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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bike parking ordinance in City

If you've tried to ride your bike around the city of Pittsburgh recently, you've probably noticed one thing. You're not alone. You're also not alone when looking for parking. It's great to see lots of interest in biking, and the city is starting to step up and accommodate these bikers.

For decades, there have been rules on the books that you need ample parking when building a new office building. But that parking has always applied to cars. Now city council has introduced a bike parking ordinance where new construction will need to accommodate bikers. Bike racks are a lot cheaper than parking spaces, and require very little real estate, but as I've noticed on recent bike rides, they're becoming indispensable in the city. This spring Philadelphia introduced a similar ordinance. Kudos to Pittsburgh City Council for following suit.

Read all about it at Bike-PGH. For a comprehensive look at where the city currently stands on biking, see their website. You can even apply to be a bike intern.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The New and Improved Incandescent: a case study of the way government mandates can spur innovation

It's an easy position, being anti-government, but on occasion an issue arises where only the federal government has the power to step in and bring about the changes we need. Energy efficiency, energy independence, and climate change are all perfect examples of how, absent government mandates, the free market fails to get it done and has failed to get it done time after time. Now, occasionally the government does back the wrong horse, corn ethanol is a perfect example of such an instance, but the case of the incandescent light bulb is indeed a case study of how the government can enact policy that takes a product that should have been obsolete half a century ago, and replaces it with a new technology or new and improved version. When it was announced back in 2007 that the incandescent light bulb, at least in its current form and efficiency, would be phased out by the year 2012, Conservative radio hosts across the country and in Pittsburgh (local right wingers Quinn and Rose) freaked out about the news. But have no fear right wingers and lovers of incandescent light bulbs. Because of the mandate, manufacturers have been rushing to develop new technologies that have already proven to make the old incandescent bulbs 30% to 50% more energy efficient. The impact of having the majority of our residential lighting, be it incandescents, CFLs, or LEDs, at 30%, 50%, and even 100% greater efficiency, is huge in the grand scheme of things. Now that, my friends, is change and government that we can believe in.

PNC Financial - the greenest bank in the world

Pittsburgh's PNC Financial Services, which, after its acquisition of Cleveland based National City is now among the largest banks in the US, is, without a doubt, the greenest bank in the world. Not only does PNC have the most LEED certified bank branches, it even trademarked the term "Green Branch." Something even cooler for those of us who work in or do business in downtown Pittsburgh - PNC has recently announced that it will install what will be the largest "living wall" in North America, with a 2400 square foot green wall planned to go up on their headquarters, which is located at the corners of downtown's Fifth Avenue and Wood Street. Fast Company has more on this big win for downtown Pittsburgh.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Wasting Time on the DC Metro

I spent a long time on the DC Metro last weekend, traveling between Alexandria, VA and downtown Washington, DC. I've heard a lot of anecdotal evidence of people loving the DC Metro. I have to admit it is incredibly extensive and clean, but I've always found it to be slow as molasses, complicated to learn, and my new belief is that it encourages the horrendous sprawl around DC. The Alexandria station I visited had clearly never heard the term "Transit Oriented Development." It was a glorified parking lot. In short, the Metro is not very tourist-friendly in spite of DC being one of the top ten family destinations in the country. Heck, they don't even have google maps integration.

While I was spending my 35 minutes traveling into the city on what is essentially a commuter rail, I read the paper - where the city dwellers were bashing the state of the light rail. In Washington, DC, there is a lack of dedicated funding to fix the metro. The recent tragic crash occurred on a train that was behind in brake maintenance. Thanks to the back-handed maneuverings of Dan Onorato, at least Pittsburgh does have a dedicated tax to the funding of public transportation. Of course, that tax only contributes to capital improvements instead of regular maintenance.

Moral of the story? You don't have to have good public transportation for people to use it. You just need to build it. Construction didn't begin on the DC Metro until 1969. That's only 40 years ago even though their population has been relatively flat over that time.

Lesson for Pittsburgh? Plan it and do it. And we already have a step up on DC because we have dedicated funding in place. Let's quit wasting time and whining about how we'll never catch up to the big cities. Because we can.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Peduto Strikes Again

Councilman Peduto, seemingly our only area "green" political leader, has stepped forth once again to guide the city in a green direction. His proposed legislation to force every development receiving city incentives to reach LEED silver status or higher. While cities like Boston, are forcing every new large development to reach LEED status, Pittsburgh is making a very practical compromise here. If you want our money, play by our rules. If you don't play by those rules, you'll get fined a hefty 1% of construction costs. The legislation passed first vote in council yesterday.

The Post-Gazette also reports that there is also a state-wide initiative gaining ground for environmental standards for state-aided developments.

These are some great steps, and it seems like Council is actually moving ahead with passing the legislation smoothly (unlike back in 2008 or 2007 or even 2006 when Peduto unsuccessfully proposed similar legislation). Now the question will be how this affects deals already in the works? Can East Liberty have the 4th LEED-certified Target in the country? How about the North Shore amphitheater? And where would be if we had listened to Peduto years ago?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Light Thing

In December, Councilman Bill Peduto introduced a plan to upgrade all of Pittsburgh 40,000 street lights to more energy efficient models. Here's an update on the street light progress. The councilor's office let me know that the street lights are in their testing phases.

"The streetlight initiative test phase is ongoing. Lights were installed throughout the South Side in the last month. We installed lights from more than 45 different responses to the City's test phase request. We have experts from Pitt, Carnegie Mellon, and Penn State working on this project, monitoring the lights that were installed, writing a new lighting code, etc."
And the competition is fierce. Whoever wins this lighting battle gets a very lucrative $25 Million contract and some major press.

Here are 2 of the 45:

You've got to admit the city's come along ways since the days when the street lights used to shine all day to cut through the smoke.