Germs Are Everywhere, Don’t Worry About it

Recently, a study by Weill Cornell Medical College found that the New York City subway is filled to the brim with germs. They are plentiful and easily get on you, but don’t worry. Most of the germs are good for you and the rest are more or less harmless.

Over at CityLab they wondered then if all those odd things people do to avoid germs are worthwhile.

These “good” bacteria might come from food, remove toxins from the environment, or outcompete disease-causing pathogens lurking on surfaces. “That means more [bacterial] diversity, by the odds, would be a good thing,” Mason says.

Still, here at CityLab we have to admit to falling prey to dubious germaphobic behaviors, especially during cold and flu season. None of us has started wearing a surgical mask to work or anything (yet!), but at least some of us do things like flush public toilets with our feet, use tissues to open certain doors, and slather on what has to be far too much antibacterial gel. And the worst part is, none of us can really say whether doing any of this stuff actually works.

So we asked Mason and Dr. Martin Blaser, an epidemiologist at New York University, to tell us how much disease we’re really preventing with some of our most common germ-avoidance maneuvers. (Spoiler: not much.) Keep these caveats in mind next time you reach for the Purell.

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New York City’s Simple, and Green, Flood Prevention

New York, like other large cities, has a lot of impermeable services which means that when it rains there is little to contain the water. By using green infrastructure of soil, broken stone, shrubs, trees, etc. the bioswales can capture a lot of water. This green infrastructure is good for water management and obviously benefits the local environments through cleaner air and more pleasant views.

The Big Apple’s pretty new bioswales, built into city sidewalks much like standard tree pits and more modest in size than their suburban brethren, will join about 250 of these aesthetically pleasing drainage ditches that have already popped up around the city as part of the city’s stormwater management-focused Green Infrastructure Program. The price tag attached to this aggressive — and much needed — onslaught of vegetated swales is $46 million.
While that might seem like a hefty wad of cash for the city to dedicate to curbside rain gardens, it’s nothing compared to the costs associated with upgrading New York’s aging combined sewage system (a system that handles both storm runoff and domestic sewage) and cleaning up after perfectly foul combined sewage overflow (CSO) events that strike following heavy rainstorms (and, of course, hurricanes).

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Thanks to Shealyn!

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Adding Bike Lanes Reduces Traffic Delays

Bike lanes are wonderful. We’ve already seen that bike lanes create jobs, save lives, and help local economies. Now from New York City there is a transportation report that says adding bike lanes can reduce traffic delays.

So what happened here to overcome the traditional idea that bike lanes lead to car delay? No doubt many factors were involved, but a DOT spokesperson tells CityLab that the steady traffic flow was largely the result of adding left-turn pockets. In the old street configurations, cars turned left from a general traffic lane; in the new one, they merged into a left-turn slot beside the protected bike lane (below, an example from 8th and 23rd). This design has two key advantages: first, traffic doesn’t have to slow down until the left turn is complete, and second, drivers have an easier time seeing bike riders coming up beside them.

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Green Roofs Assist in Flood Prevention

Yesterday Toronto got more rain in two hours than it normally does in a month which meant some serious flooding happened. This got me thinking of a program that Toronto (alleged crackhead) Mayor (busted for DUI) Rob (loves pollution) Ford (reads while driving) cancelled. The cancelled program promoted green roofs to help with flood control while lessening wear on existing infrastructure.

So the ineptitude of the current Toronto mayor got me thinking of how things could have been different with forethought of climate change. It’s worth noting that Rob Ford spent the flood idling in his SUV:

I gathered some example of other cities and areas that are using green roofs (and similar) to curb their flooding problems.

In Singapore they have combined recreation with flood prevention:

The barrage is part of a comprehensive system of flood control to decrease flooding in the low-lying areas in the busy quarters of the city. During the heavy rains, a series of nine crest gates activate to release excess storm water into the sea when the tide is low. When high tide comes in, giant pumps drain excess storm water at at a rate of one Olympic-size swimming pool per minute.

In New York they are looking into a variety of solutions, which we looked at before.

In Rotterdam, the city’s green roof initiative has proven to be effective in flood alleviation.

Although large areas of green roofs have many benefits for cities, such as reducing air pollution and helping to combat the heat island effect, Rotterdam’s priority was for water retention, since the city has a shortage of areas where water can be stored following heavy rainfall. Water management has always been a major concern in the Netherlands, since approximately 60% of the country lies below sea level. The analysis of the potential of green roofs in Rotterdam that preceded the introduction of the subsidies focused heavily on their capacity for water storage in order to reduce peak water discharge following a rain storm and help prevent flooding.

Over in the UK, the Green Roof Centre has quite a lot of information on how green roofs can help flood management:

Once established a green roof can significantly reduce both peak flow rates and total runoff volume of rainwater from the roof compared to a conventional roof. Green roofs store rainwater in the plants and substrate and release water back into the atmosphere through evapotranspiration.

The amount of water that is stored on a green roof, and then evapotranspired into the atmosphere, is dependent on the depth and type of growing medium, type of drainage layer, vegetation used and regional weather. The FLL Guidelines should be followed to ensure that actual runoff will be in accordance with calculated runoff.

A green roof can easily be designed to prevent runoff from all rainfall events of up to 5 mm and as part of a SuDS strategy, should reduce the volume of surface or underground attenuation required at the site boundary. In summer, green roofs can retain 70–80% of rainfall and in winter they retain 10–35% depending on their build-up (Green roofs benefits and cost implications, In association with ecologyconsultancy, March 2004). The difference is due to a combination of more winter rainfall and less evapotranspiration by the plants because growth is not as vigorous during the winter months.

I like this tweet from Toronto’s chief planner Jennifer Keesmat as a good conclusion to this post:

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Moscow and New York City Both Launch Bike Sharing Services

Mayor Bloomberg in New York City has been clear that streets are meant to move people around and not just cars. The efforts the city has made to open up streets to people are working and the most recent push comes from their new bike sharing program.

“I expect to use it most days when it’s not raining,” McGlinn said after his journey, during which passersby flashed him thumbs-ups. “I expect to save money, although that’s not the primary reason why I’m doing it — it’s just nicer.”

New York’s version opened yesterday for people who purchased annual memberships, as most businesses were closed for the Memorial Day holiday. The first of 6,000 Citigroup Inc (C).- sponsored bicycles available from 330 solar-powered docking depots in Manhattan south of 59th Street and in sections of Brooklyn will open to the riding public next week.

Read more at Bloomberg.

In Moscow, they also launched a bike sharing program this past week. Unlike New York, Moscow has not spent the past couple years improving transportation networks so upon announcing the new bicycle program, officials proclaimed their intent to expand infrastructure for safe riding.

Moscow city hall has announced that it will develop a total of 131 kilometres (81 miles) of cycle paths by the end of this year, a small figure compared with other large cities around the world.

“Cycling will develop and in two years maybe it will find a compromise with cars, and drivers will understand that cyclists are also a part of the city,” said rider Vitaly as he sat on a bench next to his newly-rented bike.

The city has promised to widen the network to 120 locations and expand outside the centre by the end of July. The system will close at the end of October ahead of winter.

Read more at Yahoo.

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