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Friday, September 3, 2010

Pittsburgh Street Lights Update

Yesterday, Pittsburgh moved one step closer to its dream of converting all of its 40,000 street lights to energy efficient doppelgangers. The city received an $816,000 grant which will pay for upgrading about 3,000 street lights.

The first phase of the conversion, involving about 3,000 lights in 30 neighborhood business districts, will save about $110,000 in energy and maintenance costs each year. An estimate of the energy savings in phase one was not provided.

My back-of-the-envelope calculations bring that in at an 8-year payback period. Not too shabby. From informal polling of the South Side light experiment and a University of Pittsburgh recommendation, the city will be going forward with LED lights in the conversion. According to the Pitt study, the city should save about $1.7 Million per year on energy and maintenance costs when all the lights are converted (about 40% of the current cost).

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Death of Styrofoam

For years, we've been told that we need to live with Styrofoam containers because they're so darn good at holding hot foods. Well, some local restaurants are challenging the status quo. Sonoma Grille in downtown Pittsburgh has started using compostable take-out containers. I was pleased to see a little #5 on my opaque and durable plastic container from Il Pizzaiolo in Mt Lebanon last week. Even my corner Chinese food restaurant (the kings of take-out containers) use re-usable #5 plastic containers. (The city of Pittsburgh picks up numbers 1 through 5 at the curb along with many other items.) I applaud these local restaurants for voluntarily reducing Styrofoam use in our area. Other alternatives to Styrofoam? Tinfoil, corn husks, banana leaves, and recycled paper products are all better choices. Honestly, anything is better than Styrofoam which never breaks down. Any other restaurants deserving a high-five for making our region a better place?

Many cities from San Francisco to Seattle have banned Styrofoam products because of their ever-lasting effect on the environment. Even Chicago is considering this bold move. Could Pittsburgh be next? Let your council member and local restaurant know that Styrofoam is no good and help speed along the death of Styrofoam.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Allegheny County Green & Innovation Festival

This Saturday August 14, head out to Hartwood Acres to check out the Allegheny County Green & Innovation Festival.

"Residents will have the opportunity to learn how to live a 'greener' lifestyle and see demonstrations of innovative technology developed right here in southwestern Pennsylvania," County Executive Dan Onorato said in a statement.

According to the official website, "this zero-waste event will include earth-friendly food and product vendors, crafters, green living demonstrations, a book swap, musical entertainment, and children's activities." The event runs from 11am to 6pm on Saturday. Admission is free, but visitors are asked to bring a nonperishable donation for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and used books to trade or give away.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

World Environment Week

World Environment Day is Saturday June 5, but Pittsburgh (North America's host city for the day) is taking it a step further.

Yesterday, workers broke ground on the new 8,400 square foot green roof on top of the Allegheny County Office building downtown.
Also yesterday, Pittsburgh City Council introduced legislation to "... require contractors involved in city-subsidized developments to operate air-friendly vehicles and reduce water runoff through the use of green roofs, man-made wetlands and rain gardens."

Saturday, there are lots of official events to celebrate the special day including an attempt to break the world record for kayaks and canoes in the water. There are also lots of clean-ups and recycling events and even a 5K run. For a full list of events, see the official Pittsburgh World Environment Day site. If you don't participate in an official event, at least get outside and do something green on Saturday.

Monday, May 24, 2010

"Old Is the New Green"

Some days we get caught up in whether our brand-new buildings are going to be LEED-certified. It's become a great selling point to say that your new house is "green". But Pittsburgh is filled with old housing stock, and the most green behavior of all is re-use.

Over in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Matt Grocoff is renovating a 110 year old house. His goal is to reach a net-zero energy home. Given all the old housing stock here in Pittsburgh, we could all take a few lessons. We don't all have the funding to drill geo-thermal wells in our backyards or add solar panels to the roof, but we can all make good choices when doing our renovations. Programs like WattChoices even make these renovations cheap or free. Did you know you can get a $50 rebate for buying a programmable thermostat?

I'm currently in the process of re-doing my attic, turning a previously unpleasant space into a master bedroom and bath. So far, I've added CFL light bulbs, a dual-flush toilet, water-saving faucets, purchased sustainable bamboo flooring and added blown-in insulation. Whether you're adding an addition or just updating the look of your house, it's easy to add some green changes. What green choices have you made?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Pittsburgh Has Third Worst Air Quality in Nation

There's a silver lining to today's news headlines. Pittsburgh is no longer ranked worse in the nation in terms of air quality. However, we're still ranked third worst in terms of daily soot pollution, and fifth worst in terms of year-round soot pollution.

Guillermo Cole, a spokesman for the Allegheny County Health Department, said air quality in the region is improving, but objected again to the Lung Association's use of soot readings from the Liberty monitor -- usually the highest in the county -- to characterize the whole region.

To Guillermo Cole, I say the following often-remembered quote:

"Every society is judged by how it treats the least fortunate amongst them." - Thomas Douglas

In Pittsburgh, in terms of air, our residents of Liberty-Clairton are the least fortunate. Area-wide, our air quality results in 4 times the national average of child asthma emergency room visits. The EPA says that the cancer risks for some County residents is 20 times the national average.

The fight is not over.

At the county and state level, we need to update our antiquated air toxic guidelines. At every level, we need to continue retro-fitting our old diesel school buses and public transportation vehicles to improve our air quality. Upcoming Pittsburgh city council legislation promoted by Clean Water Action will require any city-sponsored projects that uses diesel vehicles to retrofit the vehicles to reduce the pollutants released. I beg city council and the mayor to pass this legislation quickly. There is also a program to retrofit Allegheny County's 2000 school buses. I urge every parent to insist that your child's school participates in this program.

The air is improving in Allegheny county, but it is not enough to be third worst.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Pennsylvania Rail in 2035

PennDOT released their rail plan for 2035.

I was happy to see that the Pittsburgh airport connector (and many other small projects) deemed too expensive for the expected results. PennDOT is attempting to focus on the big picture and projects like the Mon-Fayette expressway and MagLev airport connector are just too small potatoes.

As it is, they've come up with a whopping 7 corridors on which to focus, and we'll be lucky to make headway on 3 of them.

1. The I-95 Corridor, also known as the big money corridor, connecting Philadelphia to New York City and Washington, DC. This corridor

2. Keystone East - PennDOT's success story between Harrisburg and Philadelphia. PennDOT has very specific goals in mind for this route - reducing travel time even further and will inevitably meet those goals well before 2035. Earlier this year, the corridor received 26.4 million for improvements along the route.

3. Keystone West - the connection between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. In January, PennDOT received $750,000 to perform a study on improving Keystone West. Given the lack of specific outlined goals for this project, I expect another study will be in the works by 2035.

4. Lehigh Valley - This Harrisburg direct-connect to New York City line is one of the least-developed, but it would be a great coup for Harrisburg.

5. Scranton-New York City. This is the new love-child between PennDOT and New Jersey Transit. The two agencies are working together to make rapid progress on this section of the state. I'm sure it also doesn't hurt that Vice President Joe Biden is from Scranton.

6. The Southwest Corridor. This corridor is vital to the Pittsburgh region, ultimately improving our connections from Washington, DC all the way to Chicago. Right now, this is also the only project in the region on the receiving end of any serious money. Unfortunately, it also has the furthest to go in terms of reaching high-speed passenger rail. Hopefully, by 2035, we're in a state where all the groundwork has been laid.

7. The Erie Corridor. Quite honestly, this one seems like an afterthought. Penn DOT is effectively saying that if New York and Ohio want to plan it, they'll go along.

The real story in this report appears to be the National Gateway project. This is a public-private partnership netting millions of Federal dollars, crossing multiple state lines, and intended to improve our freight corridors. They claim that as a side effect of improving the freight movement in the country that rail schedules will be "freed up for additional passenger and commuter services." The bottom line is that in Southwestern Pennsylvania, freight is king, whether it be coal barges in the rivers or coal trains on our tracks. I just hope that tied to this National Gateway money is a guarantee that the CSX corp will actually make room for efficient passenger rail service instead of just using the rail for more and more freight service.

If you want to see PennDOT's plan for yourself, click here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Women's Health and Environment Conference

Wednesday, April 21, the 14 year-old Women's Health and the Environment conference is coming to Pittsburgh for the third time. This free conference was founded by Theresa Heinz. Unfortunately, the conference is full, but you can check out the proceedings online. Let's be honest: that's probably what you'd prefer since you're reading a blog entry about it. Go to their website to register for the video streaming.

From the press release:

Among the distinguished guests joining Mrs. Heinz as speakers are U.S. Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. Panels of nationally renowned scientists, environmentalists and activists also will share their perspectives on the current science linking the environment and human health. Morning speakers will present scientific data to support the ways in which toxins affect health. Afternoon speakers will share solutions that will enlighten attendees about lifestyle choices they can make to create a healthier environment for themselves and their families.
Thanks to Theresa Heinz for putting the spotlight on women's health and the environment.

Monday, April 19, 2010

On Driving, Biking and Riding in Pittsburgh

Last month, Ray LaHood declared an end to favoring motorized transportation. He should have declared an end to favoring self-motorized transportation. As much as I love the health benefits of biking and walking, I will never be able to get rid of my car until we have serious public transportation for short trips. Taking the 28X to the airport allows me to travel to any major city in the world conveniently, cheaply, and safely but I can't say the same about Penn State, Harrisburg, Cleveland or any suburb. We need to see progress on commuter rails to Greensburg and Latrobe. We need to see progress on train rides to Harrisburg and Cleveland. We need to see progress on service between Oakland and Downtown. Instead, we are seeing cuts.

Nationwide, public transportation is facing cut after cut. According to the Post-Gazette, "Systems in New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, New Jersey, Louisville, Ky., Orange County, Calif., and Fort Worth, Texas, are among those cutting service or proposing to do so."

Closer to home, the recent Federal decision to decline tolling on Interstate 80 is forcing Port Authority of Allegheny County and SEPTA in Philadelphia to ponder yet more service cuts and/or fare increases.

Public transportation fans around the country cheered when the Federal Stimulus bill devoted $8 Billion to high-speed rail projects. This weekend, I drove from Pittsburgh to Albany, New York. I couldn't help but notice the abundance of road construction occurring along that route, but I didn't notice any public transportation project construction. That's because overall, the Department of Transportation received almost $40 Billion, and most of that money is being devoted to highways.

Are we an irreversible car society? I hope not. But we are going to have to keep fighting on all fronts if we want to turn the tide. For now, I'll take hope in news that the megabus has restored service to Pittsburgh and Allegheny County has started talks with Westmoreland County to move forward with a commuter rail from Latrobe through Greensburg to downtown Pittsburgh. They are also considering a line that starts in Arnold and goes through Penn Hills to downtown Pittsburgh. A study determined last year that both lines were feasible.

When I asked my neighbor of 70-something years if he thought the commuter rail would go forward, he said: "Yes. If there's anything I've learned, it's that you can't stop progress." He's optimistic because he's watched the slow but steady progress of Pittsburgh's transition from a steel city to a green city. Personally, I think they should sell it as the "Steelers Training Camp" line. Ultimately, Pittsburgh will fund anything involving the Steelers.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Wanna Free Tree? (Part 2)

Treevitalize and the city of Pittsburgh have plans to plant 20,000 trees by 2012. Yesterday, they gave away 1,000 in less than an hour at the City-County Building downtown. Saturday, they'll be giving away another 1,000. At this rate, they could have 20,000 planted by the end of this year.

To get your tree: Head to Frick Environmental Center in Squirrel Hill on Saturday. Supposedly, they're giving them away from 11AM to 4PM, but if you really want one, show up early.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Great Allegheny Passage

This weekend I headed down to Ohiopyle State Park to enjoy the great weather. While I was down there, I explored about 10 miles of The Great Allegheny Passage. This 135 mile trail connects Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Maryland. From Cumberland, you can connect to the C&O Canal Towpath and head all the way to Washington, DC. After this weekend's visit, I'm inspired to do the whole thing. I figure if this self-proclaimed wonk can do it, so can I.

Of course, we're still waiting for the trail to be finished. There's a one-mile section in Pittsburgh that is waiting on an agreement with the owners of Sandcastle. I can't wait for the day when I can ride from my house to Washington, DC on a bike. Of course, since negotiations with Sandcastle have been on-going since the 90s, it may be my grandchildren that complete the ride.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Green Events

There are a bunch of green events coming up this month in Pittsburgh:

"Unblurred" is a monthly art gallery crawl along Penn Avenue through Friendship every first Friday. This month the line between art and green is getting blurred with the "Geek Art/Green Innovators Festival", Pittsburgh's first art and technology festival. The event will also feature family-friendly activities during the day at the Union Project.

Next week, Thursday April 8 and Friday April 9, the University of Pittsburgh is hosting "Blue, Gold, and Green," their second annual green celebration. The event is free and open to the public but online registration is appreciated. Click here for a full schedule of events and to register.

Gypsy Cafe
on the South Side is launching their "Geek Salon" Monday April 19 with the topic "Going Green". For a mere $5, you can listen to 3 speakers talk about what gets them excited about going green. The price also includes a Q&A, snacks and soft drinks.

Last but not least, we have the monthly "Green Drinks." This group meets every 3rd Friday at Mitchell's Restaurant downtown. Everyone is invited to this casual get-together of about 100 of your closest green friends. The next event is Friday April 16.

Anything I missed?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Good Month For Biking

As if the freedom of the open road and saving money on a gym membership weren't enough reasons to hop on a bike this Spring, we have 3 new reasons in Pittsburgh:

1) Bike Parking.

In a 9-0 vote, council approved a measure that the planning commission approved last September. It would require developers to provide one bicycle parking space for every new project that is between 6,001 and 20,000 square feet and another space for every additional 10,000 square feet.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

CSAs and Our Contest Winner!

Random.org tells me that a random number between 1 and 15 is 7.

The lucky winner is SandyU. SandyU, please contact me, and I'll hook you up with your $50 gift card from Sonoma Grille and Seviche as promised last week!

SandyU commented that she uses Kretschmann Farms for her local food source via their CSA program. I participated in their CSA two summers ago and loved all the vegetables, so this is a great opportunity to highlight Kretschmann and CSAs in general. Unfortunately, my schedule and location make it easier for me to go to the Farmer's Markets than participate in a CSA but if you have a convenient drop-off location and a consistent schedule, I can't recommend them enough. CSAs encourage you to change up your recipes and cook more food on the fly. Plus, you end up trying vegetables that you'd be less likely to pick up normally. I learned that I love fennel because its pungent anise flavor mellows when it cooks. You'll also eat a ton more salads and make lots of friends when you give away any extra vegetables you can't eat. Their season begins the first week of June.

Friends also rave about Penn's Corner Farm Alliance for their variety of produce, cheeses, and other local products and their flexible plans. If you're desperate for fresh veggies, their "cabin fever" plan starts up next month April 13. They also have a "harvest" share that starts in June, and the full-season share which runs from April to November.

City of Pittsburgh Farmer's Markets should begin in May. With convenient locations throughout the city (and prices cheaper than most grocery stores), you have no excuse to not eat fresh local vegetables this summer.