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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.

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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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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.

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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.

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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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The Need for Speed

GIF from the movie Top gun where two pilots are walking along an air field with planes in the background, one says "I feel the need, the need for speed" and they high five each other enthusiastically

Speed is everywhere for human beings. It’s in our music (Speed Playlist), our movies (Cars, Fast and Furious franchise), our TV shows, our sports, it influences what we buy (Fast Action!), how we eat (Fast Food, Fast Casual). Speed is often seen as a good thing, a selling point, a marketing tool. And I get it, speed is exciting, it’s an adrenaline rush. The need for speed is directly related to the one thing that humans can’t get more of- time. We don’t have time to waste these days. The faster we can get through the monotonous, the mundane, or even tasks or situations we want to be involved in, the more time we have for ourselves, with our families, friends, and doing things we enjoy.

The need to take risks and go fast in our cars is somewhat biological. That pesky dopamine is responsible for our motivation to take risks and accomplish something. Even if that something is as simple as getting to brunch on time even when you know your friends are always late.

But here’s the thing, when it comes to traffic safety, speed kills. The faster a person is driving a car when it strikes a person walking is directly proportional to whether the person who was walking goes home to their friends, family, cat, dog, goldfish or whatever.

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According to the principles of Vision Zero, speed is the most critical factor of safety. Slower vehicle speeds result in less severe crashes and increase the likelihood that a person be able to walk away from that crash. It may be frustrating when you are sitting in traffic when you’d rather be frolicking in a field of daisies or on a beach or at home, binging on Netflix in your comfy pants. As the saying goes, no loss of life is acceptable.

Vision Zero focuses on putting human life and health above all else with the belief that no one should be seriously injured or killed while wheeling, walking, biking, driving, or using transit to and from their destinations. Whatever the reason and whatever situation you are coming from or are in, we are all sharing the road and no one wants to be killed, injured, or kill someone else while just trying to get to where they need to go.

You can avoid speeding by:

  1. Give yourself more time. This is the DC metro region, home of some of THE WORST traffic congestion in the US. When planning your travel in the region, account for congestions and give yourself an extra half hour. If you get to your destination early, take a walk around or smell the flowers. This includes waking up earlier, mapping your route, checking the news and traffic or metro alerts before you go.
  2. Avoid feeling pressure to speed by other drivers. If you are moving slower, keep right. Just like riding a metro escalator- walk left, stand right. If you see a driver getting frustrated behind you, take a deep breath and smile, wave, or blow a kiss. As my husband likes to say “A lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine”. And it’s not a challenge to your man-/woman-hood if someone tries to pass you. In the words of New Edition, cool it down. 
  3. If you feel yourself getting frustrated, take a breath, try to relax. Deep breath in and out. Put on some classical music or light hearted music. The bus in front of you is carrying more people than you are, and its existence means less cars on the road. The person crossing the road is someone’s family, friend, and/or co-worker.
  4. Slow your mustang down. Be mindful of your speed as you are traveling. Residential areas and areas near schools, recreation centers, churches, senior centers, and other areas with lots of people walking around them are places to be especially alert.

Stay safe out there everyone!

 

Christine E. Mayeur 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.

Image of an evening shot in New York City looking at a pile of snow in the middle of a crosswalk with many sets of footsteps through it. There are people in the background on the other side of the street in winter clothing walking around.

Fair Weather Safety

Snow. Some people love it (ME!). Some people hate it (everyone else!). However, we can all agree that it presents some interesting results from a planner or engineer’s perspective. Planners love to point out the “sneckdowns” that occur to show all the underutilized roadway space that exists. They have their merits because they do serve to calm traffic and shorten crossing distances… that is, if you are physically able to cross the street.

No matter where I have lived in this region or others, urban or suburban, when we have snow storms, pedestrians are often not as well considered or prioritized as other modes. Roads are plowed, cycletracks are plowed (well, plowed enough), but sidewalks are often left subject to property owners’ discretion and shoveling prowess. There are a few problems with this kind of policy:

  1. Sidewalks can often become hazardous when it ices over if not shoveled and treated properly. If a sidewalk is not continuously and consistently shoveled and treated, icy patches can send someone to the hospital. I was especially conscious of this because after a certain point in pregnancy, any fall means a trip to the Emergency Room to check on the baby. These patches are equally as problematic for seniors and those with disabilities.
  2. Crosswalks are often impassable. Plows often pile up snow at the intersections and in many cases, this means near crosswalks and curb ramps. The snow then refreezes into an ice mountain. Crossing becomes impossible unless you can scale a 3’ snow mountain. I don’t know about you, but I don’t typically pack my ice climbing equipment on my way to work. Best case scenario, you try to climb Snow Mountain and your foot falls through what is actually slush and you end up with squishy, wet shoes all day. People in wheelchairs have an even worse time in these situations because crossing is just not an option.
  3. Pedestrians often must walk in the street. Since streets and roadways are a priority for plows, pedestrians often must resort to walking in the street because it is the only reliable place to walk where the likelihood is lower that you’ll slip and have an injury. This becomes a huge hazard especially with dark winter clothing, earlier sunsets during winter, and malfunctioning street lighting or lighting on timers. I’ve seen multiple people utilizing right turn pockets on busy roads to get past the intersection and rejoin the sidewalk where the plows have not piled up snow. Even worse, people have died in these cases
  4. Pedestrian refuges become precarious because they are often left unplowed or overcome with snow. This results in longer crossing distances and increased time needed to cross.

This becomes a Vision Zero issue because people can be seriously injured or killed in these situations. While this kind of safety may not be a nation-wide concern, in the Northeast and regions with heavy snow storms during the winter, it is a largely overlooked issue. It is a relatively easy fix as well. Training plow drivers and independent contractors to plow snow away from pedestrian crossings rather than into them. Attaching fines to those that do not comply. Agencies can also deploy smaller plows, snow blowers, or other equipment as they do for cycletracks or protected bike lanes to clear crosswalk ramps and pedestrian refuges. Depending on policies, these are generally in the public right of way, and would fall under the purview of municipal agencies. If not, the property owner on the corner should be responsible for ensuring at least the curb ramps are clear.

Bottom line is, transportation conditions impact choices and many people still need to travel to their jobs during or after a storm. If people can’t walk to the metro or bus stop, they may choose to drive or rideshare. For those that can’t drive as an option they make unsafe choices to walk in the street. For a region that is focused on reducing congestion and increasing safety, this is a relatively small change that could make a big difference in getting back to normal after a storm by focusing on all modes as they reconnect the transportation network. As a region we can look to other cities or federal guidance that experience more intensive storms to learn from them. I even came up with the initiative name: Vision ZerSnow and that one you can have for free.

 

Christine E. Mayeur is an urban planner with a unique set of skills and interests. She has been called a “renaissance woman” by her coworkers and is 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 that meet the needs of all users. 





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