.

I couldn’t NOT Bike

In Brussels, I couldn’t get on a bike fast enough. The bike infrastructure and the friendly behavior of people driving was all the temptation I needed to get on a bike. Brussels has a bikeshare system with stations every few blocks along the main roads. There were a few streets where the bike lane has a painted buffer. For other streets, they have wide lane with a dashed bike lane in the center to keep people biking out of the parked car door zone on the right and have 3 feet of clearance from moving vehicles on the left. Many of the one-way streets are signed two-way for bicycles.

The bikeshare system was easy to use. It took me about two minutes from start to finish to rent a bike. For a 24-hour pass, the price was only $1.71 (USD) and a $150 hold on my credit card. I biked around for about 20 minutes. For my first ride, I identified the bike number I wanted to use and the system released that bike for me. I received a code to use from 24-hours for any other rides.

The signage for bicycles was at an appropriate eye level for people biking. Even without knowing the language, the bicycle signage used a clever system of arrows and pictures to clearly show which streets I could bike on and the best routes for me to travel. The most amazing part about biking was no one parks or stops their car in the bike lane. For example, while biking I encountered a truck that was unloading in a car travel lane and not in the bike lane.

More Information is Better

The public transit system was easy to use and generally intuitive. My favorite feature of Brussel’s system was the next train arrival information displayed outside the train station on the street. In the DC region, if you want to know next train arrivals you either need an app on your phone or you must walk into the station. I wish WMATA would adopt a similar display system outside their metro stations, especially at locations where I have an option between bus and rail.

In the next post, I will discuss Amsterdam, one of the world capitals of biking. Did I bike or not? Find out in a few weeks!

Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.





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