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Posts from the "Health" Category

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New Stats on the Health and Business Benefits of Sunday Streets

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Sunday Streets on outer Mission Street in the Excelsior last October. Photo: Frank Chan/Flickr

When San Francisco streets are opened up to people for Sunday Streets, the influx of foot traffic brings a host of health and economic benefits to the city’s neighborhoods, according to findings presented by Dr. Susan Zieff, a professor of kinesiology at SF State University, at a Board of Supervisors committee hearing yesterday.

Zieff and her team surveyed 600 Sunday Streets participants at events 2010 and 2011, collecting data that makes a strong case for investing in open streets events. One of the data points we reported in late 2011, for instance, is that every dollar spent on running Sunday Streets yields an estimated savings of $2.32 in medical costs.

The studies “have been really invaluable to us,” said Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City, which organizes Sunday Streets with help from city agencies.

The top reason people come to Sunday Streets, said Zieff, is to enjoy the city’s streets in a way that’s impossible at nearly any other time, when the space is primarily reserved for traffic and parking.

“Over and over again, people talk about being able to walk down the middle of the street with their families, do physical activity in a safe environment, not to worry about vehicle traffic, and generally be around people who are having a good time,” said Zieff.

In Zieff’s survey, 51 percent of participants reported coming from outside the neighborhood, and the average participant traveled 3.25 miles, round trip, to the event. Among those who had attended Sunday Streets more than once, 25 percent reported an overall increase in physical activity since they began participating in the events. And, Zieff noted, the ethnic demographics at Sunday Streets are generally representative of the city as a whole, meaning the events appear to be effective at increasing physical activity among African-American and Latino residents, who tend to suffer the highest rates of cardiovascular disease.

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What Can SF Learn from Other Cities’ Urban Water Projects?

(Editor's note: This is Part 3 in a 3-part series on the Bay Area watershed. In Part 1, we examined a radical new daylighting proposal in Berkeley; and in Part 2, we looked at the changes that SF streets may face under a bold plan by the Public Utilities Commission.)

Phalen Creek in St. PaulPhalen Creek in St. Paul, MN
Although the daylighting of underground urban streams has its roots here in the Bay Area, it's a practice that's spread around the country and the world in the last few decades.

Early daylighting projects like the Napa River, Strawberry Creek, and Codornices Creek formed the basis for a worldwide shift in the possibilities presented by urban watersheds. Now, a series of best-practices has begun to emerge from the ever-growing number of daylighted streams around the world, which could inform the proposed transformations of creeks here in San Francisco.

The SF Public Utilities Commission is now studying the feasibility of daylighting Yosemite Creek, Islais Creek, and Stanley Creek. While their research is underway, Streetsblog decided to take a closer look at successful urban water projects around the world from which planners might draw inspiration.

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Bay Area Cities Rediscover the Creeks Under Their Streets

ramblasperspect.jpgOne of the proposed designs for Center Street in Berkeley, by Ecocity Builders

(Editor's note: This is Part 1 in a 3-part series on the Bay Area watershed)

The proposal to convert Center Street in Berkeley from an asphalt thoroughfare to a park-like promenade -- revealing a long-hidden underground creek -- is the latest twist in the interesting and often-controversial story of the Bay Area's heavily-modified waterways.

The Center Street project is a striking reversal of a century-old trend towards burying Berkeley's creeks below ground. It's also an example of the relatively new practice of "daylighting" forgotten waterways, a trend said to have been unintentionally sparked forty years ago in nearby Napa.

In the 1970s, as part of the redevelopment of its downtown, the City of Napa stumbled upon a new way of thinking about the urban watershed: Instead of leaving the Napa River buried, engineers removed its cover, exposing it to daylight.

"In the 70s, there was the redevelopment," Barry Martin, Napa's Public Information Officer explained to Streetsblog. "and a number of buildings were taken down. The creek ran underneath some structures, so as they were designing this urban renewal project, [daylighting] was part of that."

"I don't think there was any environmental thinking going on at that time," he added.

Some urban planners debate whether Napa's construction in the 70s constitutes the country's first daylighting project. In 2003, Steve Donnelly, then co-director of the Urban Creeks Council, dismissed the project as the nation's first, saying, "all they did was take the top off a concrete channel."

Uncovering the waterway didn't fix Napa's watershed problems, either.

Forty years after its restoration began, Napa still struggles with the health of the Napa River: Frequent flooding plagued the city during the past decades, and engineers are only now getting the water flow under control, in part thanks to tactics similar to those employed by the settlers of 200 years ago.

In the 1800s, residents recognized that the east side of the river's oxbow was too wet to use in winter, and set aside the land as a summer fairground. An amphitheater now sits on the land, but there's more to the park than meets the eye: It serves as a buffer during floods, redirecting overflow away from more vulnerable areas.

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Study: Even in Car-Centric Atlanta, Transport Reform is Health Reform

The connection between transportation reform -- an emphasis on land use that makes biking and walking as viable as auto travel for routine trips -- and health reform is one that's not often made, despite the best efforts of the Obama administration.

050509_traffic_study_vmed_6a.widec.jpgEven in traffic-choked Atlanta, denser residential neighborhoods had positive health effects. (Photo: MSNBC)
But a team of researchers led by Lawrence Frank of the University of British Columbia took a particularly novel approach to the relationship between transport and health for a study recently published in the journal Preventive Medicine. For their observations, the group eschewed Chicago, New York, Portland, or other highly walkable cities in favor of sprawl-heavy Atlanta.

Frank, Steve Winkelman of D.C.'s Center for Clean Air Policy, and Michael Greenwald of the Seattle-based firm Urban Design 4 Health used data from Atlanta's SMARTRAQ survey to map the amount of calories burned by various blends of walking, transit, and car use. That calorie-burning factor was dubbed the "energy index."

The "energy index" of Atlantans increased significantly as their neighborhoods grew denser, according to the study, and the number of calories they used on motorized travel shrank in denser, more walkable areas.

But interestingly enough, the study's density factor only examined residential properties -- and in neighborhoods where mixed-use development grew, bringing housing closer to commercial property, the energy used for driving and walking decreased, leaving Atlantans' "energy index" unaffected.

"This result likely demonstrates that the energy required to travel in a very mixed land use pattern is lower for both walking and driving — with no real impact on the relationship between the two modes," the study's authors wrote.

The authors also noted the significance of a documented link between dense residential development and public health in a city known more for its grinding traffic jams and struggling transit:

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Quantifying the Value of San Francisco’s Unaccepted Streets

As we have reported, Berkeley Professor Nicholas de Monchaux's Local Code proposal for activating San Francisco's "Unaccepted Streets" called for transforming the patchwork of 529 acres of underutilized alleys, street-ends, and pathways into a network of green spaces. Were San Francisco to build out the more than 1500 identified sites, de Monchaux estimates that the city would save $4.8 million in air pollution mitigation, $6.9 million in energy savings, and a staggering $1 billion in stormwater infrastructure.

From the proposal:

The final outcome of our proposal is a pedestrian network of places, and a virtual network of spaces as well. A focused web threaded through real and virtual fabric; our systematic interventions turn away from the idea of urban infrastructure driven by cars and highways to a more robust, and perhaps natural, notion of urbanity. Instead of the old metaphors of lungs and circulation, we propose a robust, networked logic of health and social welfare, a distributed immune system for the 21st-century metropolis.

While the project didn't win UCLA's WPA 2.0 design competition, Professor de Monchaux and the five other WPA 2.0 finalists were afforded an audience in late November with President Barack Obama's Director of the Office of Urban Affairs Adolfo Carrion and HUD Deputy Secretary Ron Sims, who both apparently showed great interest.

"My goal now is to initiate some of those conversations with local agencies," said de Monchaux. "I think a very interesting next step would be to implement some of the designs locally, create a community based laboratory to see how these designs would perform."

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New Study Shows $56 Billion in Hidden Health Damage from Autos

Transportation’s effects on public health are rarely discussed by policy-makers, but they remain very real — and the National Research Council (NRC) put a number
on them today, reporting that cars and trucks have about $56 billion in
"hidden" health costs that are not reflected in the price of oil or
electricity.

In
its report today on the "unpriced consequences of energy production and
use," the NRC was acting under a congressional mandate to map the
health impacts of various energy sources. Climate change was not
factored into the NRC’s conclusions, but the report nonetheless had a
grim tale to tell about transportation fuel consumption.

The
NRC found that the manufacture and burning of fuel for U.S. cars and
trucks produced $56 billion in external costs in 2005, the year that
the report was requested. That hidden cost averaged between 1.2 and 1.7
cents per vehicle mile traveled, depending on the type of fuel used.

In
discussing the relatively small difference between the external costs
of conventional gas-burning autos and the costs of hybrids or electric
vehicles, the NRC wrote:

Although operation of
the [electric vehicles and grid-dependent hybrid vehicles] produces few
or no emissions, electricity production at present relies mainly on
fossil fuels and, based on current emission control requirements,
emissions from this stage of the life cycle are expected to still rely
primarily on those fuels by 2030, albeit at significantly lower
emission rates.

In other words, hybrids and
electric vehicles are still likely to consume serious amounts of coal
– at least until the nation adopts an effective renewable electricity standard.
The NRC notes that "further legislative and economic initiatives to
reduce emissions from the electricity grid could be expected to improve
the relative damages from electric vehicles substantially."

Given that cleaner electricity is a significant priority
for transit and freight rail as well, perhaps it’s worth mentioning:
transportation reform is also electricity and energy reform.