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Monday, November 30, 2009

For once, the comments on a Pee Dee article made sense

I work in the transportation field, and at my agency, we get a weekly inter-office newsletter. Today's included a link to an editorial from Cleveland's newspaper, the Plain Dealer. Many affectionately nickname it the Pee Dee.

The Pee Dee has an online version as well, There is a comments feature on there, which allows people to post comments essentially anonymously. Needless to say, this results in a lot of ignorant and nauseating comments. I don't read much, but when I do, I never read the comments.

Today I broke from my tradition, and was pleasantly surprised. The editorial was a call for more funding to public transit. It was a good argument, but nothing I hadn't heard before. Someone had commented on the article more or less proposing an idea for smaller buses. It wasn't written in the nicest way, but honestly, it was a great point. How many times have you been on a bus and it's only been partially full? Perhaps this could be a cost-saving measure worth looking into. Maybe on some of the route that are more lightly used smaller buses could be used instead.

I generally don't take much stock in this Pee Dee/ comments, but today I think I found a good one.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Pre-fab housing: is it sustainable?

Last night, I went to hear Sarah Rich, the editor of Dwell magazine, speak at the Cleveland Institute of Art.

She covered a lot of things related to personal and corporate responsibility, especially when it comes to the environment, all through the lens of design. She made a really great point about working on the design of systems instead of the design of products. As product envy gets us to buy certain things, system envy can perhaps get us to change our behavior.

Another item she covered about the intersection of design and sustainability was pre-fabricated housing. Dwell is a huge advocate of pre-fab housing for a variety of reasons, including the decreased energy costs as compared to building on site.

A bucolic pre-fab house.

I get that it is less energy-intensive than building on site. But, as someone who works in the transportation planning field doing freight planning, I can't help but wonder - wouldn't the huge transportation costs off-set the gains from pre-fabricating it? Each of these sections has to be transported by truck. Trucks, aside from their emissions, also put a lot more stress on pavement.

I'm also not sure of where these pre-fab factories are located. Is this is a national model, with the potential for a house to travel from one of the country to another for it to be built? Hardly counts for the local aspect of sustainability. I could see a network of pre-fab designers/factories based regionally being more eco-friendly. Then, aside from decreased transportation costs, they could design based on conditions in the region (pitched roofs for snow, etc.).

I'm not totally against pre-fab housing - I think it has fantastic potential for post-disaster areas, as well as impoverished communities - but I'm having a hard time buying that it is more sustainable. I guess I'd like to see someone run the numbers.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Powershift 2009

I was asked recently to sit on a bike panel at the Powershift 2009 conference for the Ohio chapter of Powershift (or something like that). Powershift is a group that is trying to pass climate change legislation and to promote alternative energy solutions. Part of reducing our impact on the environment is exploring alternate sources of transportation, like biking. The conference, while not directly set up as such, was mostly students from universities around Ohio.

I expect I was supposed to give the planner's perspective on cycling, but it didn't quite turn out that way. Our panel was composed of the director of the Ohio City Bike Co-op here in Cleveland, the president of Cleveland Bikes! (an advocacy organization), the director of the Oberlin Bike Co-op and myself, a grad student who doesn't actually work in bike planning but works on the same team as one. I suppose my real qualification was the fact that I don't own a car. Most of the students who attended our panel were interested in creating bicycle organizations such as co-ops or rental programs on their campus. It was really heart-warming to hear students from all kinds of colleges who are interested in promoting cycling for transportation.

Not every student can have a car on campus, or could even afford one, but certainly we could get more access to bikes. Considering the costs of parking on some campuses, a small fee to rent a bike for a semester suddenly seems like an attractive economic alternative. Especially if most of your travel is local.

At the same time, it was a little sad to realize that a) I was the ONLY representative from Cleveland State University (and wouldn't have even come unless I was on that panel) and b) there are successful bike programs on some campuses, yet we are struggling to get Cleveland State to put in bike racks. I don't really see a bike cooperative or rental program really working on our campus because it's mostly commuters, but the least we can do is put in racks in visible, well-lit, prominent places for people like me and many classmates who do cycle to school. We're an urban school with a stellar school of urban affairs. Promoting biking should be a natural fit.