Life in the Bike Lane

A number we’ve tossed around quite a bit recently, the fact that the city of South Bend’s fleet of vehicles uses a rail tanker of liquid fuels (diesel and unleaded) every eight days, has lead us to focus on our transportation initiatives this week.  The SBMEO has always focused on finding fuel sources that are more environmentally appropriate, sources that are more secure, as well as sources that make the most economic sense.  To this end, the SBMEO has been looking at shifting the fleet from our current oil based fuels to compressed natural gas.  But the journey to a more globally conscious transportation system doesn’t stop there.  We’d still be consuming a large quantity of fuel.

To confront the issue head-on, it’s necessary to take a broader look at all of the city’s integrated transportation systems (vehicles, infrastructure, other transportation options).  One way to reduce the city’s liquid fuel consumption is to promote a more pedestrian friendly community design.  Bike lanes that are more usable (See Vancouver’s separated bike lanes) and greenways that are more than just linear parks (See Chicago’s massive Lakefront Trail) are a starting point that makes South Bend more pedestrian friendly.  Riverside Trail, South Bend’s most popular greenway, has planned expansions to Niles and beyond, but some focus needs to be placed on connecting that trail to adjacent neighborhoods and to the downtown.  These connections make the trail more functional and gives users the option of using the trail for commuting rather than their vehicles.  Reducing friction (like providing more connectivity), gives these greenways the opportunity to have a much higher usage then they do currently.

Another component to pedestrian friendly communities is using Transit Oriented Developments (TODs) as a model for design.  TODs place focus on multi-modal connections and pedestrian safety by including space for separated bike lanes and bike share options, bus pull offs and shelters, as well as traffic calming methods like chicanes, bump-outs (which squeeze lane width down and provide more green space), and speed bumps/dips.  Increased green space and reduced right-of-way frontage, bring pedestrians closer to businesses and increase access to nature.  TODs require a paradigm shift, but they provide a much healthier microclimate for the communities they populate and have potential to increase overall economic appeal (improved aesthetics and one-to-one communications).

These options provide a snapshot of the SBMEO’s transportation initiatives, but represent the overall need for more focus due to increasing fuel costs.  Without a doubt, these alternative methods will provide a lasting and positive impact on our city.

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Building Retrofitting


The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) was awarded to the city in fall 2009, prior to Jon Burke’s arrival in South Bend.  It was a multi-faceted grant that accounted for the creation of the SBMEO, the building retrofits, a traffic synchronization project, all of the work for the hydroelectric installations, the building energy audits, as well as our strategic energy plan.


The Building Retrofit project sought to improve energy efficiency in 5 high energy consumers within the city, including the MLK Center, the Charles Black Recreation Center, the Park Maintenance facility, Fire Station 6, and Central Services Administration Offices.  These facilities were chosen not only for their great need, but also because the work done would see the largest return for the least amount of investment.  The retrofit portion of the EECBG grant was $126,000.

At the MLK Center specifically, we installed 30 high bay induction lights which use half of the electricity of their High Pressure Sodium counterparts (200watts down from 400watts+ previously).  While the Energy Audit Report, conducted in summer 2011, will give the most information on the subject, there are many more standard fluorescent tube lighting fixtures that need updating at the MLK Center.  The Charles Black Center had a similar upgrade, in that only their gym lights were exchanged and the rest of the facility still needs upgrades.  The Park Maintenance facility had the most high bay lights installed (they were upgraded in the carpentry shop, the main storage area, and the garage itself).  The offices there already utilized higher efficiency fluorescent tube lighting and they have great occupancy awareness for lighting.  Central Services was the only facility that installed just the higher efficiency fluorescent tube lights (32 Watt T12 bulbs replaced by 25 Watts T8 bulbs), with the garage areas remaining untouched.  Fire Station 6 had the most work done, having solar tube installed in the apparatus bay, a new roof and insulation, as well as lighting upgrades throughout.  After 2 months of looking at the new energy bills for Fire Station 6, we are seeing a 46% reduction in gas usage for December and a 40% reduction for January.  Lighting upgrades at all facilities are showing generally a 10%-20% reduction (as high as 35% at Fire Station 6) in electricity usage.  We predict that with providing some user training, these numbers will steadily show a greater savings.

The SBMEO is looking forward to creating more energy solutions that optimize our buildings and conserve our valuable resources.  A Green Ribbon Cutting ceremony to celebrate the completion of this project is planned for Thursday, February 23 from 3:00-4:00pm at the MLK Center.  The ceremony will highlight the new lighting used throughout these facilities.  If you have any questions regarding the Retrofit project or any of the other SBMEO projects, please don’t hesitate to write to


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Seeing the Urban Forest Through the Buildings

Trees make a significant impact on the microclimate, the energy use, the health, and the safety of the communities they beautify.  At least intrinsically, it seems like societies have always know this.  Zoning ordinances, in an attempt to ensure their inclusion in all building projects, have inadvertently and most unfortunately, reduced the understood value of urban forests to a list of minimum requirements.  With continued research validating them, which among other benefits provides concrete monetary reasoning, the stock of urban forests is slowly rising.

To make sure everyone is on the same page, an urban forest is a collection of trees that grow within a city and its  surrounding community.  A broader definition includes any planting areas growing in and around the community and the term can also describe areas whose ecosystems are inherited from leftover undeveloped green space.  This includes but is not limited to street trees, foundation plantings for buildings, parks, and any native areas such as river corridors.

All trees provide benefits to their ecosystems.  In an urban forest, however, those benefits are even more significant, ranging from ecological services to economic perks.  This increased benefit stems from the overall lack of green space in urban areas, just how harsh a microclimate those areas are, and how systemic of an impact green space makes.  Urban forests play an important role in ecology and influence human habitats in many ways: they filter air, water, and sunlight while providing habitat for animals and recreational area for people.  They moderate local climate, slowing wind and stormwater, and shading homes and businesses to conserve energy.  Commonly acknowledged, they are critical in cooling the urban heat island effect, thus potentially reducing the number of unhealthful ozone days that plague major cities in peak summer months.  A 2001 study from the National Laboratory in Berkley, California shows a 25% reduction in net cooling and heating energy use in urban landscapes.

Impact on Urban Heat Island Effect

How is that reduction achieved?  One reason is that urban shade trees offer significant benefits in reducing HVAC demand and improving urban air quality by reducing smog.  Another reason is the direct and indirect buffering of the elements including:

  • Reduced solar heat gain through windows, walls, and roofs by shading
  • Reducing the radiant heat gain from the surroundings by shading
  • Reducing the outside air infiltration rate by lowering ambient wind speeds
  • Reducing the heat gain into buildings by lowering ambient temperatures through evapotranspiration in summer
  • In some cases, increasing the latent air-conditioning load by adding moisture to the air through evapotranspiration

Strategies that increase urban vegetation and the reflectance of roofs and paved surfaces reduce energy consumption city-wide, and have significant impacts on individual homeowners and commercial consumers.  Collectively, an urban forest mitigates the magnitude of the urban heat island by reducing the heat balance of the entire city.

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The Energy Economy

South Bend has long been a leader in eco-friendly initiatives.  Being “green”, however, is only a portion of the motivation for pursing sustainable energy management.  It has been said that, “energy efficiency is the cheapest, cleanest, and fastest energy source.”  To put it another way, more effectively managing our energy consumption makes great economic sense as well.

To effectively assess the effect of energy on the city a valuation process, which would assess the economic significance associated with energy consumption and management, is necessary.  Straight cost analysis is one component.  In 2010, the City of South Bend consumed enough electricity to cost the city close to $3.1 million for electricity.  The fuel consumption for the city’s fleet of vehicles totaled 868,656 gallons, which amounts to 1 rail tanker every 8 days.  These items represent the obvious usage of energy, however, energy consumption is linked to a great many other costs.  Maintenance; type of equipment (vehicles, lighting fixtures, motors); hours of operation; time of day – which plays into demand charges; and appropriate tariff charges all systemically reflect energy consumption and cost.

Total energy consumption should not be looked at as something unmanageable. The big picture presents significant opportunities both to incur cost savings and generate revenue. It is important to set attainable, but aggressive goals to determine energy management baseline opportunities (low hanging fruit) and also evaluate necessary paradigm shifts (Life cycle costs vs. First costs) to elevate our successes.

The energy revolution taking place around the world presents significant opportunities for a community like South Bend.  Energy and sustainability related jobs represent a growing sector in the world economy.   Because the Midwest still has an abundance of resources available, cities like South Bend are poised to become globally relevant.  We have a large amount of available building stock, access to major universities, a myriad of trans-regional and national/international transportation options, and a large available work force.  Each represents a great prospect to increase our leadership role in energy and sustainability.

Perhaps most important is to ask ourselves the question: what is the cost of doing nothing? What is at stake if we do not address increasing deferred maintenance of our facilities or if we do not account for rising energy costs?  What happens if we do not participate in the growing energy economy?

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Weekend Links

Here is a list of noteworthy links to check out this weekend (all related to urbanism, well sort-of anyway).  Enjoy! And let us know what you think:

“The Republican presidential primary has covered significant ground. Against a backdrop of Iowan cornfields, candidates have debated socialism, capitalism, immigration and American exceptionalism, and have even touched on the finer points of Shariah law and the Federalist Papers. One thing you don’t hear about is America’s cities and the ongoing, and growing, urban crisis.”

“Urban tree planting can account for a 25% reduction in net cooling and heating energy usage in urban landscapes.”

“We tell municipalities that trees are as much a part of their infrastructure as the gas line, the sidewalk and the light pole,” says Mr. James, who is based in Vancouver. “And as such they belong not just to the arborist, but to the roads engineer, the streets engineer and the storm-water engineer.”

“Living with Less: 229 square foot lofts have everything you need to live.”

“Even to an untrained eye, it is immediately obvious that the city is struggling to cater for its growing number of cyclists. It is already near-impossible to find cycling parking places near main stations, while cycling lanes that seem gargantuan to British eyes – three to four meters wide compared to our 1.5 meters – are buried at certain times of day beneath the scrum of cyclists traversing the city.”

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Wordless Wednesday

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Urbanism = New Energy

We’ve been posting all week on Facebook about urbanism, parking, and pedestrianism and thought that we should write something here tying these ideas to energy.

The role of a city is to maximize exchange: of goods, culture, friendship, and knowledge.  Ideally, the purpose of transportation, then, is to maximize this exchange.  Unfortunately, the process of transportation is no longer an effective means for exchange and worse they have had a system-wide negative impact.  From a residential perspective, lengthy commutes are the by-products of a population’s ability to make those commutes as well as a rational supporting that ability: increasing desire for a yard (private property) and a disinterest (amenities are available further away from cities’ cores) or fear of living in the city (crime).  To compound this problem there is not a necessity to live in a city close to amenities, when one can simply drive there from his/her suburban residence.  This model of development has caused the means of these exchanges in our cities to become so over extended that they are inefficient and unhealthy.  It is a stress on the city and its citizens.  Modifications are a necessity.

Fragmented urban cores, confusing webs of transportation that merely shuffle people through and around the city, as well as relocated businesses not only add to the aesthetic and economic problem, but they also contribute to the inefficient use of energy.  Whether or not you support the idea of New Urbanism, the anti-sprawl movement has made significant gains for energy efficiency ideas.  Sprawl forces a dependence on cars, which in turn increases our use of fossil fuels (oil).  It also extends utility networks (electricity and natural gas, as well as water and sewers).  The farther the networks are extended the less efficient and more expensive they become.  By restricting growth and focusing on making communities more walkable, cities are able to make exponential savings in energy, simply because the networks are more efficient.  Additionally, urbanism forces communities to conserve the resources of land and existing architecture, thus not utilizing more energy to produce new resources.

While New Urbanism ideals and anti-sprawl sentiments may have initially been solely focused on aesthetics and re-creating lost character, they undoubtedly also have many positive benefits to energy management.  This impact should not be overlooked as we continually face rising costs of energy that will put further strain on economic and community development.

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