The City of Santa Monica has unveiled the green-street project on Bicknell Avenue. The one-block stretch between Barnard and Nielson now can probably infiltrate and treat the runoff generated by a Class 5 hurricane. Among the structural Best Management Practices used on the street: porous concrete, curb cuts and below-grade landscaping with climate appropriate landscaping, filters and infiltration basins.
Politicos, enviros, water nerds and local residents flocked to the ribbon-cutting (mandatory for all new public projects). The highlight of the Tuesday event was the discharge of water from a water tanker to mimic a rainstorm. Most of the water never even made it to the curb cuts and landscaped areas because of the porous concrete. I wish my front yard drained one tenth as well — maybe some of our plants would live more than a year or two.
The model project shows that green streets work and they look great. They capture runoff, percolate it into the ground, and reduce pollution to the ocean. All good stuff. The only negative? The demonstration green street came in at a whopping million bucks for a city block. The funds came from the Santa Monica Bay Restoration commission and Santa Monica’s Measure V funds.
Now we need to move from demonstration to everyday practice. We need green streets to become the norm. The city of Los Angeles, under the prodding of Board of Public Works commissioner Paula Daniels, is starting to move in that direction, but green infrastructure won’t move from novelty to commonplace until cities start passing green-streets ordinances.
Every significant street project should have a green-street component designed to infiltrate a three-quarter inch or one-inch storm, instead of an El Nino-driven deluge. Curb cuts, sunken medians, porous concrete, tree wells, porous bottomed catch basins and other low-tech, low-maintenance devices can provide pollution reduction, groundwater augmentation and flood control benefits.
With this sort of approach, green streets will beautify neighborhoods and provide watershed benefits without costing municipalities a fortune to construct. Now we just need a local city to raise the infrastructure bar by making the jump to requiring all street improvements to be green.