Curbing Pollution

filtration on all driveways

Oros Street: filtration on all driveways

I can’t help but notice how many street “improvement” projects are under way in Santa Monica, the region’s most sustainable city. All sorts of traffic “calming” projects – a euphemism for slowing traffic to a crawl in the name of public safety — are springing up all around town. Most of them involve narrowing the street, installing ADA compliant curb cuts and providing a small landscaped area. 

Unfortunately, none of them are green streets projects, which have been commonplace in Seattle and Portland for over a decade. You may have seen some photos of these foreign- looking streets with beautiful landscaping, small to no curbs, permeable surfaces where gutters often reside, and genuine curb appeal — features that seem to be anathema in urban L.A.

The Santa Monica projects are the antithesis of green streets projects, with city workers constructing a veritable citadel around a small landscaped area. The only stormwater that can infiltrate the landscaped area has to come straight from the heavens. The ratio of concrete to green seems to average around 10:1 — even for a street corner project.

What will it take for Santa Monica and other local municipalities to include green street elements in all of their street construction and large maintenance projects? Santa Monica is talking about making a small part of Ocean Park south of Lincoln a green street project, but this is only one pilot. Why anyone needs to do more pilots is a mystery considering the success of these projects in the Pacific Northwest . And there are already green street projects at Bimini Slough off of Vermont and Oros Street near the L.A. River. The city of L.A. has been talking about moving to green streets for nearly a year. But it’s time for deeds, not words.

Despite all of the discussion and activity, no city in Los Angeles County has passed a green streets ordinance with requirements for all street projects. The city of Ventura is furthest along regionally, with its city council recently passing a resolution asking staff to move in that direction.

There’s tremendous opportunity to treat and infiltrate polluted runoff from transportation land uses through green streets. Imagine what recently rehabbed Santa Monica Boulevard could have been if the miles of median landscaped strips weren’t protected like concrete fortresses, but instead were porous media infiltration strips that received polluted runoff from the heavily used street. That would have reduced pollution from one of the country’s busiest streets dramatically.

With all of the talk of transportation needs in the region and state bonds of nearly $20 billion earmarked for transportation projects, local governments need to change the way they do road projects by adopting green street ordinances as soon as possible. Also, Proposition 84 and Proposition 1E designate nearly $400 million for stormwater projects.

Greens streets beautify neighborhoods by paring back the concrete jungle, reducing runoff pollution, and attracting state bond funding at a time when local government funding is hard to come by. The sad truth is that the toughest obstacle to success locally may be inertia from street maintenance staff members that have no experience in making streets green.

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2 Responses

  1. Wooo Hoooo! Go commissioner Daniels! It’s great to have such a committed and knowledgeable person heading up LA City Public Works’ efforts on green streets (and much more) and it’s great that this information about the city’s work is being shared in public forums like this. It will take a while, but it’s great to see that these green streets features are being piloted and being incorporated into city guidelines/standards.

    It’s great to read your first blog comment – don’t hold back! But, be careful – it can be addictive, too.

  2. It’s always great to see my longtime friend weigh in on these critical issues. Since I am the one responsible for the pulling together the City’s Green Streets Committee last May, I should probably post (and note that this will be my first time ever posting anywhere on any blog) just to bring everyone up to speed on what the City of LA has been doing in the last year re: Green Streets. We have a great team in the committee and we have been making progress.

    Here are some highlights:

    1. For residential areas, you already know about one Green Streets pilot project (Oros Street); one more is in development (Elmer Street), and one is in design (Riverdale Street, with funding we were awarded this June by a grant from the Coastal Conservancy).

    2. In commercial areas, there is a Green Street at Hope and 11th and there will be another one soon as part of the redevelopment of Los Angeles street near City Hall.

    3. We have created a list of projects for potential Green Streets retrofit and developed selection criteria for them, based on the Prop O model.

    4. We are using the information on completed projects to help finalize design guidelines to incorporate into our city standard plans; we expect a guideline for a curb inlet and parkway infiltration basin (for public sidewalks) to be done by the end of September.

    5. We have a commitment from the Bureau of Engineering to include Green Streets elements in pending street capitol improvement projects involving sidewalk or median construction or reconstruction, where feasible. CRA is also incorporating Green Streets elements into their project areas.

    6. Once the design guidelines are done, we expect that Planning will incorporate Green Streets elements into the community plans and general plan elements where appropriate.

    7. Funding is an issue and we are developing funding strategies, to include maintenance funding. We are developing a report on that for further discussion and consideration.

    8. We have a Green Alleys subcommittee that is working on a similar process (as in the steps above) for alleys. CRA has shown great leadership on this as well.

    9. We have reported to the Public Works Committee of the City Council on all this and they are very supportive.

    10. In terms of ordinances, it seems better to develop a more comprehensive approach and so we are working on a low impact development white paper, which recommends a comprehensive strategy of which Green Streets would be an important part.

    Design and construction take awhile to implement so it will be some time to see results, but we are on our way.

    Thanks for giving me the opportunity for my first blog post!

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