Blog » sustainable development
- October 6, 2010BY LAURA TAM, SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT POLICY DIRECTOR
CARB and MTC have adopted strong regional targets for reducing emissions through better planning and less driving.
[Photo Credit: flickr user Jovi Girl J]
In late September, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) voted unanimously to adopt a strong set of regional targets for passenger vehicle emissions reduction under SB 375, the state's anti-sprawl law. The historic vote was the culmination of a two-year effort which included the entire Regional Targets Advisory Committee process and report, intense research by modeling experts, proposed targets from metropolitan planning organizations, and public workshops around the state. In the end, CARB adopted the staff-recommended targets for the big four regions, including the Bay Area's Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) -- 13-16% by 2035, and 10% for the San Joaquin Valley. These percentages represent a reduction in per-capita greenhouse gas emissions from passenger vehicle trips, and will be achieved through regional planning that will align housing growth goals with transportation funding.
For MTC, which in advance of the CARB meeting voted to adopt a 15% reduction in per capita emissions from passenger vehicles (from a 2005 baseline), this is a very significant change. The region's adopted Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) otherwise would have increased these emissions by 2% in 2035.
At the same meeting, CARB approved a 33% renewable portfolio standard for energy utilities by 2020. This means that the state's investor-owned utilities like PG&E, which are now required to source 20% of their electricity from renewables, will have to increase that percentage significantly over the next 10 years. This policy is expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 12-13 million tons/year beginning in 2020. While the SB 375 targets will remove only 3 million tons/year in 2020, it will ramp up to 15 million tons/year by 2035.
- September 15, 2010BY FABIANA MEACHAM
What would it take to transform San Francisco into a world-class bicycling city? More bike racks? More designated green lanes? Fewer hills? San Francisco is already one of the premiere biking cities in the country: bicycling has increased over 50% since 2006, and last year saw over 8,000 bicyclists on the city's streets. San Francisco was recently ranked the sixth most bike-friendly city in America.
But most San Francisco residents are not riding their bicycles. Last week's lunch forum, "Crosstown bikeways," hosted by Andy Thornley and Renee Rivera of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, posed the question: "What is it going to take to get your neighbors, boss, coworkers and in-laws to ride bikes?"
The SF Bicycle Coalition publicly debuted its "Connecting the City" campaign at SPUR last week, featuring routes that would allow residents to cross the entire city by bike. Borrowing a slogan from Gil PeÃ±alosa, the visionary livable city advocate (as well as former Parks Commissioner of BogotÃ¡, Colombia), Rivera and Thornley spoke of improving the city's bike network to make bicycling across town a real possibility for citizens aged "eight to 80."
Appealing to families, senior citizens and children, (not necessarily the dominant demographic in urban bicycling), the SF Bicycle Coalition made a strong case for creating new bikeways and elevating the existing routes with improvements like green paint and soft barriers against traffic. As Thornley pointed out regarding the overwhelming enthusiasm for Market Street's new experimental green lanes, "a little bit of space designation goes a long way."
Among the proposed priority bikeways are the "Bay to the Beach" route, extending from the Ferry Building, continuing down Market Street, through Golden Gate Park to the coast, and the "Bay Trail," which extends around the entire shoreline from Hunters Point to the Presidio.
A suggested improvement of the Valencia Street bike lane would move the lanes from the curbsides to the middle of the street, allowing bicyclists to avoid idling vehicles and other obstacles. The Coalition also proposed a bridge extending around Black Point in Fort Mason, so that bicyclists and pedestrians alike could avoid climbing the steep hills there.
But perhaps most essential to the Connecting the City campaign is its vision of a bike network as a multi-layered system that includes transit, pedestrians, and even cars. A representative from the SFMTA cited the need to "get out of the bikes versus cars talk" and "reframe the debate" as necessary for pushing through a city-spanning bike network. Most car advocates probably haven't considered that more bicycling means fewer cars on the road — and less traffic.
Although the SFMTA voted to adopt the 2009 San Francisco Bike Plan, a five-year master plan adding 34 miles of new lanes and 60 overall improvement projects, the Connecting the City campaign focuses on routes that would allow San Franciscans to bike from one end of the city to the other.
By next year the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition hopes to make three miles of "eight to 80" bike lanes available to the citizens of San Francisco, with the entire crosstown route completed by 2012, and 10% of trips in the city made by bicycle.
A rendering of proposed bike lanes down the middle of Valencia Street.
A bridge for bicyclists and pedestrians around Black Point.
[All images via San Francisco Bicycle Coalition]
- September 9, 2010BY JORDAN SALINGER
[Photo Credit: flickr user sandy kemsley]
This post is the first in an occasional series that hopes to make sense of the issues surrounding the implementation of California's smart growth law, SB 375.
California's future demographic reality is clear. We will grow — perhaps not as quickly as in recent decades — but we will nonetheless continue to increase our population. The state projects a population of 44 million by 2020 and well over 51 million by 2035. Even if the recent economic downturn results in slower future population growth, the question still remains: how do we manage this growth with minimal environmental impact?
For much of the past century, this growth was accompanied by increased auto use. But California's 2008 smart growth law, SB 375 — now being implemented throughout the state — proposes a different approach.
A key recent policy decision relates to "Greenhouse gas reduction targets." In August, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) released a set of regional targets for per capita greenhouse gas emissions based on decreased driving. The targets refer to how much less the average person will drive in the future. These numbers were submitted by each of the following metropolitan planning organizations, and then reviewed and accepted by CARB.
Targets for reduced per capita emissions from driving:
SCAG (Southern California) 8% 13%
MTC (Bay Area) 7% 15%
SANDAG (San Diego) 7% 13%
SACOG (Sacramento) 7% 16%
San Joaquin COGs 5% 10%
There are two simple ways to understand these targets. First, it is easier to make more significant change in average behavior for a region with a fast-growing population. So long as people in the future drive less than current drivers, the average goes down. That's why the fast-growing Sacramento region has the highest target.
Second, it is more difficult to achieve big changes in the short run. That's why all the targets are much lower for 2020 than 2035.
While the conclusion of these figures is simple — the average Californian is going to be driving less — the way we achieve these emission targets can be more complicated. Encouraging both new growth and infill development in transit rich cities, in turn shifting where people are both living and working, is important. We will also achieve these goals by pricing roadways differently, dissuading drivers from driving during peak hours on congested roadways.
Click here for a PDF of the full report.
- September 1, 2010BY FABIANA MEACHAM
A prototype for a bike rack designed by David Baker + Partners [Photo Credit: David Baker]
Build pretzel-shaped steel tubes, bolt them to the sidewalk, and the cyclists will come. Or at least that seems to be the logic behind the newfound interest in bike rack design in cities throughout the country. I remember a time when parking your bike meant locking it to anything you might tie a dog to, but these days everyone seems to have an opinion on the right way to lock up your bike — and a lamp post or park bench just will not do.
San Francisco-based architect David Baker (whose elegant, pleasantly weathered bike rack prototype is featured in DIY Urbanism: Testing the grounds for social change -- opening next Tuesday!), provides an excellent primer on bike rack design and implementation. Who knew that round tubes were more susceptible to pipe cutters? Or that a standard U-rack can easily accommodate three bicycles? It would behoove city planning officials to consult this guide before potentially installing the wrong kinds of racks on their city streets.
But bike racks have become much more than just another place to park your bike. Following in the wake of widespread bike lane implementation in even the most car-centric of cities (like Indianapolis and Detroit), bike racks are an instantly recognizable symbol of a city government's commitment to promoting bicycle transportation. In recognition of the bike rack's symbolic potential, cities like New York and San Francisco have brought industrial designers and architects into the process, sponsoring bike rack design competitions. Even David Byrne has collaborated with the New York Department of Transportation to install his own whimsical designs — although he seems to be on such good terms with the DOT that his work managed to bypass the usual jury process.
American cities have a long way to go before we come close to approximating the volume and efficiency of bike storage in iconic cycling cities such as Amsterdam, but a standard curbside U-rack with a galvanized steel finish is a good place to start.
Bike storage in Amsterdam [Photo Credit: flickr user julia.simard]
Criteria for bike rack installation in San Francisco [Image courtesy of SFMTA]
- August 26, 2010BY ANIKA JESI
An example of "Palletecture" from I-Beam Design [Photo via I-Beam Design]
Architects and designers are getting creative about finding low-cost ways to build green structures that are just as compelling, if not more so, than their pricier counterparts. It is no wonder, then, that trends such as "Palletecture" and other forms of architecture that use recycled and reclaimed materials have become a worldwide phenomenon.
Palletecture is more or less what it sounds like—a new and surprisingly trendy form of architecture that utilizes old shipping pallets as a building material. The benefits of using pallets over traditional building mediums are many. For starters, pallets are easy to come by; they are durable, reusable, and come in a standard size. Units built with pallets are also inexpensive, running as low as $11 per square foot, making them perfect for use in low-income and transitional housing.
One example of Palletecture's potential for humanitarian use is a prototype designed by the American firm I-Beam, which employs pallets to create a temporary shelter for refugees that can be built in less than two weeks, and can be manipulated to accommodate the needs of the individual families who live in them.
Architects have also used Palletecture for less philanthropic purposes, building single-family homes for environmentally-conscious clients, and even for building structures as grandiose as an opera house.
Palletecture is not the only trendy form of architecture utilizing recycled material. As of late, shipping containers have been gaining popularity as a building material for many of the same reasons pallets have—low cost, efficiency and universality. With fewer demands on our manufacturing infrastructure, thousands of shipping containers sit untouched in shipyards, no longer needed for their original purpose of exporting goods. Recently, architects have thought to turn the unused shipping containers into dynamic livable spaces. Shipping containers are popular materials for housing, as they can be converted into unexpectedly homey dwellings for the fraction of the cost and resources of conventional building materials -- and with the added bonuses of mold, termite and fire resistance.
In 2008, a shipping container was converted into a low-tech "Tasting Pavillion" for the San Francisco Food Festival, and more recently several recycled shipping containers were used to build the stunning OceanScope Observatory in South Korea.
A dumpster pool in New York City [Photo Credit: flickr user Inhabitat]
One of the most popular and recent projects that utilized discarded material for urban revitalization was the dumpster pools installed in New York City this summer. The idea was simple in nature, but innovative in that the architects utilized a lowly dumpster, turning it into a structure that was well designed, and brought strangers together who wouldn't have otherwise interacted.
Architects and designers are drawn towards recycled building materials such as pallets and shipping containers, not only for their low cost and green credentials, but also because of the interesting design challenge these materials present. As one I-Beam architect writes on "Palletecture," "each pallet has its own difficulties, it has its own geometry, and its own embedded history"¦ for an architecture student spending most of his or her time working in front of a computer, it is an eye-opening opportunity to confront real material that has mass, weight and structure, history, resistance, and ideas."
The success of these recent architectural innovations can be attributed to more than just a trend. Their popularity might stem from the fact that they present one possible future for the direction of sustainable cities, and they give us, as an urban society, hope that we can thrive in a world affected by climate change. Why not use these materials that would otherwise sit unused in the landfill to create a something that furthers the architectural dialogue, or betters our built environment?
- August 20, 2010BY FABIANA MEACHAM
Hayes Valley Farm extends to the very edge of a more traditional urban scene [Photo Credit: Fabiana Meacham]
Spend a few hours walking through any sector of the city and you will inevitably stumble upon a small patch of toiled earth, usually surrounded by chain-link fencing and accompanied by the all too familiar odor of manure. Urban farms have surfaced throughout the country in recent years -- in both major and not-so-major urban areas -- and San Francisco has been no exception. We now have a proposed legislation to loosen zoning restrictions on urban agriculture -- a measure that would profoundly affect small scale farms' capacity to do business.
The reasons for practicing urban farming are copious: a closer connection to food sources, reclamation of vacant land in blighted areas, education about healthy eating habits, a source of employment in hard economic times.
But for many city dwellers, urban agriculture remains a somewhat vague practice carried out by highly motivated individuals who have somehow found time to till, sow, weed and harvest small slivers of earth that have escaped the traditional urbanizing forces of cement and asphalt. For most of us, urban farms still don't play much of a role in defining the way we experience our cities and questions concerning the feasibility and longevity of urban farming still remain:
- What are the actual urban farming scenarios taking shape throughout the city and how did they come to be there?
- How do urban farms confront the task of growing food in areas that were never intended to support agriculture?
- To what extent can urban agriculture integrate itself into the urban landscape and way of life in the long-term?
- Is urban farming about more than just feeding people? What else is it about?
"Farming the City," a new blog series, will address these questions by highlighting the urban farms taking root in and around San Francisco, the people who run them and the particularities that define their role in the urban landscape.
This week we'll look at Alemany Farm, one of San Francisco's pioneering urban agriculture projects.
Alemany Farm occupies four and a half acres of land in southeastern San Francisco. Wedged between the Southern Freeway and the Alemany public housing development, the farm and its immediate surroundings reflect much that has gone wrong -- and the potential to do right -- in San Francisco's planning.
One of the City's early forays into urban agriculture, Alemany first came into use as a farm in 1994, when the San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners (SLUG) received permission from the Recreation and Park Department to convert the site from a dumping ground to a community farm for residents of the Alemany and Potrero Housing Developments. Although SLUG eventually disbanded, the farm's commitment to community involvement persists. Today, a core group of 15-20 volunteers (with the occasional weekend influx of corporate community service groups) cultivates the land while maintaining a close relationship with the adjacent Alemany Housing Development, whose residents are eligible to receive a free CSA (community supported agriculture) share from the farm's harvest and have open access to the grounds at all times.
On a recent tour of the site led by dedicated volunteer Kom Siksamat, the farm boasted vegetable patches, a native plant garden, fruit trees, a bee colony, a frog pond, and an evolving terrace farm. Siksamat has led the effort to cultivate the steep slope comprising about one quarter of the farm's total land area, but the challenges of applying the ancient practice of terrace farming to the urban farm micro-scale have become apparent. (The Inca may have mastered terrace agriculture by constructing miles of irrigation channels in the Central Andes, but most urban farms can't count on the unflagging labor of thousands of devoted subjects to carry out such undertakings.) For now, much hand watering and heavy lifting is required. Siksamat hopes that a "hillside full of food" will one day become a mainstay at Alemany.
In many ways, Alemany perfectly embodies the non-profit model of urban farming: greening a slice of underutilized urban space, creating opportunities for the community to enjoy and learn from it, and thereby providing a new lens through which we might question our relationship to the surrounding urban environment. The existence of this thriving patch of land in the midst of such classic crimes of urban planning (the freeway cutting through the city, the alienated public housing project) implies that although we may not be able to completely dismantle such misguided urban mega-projects, we can at least ameliorate their negative impact through smaller scale interventions. Alemany Farm gives us a reason to visit this neglected part of the city, providing a rare opportunity to consider not just what went wrong there, but also marvel at everything that seems to be going right.
The Southern Freeway looms in the distance
A volunteer amidst an abundance of greenery
The terraced hillside
[Photo Credit: All photos by Fabiana Meacham]
On Saturday, August 28, SPUR's Young Urbanists will host Urban farming 101 at Alemany Farm at 11:30 a.m. Participants will have the opportunity to practice skills learned in the workshop from 1-3 p.m
Urban farms play a central role in SPUR's upcoming exhibition, DIY Urbanism: Testing the Grounds for Social Change, opening September 7.
- August 17, 2010BY TIMOTHEA TWAY
[Photo Credit: flickr user notaboutwill]
The US Department of Energy released their 2009 Wind Technologies Market Report outlining the current state of wind technology in the United States. The report is an exhaustive study of what is generally seen as solar power's less glamorous and less popular cousin.
Some interesting facts from the report include:
- Wind power made up 39% of all new generating capacity in the United States last year
- In 2009 $21 billion were invested and cumulative wind power grew by 40% in the United States
- At the end of 2009 the United States led world cumulative installed wind capacity, however China surpassed us in new additions last year for the first time ever
- Wind turbines provide enough energy in an average year to meet about 2.5 percent of electricity consumption in the nation.
- It is expected that wind power development will be slower in 2010 than it was in 2009 because of the state of the economy, lower electricity prices and lower demand for renewable energy
- Current Federal policy is now more favorable to wind energy than any other time in the past decade
The 2009 SPUR policy paper, Critical Cooling, which outlines local policy solutions to climate change, explores the expansion of small scale wind power generation in the San Francisco as a potential solution. It concluded that while small scale wind power has the potential to increase our energy independence and contribute to San Francisco's renewable energy generation capacity, it is still more expensive than small scale solar as a climate change mitigation strategy. Small scale wind power can be cost-competitive in some places, but because of the micro-scale nature of the wind resource, it must be studied on a site by site basis. (A San Francisco Urban Wind Power Task Force Report from 2009 makes specific recommendations for the City of San Francisco and is also worth reading.)
While efforts have been made at the local level to encourage the installation of wind power generators (in 2008 the mayor made attempts to streamline the permitting process for residential installations), not everyone is crazy about the idea of harnessing the wind for electricity. The San Francisco Examiner recently released a news story about a Miraloma Park resident, Nathan Miller, who wants to install a small wind turbine in his front yard in order to move toward energy independence. Others in his neighborhood however, are rallying together to fight the installation of this turbine, claiming that its design is not appropriate for an urban setting.
We believe they're wrong. Small scale, privately-owned renewable installations are a cheap way for the city to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels. We shouldn't let the aesthetic objections of a few compromise the ultimately essential project of energy independence and carbon neutrality. We should continue to work to make the installation of small scale wind turbines and other renewables easier by removing any policy barriers that exist, and by reaching out to those who may not understand the urgency of moving our energy portfolio more and more to renewable sources. The more widely adopted renewable energy technology becomes, the more hopeful we are that it will be cheaper and more accepted.Tags: sustainable development
- August 12, 2010BY TIMOTHEA TWAY
Plug-in cars in San Francisco [Photo Credit: flickr user felixkramer]
PG&E's clean energy blog, Next 100, recently explored the idea of the rise of electric vehicles in the Bay Area. At the recent Plug-In 2010 conference, PG&E President Chris Johns predicted that the Bay Area will see around 500,000 electric vehicles (EVs) "plugging in" over the next decade.
From a sustainability perspective, electric vehicles are a big improvement over their traditional alternatives, to be sure. But all of these new vehicles "plugging in" will create a huge demand for energy from the grid. According to PG&E, one EV can draw as much power as three homes in San Francisco. Compounding this supply problem is the challenge of supplying this energy from clean, renewable sources, and determining whether new technologies to move energy around more efficiently — such as through a "smart grid" — could satisfy new demand without the need to build new generation.
One partial solution is shifting demand off-peak. Currently, PG&E offers special pricing for EV owners who charge their vehicles during off-peak hours in order to mitigate the demand on the grid. However, this may not be enough if EVs become as popular as Johns predicts.
In order to better understand the infrastructure needs of the future, PG&E and the Electric Power Research Institute recently began a pilot project to examine how different vehicles impact the electric grid throughout the day. Various groups around the Bay Area are helping cities figure out how to finance and build the necessary infrastructure to prepare for EVs to go commercial this fall, with the release of the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf.
Want to travel sustainably while EVs get figured out? SPUR recommends taking advantage of the old-fashioned clean transportation choices we have in the city: walking, biking and riding public transit.
- August 7, 2010BY GABRIEL METCALF
The California High Speed Rail Authority met yesterday in San Francisco. The agenda was packed with many interesting things including a new station area development policy. But the real controversy was about the section between San Jose and San Francisco. I joined hundreds of people during public comment to weigh in on this one small segment.
Over the past few years, a group of high speed rail opponents has been gathering strength in some of the Peninsula communities such as Atherton and Menlo Park, arguing that the train will impact their views, be too noisy, and otherwise ruin their quality of life.
There is certainly a lot of design work to do as the High Speed Rail Authority and Caltrain explore the peninsula segment and figure out how to make "joint operations" work.
But what some of the residents of the Peninsula seem to be asking for is an impossibly expensive project or no project at all. There cannot be a 60-mile subway up and down the Peninsula.
The Bay Area Council penned a strong letter pointing out the flaws with the "build it right or don't build it at all" approach. If "building it right" means addressing every local impact of the project to the satisfaction of every local resident, there will not be enough money in the world to build this project.
TransForm pointed out at the hearing that the issues with the Peninsula communities stem from the fact that the High Speed Rail Authority made the fundamentally correct decision in 2004 to choose an alignment that re-uses existing track where possible and goes through existing cities. (This was in contrast to a cheaper alternative that went through agricultural lands and skirted many existing cities, relying instead on "greenfield" stations.) Having made the big decision the right way, the Authority now faces the political and design problem of actually bringing the train through all of these already-developed communities. Even though the Peninsula creates design challenges it is absolutely critical that the project goes all the way to San Francisco, where the highest ridership stations in the entire state will be located.
I tried to put this project into some larger context in my remarks. California is already the most populous state in the nation (by far). It will grow from 38 million people today to 50 million people by 2030. The real reason we need high speed rail is to provide an armature or framework for organizing this massive growth. Where the interstate highway system was the infrastructure that enabled the suburbanization of America, high speed rail can enable a re-centering of growth. It is the necessary supporting infrastructure for walkable communities in California.
The real question we are facing is whether we are still capable as a society of actually getting something like this built. In the age of CEQA, in the age when we seem to believe that more public process is always better, in the age when we seem to believe that nothing should happen unless there is consensus, can we actually create a transformative infrastructure? As America tries to learn how to compete with "single vision" nations that do not share our democratic values, the question of how we learn how to actually get things done under our political system looms larger and larger as a central problem to overcome.
With every infrastructure project that SPUR supports we face the dilemma of how to be supportive against the tide of opponents while still working constructively to improve projects and make them as good as they can be. We could not be happier with the "big moves" that the High Speed Rail Authority has made thus far. They have picked the right alignment, one that will reinforce center-oriented growth. Now the task is to get the small moves right to find that elusive balance between more expensive designs that address community concerns and the need to keep the project affordable enough to actually build it.
This is the most important project in California. It is a naÃ¯ve and impossible wish to "get it right" if right means the ideal design in every community. We need to get it "right-enough" to attract lots of riders away from the automobile and enable a new pattern of growth in the state.
- July 29, 2010BY TIMOTHEA TWAY
[Photo Credit: flickr user Snapsi42]
Next 10, an independent, nonpartisan organization that studies the intersection between the economy, the environment, and quality of life in California, has just released a new report on the untapped energy efficiency potential associated with existing commercial buildings. The paper outlines the energy efficiency benefits associated with making improvements to commercial buildings and analyzes the market barriers which make these improvements difficult.
- Commercial buildings account for almost 40 percent of primary energy usage in the U.S.
- Existing commercial buildings can be made 80 percent more efficient with new and existing technology
- New buildings can be designed to use one-third to one-half less energy with as little as two percent increase in construction costs
- The three primary ways to improve energy efficiency in commercial buildings include climate controls and equipment, lighting, and changes to the building's thermal envelope
- Split incentives, upfront capital costs and an information gap are some obstacles to widespread energy retrofits
The study concludes that several opportunities currently exist for improvement in California. While California has historically led the nation in energy efficiency standards, there are currently no standards for existing buildings, and the U.S. Green Building Council has an opportunity to create more stringent LEED requirements for newly constructed buildings, which are currently far below what is possible. Additionally, California has the largest-scale Property Assessed Clean Energy programs in the nation, which allow public entities in the state to partner with property owners to finance energy efficiency projects with low-interest loans. Next 10 notes that more widespread adoption of these programs will help spur investments in energy efficiency. The study also suggests that California create its own version of the U.S. Department of Energy Commercial Building Initiative in order to remain a leader in energy efficiency policy.
San Francisco's very own Transamerica Pyramid is featured in the Next 10 paper as a "monumental retrofit." Find out more about the Transamerica Pyramid's transformation here.