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What are your big ideas for the environment?

The DC Council wants your bold ideas for greening the District of Columbia. On Friday, July 10th, Councilmember Mary Cheh's Committee on Government Operations and the Environment and GW's Office of Sustainability are hosing a "Policy Greenhouse" where ten people get to present their 5-minute big ideas.

Photo by James Jordan.

The ideas need not be quick fixes, they emphasize, but rather ideas that would have a significant impact on the environment or introduce significant innovation. The site lists congestion pricing, vertical farming, "expanded retro-commissioning" (I'm not sure what that is), requiring carbon neutrality for public buildings, or "cool cars" that reflect solar energy as examples of the kinds of ideas.

What are your ideas? Let's brainstorm some to submit. What bold change would really improve our environmental sustainability in a way that's positive for all?

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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* Stop giving priority to cars in city planning. Set a goal that transit (and biking and walking) moves people around faster than cars.

* Get some more Metro tunnels through downtown.

* Start separate bus/taxi lanes on all major congested roads. This should remind car drivers that transit is faster than driving.

* Challenge big car makers to make decent hybrid buses. Walmart (of all) has done so for trucks. Focus on getting ride of exhaust fumes. Reduce the number of code red days.

* Follow Mayor Bloomberg's lead and make all (new) cabs hybrids. Check out how many (new) gov't vehicles can be hybrids.

* In line with the previous. Stop the idling of public vehicles, such as buses and government cars (including the police), when they stand still for more than a minute. Encourage others to follow (cabs, Fedex/UPS/USPS).

* Start a good network of bike paths throughout the city. Sacrifice car lanes for bike lanes. Think away from the car-grid and make sure it become a separate bike grid, with its own set of connections. For instance by using roads parallel to the main car roads.

* Install movement sensors in the public areas (corridors, hallways, toilets, etc) of all public buildings. All. Government buildings, museums, metro, Malls, etc. This will yield massive power savings because the lights will shut off when there's nobody around.

* Outlaw the cleaning of sidewalks by spraying them with water in season prone to drought. Not after we've sprayed all the water on the sidewalk and are in a drought, but away before that. What is wrong with a broom?

* Encourage good heat insulation of buildings. Why is it that every time I walk by the IMF and Worldbank in summer or winter, I can feel their heat and AC leaking from their buildings by just walking by on the sidewalk?

* Paint roofs white, or put a garden on them.

@ Jason: That was 8 days of silence. Do you reckon that's long enough to take care of my responsibilities? I am back baby!

by Jasper on Jun 24, 2009 10:56 am • linkreport

Jasper -- I understand buses, but why should taxis get preferential lanes? They usually have one person (plus driver) in them and are basically just cars.

by ah on Jun 24, 2009 11:06 am • linkreport

All mentioned above, but these would be my top 3.

1) Drill the extra tunnels for metro.
2) Move forward with the trolley cars

but much more easily accomplished:

3) Work to get hybrid cabs on the road. This REALLY reduces day to day carbon output within the downtown...

by MichaelA on Jun 24, 2009 11:15 am • linkreport

Combat the urban heat island effect by capturing and sequestering Jim Grahams hot air.

by spookiness on Jun 24, 2009 11:28 am • linkreport

Let's assume you can construct a vertical farm structure for $50/sqft, versus $80-$200 for an office tower or $40-$60 for a single-story warehouse. You can expect an intensive organic vegetable farm to gross around $15000/(acre*year) in a good climate, or 34 cents per square foot - let's say we can triple that to $1/square foot/year. That would make a payoff rate of 50 years.

The cost to bathe it in electric light, water it, and ventilate it for 16 hours a day is something more along the lines of $25/square foot/year. Marijuana farmers have learned to deal with it, but vegetable farmers...

At our current power generation mix, that square foot of dirt or hydroponic solution is burning around 125 pounds of coal per year to provide your family with what, a single meal?

Environmentalists who go for grandiose ideas without at least a trivial back-of-napkin calculation will be the death of us all. This is an idea popularized by people who have never seen a farm, constructed a building, or taken a physics class - by people who are buying carbon offsets indulgences, protesting nuclear, and greenwashing their personal brand. Every time people repeat their ridiculous ideas without critical thought or vetting, it makes the practical but unexplored ideas harder to promote.

With less optimistic assumptions than I used above, you come out with a vertical farm kicking out produce at a cost approximately 100 times greater than current food prices. Even more optimistic assumptions don't dip below around 10 times greater than current food prices.

Who is this supposed to feed? Manhattan? Hong Kong? Mars Colony? Exactly what do these people think it costs to transport food a few thousand miles away from productive farmland?

by Squalish on Jun 24, 2009 11:35 am • linkreport

Following on Jasper's list (and there is so much that can be done):
-adjust zoning rules to mandate TOD/Smart growth around existing transportation hubs, metro stations;
-increase transportation options, particularly a street car system which overlays the Metro and Metrobus to increase smaller transportation centers (see above);
-Increase tree-canopy to pre WWII levels;
-implement a water capture/reuse system, and adjust the codes to be able to harness this resource;
-encourage food production/urban farming where possible;
-building on the home energy audits, provide information and subsidies for insulation and other saving measures;
-Review rules associated with the installation of renewable energy within the city borders, encourage their utilization;
-Encourage District heating/cooling systems on large developments, implement same for retrofitting neighborhoods;
-DC Fleet and Metro fleet to be 100% hybrid or alternative to fossil powered by a target date;
-Establish transfer centers so large haul deliveries can be made by smaller, non-fossil vehicles within the center core;

by Andrew on Jun 24, 2009 11:44 am • linkreport

@spookiness: LOL!

Seriously, though, in no particular order of importance:

1. Invest in Bixi, which is for sale, for cheap.

1. Pedestrianize the Streets immediately adjacent to SAAM, convert to a large urban garden with performance space

1. Convert the Whitehurt Freeway into something akin to Manhattan's High Line .

1. Install motion detectors on metro escalators so they remain off until someone approaches.

1. Remove one traffic lane on Pennsylvania Ave SE, convert to dedicated Bus/Bike Lane.

1. Add bike lanes to every commercial street and major thoroughfare in the District that doesn't have one (U street, 18th Street, Conn Ave, Penn Ave. Essentially, install bike lanes where they count.

1. Install speed cameras, enforce existing laws (visionary, I know)

1. Consider revising the height restriction to allow for taller residential buildings if they acheive LEED Platinum status. Encourage greater density by working to make the city more accessible for families with children.

1. Streetcars!

by JTS on Jun 24, 2009 11:56 am • linkreport

Work with neighboring jurisdictions, railroads, and the federal government to plan a real regional rail network.

Normally we talk of this as a regional priority, but it's important to the District, too. Better regional rail can help:

  • Decrease the number of suburban cars flooding into/through D.C.

  • Delay pressure for Metro expansion. Expansion = bottlenecks will be in the core = disruptive engineering work in the heart of D.C. = something the District wants to manage as much as possible.

by Gavin Baker on Jun 24, 2009 11:58 am • linkreport

Start painting black roofs white.

by NikolasM on Jun 24, 2009 12:00 pm • linkreport

ah - while i sort of agree with you, on further reflection each passenger carried by a cab represents one fewer car on the road. given that cabs make multiple trips every day, that's a decent reduction in the overall number of cars on the road, even if it doesn't approach the equivalent car reduction from buses.

by AJ on Jun 24, 2009 12:09 pm • linkreport

Require that all taxicabs and city-owned vehicles not used by emergency services be hybrids. This is almost too easy. The cab-driver mafia will whine about the costs, but if NYC can do it, so can we.

Require that at least 1/2 of MPDs cars be hybrids. There is simply no reason for MPD to purchase so many Ford Police Interceptors for patrol in the city. Those cars are designed for operating at high rates of speed on the highway. The Capitol Police has done away with them in favor of smaller cars, which is a start, MPD should do the same.

Implement a 10 cent deposit program for all bottles and cans, including bottled water and juice, with heavy fines if you try to return bottles purchased outside of DC.

Require that every single tour bus that enters the city park at RFK stadium. Busses may only drop off and pick up passengers at other areas but may not park on any city street. At RFK, have inspectors assigned to ticket any bus that idles for any reason.

To the extent possible, work with Maryland to to complete the new nuclear power plant at Calvert Cliffs so that the majority of power into DC is from nuclear.

Permit any building over 5 stories to have a windmill on the roof. Look into building a public/private wind farm on the Chesapeake Bay (now we are really talking pie in the sky, but hey, its worth a shot)

by tivonia on Jun 24, 2009 12:16 pm • linkreport

Without thinking too hard, these come immediately to mind:

+ Restore sidewalks that have been narrowed to add a traffic lane. In areas with heavy pedestrian traffic, sidewalks should be at least 8 unobstructed feet wide (think Georgetown and Chinatown).

+ Put something like flexible bollards at intersections between bike and car lanes to reduce encroachment by vehicles into bike lanes.

+ Increase the number of bus lanes and expand enforcement (cameras?) and fines for violations.

+ Separate the blue and Orange lines through the District.

+ Expand MARC and VRE service hours including travel in both directions and weekends.

+ Build the Purple line, then expand it at least over the new Wilson bridge.

+ Instead of working to separate storm and sanitary sewer systems, expand combined sewers throughout the District so all waste water is treated before being dumped into our waterways. (This may require expanding the planned holding tunnels as well).

+ Impose a tax on dark roofs.

+ Replant street trees where they are missing.

+ Redesign intersections throughout the District to make them safe for pedestrians, especially along many of the diagonal avenues.

by Stanton Park on Jun 24, 2009 12:51 pm • linkreport

Why do we have to think big? There are so many easy, cheap, straightforward things we could do for sustainability, that we already know how to do RIGHT NOW. These ideas are great, but we don't need more innovation, we need action! Let's get started!

P.S. "hosing"... heh.

by Just171 on Jun 24, 2009 1:14 pm • linkreport

-how about we replace the capital power plant with some thing like this:
-i think requiring all NEW cabs registered in DC should be hybrid or high mileage vehicles.
-if we are to tax traditional roofs, there should be a credit to those converting them to have a high reflective index or green roofing.
-it would be interesting to see some streets/blocks be turned into pedestrian only areas which would allow for more park-like space downtown in addition to discouraging driving.
-similarly, think about K st with two lanes for bus/streetcar and bikes only. use the remaining right of way for pedestrian use with cafes and parks throughout.

by dano on Jun 24, 2009 1:18 pm • linkreport

@ ah: I understand buses, but why should taxis get preferential lanes?

What I mean is that taxis should be allowed to use bus lanes. Taxis only move one person around, but they are an integral part of a cities transportation system. By allowing taxis on the bus lanes, they can move faster than a car would. They also allow transportation from places that are less or not serviced by transit.

Virtually all places that have dedicated bus lanes, allow taxis to use them, so I am sure there is plenty of study material that proves it's efficient. [Even though I don't have it at hand]

by Jasper on Jun 24, 2009 1:21 pm • linkreport

Jasper and AJ -- Or they have better lobbyists. (And I understood the bus lane preference, which is what I was questioning).

The only thing taxis save is parking spaces. Perhaps that's enough, but if each taxi carries one passenger then all it's doing is substituting the taxi for the passenger's car. So there's really no difference--people are using a car either way to get from point A to point B. So it doesn't reduce the number of cars on the road at any given time, which is what causes congestion (not parked cars, which don't). I won't go a step further and spin out the "induced demand" argument, but having taxis available may in fact encourage more use of the roads, especially downtown.

I'm not saying eliminate taxis altogether--I'm just curious how a preference for taxis over cars can be justified in the form of reducing congestion.

Let's spin it out further. If the bus lanes are fully used by buses, then taxis will cause congestion that harms bus users. That's bad. If bus lanes have excess capacity, then we could add other vehicles to it to the point where it's close to congestion. How do you do that? One way would be to give the "right" to use that capacity to taxis. Another way to do it would be to sell permits to use those lanes to anyone (including taxis). Why not do the latter instead of the former? It has the same effect on congestion and raises revenue, and allocates the scarce space to the person/people who value it most.

by ah on Jun 24, 2009 1:47 pm • linkreport

Plus, Taxis generate a lot more revenue for the city than cars do. I would probably restrict preferred use to DC cabs, or have some sort of agreement with The O.C. (Orange Line Corridor), Silver Spring, and the 'Thesda, to allow their respective cabs to use dedicated lanes. GPS tracking of cars would be super useful here.

PS - How about mileage taxes?

by JTS on Jun 24, 2009 1:49 pm • linkreport

Dano -- you can't just require new cabs to be hybrids because then the current, ridiculously old fleet will become even older.

Doesn't NYC have a phase-out rule that requires all cabs to be less than 3 (?) years old? They all seem pretty new, unless they just get ridden so hard that they die after a few years anyway.

So, solution is to require new cabs to be hybrids but also to ban use of cabs more than, say, 5 years old.

by ah on Jun 24, 2009 1:49 pm • linkreport

We should have more cops whose job it is to write rush hour tickets for bike lane infringement. Hire them part-time from 8-10 and 4:30-7:30. Make the bike lane blocking ticket cost $50 for the first and $75 more for each additional one after that. This would made biking much more attractive, be revenue positive for the city, and focus drivers on safe interactions with other legal road users.

Relatedly, it is bizarre that the 14th street bike lane stops at DCUSA and doesn't pickup again until U St. That should obviously be fixed. 16th should get a bike lane that goes the direction of the commute.

Re: Taxis, as a frequent biker, I'd prefer to keep cabs away from bus lanes (which would be adjacent to biking lanes). Cabs start and stop dangerously, frequently change lanes without signals, make surprise u-turns and often discharge passengers right into bike lanes. In my about 10,000 miles biked in DC proper both of my two accidents involved faulty cabs not following the UVC.

by zt on Jun 24, 2009 1:51 pm • linkreport

@ah, i think that's a fair addendum. i am just leery of saying ALL taxis need to be hybrids because of the rather high up front costs. at some point taxis are not longer serviceable, and when they are replaced(3yrs or 5yrs, whatever makes sense) the new cabs should be hybrid/high mileage.

by dano on Jun 24, 2009 2:02 pm • linkreport

Here's an idea I can write a longer post on (I've had this idea for a long time), because it's hard to describe in a short comment field:
Use the concept of cap and trade for urban canopy or permeable surface. The basic concept is to apply a city-wide canopy cover percentage that each property has to meet. If you don't, then you buy that canopy from someone who has it. This encourages people to add trees, because they can sell the canopy rights to someone who needs it. The City wins big because park space is high-percentage canopy. Over time you slowly raise the percentage to increase urban canopy. Lots of details; not enough space here.

Likewise with surfaces. Define a % of permeable space required on average. Each property now has an explicit incentive to increase their permeable surface, driven by a market.

Future post to follow. I'm putting this into the bin at the policy greenhouse for my 5 minutes of fame.

by Steve O on Jun 24, 2009 2:16 pm • linkreport

To shoot down a few more:
*Rooftop windmills are virtually always a waste of resources tivonia, particularly in urbanized areas. The wind blows better at certain key topographical & geographical areas, and it blows a lot better at heights/scales that would be dangerous for urban construction. Unless you're dealing with an off-the-grid location (where you'd need to expensively erect new transmission lines), small-scale wind is a waste of effort.

*LEED platinum is ridiculous. LEED concentrates on creating a showcase of various site-specific ideas, no matter how inappropriate for the particular building being discussed. Platinum (as opposed to the lower grades) basically requires that every single idea they've came up with be used in a token fashion, when a building next door might be able to save more energy using just one method taken to its logical conclusion, for a tenth the cost.

*Jasper, unfortunately motion sensors do not play well with efficient fluorescent lights, whose lifespan is better measured in 'number of times they've been switched on' than in hours - so frequently-used areas are probably better off with always-on lights. LED light fixtures of comparable power (this part gets ignored) are still so dramatically more expensive as to be impractical.

Some comments
*Jasper - You don't have to take a sabbatical every time someone flames you. More posting, less silence.

*ah - Taxis, like short-term car rental, don't reduce the number of cars on the road. They reduce the number of cars in the parking spaces(and thus, the number of parking spaces), the overall number of cars owned, the number of people who couldn't imagine their lives without automotive transit. Parking lanes for taxis (and access to otherwise transit-restricted lanes) has plenty of merit in certain areas.

*Create a program to expedite(in zoning, financing, organization, etc) the replacement of individual single-use ground-level private parking lots with collective/pooled, shared parking garages. American cities typically have 8-10 parking spaces per car, and that is space that could be used to great effect in improving the economy & culture of the city, to say nothing of the environment. This includes things like the city endorsing a DCUSA/zoo partnership.

*VRE/MARC as part of a regional transit partnership with WMATA, creating express corridors. We have plenty of spare passenger rail capacity that is currently being crippled for the benefit of local coal powerplants or CSX. A few billion dollars in optimizing the freight network to go around the city and some legislation banning it from operating inside the city would buy us the equivalent of tens of billions in new track construction. A few hundred million more in reestablishing service in old corridors (like along the tidal Anacostia) would be the next step after building out the existing network.

*Taxis, mail trucks, trash trucks, delivery trucks, tour buses, school buses, and Metro buses get a disproportionate benefit from hybrid systems. Because starting and stopping is their most challenging & frequent task and they spend lots of time idling, much(possibly even a majority) of their maintenance, fuel, and emissions can be eliminated with a full hybrid system. Whatever replacement schedules exist right now, on all new vehicles fleet buyers should be encouraged to push the envelope with the fullest degree of hybridization practical, for the sake of local air quality. This is low-hanging fruit compared to the general automotive market - though I'm far from an expert on what particular incentives to use.

Regardless of what the engine is doing at a particular time, even weak hybrids fully address the problems posed by idling. Stronger hybrids go much further, and are often more efficient in the city than on the highway.

Police interceptors with big engines are good for sustained high speeds and safe ramming, and little else. Properly designed hybrids can achieve better acceleration and smaller cars can corner much better.

*Encourage not only taxis and short-duration rentals, but also operators like this wherever possible.

*Bear with me for a second: The Anacostia river is a mess. Long after the last plastic bag is legislated out of existence, and we convince people to stop dumping tires, the amount of erosion consistent with 'civilization' will continue to cloud this water - it has been a mud-pit for the last 200 years. There is very little net downstream flow compared to the amount of tidal movement - and like swishing a basin back and forth, this fast-moving but still 'stagnant' water holds all the foul, often organic sediment in solution, so no plants can grow there. What freshwater plants we do manage to plant that can survive the tides aren't suitable for our ecology - as soon as we remove goose fencing they're eaten. No matter how many impervious surfaces we remove upstream we'll never be able to clean the water entirely while people live there - the best we could do is to to turn this tidal freshwater mudflat into a freshwater wetland with a braided river running through it. A 3ft-tall weir/dam (or better, several lower dams that let fish pass through) at around the JP Sousa Bridge could accomplish this by removing the tidal component, and eventually provide a verdant park with reasonably clear water. Engineers long ago walled off a designated 'floodplain' - the area to be one biologically and hydrologically active area rather than a lawn and flowing cesspit seems like the biggest single local environmental improvement the District could make. We're already in the hole for a massive sewage treatment bill measured in billions that could be mitigated if more of the area was a functioning, water-filtering wetland.

by Squalish on Jun 24, 2009 2:31 pm • linkreport

The talk about hybred vehicles makes a great deal of sense not only for taxis and official vehicles, but lets go further with outlets to plug in electric vehicles.

Also, regarding anything with combustion, make E85 available and encourage variable compression (turbo or supercharged) to better utilize alcohol's higher octane to compensate for its reduced BTU content.

by Douglas Willinger on Jun 24, 2009 2:37 pm • linkreport

Yeah, those ethanol mandates have done wonders for the price of corn and all the foodstuffs that use corn.

by ah on Jun 24, 2009 2:53 pm • linkreport

*Separated blue line through downtown, and a new river crossing
*Relax the height limit--especially around Metro stations and to the extent possible in the downtown core
*Congestion pricing
*Separated bike lanes through parts of the city at least

by Dan Miller on Jun 24, 2009 2:56 pm • linkreport

deposits for cans and bottles! coming from Michigan, it was SO frustrating to realize that didn't exist in the DC area. It functions as a social welfare program too, because homeless folks often collect them (I realize this could sound callous--that's not how I mean it, but just an observation of how it works in MI)

use the summer jobs program to do weatherization and other greening stuff (not putting ironic anti-littering fliers all over town) for low-income households. I'm not thinking of anything too difficult--replace lightbulbs with compact florescents, caulk, maybe some spray-in insulation and painting roofs white. They could also erect high-tech streetlights (LEDs? ones with solar panels that store daylight to power bulbs at night)...these would probably also help public safety.

also, how about programs where owners of project-based section 8 properties get green renovation assistance in exchange for extending their contracts? A double benefit, since it keeps units affordable and improves efficiency. The details would have to be worked out so owners had sufficient incentive not to go market-rate (perhaps they'd be allowed to let a portion go market...still better than the whole building, and it makes for mixed-income buildings)

by Stacy on Jun 24, 2009 3:05 pm • linkreport

offer free birth control/sterilization to all DC residents. Fewer people means use of fewer resources!

It can be really hard for young people or those who don't have kids already to get permanent/semi-permanent contraception (vasectomies, tubal ligation, norplant, IUDs, etc) because doctors just won't give it, in fear that the person will later regret it. But treating people who don't want to get pregnant as capable of making their own decisions would be a good way of reducing resource consumption (and abortions, neglected kids, etc.)

by controversial on Jun 24, 2009 3:10 pm • linkreport

@ Squalish: motion sensors do not play well with efficient fluorescent lights

That was true 15 years ago. Not with the current new fluorescent lighting. Aside from the shape, these tubes have nothing on common with the old ones.

More posting, less silence.

I'll make it more efficient posting. Yes, it was a flame, but I had gone nuts a bit.

@ everybody else: mostly good suggestions.

by Jasper on Jun 24, 2009 4:11 pm • linkreport

Install motion detectors on metro escalators so they remain off until someone approaches

I think that would be better phrased "install something on metro escalators so that they will be on when someone approaches."

by ah on Jun 24, 2009 4:14 pm • linkreport

@squalish @jasper Right, Jasper, it almost always makes sense to turn lights off, even for short periods. Particularly around here, where we get a lot of power from burning coal. I blogged on this a year ago--encouraging people to change out all their lights with CFls rather than just their frequently used ones:

Speaking of which, I often wonder why elevators do not have motion detectors for their lights. I suspect many elevators have lights on 24/7 (especially in residential properties, where people may be coming and going at all hours) even though there may be long stretches of time with no one on them. What's the point of lighting the inside of an empty box--and making it hot, too? Point the sensor at the door, and the lights come on as the door opens. Simple. No brainer.

by Steve O on Jun 24, 2009 4:35 pm • linkreport

Jasper - I believe what has improved in the last 15 years is the speed at which they can reach full intensity & efficiency, due to better electronics in the ballast (now solid-state, high-frequency devices). The bulb still dims permanently by a tiny fraction of a percent every time it lights up, because the phosphor coating is damaged slightly. The phosphor coating's thickness has to start in a certain range - at one end of the range to avoid UV transmission and at the other end to avoid blocking light - and I don't think that this dynamic has changed much.

by Squalish on Jun 24, 2009 4:37 pm • linkreport

Steve O -- I suspect safety, or perceptions of it, are important. Would you really want to walk into an escalator area that was dark? Motion detectors shut off lights even if someone is lying in wait for 5 minutes.

by ah on Jun 24, 2009 4:49 pm • linkreport

Allow taller office buildings/appartment buildings, especially near Metro.

Charge for street use with a GPS to track location of each car. Higher charges for proximity to other low velocity vehicles (being part of traffic congestion).

Use funds for a metro loop or loops.

by ThomasH on Jun 24, 2009 5:01 pm • linkreport

Provide tax credits for energy efficient appliances in all rentals that are separately metered. There is currently no incentive for landlords to provide energy efficient appliances when they do not get the cost savings, and renters are stuck footing the bill for the wasted energy. An additional benefit would be that it would encourage separate metering if the tax credit were large enough. People conserve only when they're the ones footing the bill -- not when the management company does and/or the cost of their waste is shared by everyone.

by Melissa on Jun 24, 2009 5:01 pm • linkreport

Weatherization is always good; like changing lightbulbs, it can have a significant effect on heating and cooling costs. Unlike changing lightbulbs, it can be quite expensive. So if we're going to be pushing for initiatives, it should be grants and loans for that kind of program. In the long term, proper insulation and weather protection can increase the lifespan of a building, or at least reduce the need for refurbishment.

by цarьchitect on Jun 24, 2009 5:02 pm • linkreport

Also, we don't need to change height limits downtown. No more office ghettos. We need to replace detached homes with townhomes and put commercial uses along avenues.

by цarьchitect on Jun 24, 2009 5:05 pm • linkreport

We should tell Senator Byrd to f-off and stop using coal altogether at the Capitol Hill power plant.

It's disgraceful.

by mike capitol hill on Jun 24, 2009 7:10 pm • linkreport

mike capitol hill

Go ahead and cut off your face to spite your nose. Byrd will happily take his and his buddies' votes to whomever won't piss him off.

But hey, if you're willing to flush Obama's agenda down the toilet just to satisfy the eco-freaks, be my guest.

by MPC on Jun 24, 2009 7:21 pm • linkreport

require electric car plug-ins in new buildings and plan a system of public ones. electric cars are just around the corner and we don't have any plugs even conceived.

by Tom Coumaris on Jun 24, 2009 7:27 pm • linkreport


Thank you SO MUCH for wagging a finger at me in such a marm-ish way!

Brainstorming, MPC, brainstorming. Most of these suggestions won't be addressed by anybody -- but it's fun to dream.

by mike capitol hill on Jun 25, 2009 5:50 am • linkreport

Some math on cars and taxis.

Half the carbon footprint of a vehicle is in the fuel, oil, and tires consumed over the vehicle lifetime while the other half is the vehicle manufacture itself. If you replace a lone owner/user car that gets 12 MPG with a hybrid that gets 60, you may reduce the net carbon footprint per trip by 40%. Do the same thing in a taxi that carries 50 fares a day and you get an 88% reduction. This ignores street, parking and a bunch of other factors that probably make hybrid taxis look even like a bigger gain. No argument against trains, trolleys, and busses, but don't undervalue the potential gains. Now run that hybrid on Natural Gas....

by joliver on Jun 25, 2009 10:45 am • linkreport

Better Place

A reduction in storm water fees for green roofs and rain barrels. Free rain barrels if you take a class on how to use them.

by David C on Jun 25, 2009 11:15 am • linkreport

"Yeah, those ethanol mandates have done wonders for the price of corn and all the foodstuffs that use corn. "

Funny how such concerns seem to never mention the huge farm subsidies for corn, let alone that corn is a relatively inefficient crop for such compared to alternatives as Hemp and Algae.

by Douglas Willinger on Jun 25, 2009 12:39 pm • linkreport

As far as local air quality, the tiny Capitol Power Plant is an archaic design that emits a majority of the 2.5 micron particulate matter emitted in the District. Requiring plants like this to decide between implementing pollution control measures and shutting down is something a functional political system, no matter how pro-coal it is, would have done long ago.

by Squalish on Jun 25, 2009 12:54 pm • linkreport

Douglas - while you're perfectly correct on corn ethanol, don't believe everything you read about algae and hemp. Algae has potential, but solidly productive, ecologically stable open-tank biodiesel-growing ponds have not been demonstrated yet at 5% of the claimed yields - and what has been demonstrated is mostly behind NDA. Hemp... well. Hemp is a great source of natural fiber. It is inarguably superior to tree pulping for most applications (though it's not alone here, other alternatives exist). Most of the other claimed benefits of industrial hemp have been exaggerated by people who just want to light up in peace, and are justifiably angry at irrational, dishonest governmental crusades.

by Squalish on Jun 25, 2009 1:03 pm • linkreport

You could replace Capitol Power Plant entirely with something of the magnitude of $20 million to $60 million in wind turbines or solar panels, for comparison, if you didn't intend to just shift the coal burning to another better-equipped plant.

by Squalish on Jun 25, 2009 1:08 pm • linkreport

@controversial - amusing. did you know that DC already has the lowest total fertility rate in the united states?

by AJ on Jun 25, 2009 1:14 pm • linkreport

1) Ditto Melissa's idea on tax credits for energy efficient appliances in rentals that are separately metered. The energy saved from replacing an inefficient old refrigerator is enormous.

Also require a higher rate for excessive electricity consumption. The first "very thrifty" number of kWh could be priced lower.

2) Allow light electric cars on the streets, like 25-30 mph weather-protected golf carts.

3) Create a comprehensive Light Vehicles Network -- "the Greenways" -- safe routes for very light electric vehicles (LEV's) including electric SCOOTERS and electric bikes, as well as conventional bicycles. Greenways should include:

a) A good bike & scooter lane on at least one street per mile, to start. More bike lanes to be added later.
b) Add connections for pedestrians and very light vehicles only to connect between sections of the city without being forced onto main roads.
c) Appropriate parking and recharging facilities for bikes and EV's
d) LEV and bike rental options at transit nodes.

4) Around 15 states have passed a law stating that low-speed electric scooters and electric bicycles with a top speed not over 20 mph are regulated the same as human powered bicycles, i.e. NO DRIVER LICENSE or registration is required in those states. Unfortunately, DC, MD and VA have not yet addressed this emerging category of energy efficient personal transport. MD and VA require a regular driver license but no registration. DC requires low-speed 20 mph scooters to be registered and inspected.

5) Encourage greener, sustainable landscaping, gardens, and green roofs. Plant trees. Plant more trees.

Find sites appropriate for urban farming and community gardens. Encourage and demonstrate rooftop gardening and all kinds of green roofs. Possibly providing assistance in evaluating structural potential of rooftops and what type of green improvement a roof could support.

Talking small scale here, not about vertical farms, just how many square feet of heat absorbing, waterproof surface can be turned into a living surface that moderates conditions, absorbs and releases water, provides food and/or pleasant outdoor spaces.

6) Use awnings and shade plants and light colored paint to protect buildings in summer.

7) Stop giving inappropriate high priority to cars in all ways.

a) Increase the gas tax and dedicate the money to improved bus service.
b) Several park roads are closed to cars on Sundays for recreational biking. We should reverse this allocation and allow recreational car driving on Sundays, but at all other times the park roads could be reserved for bikes, mopeds, and Light Electric Vehicles (LEV's).

by Sylvia Rhomberg on Jun 25, 2009 1:30 pm • linkreport

1. Painting roofs white is not useful in our climate: we're too far north to have a beneficial effect.

2. Use pollution reducing concrete and paint wherever possible. (They use titanium dioxide to catalyze the destruction of NOx.)

3. Allow taxis to share bus lanes, subject to a predetermined congestion cut-off rule. This will remove cars from the streets, reducing the demand for parking, possibly enabling the conversion of pavement to other uses. Reducing the demand for cars also frees resources for other uses.

4. Encourage green roofs.

5. Raise height limits to encourage more dense construction.

6. Encourage mixed-use development. We don't want to have business districts abandoned at night.

7. Install voltage reduction units for streetlights. Voltage can be reduced after the lights have been on enough.

8. Convert as much organic waste as possible to biochar. Some can be substituted for coal in local power plants. Some can be used as a soil additive which has the pleasant side effect of sequestering carbon. When carbon fuel cells become available, biochar will be an ideal fuel, more so than coal.

9. Investigate using LIM-Rail or some other track-based system to propel commuter trains and even Metrorail. Eliminating locomotives reduces the energy needed to move trains and can increase train length. It can also create more flexibility: one car can load in Woodbridge to deliver passengers only to Crystal City, for example. Schedules may become a thing of the past if individual cars can carry passengers on demand. This last part is far into the future. This technology can also be used for streetcars, avoiding the ban on overhead wires.

10. Use ice-making machines to use night electricity and cooler air to provide air conditioning for the next day.

by Chuck Coleman on Jun 25, 2009 9:53 pm • linkreport

Cool roofs are good up into Canada. DC was one of two cities studies by the DOE and it turned out that a cool roof would save about $600 a year - if you have an air conditioner.

by David C on Jun 25, 2009 10:24 pm • linkreport

Get rid of parking meters! I just came back from Canada and didn't see a single parking meter. You pay at a central location and place the receipt on your dashboard. They also take credit cards. This reduces energy consumption and labor costs by reducing the amount of times the boxes need to be cleared of change.

by Chuck Coleman on Jun 25, 2009 10:39 pm • linkreport

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