$20 billion to protect NYC from climate change

From WNYC:

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn laid out a massive $20 billion proposal Tuesday to combat the effects of climate change on New York City’s infrastructure as the region continues to assess damage and plan clean-up after Hurricane Sandy…

The plan was framed around two key issues: how to prevent flooding and how to safeguard infrastructure. It includes studies to assess what solutions – from manmade sea walls to natural defenses like sand dunes – could best protect the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods.

An engineering problem

While it’s ridiculous to claim that avoiding the impacts of climate change is merely an engineering problem, it looks increasingly likely some mega-projects could be essential soon.

Market Urbanism points me to this infrastructure seminar on storm surge barriers for NYC.

The seminar culminated in the presentation of four conceptual designs of the storm surge barriers:

  • Michael Abrahams of Parsons Brinckerhoff proposed a flap-type barrier for the upper East River with a series of panels across the river that normally rest on the bottom, but are raised when a surge is expected.
  • Larry Murphy of Camp Dresser & McKee showed a barrier across the Arthur Kill with tide gates, parallel navigation locks, and a pedestrian draw bridge.
  • Peter Jansen and Piet Dircke of Arcadis presented the design of a barrier across the Narrows, just north of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. The barrier would consist of a pair of rolling or sliding sector gates spanning an 870-foot opening in the center, adjoined by 16 lifting gates with a span of 130 feet, and two lifting gates with a span of 165 feet.
  • Dennis Padron and Graeme Forsythe of Halcrow introduced another concept. They proposed a New York–New Jersey Outer Harbor Gateway, a barrier extending from Sandy Hook to the Rockaways, a 5-mile long system of causeway and gates. A key consideration of the outer barrier system concept is that it would not be intended to completely prevent surge waters outflanking the flood defenses at the extreme ends of the barrier system, but rather it would deflect surge energy and mitigate water levels in the Upper and Lower Bay to manageable levels.

Preliminary estimates of the costs of the barriers by the designers were $1.5 billion for the upper East River site, $1.1 billion for the Arthur Kill, $6.5 billion for the Narrows barrier, and $5.9 billion for the Gateway barrier system.

It will be interesting to see how these cost estimates compare to damage estimates in the coming weeks.


A reader shares this infographic from carinsurance.org, which decries “America’s crumbling infrastructure“.

Ryan O’Connor shares this infographic from Strong Towns on the challenges facing Memphis (and the potential solutions).  This may be one of the more straightforward explanations of Strong Towns solutions I’ve seen to date.

Incidentally, the very first comment on the carinsurance.org infographic is from Chuck Marohn, Strong Towns founder.

The lack of context in this bit of propaganda is disappointing. It is formatted to insinuate that there is this huge problem with maintenance (there is) and that the problem is not enough money (it isn’t). If you start to break out these numbers you see that every American family of four has the responsibility to pay to maintain 176 feet of pipe ($26,400), 5 feet of highway ($5,700), 0.6% of a bridge ($20,000). $2.2 trillion is $29,000 for a family of four OVER THE NEXT FIVE YEARS. Maybe….just maybe….we’re not making very productive use out of everything that has been built up to this point and, if so, maybe….just maybe….a more viable economic solution would be to start. Come on CarInsurance.org – you can do much better than simply repeating ASCE’s worn out propaganda.

Duluth rebuilding stormwater system, but how big?

File this in the “if you don’t think climate change will cost money you’re crazy” department. In Duluth, where at least 770 homes are flood damaged, officials will now begin contemplating just how big to make their rebuilt stormwater system after last week’s flash flood.

The northern Minnesota city’s network of sewers, culverts, ditches and basins, in some places more than 100 years old, suffered “extensive damage all over the city,” said Eric Shaffer, Duluth’s chief engineer of utilities.

But building and rebuilding a sewer system these days means making an educated and possibly expensive guess on a changing climate. Many communities are studying what steps they might take to accommodate increasing precipitation, but for Duluth, it will be a full-immersion process.

“Duluth is maybe in the first wave of cities to adapt to climate change,” said University of Minnesota Extension climatologist Mark Seeley.

Climate scientists say increasing precipitation, particularly from intense thunderstorms, is a symptom of ongoing climate warming, because warm air holds more water vapor than cooler air.

The Upper Midwest saw a 31 percent increase in “intense” rainfalls — the statistical 1 percent events — from 1958 to 2007, over previous decades, according to the National Climatic Data Center. Last Tuesday and Wednesday’s Duluth rainfall, measuring from 7 to more than 10 inches across the city, was in some places nearly double what’s regarded as Duluth’s 1 percent-chance rainfall. That made it “next to impossible to plan for,” Shaffer said.

“An event of this magnitude in 24 hours cannot be handled no matter what system we design,” he said.

Duluth’s deluge came in the same one-week period in which Cannon Falls, in southern Minnesota, received 8.83 inches (on June 14) and 3.31 (on Monday). The 8.83 was the most ever recorded by a National Weather Service observer on a single June day in Minnesota. (The Duluth area rains fell overnight, thus on two calendar dates.)

But it’s the smaller, increasingly frequent downpours that cities now need to plan for, many climatologists and community leaders say. In Minnesota, the frequency of 2-inch rainfalls doubled across the state from 1991 to 2010 over the previous long-term rate, even in the north, where cooler weather generally tempers severe storms, Seeley said.

It’s probably time for all Midwestern communities to reassess whether their stormwater systems are adequate and where the greatest risks lie (emphasis mine).

Many of those [Twin Cities metro] communities, like Duluth, have wastewater systems designed for 100-year rainfall standards that were established in the Rainfall Frequency Atlas of the United States, published in 1961. An overhaul of those numbers is expected soon. Latham Stack, a consultant working with the Minnehaha Creek project, said expanding storm-water capacity more than two and a half times would not be extreme for most communities.

Some perspective

On Wednesday, President Obama signed a bill authorizing the construction of a new Stillwater Bridge, a $690 million project that will serve possibly 18,000 car trips per day.  Here are some other transportation segments that serve at least 18,000 trips per day.

To name just a few.  Some of these facilities may currently have adequate capacity, but I’m sure quite a few are in a state of deferred maintenance (potholes, surfacing) or could use significantly better infrastructure (bus signs, shelters, pedestrian facilities, intersection redesign, etc) to serve existing users.  I assume that if any of these segments need improvement, we’ll see bipartisan support and state and federal funding up to $690 million per.

(A special runner-up goes to the SE Washington Ave Bridge, which in 2011 saw an estimated 6,850 bicycle trips per day.  That’s only about 38% of 18,000, so $262 million for bike improvements on this span should suffice.)

Cross-posted at streets.mn

Finding space for bike infrastructure

1st Ave buffered lane - parking is allowed on weekends

Finding space for new bike infrastructure is always tough.  Usually existing streets aren’t getting any wider, and parking and drive lanes often take precedence in the minds of residents and policy makers.  Solutions that allow cars and bike to share space are becoming more common, like the wonderful Bryant Avenue bike boulevard.  So when you find a street with extra space, it’s kind of a miracle.

When I ride to work, I frequently use the 1st Ave S/Blaisdell one-way pair for going north-south.  Both of these streets recently received bike lane improvements, including a bit of protected bike lane on 1st Avenue, south of 33rd Street.  When I asked the project coordinator why 1st Avenue got the protected lane instead of Blaisdell, which has higher traffic volumes, his answer was “space”.  Here are some of my observations (as a cyclist and autoist) from using these streets:

  • It seems like overkill to keep Blaisdell a two-lane one-way street when both 35W and the Park/Portland one-way pair are so close.  Especially south of Lake Street.  Traffic engineers, weigh in here.  Is there any appropriate traffic volume that warrants this type of street design in an urban setting?
  • Speeding is frequently an issue on these streets, especially Blaisdell.  I do it myself, and the liberal use of “this is your speed” radar signs reinforces this.
  • Much of the bike lane on Blaisdell is filled with potholes, manhole covers, street detritus and sometimes parked cars.  In other words, it’s not very nice.
  • Riding next to traffic that is traveling 35-40 mph is uncomfortable.  I certainly wouldn’t take my daughter in a trailer or on her own bike on these streets.
  • In almost all places where it has been measured, auto traffic volumes on 1st and Blaisdell south of I-94 have dropped since 2006, in some places as much as 30%.
I think there is extra space on this pair of streets which could be used to make cyclists a lot more comfortable without impacting auto traffic significantly.  I’ll go out on a limb and say these might even have potential to increase property values by getting rid of the mini-freeway that is Blaisdell.  Here are some options I think might work, in preferential order.
  1. Turn 1st Ave into a two-way protected bikeway from 40th to 16th Street or maybe even Grant.  This could be with a raised curb, or just some paint and plastic bollards.  There would still be space for one auto lane in most places I think.  Turn LaSalle/Blaisdell into a two-way with one travel lane in each direction starting at Grant, with parking on both sides.
  2. Move the bike lane on Blaisdell behind a row of parked cars and adequate buffer space.  I say adequate to distinguish this from the 1st Avenue North design.  See these examples from Chicago.  Reduce car travel lanes to one south of 31st Street.
  3. Turn both 1st and Blaisdell back to two-ways where possible with one travel lane in each direction and parallel parking.  Give them the bicycle boulevard treatment a la Bryant.  Set speed limit at 25.
What do you think?  Doable?  What am I missing traffic people?

On the proposed Stillwater bridge

David Levinson (The Transportationist) on the proposed Stillwater bridge to Wisconsin:

I think building a four lane bridge to replace a two lane bridge does not fully count as “preservation”, but rather as “expansion”. Given the state of the network, and the need to give priority to preservation, a four lane bridge violates that principal. As to whether a four lane bridge passes a B/C test, or better yet, a market test of whether a private firm would build it, the answer is clearly no. This four-lane bridge would not have enough demand to pay the tolls required to fund it. That should tell you something about its true necessity. The Franken article cited above suggested Wisconsin wasn’t interested in funding it. Since the majority of benefits for the bridge accrue to Wisconsin land owners, it makes no sense for Minnesota to lead on this.


Watch “Liquid Assets”, help raise awareness of Minnesota’s critical infrastructure needs

Along with BluePrint Minnesota, Minnesota APA is working to increase awareness about our State’s infrastructure needs.  They are raising funds to produce a local version of “Liquid Assets”, the trailer for which can be seen above.

The full documentary explores the history and challenges of our water infrastructure, and is a great reminder of the importance of systems we usually take for granted.  So watch the trailer, head over to BluePrint Minnesota and help out if you can.

America 2050: President Obama, Please Don’t Mess Up the New New Deal



By now everyone knows about Obama’s pledge to spend a boatload on roads, bridges, schools and energy efficiency to stimulate the economy (despite my failure to blog about it).  Well, America 2050 has already developed a plan for that plan.  They have an interesting 5 1/2 point plan for spending what could turn out to be $1 trillion with concise titles like “FIX” and “GREEN”, but what I found more interesting on their site was the organizations focus on “megaregions”:

A major focus of America 2050 is the emergence of megaregions – large networks of metropolitan areas, where most of the population growth by mid-century will take place. Examples of megaregions are the Northeast Megaregion, from Boston to Washington, or Southern California, from Los Angeles to Tijuana, Mexico. They comprise multiple, adjacent metropolitan areas connected by overlapping commuting patterns, business travel, environmental landscapes and watersheds, linked economies, and social networks. At least ten megaregions have been identified in the United States.

In Europe and Southeast Asia, governments are investing tens of billions of dollars in high-speed rail and goods movement systems to connect networks of cities in what are termed “global integration zones.” These counterparts to America’s megaregions are increasingly being viewed as the new competitive units in the global economy, where knowledge workers can move freely among urban hubs. Economic regeneration strategies are also being deployed at this scale, to transition former industrial regions to the new information economy.

The Saint Cloud-Minneapolis-Rochester area kind of stands on its own when looking at the map above, but it is included in the “Great Lakes” megaregion.  It makes me wonder what the Twin Cities would look like if we had a true high-speed rail connection to the Milwaukee-Chicago megalopolis.  Supposedly we only need to wait five more years, until then we’ll have to settle for cheap airfares on Southwest.