Green Infrastructure Can Help Save Our Salmon

 

Salmon are a cornerstone of our cultural identity in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. Salmon are vital to our economy, our environment and our sense of place. The health of our native salmon runs has been identified as an indicator of the overall health of Puget Sound and local streams. Scientists have been researching the connection between declining salmon populations and urban stormwater pollution. These scientists have discovered a major threat to the health of our salmon but they have also discovered a simple solution that mitigates the impacts 100% of the time.

As our human population grows, so does the magnitude of pollutants released into our waterways. Large quantities of contaminants such as metals, petroleum-derived compounds like oil, grease, vehicle exhaust, and detergents accumulate on our roadways and parking lots where there is no absorption. Every time it rains, these containments are washed directly into storm drains and into our creeks, lakes, the Duwamish River, and Puget Sound. Researchers have now found a direct link between polluted urban stormwater runoff and salmon mortality.

A recent straightforward study exposed salmon to stormwater runoff from a local highway.  In every case, the salmon died within 4 to 6 hours. The conclusion was clear: stormwater pollution is lethal to salmon. However, the study also tested a potential solution. When researchers first filtered the highway runoff through a column filled with a soil mixture and then exposed the salmon to this cleansed water, they survived 100% of the time.
Filtering water through a living, plant-soil system is the basis for green stormwater infrastructure (GSI). The City of Seattle has listened to the science and determined this is a direct influence we can have on Puget Sound. By using GSI we can help to improve water quality and prevent more contaminants from reaching our waterways. For this reason, we have set an ambitious goal to accelerate the use of green infrastructure in our city and are also supporting regional green infrastructure efforts.

The Washington Nature conservancy created a great short video highlighting this research. You can find the video at http://www.washingtonnature.org/cities/solvingstormwater

For more information on the research: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0045653514014805

For more info on what the City of Seattle is doing with GSI visit our webpage: http://www.seattle.gov/environment/water/green-stormwater-infrastructure

 

Seattle’s equity and environment agenda aims to flip the script for social justice

Reposted from Resource Media

April 25, 2016

The Duwamish is Seattle’s only real river. It is also the city’s only Superfund site, and it’s a doozy, a complex mishmash of contaminated mud and sediment from years as Seattle’s main industrial artery. People live along the Duwamish, lots of people. 60 percent of these residents are people of color. According to a report by the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition:

“Duwamish Valley residents are more likely to live in poverty, be foreign born, have no health insurance or leisure time, and are more likely to be sick. Georgetown and South Park residents have up to a 13-year shorter life expectancy (at birth) than wealthier parts of Seattle.”

So when Seattle Mayor Ed Murray came to banks of the Duwamish on the morning of Earth Day to announce Seattle’s new equity and the environment agenda, he was standing on ground zero for the connection, or far too often, the disconnect between social justice and environmental protection. As 2014’s Green 2.0 report outlined in stark terms, mainstream environmental groups remain predominantly white, both nationally, and here in Seattle. Jose Vasquez, the Director of Programs for the Latino Community Fund and a resident of the Duwamish Valley put it this way. “We are the first to be impacted and the last to be included.”

Of course this troubling gap between impact and inclusion is sometimes explained away by the baseless claim that people of color don’t care as much about the environment as white people do. If the consistent polling that shows the exact opposite to be true isn’t enough to crater that myth, the array of dedicated activists standing behind the Mayor when he announced the agenda presented a penetrating image of the real face of environmental change. Jose Vasquez said, “Today, we are flipping the script.”

The people doing the script-flipping are people of color who lead by working in and advocating for their communities. Their organizations often struggle to get funding, especially when compared to mainstream environmental groups. That is one of the discrepancies the people standing behind the mayor have been wrestling with for the last 12 months.  They were part of a Community Partners Steering Committee that worked many hours to draft Mayor Murray’s ambitious agenda. At a high level, the agenda seeks to address inequities in the environmental health of the places people of color live, inequities in city-level decision making, inequities in the opportunities people of color have to participate in efforts to make their communities safer and more just. Running through all the agenda items is an idea that amounts to common sense. People bearing the brunt of a problem like poor water quality or inadequate open space or barriers to civic participation usually have some of the most insightful and specific solutions.

I saw that principle in action first hand when Resource Media participated in the latter part of the agenda development as a mainstream ally group. During one of the opening exercises, both the mainstream and people of color (POC) led groups were asked to list ideas for addressing environmental justice inequities in Seattle. The ideas from the POC led groups were specific and actionable. The ideas from the ally groups, including my own, were flaccid platitudes by comparison. It drove home a lesson for me that was very much on mind as I watched Mayor Murray on the banks of the Duwamish, flanked by the people who can actually make his agenda come to life if we give them the resources and support they need and deserve. As the Mayor himself said “We need to create environmental leaders who look like this city.” Based on my experience working with his steering committee, we already have them if we choose to listen.

Written By: Scott Miller, CEO of Resource Media

Online Resources, Photos and Talks from GSI Summit

This past February the City of Seattle was pleased to join Stewardship Partners, The Nature Conservancy, Washington Environmental Council, Washington State University, MIG-SvR Design, Boeing, Vulcan, and many other collaborators and sponsors to co-host the first Puget Sound Green Infrastructure Summit.

Resources, photos and talks from this Summit are now available on-line at: www.12000raingardens.org/summit/

Safe & Connected: The Future of Bike Share in Seattle

reposted from Sally Bagshaw’s Blog

Over the past few weeks, my office has heard from a significant number of community members about Pronto and City acquisition of our bike share system. I have appreciated the rigorous analysis taking place on all sides of this issue and want to share my rationale for supporting the legislation to move forward with bike share. After countless conversations with SDOT, stakeholders, and colleagues, I believe Pronto will become financially stable given proper oversight and expansion into new neighborhoods. Beyond that, I believe it will be a vibrant program serving all ages and abilities, and will allow us to take a critical next step to a smarter, healthier, and more equitable transportation system.

This particular issue garnered significant press as well as heated opinions on all sides of the conversation.   I want to share with you some of the considerations informing my decision to support City acquisition of our bike share system.

In our vote, the City Council was deciding whether our current bike share assets would be acquired by SDOT for continued operation, redeployed in targeted new ways, or decommissioned for sale. Before deciding whether the City of Seattle should acquire Pronto, I asked Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) staff detailed questions about their underlying financial assumptions and expectations for future success.

I received input from many who believe these funds could have been better spent on different programs. In my work to address homelessness I have recognized the importance of smart spending. The Pronto funds were strictly directed to transportation projects and could not be used for another City service. Specifically, $1,000,000 of the funding is in the form of grants from the Federal Transportation Administration the City would be required to repay regardless of the outcome of Pronto.

I am an avid bike rider and last year alone put over 1000 miles on my Electric assist bike Downtown, relying on it as my main form of transportation.  I find this way of getting around to be more rewarding than driving my car and searching and paying for parking.  I believe many more people would like to ride but do not want to ride from their homes into Downtown without dedicated, separated bicycle lanes.

I want to make the All Ages and Abilities opportunities real for more of my friends and neighbors.  Accordingly, my goal with Pronto was to decide whether we could assume responsibility over the system with the expectation that expanded bike share could survive and thrive in Seattle.

One of the improvements with which I want to experiment is more stations around our most densely populated and likely-to-ride populations, such as the University District and Capitol Hill residents.  Link Light Rail will be serving these destinations beginning this weekend.   If we acquire the bike share assets, we can determine where they go and collect important information about ridership and locations where people want to ride.  I am all for making decisions based on effective data; this will help us determine whether and by what means we decide to expand the system in the future.

Here are some of the primary questions I asked SDOT about the future of Pronto and improved bike share, along with the information SDOT provided me (in blue).

1.Are the assumptions around Capital and Operational Costs moving forward accurate, given the data we have about the system’s operations since 2014?

SDOT reaffirmed their current projections are intentionally conservative and build on a model of statistics from peer cities. A private engineering company, Sam Schwartz Engineering built the model, and SDOT ran it for the 100 station system scenario in Seattle.

Moving forward, SDOT will ask all vendors in the bid process to provide projections and an explanation of their methodology. This will allow SDOT additional opportunities to refine the projections.

2. Will bike share be successful in a city with Seattle’s weather and topographical challenges?

Typically, better weather increases overall ridership year-round.  Seattle’s bridge-counts of cyclists attest to this.  However, the projections for year-round ridership expect significant numbers of riders, despite the weather.  Many of the peer cities SDOT studied, including Minneapolis, Boston and Chicago, have rough weather—they get a bit more sun but are substantially colder, which is also a deterrent to ridership.

Overall personal bike ridership in Seattle is on par or better than these cities, with Seattle seeing 3.7% of commute trips by bike versus 1.7% in Chicago, 2.4% in Boston and 4.6% in Minneapolis.  SDOT believes these statistics demonstrate the hardiness of Seattleites and can be seen as a proxy for the willingness to ride bike share bikes, despite the weather.

Note from Sally:  these other cities have also invested significantly in separated bike lanes which are integrated in a network separated from cars and trucks. When we expand our network as part of our Center City Mobility Plan, we will make targeted investments for drivers, riders, and pedestrians.  More people will get around safely by bikes thereby reducing congestion Downtown.

There are fewer comparable situations related to hills as a deterrent to ridership. San Francisco is hilly, but has better weather.  E-bikes can help conquer hills.  SDOT believes strong ridership by people in Seattle on personal bikes bodes well for bike share, with or without electric assistance.

3. If the City were to sell the Pronto assets, could we count that sale against the City’s obligation to the Federal Transportation Agency?

SDOT confirmed the City would need to repay the FTA loan if Pronto Bike Share were to shut down.  It was technically possible to sell the infrastructure to another city; however, this scenario was unlikely because there is no city that has a fully inter-operable system with the Pronto bikes.  The only potential market would be a city that is starting up a new system that is in the market for 25 stations.  SDOT did not identify any cities in the process of procuring systems of that size.

FTA staff also provided the following information:

  • A transfer to an FTA approved designee (instead of sale) can take two forms: “(1) grantee-to-grantee transfer [pg. IV-27], or (2) transfer to another public entity [pgs. IV-12 & IV-28] under 49  USC 5334(h)(1)-(h)(3).
  • Repayment to FTA is not required in either approach – even if SDOT receives payment from the other entity [note: there are restrictions on which funding can be used by the other entity to make such a purchase].
  • However, if the property is sold on the open market, FTA repayment of its remaining share may be required.
  • The calculation of the amount owed FTA, if any, depends on the disposition approach taken. With the various options, there are a number if subtleties and implications.

4. Who will use bike share and how can we spread the word to make Pronto a well-used system?

Note from Sally:  Hundreds of cities internationally have added bike sharing to their transportation systems and I have enjoyed riding bikes in Copenhagen, Washington DC, Portland, and New York City.  Councilmember Gonzalez proposed an amendment that was incorporated in the final legislation, to reach communities of color and riders of all ages and abilities, finding out what we can do to get more people on bikes around their neighborhoods.

Bike sharing in this country has struggled to attract low-income riders who could find relying and utilizing bikes a way to improve health and reduce their expenses.   SDOT is learning from the experiences of other cities and will utilize those lessons in our new system. SDOT’s goal is to build on the successes of other cities and be the most inclusive system in the country.

5. Will the City be able to acquire and maintain electric bikes (e-bikes) for our bike share system?

Because of increased competitiveness in the market, e-bikes are not prohibitively expensive. For instance, Beweggan, which launched an e-bike system in Birmingham, AL, charges roughly the same as other bike share systems.

E-bikes require more maintenance. However, the City would be able to charge more for memberships, since the benefit is greater.  E-bikes also likely require less rebalancing as the bikes will be easier to ride uphill.  SDOT’s projections were fairly conservative. In assessing the cost, they did not assume an increased price to users, nor reduced rebalancing, although they did assume a similar price for equipment. SDOT still believes E-bikes are an attainable goal for our system.

I asked SDOT multiple rounds of questions, met with both proponents and opponents of rideshare, and decided to vote in favor of this legislation based on the information I received and possibilities for future options.  I was keenly aware of the costs and weighed the potential benefits carefully.

An important part of my decision on the bike share legislation was based on my commitment to an integrated transportation network in Downtown Seattle and across all neighborhoods.  I believe as our bicycle network improves, more people will take advantage of it and congestion will be reduced along the way.   I will continue to work hard to grow our protected bike lane network so everyone can safely navigate our streets, whether driving, walking, or riding.

Data from other cities shows us that an expanded and targeted bike share program will increase the numbers of people riding whether they live and work Downtown or want to ride the last mile from our newly expanded Light Rail stations to their neighborhoods.  Joining forces with other Councilmembers, we have assured that the design and extension of the coordinated bicycle infrastructure in Seattle will happen before further investments will be made in bike share expansion.  I believe enhancing this system will play a critical role in integrating transportation of all modes in our city.

I appreciate your involvement and interest in this topic, and hope you will join me someday soon on a bike ride.

 

Mayor Murray Engages with Youth at Equity & Environment Initiative Storytelling Workshop

The Equity & Environment Initiative (EEI) in partnership with The Seattle Globalist piloted an innovative series of free storytelling workshops. There were two purposes for these workshops. One was to support the community’s needs, giving community members the skills and training to share and lift up their community stories while connecting those stories to the work of the city. The other was to increase participation of people of color in the environmental work of the city and ensure their stories are incorporated into the Environmental Equity Analysis creating real, relevant, and personal data. Each workshop gave participants audio recording and media skills that they could share with their community for future story gathering and reporting. The workshop also gave community members, who may not identify as environmentalists, the opportunity to discover their own environmental connections and develop their own personal “environmental” story. These collective stories give opportunities for the voices and stories of people of color to be heard, to help shape Seattle’s environmental movement, and our city’s environmental priorities.

On Sat. Feb. 27th, Mayor Murray attended the final workshop at the 2100 Building. With 30 other participants in attendance he shared his own environmental story. He also gave remarks reinforcing his commitment to the Equity & Environment Initiative highlighting that environmental issues and civil rights issues cannot be seen as separate. This message resonated with participants and were very inspired by Mayor Murray’s commitment to this work and to hearing their stories.

These stories will be published as part of the Equity and Environment Initiative’s partnership with the Seattle Globalist. They will connect to quantitative data to ensure that stories and numbers influence how we do our work.

The Equity & Environment Initiative is focused on deepening Seattle’s Commitment to race and social justice in environmental work centered on equity. To find out more on the Initiative visit: http://www.seattle.gov/environment/about-ose/equity-and-environment.