Posts Tagged ‘stormwater’

Department of Defense

Houston, No America, We Have A Problem!

Department of Defense
Department of Defense

 Unless you have been living under a rock, you have seen the news and know the devastation Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath has caused in Southeast Texas. When we witness such tragedy on a large scale, we immediately begin discussing ways to prevent it; however, flooding is an everyday occurrence in many cities across the United States. While this flooding in the human environment may not be enough to blanket a city or trap people in their homes, it’s enough to destroy property; cause waterborne illnesses; cause loss of life; destroy crops; and impede access to essential public services such as ambulances and firetrucks. The aforementioned list is by no means exhaustive but a snippet to illustrate some of the impacts of flooding. Sadly, it doesn’t take a hurricane to have this impact. Heavy rainfall or even sustained rainfall over a long period of time can be just as destructive.

Unfortunately, climate change is causing more frequent and extreme weather events. Unless we take action to mitigate the damage caused by these wet weather events, we will see more devastation in our communities. As an environmental engineer who happens to work on stormwater management issues, here are a few of my thoughts on the topic.

1. Preservation of natural resources – Wetlands (marshes, swamps, bogs, ponds) are land areas covered by water that consist of plant and animal life. In the context of flood control, wetlands help protect against storm surges by serving as an intermediary between larger waterbodies and land. Unfortunately, development often destroys this natural barrier allowing more water to reach land and without filtration. Jurisdictions should include preservation of natural resources as they update their land use plans, comprehensive plans, and/or zoning laws.

2. Getting smarter about growth – During wet weather events, water is looking for a place to go. Water naturally seeps into the ground; however, many of our cities are covered in asphalt, concrete, and other impenetrable barriers. This surface water runoff can overwhelm our sewers and become stuck in areas where there is little flow. In addition, waterfronts are being developed with housing and commercial space without regards to rising water levels due to climate change. As this land erodes it will impact these places that are now high value corridors of living and entertainment. Despite these challenges, waterfronts are and will continue to be popular locations for development. Developments should consider sea level rise or consider new design techniques such as floodable buildings.

3. Increase in green infrastructure -Trees, rain gardens, green roofs, bio swales, pervious pavement, rain barrels and constructed wetlands are a newer approach to managing surface water runoff. Many urban areas are using green infrastructure as a tool to imitate the natural process that should occur after wet weather events by adding soils and other vegetation back into the ecosystem. Green infrastructure has to be a part of a larger strategy to effectively minimize the impact of wet weather as well as place making in communities.

4. Increase and maintain gray infrastructure – Poor drainage, lack of maintenance, infrastructure not designed for high density populations are all issues impacting our existing gray infrastructure such as storm drains, storm sewers, holding tanks, dams and levees. In fact, both dams and levees received a grade D on the American Society of Civil Engineers 2017 Infrastructure Report Card. New gray infrastructure as well as the maintenance of older infrastructure are important components in preventing the outcomes we often witness in wet weather events.

The damage and destruction that we witnessed post Katrina, Sandy and now Harvey are not isolated to these extreme wet weather events. Until we extend our conversations and more importantly our action to maintenance and prevention, we will continue to play Monday morning quarterback. Unfortunately, it’s more than a football game at stake. Lives depend on it. America, we have a problem!

P.S. Extreme wet weather events are occurring globally but for the purposes of  making this blog brief, I limited the issue to the United States of America.

Chanceé Lundy Russell is the Co-Founder of Nspiregreen LLC an environmental consulting, urban planning and public engagement 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.

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.

IMG_20170720_120503

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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