Green Infrastructure Can Cool Our Cities

Written by: Katherine Holmok, Director

Most people would think Northeast Ohio doesn’t need to get any cooler, and generally I would agree (after all, Cleveland is my Paris). However, we could use some cooler ambient air temperature in our urban cores. Hotter temperatures in dense urban centers that adjoin rural/suburban areas are called Urban Heat Islands (UHI). In a 2010 University of Georgia study, Northeast Ohio had one of the top Urban Heat Island intensity in the nation.

Green Street

UHI has been linked to increased energy consumption (remember the black out of 2003?), elevated emissions of air pollution and premature death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that from 1979–2003, excessive heat exposure contributed to more than 8,000 premature deaths in the United States (USEPA). UHI typically effects our most vulnerable populations first – lower income and elderly.

So, how can we cool our cities and not break the bank? Green streets, vest pocket parks, roadside rain gardens and street trees can provide some cost-effective relief. These green infrastructure measures are already being implemented to treat combined sewer impacts and improved water quality in Northeast Ohio. They can also provide the
co-benefit of mitigating UHI effects.

Did you know that large street trees have the potential to reduce surrounding air temperatures by 6-degrees? Green streets that remove stormwater from the combined sewers reduce energy consumption at the waste water treatment plants, thereby reducing air pollutants. Raingarden plants recharge the ground water, which can reduce surrounding ground temperatures.

NEW BRAND Aqueduct Street Green ImprovementsAqueduct Street Green and Complete Street Improvements, City of Akron

When I was young, I remember my dad strategically planting large, fast growing shade trees on the south side of the house. This was because he learned that properly placed shading around your house can reduce energy costs. I thought he was just frugal, but now I know, he was improving our quality of life.

Municipal Center Stormwater Demonstration Project, New FranklinMunicipal Center Stormwater Demonstration Project, New Franklin

How is your community using green infrastructure resources to help cool your city? If you want to calculate the benefits of your street tree, green roof, or rain garden, check out these online calculators.

http://www.treebenefits.com/calculator/

http://greenvalues.cnt.org/calculator/calculator.php

https://sustainability.asu.edu/urban-climate/green-roof-calculator/

https://www.arborday.org/calculator/index.cfm

For more information about implementing green infrastructure elements into your next community project, please contact Katherine Holmok at kholmok@envdesigngroup.com.

Why Engineering is an Art…or is it?

Written By: Jim Mitchell, Senior Transportation Engineer

Not too long after graduation from the University of Akron, I was given the task of creating an intersection detail plan sheet for a complex roundabout. The Quigley Road Roundabout, as it is commonly called now, is in the Tremont area of Cleveland and was the first multilane roundabout in the state of Ohio. There wasn’t a great deal of experience in the area with these new, fandangled, traffic-circle-like thingys back in those days  (Look kid’s, it’s Big Ben! https://youtu.be/iAgX6qlJEMc ) – and especially not ones made of concrete.

So there I was, very painstakingly laying out every single construction, longitudinal, expansion, butt, and contraction joint on a five-leg, multilane concrete roundabout – all the while identifying the standard centerlines, points of intersection, dimensions, and radii found on a standard ODOT intersection detail. My brain was swimming and astounded. By the time I’d finished…well, let’s just say the plan sheet was “a little busy.”

Weeks later, the design team was hovering around the project manager’s desk, listening to him reeling off outstanding coordination issues, drafting goofs and various desired tweaks. About halfway through this evaluation, he revealed my intricate, exquisitely comprehensive intersection detail plan sheet. He gave it a quick glance and said, “Well, now…that…that’s just a work of art.”

I was very proud of my effort. Did he have a point? Was it truly a work of art?

quigley-roundabout-intersection-detail-drawingQuigley Roundabout Intersection Detail Plan Sheet, Tremont, OH

quigley-roundabout-intersection-detailQuigley Roundabout Intersection Detail Plan Sheet Art Display, Tremont, OH

We try to surround ourselves with objects and spaces that are gratifying to us. From the colors we choose to wear to the destinations we choose for vacations, we want the things around us to generally “be nice.” So why not our infrastructure?

Infrastructure is everywhere around us. It’s so prevalent, it’s no longer there and we barely notice it. In those moments when we do notice, it’s because it has either failed us or it’s under construction (again). I’m sure we can all agree orange barrels are not art (I did witness a college student’s apartment that seemed to disagree, but that’s a different blog entirely).

We all understand that spending taxpayer dollars on several frivolous, aesthetic treatments isn’t the best idea. Many of the things we design as civil engineers are for the civic good after all (I mean, that is why we’re called Civil Engineers, right?). It’s difficult to sell artistic, more expensive ideas when a much less expensive utilitarian thing will serve the purpose (and serve it well, I might add). So what then do we do? The answer is really quite simple – we do what we can, when we can.

When a project needs to make a statement, like a region-defining signature bridge, aesthetic treatments are usually at the top of the list of the client’s must-haves. Projects like the Millau Viaduct in France make that statement emphatically for its owners.

Millau Viaduct, Aveyron Deparement, France

The Millau Viaduct Bridge is a cable-stayed bridge that spans the valley of the River Tam in Southern France, and can be thought of as an engineering piece of art

I’m sure there are folks out there in cyberspace that don’t believe a bridge like this should be considered art. It should at least be considered “aesthetically pleasing.” I tend to define art as a material object that elicits an internal emotion and this particular bridge undeniably elicits an emotion from me – sheer awe. That pure emotion makes it art to me. The nearly unbelievable scale, the seemingly delicate but incredibly strong structural elements, the mathematical rhythm of the cable stays and towers, the considerable amount of collaboration it took to construct it and so on. It’s beautiful to me in so many different ways.

When aesthetic treatments aren’t on the must-have list at all, they should not be forgotten. Think of a simple, two-lane road in your particular city of choice. Do you consider it art? Probably not. Does it elicit an emotion? Yes, but probably not a good one. If the budget was too tight for ornate light poles, contrasting brick pavers in the crosswalks, or complementary landscaping to include commissioned wrought iron bike racks, how can it become art, or at least be aesthetically pleasing?

Applying a few principles of good design can make all the difference.

If you don’t have them memorized by heart, or haven’t read about them elsewhere in Environmental Design Group’s previous blogs (do so, they’re really good blogs!), this is a partial list of what is generally accepted to be principles of good design: balance, movement, pattern, repetition, proportion, rhythm and unity. Picking two or three of these principles and applying them to infrastructure projects creates an easy way to make that unartistic two-lane road more appealing to its user – even if it’s done subconsciously.

Some of these principles are upheld automatically. For example, lane width does not vary all over the place. Could you imagine driving and the width between stripes changing randomly between 9 and 12 feet, back and forth in no discernable pattern? If you’re like me, it’d drive you bonkers (Get it? Drive you…? Insert eye roll here). Since lane width is generally a constant, you’ve already integrated some design principles with no additional effort. Perhaps, in this case, aspects of balance, proportion and unity have been addressed.

Many design elements are still left up to you, however. The number, spacing and types of trees in the tree lawn all make a difference. The spacing of catch basins along the curb line, or the strategic placement and replacement of traffic signage. Think about these types of items as opportunities to create a cohesive – and dare I say it, pleasing (gasp)-roadway treatment without burdening taxpayers and still pleasing our clients by aiming for safe, yet aesthetically pleasing, roadways.

Now that you’ve put the basic elements of a streetscape in place, is there room in the project budget for more than the standard stuff? That’s where a landscape architect (insert selfless company promotion here) can help with inexpensive roadside treatments that serve your intended purpose but may also add aesthetic value to the project, and who knows, may help with stormwater management issues in the process, too.

Landscape architects tend to look at projects like this a little differently. Is there a way to unify the project with aesthetics without breaking the budget? Do some research. Do a site visit or two and, most importantly, keep the channels of communication fluid. Site visits almost always bring new ideas and directions to enhance the design by expanding the view of a project scope to be more than a mere checklist of must-haves. The collaborative effort between engineer and landscape architect can make all the difference.

When the project is complete and you’re sitting at a booth in your favorite neighborhood breakfast spot, you might just overhear a group in the next booth commenting they can’t believe how nice that new road is. Pat yourself on the back (in your head–not for real. It looks weird if you physically do it), and realize you’ve just elicited a real emotion from someone. You’ve just created “art.”

quigley-roundabout-intersection-detail-5Quigley Roundabout Intersection Detail Plan Sheet Art Display, Tremont, OH

Ten Things to Know About the Wetlands and Waterways Permit Updates in Ohio

By: Joyce Marzano, Senior Ecologist

small-waterwayEven small agricultural waterways can be regulated features

State and Federal agencies are issuing new regulations regarding wetland and water permits. If your project involves dredging or discharging into waterways or wetlands, here are 10 things you should consider before starting your project:

  1. The federal Clean Water Act (CWA) requires anyone discharging dredged or fill material into waters in the United States (wetlands, streams or lakes) to obtain a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) pursuant to Section 404.
  2. If you apply for a 404 permit through USACE, you also must obtain a Water Quality Certification through Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pursuant to Section 401 of the Clean Water Act.
  3. Activities typically requiring 404 permits and 401 certification include: culverting streams, stream crossings, bank stabilization activities and filling wetlands, but many others could also qualify.
  4. If your project meets the specific Ohio EPA conditions of a USACE Nationwide Permit, a general Water Quality Certification may be granted. However, if specific conditions are not met or the work will be performed in waters with a special designation, a project-specific Individual Section 401 certification will be needed. If your project will result in minimal impact, a Director’s Authorization (that is, a variance from Individual 401 requirement) can be sought.
  5. The USACE Nationwide Permits are being reissued, effective March 19, 2017. If you currently have been granted a 404 permit, it may still be valid after March 19, 2017, through March 19, 2018, if certain conditions are met. You should double-check with the USACE to confirm the conditions for continuation of your permit are met for your project.
  6. Ohio EPA updated the 401 rules pertaining to 401 submittals and procedures, effective January 2, 2017. The Ohio EPA also proposed modifications to 401 certifications for Nationwide Permits, tentative effective date March 19, 2017.
  7. These proposed 401 modifications for the Nationwide Permits include a Stream Eligibility Map, and three categories are identified: a) eligible areas (Individual 401 or Director’s Authorization  generally not required), b) ineligible areas (projects affecting high quality streams and undesignated streams draining directly to high quality streams where an Individual 401 or Director’s Authorization is required), and possibly eligible (Individual 401 or Director’s Authorization may or may not be required, additional field screening is needed).
  8. Ohio EPA also developed a fee structure for issuing 401 Water Quality Certifications. Fees are associated with an Individual 401 Water Quality Certification and depend on amount of proposed impact, based on linear foot of impacted stream and/or acre of wetland.  Pursuant to the proposed 401 modifications, the Section 401 Director’s Authorization will require a flat $2,000 review fee.
  9. Individual 401 Water Quality Certifications require public notice with the opportunity for public comment and even possibly a public hearing.
  10. The USACE will take action to either approve or deny a Nationwide Permit within 45 days of receipt of a complete application. The Ohio EPA will take action to either approve or deny an Individual 401 within 180 days (and a Director’s Authorization within 90 days) of receipt of a complete application. The Ohio EPA will review applications for completeness within 15 days of submittal. The new rules indicate that if the Ohio EPA fails to respond within 15 days, the application is considered complete.

BONUS INFO:  Ohio EPA is developing a certified professional program for stream and wetland assessments in support of 401 applications. The program is being developed to provide efficiencies to the 401 process and would reduce turnaround times if individual 401 applications or Director’s Authorization requests are submitted by certified persons. More details on the certified professional program are available through Ohio EPA at http://epa.ohio.gov/dsw/401/cwqp.aspx.

forest-wetlandA forested wetland can be dry during extended periods of the growing season. An experienced wetland delineator should perform an assessment of the property early during the project planning phase

The “So Much More” of Stormwater Management

By Jill Ward – Senior Professional Engineer

Timken_Overhead

As a senior professional engineer with Environmental Design Group, I have the opportunity to engage in all aspects of project development and design, but I have to admit . . . I still get geeked-out about stormwater management and green infrastructure design.

The role of plants as excellent pollutant removal agents still amazes me. They are a perfect fit to treat stormwater since they naturally break down oils and filter sediment. The reason we treat stormwater runoff is because of the pollutants it can acquire as it travels to its drainage site. As soon as it hits the ground and moves towards local collection systems, the water will pick up dirt, grease, oils and all kinds of things– things we don’t want in our streams, rivers and lakes. Once these undesirables have reached the waterways they are very difficult to remove. Utilizing plants in this way is really biomimicry at its best, not to mention they aren’t bad to look at.

Bridgestone_Plants

It’s because of the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (N.P.D.E.S) that stormwater management is necessary in the first place. It’s a permit program that was created in 1972 by the Clean Water Act, for the capacity to authorize state governments to perform program aspects related to stormwater permitting, administration and enforcement. Its overarching requirement is that stormwater runoff generated from newly constructed or reconstructed areas should be treated by way of an approved Best Management Practice, or BMP. These BMP’s promote water quality and correspond to appropriate water quantity prior to discharge into waters receiving the runoff. BMP’s range from detention basins to rain gardens, to pervious pavements to wetlands, and more.

Changing a site’s landscape (as any designer knows) can dramatically increase the stormwater run-off, and managing that could prove challenging – especially in urban settings or when there are major site constraints such as topography or ownership boundaries. This is where I come in, to design practices to manage the stormwater on project sites.

Finding solutions to these challenges are what I consider to be the exciting part of design. I am fortunate to work with a team of people who believe stormwater management is not merely a byproduct of development but should be publically celebrated on the site and within the landscape. Stormwater green infrastructure is not only an effective form of management, but it also enriches the community.

Rain Garden

Integrated in the beginning of the design process and appropriately placed, the BMP’s become visual enhancements that serve multiple purposes including infrastructure, beautification, outreach, education and more.

At Environmental Design Group, we have had the opportunity to work with many communities assisting in their stormwater management needs, from developing a municipal G.I. handbook to designing stormwater retrofits using green infrastructure. Many of these areas not only require infrastructure improvements but benefit from the capital dollars and attention to their neighborhoods.

It is remarkable to see the transformation, not only of the community landscape, but the mindset of people who live and visit the areas where we have designed stormwater management strategies. It’s a great opportunity, from our perspective, to provide the community with positive impacts to the environment that also reinforces safety and a sense of pride in the communities we serve.