August 3, 2009
In this weeks Classifieds, you'll find:
6 DBE opportunities
Sustainable Actions, Green Results
By SUSAN R. PAISNER, Senior Managing Editor
Sustainable: Of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged; of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods.
“For too long,” President Barack Obama said recently, “federal policy has actually encouraged sprawl and congestion and pollution, rather than quality public transportation and smart, sustainable development.”
Transit professionals are hopeful that a reversal of such policy will appear in the next authorization bill. Recent legislative developments—such as new funding for public transportation through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA); climate change proposals that recommend dedicated funding for public transit; and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar’s (D-MN) authorization proposals—are just three examples of positive indicators that public policy is headed in the right direction. The public transportation industry is leading the charge: our industry has spent the last several years working on maintaining natural resources by embracing a range of sustainability efforts.
There’s no debate: green is the way to go.
Public transportation agencies throughout the U.S. are using their ARRA funds on numerous sustainability-related efforts. For example, in September the Red Rose Transit Authority in Lancaster, PA, will begin renovating its 30-year-old operations center—an $8 million project that includes a $5 million ARRA grant. These steps will include such green initiatives as a geothermal system for heating and cooling, a green roof, skylights, a waste oil burner to use in heating, and solar panels.
Also, several agencies are using ARRA grants to purchase hybrid-electric buses. These include the Torrance (CA) Transit System, which plans ultimately to replace its entire diesel bus fleet; Intercity Transit in Olympia, WA, which is using the funds for four hybrid buses to replace some of its oldest vehicles in service; Citibus in Lubbock, TX, which is purchasing three new hybrid buses and nine paratransit vans; and King County DOT in Seattle, which will replace 60 buses at the end of their useful life with new hybrids.
What follows is only a sample of the many projects and actions public transit professionals are involved in across the country, but these brief descriptions help provide an overview of the reach involved in seeking, implementing, and maintaining sustainability now and in the future.
Save Money Innovatively
If you want to save money on operations, look no further than Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) in San Jose, CA, and make sure you ask for Tom Fitzwater, environmental programs and resources management manager. In February 2008, the authority’s Board of Directors officially adopted its sustainability program. Since then, its cost-saving measures—while low-tech—are saving VTA substantial amounts of money.
In California, Pacific Gas and Electric performs free energy audits. When the utility focused on VTA’s light rail vehicles (LRVs), it found that maintenance workers could switch the auxiliary power off in parked LRVs at night when the vehicles weren’t being used. That discovery saves VTA $1,000 a day—what Fitzwater called “a relatively simple way to save an awful lot of money.”
When a nearby solar energy company, Skyline Solar, was looking for a site to run a pilot solar panel program, VTA volunteered a small portion of its busy yard to let Skyline test its new technology. In return, VTA receives all the free energy the panels generate. “This benefits everyone,” said Fitzwater, adding: “They get a site and we get free electricity—a partnership with a local industry at no cost to VTA.”
And then, there are VTA’s “green mowers”—goats and sheep that eat the grasses and non-native plants growing around the Cerone Division bus maintenance facility. Instead of spending approximately $39,000 a year on mowing and spraying, VTA saves $19,000 a year by contracting with a shepherd!
Plan and Design First
One of the most important actions facilities managers can take, according to Sound Transit Environmental Affairs and Sustainability Officer Perry Weinberg, is to focus at the front end on what works best for operations and maintenance. “We are now looking at revising and updating our design standards for facilities to incorporate sustainable features into them from the outset,” he said.
By way of example, when the Seattle area public transit agency was preparing for the next extension of its light rail system, “we did a comprehensive sustainability evaluation at the design stage, and were able to incorporate a number of sustainable elements into the projects,” Weinberg said. This included orienting excavation to reduce the amount of dirt displaced; installing energy-efficient lighting fixtures; designing landscaping with rain gardens, so the water infiltrates the ground instead of running off the impervious surfaces; and providing a financial incentive clause for contractors to find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Streetcars Make a Comeback
Prior to the 1950s, Salt Lake City had a fairly extensive streetcar network, and the city is working now on “reactivating” it. According to Wilf Sommerkorn, director of the Salt Lake City Planning Division, after taking teams to look at the systems in Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, BC, “everybody thinks that [streetcars] are the greatest thing since sliced bread.”
City and transit officials are looking at connecting two major activity centers in its downtown—Gateway on the west side and the new City Creek Center project in the middle—as well as running streetcars out to the suburbs. That, said Sommerkorn, might be a catalyst to build up the areas along the line.
Also, with the Utah Transit Authority’s (UTA) new TRAX light rail line under construction, his shop is currently in the planning stages for redeveloping that entire North Temple corridor into “a new, very much transit-oriented corridor, changing it from the car-oriented corridor it is now,” he said.
Transit Reduces Its Carbon Footprint
Use a reduction in carbon footprint as a key measurement of transit-oriented development (TOD) success, suggested Tim Baldwin, vice president, URS Corporation, and transit planning manager of the Denver office: “What I’ve seen in looking at alternative development scenarios in TODs and finding the one that maximizes carbon reduction is something we never even thought of five to 10 years ago.”
Baldwin talked about Cool Spots, a new planning tool from Portland’s Criterion Planners, 0which combines a number of different factors—including density, open space, street, and layout—to measure a development’s carbon footprint as compared to a traditional development style. “It’s really exciting the tools we have available these days,” he said.
He added that when planning, development, and transit agencies work together, “that’s when you see a real difference in transit and development projects.”
Using Interactive GIS-Based Models for TOD
Imagine using an interactive model to create planning scenarios three-dimensionally that would show results to such questions as “If I do this with transit and this with planning, what would that do to the carbon footprint I’m creating?”
G.B. Arrington, co-chair of APTA’s Land Use and Economic Development Subcommittee and principal practice leader, PB’s PlaceMaking Group, Parsons Brinckerhoff, doesn’t have to imagine. He has been working on detailed plans and strategies to change the shopping center of Tysons Corner, VA, located just outside Washington, DC, from what he calls “a suburban apocalypse to arguably the largest TOD in America.” He sees how examining land use, governance, and transit designs can produce a development that is “green, affordable, has a mix of uses, and specifically ties where growth goes to where transit will be.”
Going Beyond Gold—To Platinum
On July 1, the South Bend Public Transportation Corporation (TRANSPO) in Indiana broke ground for its new operations, administration, and maintenance facility—a building on track to be one of the nation’s first LEED Platinum transit facilities.
What does “platinum” mean within this context? To reach the Platinum level, an organization must achieve 36 action items (an action item creates quantifiable goals for short- and medium-term—one to three years—plans in operation, maintenance and capital, products and services, and in education and outreach), plus six stretch goals (four-to-six-year programmatic and process goals that challenge the organization). Platinum members will also increase reduction targets, such as lessening water pollutant discharge and water use per vehicle mile, by a minimum of 20 percent over baseline and add three more stretch goals within a maximum of six years.
What steps will TRANSPO take?
The first, according to Merlin Maley, Associate AIA, LEED AP, RNL Corporation, was designing an energy-efficient building. Using ARRA funds allowed the installation of solar panels that will contribute about 2-1/2 percent of the total electric demand of the building each year.
“The other big piece of the project is the site design,” said Maley. “One example is how they will store 100 percent of the stormwater runoff on site, which means we’re not dumping hundreds of gallons a year into the storm sewer.” Instead, all the water is treated naturally by plants (oil, dirt, antifreeze) as it runs into a swale area. The clean water then goes into a detention pond where it will be used to restore habitat and create wetlands for migratory birds.
Another site design concerns lighting: many areas of the building will be able to keep the lights off or on dim during daylight hours because of the amount of daylight available. “We’re predicting that in the maintenance garage, they’ll need task [spotlight] lighting only during daylight hours,” he said, adding that the annual operating savings will be about $30,000 a year over a standard design building.
“Some measures are added costs, some are no cost,” he said, “but if you take everything and spread it out over 50 years—the lifespan of the building—and look not only at operating costs but the commitment to renewable energy and using less energy, the benefits become exponential for what we’re doing for the planet—and setting an example in responsible sustainable design.”
Rail Professionals Emphasize Commitment to Sustainability
Sustainability was a prevalent theme at the recent APTA Rail Conference in Chicago. In a session titled “Measuring Success When Making a Commitment to Sustainability,” speakers examined the ongoing effort to help rail transit systems conserve energy and contribute to sustainability and climate protection.
Susannah Kerr Adler, vice president, manager-Architecture & Building Resource Center, with Parsons Brinckerhoff, who moderated the session, spoke about APTA’s Sustainability Commitment and encouraged APTA members to sign on to its base principles.
“Sustainability has been around the Utah Transit Authority for a long time,” said Ed Buchanan, UTA manager, safety and environmental, “but it was never formally identified as such to the employees.” He noted the strong support of sustainability issues by UTA General Manager John Inglish, who serves as sustainability chairman for the International Association of Public Transport (UITP).
Erik G. Michaud, P.E., Engineering Centre of Expertise for Bombardier Transportation North America, emphasized the importance of bringing all employees into the procedure. “We believe that all stakeholders share the responsibility to implement solutions,” he said, stressing that “no single solution, no universal recipe” will solve the concerns of creating a sustainable organization: “We’re trying to reach a state of equilibrium, so we have to look to our principles and how we can observe in our organizations what makes it sustainable… We need to change, so we need to be bold.”
Tracy Reed, project manager for the Link Light Rail Project Development Division of Sound Transit in Seattle, noted that her organization has emphasized sustainability and environmental maintenance since 2007. In fact, she said, the agency reached 46 of the 54 sustainability targets it set in the first year, such as purchasing technology to reduce idling of commuter rail locomotives; tracking fuel consumption to create a baseline for future measurement and goals; and instituting a midday bus storage program for a portion of the fleet, saving approximately 95,000 gallons of fuel in 2008.
Mark Minor, project manager, regional coordination, for Chicago’s Regional Transportation Authority, and Karl Peet, coordinator, planning and development, for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), shared their experiences in quantifying the impact of public transit on climate change.
“While transit vehicles produce emissions—these are only a small percentage of all emissions related to transportation,” said Minor. “We need to show that well-utilized transit can reduce emissions for the entire transportation sector.”
Peet noted that “the core of sustainability is ridership.” He continued: “We are also taking steps to make the CTA fleet more efficient; later this summer we’re introducing 150 hybrid buses to the fleet.” [Ed. Note: CTA will also add 58 more hybrid buses, funded through an ARRA grant.]
—Susan Berlin, Senior Editor