Courts vs. Climate Change

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New York City launched a lawsuit against some of the larger polluters on the planet to cover the costs the city faces due to climate change (projected to be over $20 billion USD). A decade ago this case would likely have been thrown out, today with the effects of climate change so overt this case stands a winning chance. There have also been a lot of other cases brought to courts around the world that have acted on issues surrounding climate change. The New Republic recently ran a great article outlining why courts are caring about the climate and what the law has done about it.

Some of these lawsuits have succeeded in other countries. In 2015, the Dutch government was forced to lower the country’s greenhouse gas emissions in response to a class action lawsuit from its citizens. A judge in Ireland recently ruled that citizens have a constitutional right to a safe climate and environment. And last month, a climate liability lawsuit against Germany’s largest power company was allowed to move forward. “Judicial decisions around the world show that many courts have the authority, and the willingness, to hold governments to account for climate change,” said Michael Burger, executive director of Columbia’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. He cited a 2007 lawsuit that forced the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. “Similar litigation all over the world will continue to push governments and corporations to address the most pressing environmental challenge of our times.”

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In New York, Bikes Have Totally Victory Over the Car

NYC Streets Metamorphosis from STREETFILMS on Vimeo.

New York City might be famous for its cabs, but in the future it might be famous for its bikes. The city has seen a big push for sustainable and fast transit in the last decade and everyone agrees: bike lanes are the solution. The city’s commitment to supporting bikes through infrastructure as made the streets faster, cleaner, safer, and more productive.

With luck, the cultural influence of New York will impact cities like Toronto (where ignoramuses claim all we need is more space for drivers) and other places where more bike lanes are needed.

We succeeded in building as many bike lanes after the bikelash as before it. The number of riders doubled from 2007 to 2013, representing a fourfold increase measured over a decade. We launched Citi Bike in the final months of our time in office. The system is in the process of doubling in size and has surpassed 25 million rides in less than three years, part of a quadrupling in bike ridership citywide since 2000. New York now has more than 1,000 miles of bike lanes, and Bicycling magazine named us the nation’s best biking city for the first time ever.

None of the bike-lane opponents’ predictions has come to pass. City streets have never been safer, more economically thriving, or offered more transportation options than they do today. My successor as Transportation commissioner is greatly expanding the network of bike paths and doubling the size of the city’s bike-share system.

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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!

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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