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The Center for Sustainable Infrastructure Blog

Transportation for Everyone: A New Accessibility Rating System

August 26th, 2017 · No Comments · Transportation

By Todd Litman, Executive Director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute
Re-posted with permission from Planetizen

Todd Litman, an Evergreen Master of Environmental Studies graduate, is founder and executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, an independent research organization dedicated to developing innovative solutions to transport problems. His work helps to expand the range of impacts and options considered in transportation decision-making, improve evaluation methods, and make specialized technical concepts accessible to a larger audience. His research is used worldwide in transport planning and policy analysis. 

To be efficient and fair, a transportation system must serve diverse demands, including the needs of people who for any reason cannot, should not, or prefer not to drive. For example, it is inefficient if inadequate sidewalks and paths force parents to chauffeur children to local destinations to which they would rather walk or bicycle, or if inadequate travel options force urban commuters to drive although they would prefer to use more affordable and resource-efficient modes such as ridesharing and public transit. It is also unfair if automobile-oriented planning deprives non-drivers of their share of transportation investment dollars, and of the mobility options they need to access to basic services and activities.

Transportation diversity [pdf] is particularly important for physically, economically, and socially disadvantaged people, who tend to use multiple modes and value affordable options, but even people who primarily drive can benefit from having alternatives in their community that reduce their traffic problems and chauffeuring burdens, and from having options that that they may need sometime in the future.

I can report from personal experience that it is possible to be happy and successful without a car, if you live in an accessible and multimodal community. My wife and I have been blissfully car-free for almost a decade, which is possible because we live in an older urban neighborhood with good walking and cycling conditions, adequate public transit, and abundant nearby services.

Multimodal planning was normal before 1950, but for most of the last century planning has focused on accommodating automobile travel, with major investments in roads and parking facilities, and dispersed development that is difficult to access without driving. Such planning ignored non-automobile travel demands, such as those in the following list.

Non-Automobile Travel Demands
  • Youths 10-20 (10-30% of population).
  • Seniors who do not or should not drive (5-15%).
  • Adults unable to drive due to disability (3-5%).
  • Lower income households burdened by vehicle expenses (15-30%).
  • Law-abiding drinkers.
  • Community visitors who lack a vehicle or driver’s license.
  • People who want to walk or bike for enjoyment and health.
  • Drivers who want to avoid chauffeuring burdens.
  • Residents who want to reduce traffic and parking congestion, accidents and pollution emissions.

There are several ways to describe the value of improving transportation options. You can say that transport planning should be more diverse and multi-modal, and less automobile-dependent. You can evaluate the degree that a community is accessible or location-efficient, and whether it is walkable, bikeable. or transit-oriented, and whether it is suitable for living car-free.

Good planning requires quantitative analysis. Multimodal analysis is an emerging field. New multimodal level-of-service ratings can be used to evaluate walking, cycling and public transit service quality, to identify barriers to their use, and to set targets for improvement. New accessibility mapping systems, such as those described in the following box, calculate the time required to reach various destinations by different modes.

Accessibility Mapping Tools

This box describes tools for measuring the time and money required to reach common services and activities (shops, schools, jobs, etc.) by various modes.

Access Scores

Access Scoring uses GIS mapping tools to measure people’s mobility demands, their ability to access work and common non-work activities by various modes and at various times and locations, and indicate how specific transportation system changes will affect that accessibility.  It can even account for factors such as travel comfort and safety based on roadway size and type (arterial vs. neighborhood), and traffic speeds.

Access to Everyday Destinations

The study,What Makes Housing Accessible to Everyday Destinations in Southern California?analyzed the accessibility of five million Southern California homes to 31 destination types including stores, banks, schools, hospitals and open space. They find that accessibility tends to be greater in older neighborhoods.

Accessibility Observatory

This is a leading resource for the research and application of accessibility-based transportation system evaluation.

Moving To Access Initiative

The Brookings Institution’sMoving to Access (MTA) Initiativeaims to inform and promote a more socially focused, access-first approach to urban transportation policy, planning, investment, and services.

New York City Transit Explorer

This mapping system indicates the time required to reach any destination by public transit in New York City, and allows users to compare travel times of different routes.

Opportunity Score

This program ranks locations in 350 U.S. cities based on the number of jobs that can be accessed within a 30-minute walk or transit ride.

Smart Location Mapping

This program provides interactive maps and data for measuring location efficiency, including the effects of the built environment on per capita vehicle travel, and methods for measuring access to jobs and workers by public transportation.

Sugar Access

Sugar Accessis an integrated Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software program that communities can use to quantify the access (time and financial costs) of accessing various types of services and activities (healthcare, shops, schools, jobs, parks, etc.) by various travel modes in a particular area.

Urban Accessibility Explorer

The Metropolitan ChicagoAccessibility Exploreris an easy-to-use mapping system that measures the number of activities, including various types of jobs, schools, parks, stores and libraries, that Chicago region neighborhood residents can reach within a given travel time, by a particular mode and time of day. It represents current state-of-art for multi-modal accessibility mapping. The results are displayed on maps which can be adjusted by scale and area. This tool can help policy makers, planners and residents easily evaluate how transportation system and land use change could alter accessibility.


Although these tools are useful, none is truly comprehensive. Some measure local walking and cycling conditions, some the availability of neighborhood services, some indicate regional driving and transit travel speeds, but few consider travel financial costs, emerging mobility options such as taxi, ridehailing, and delivery services, and none integrates all of this information into a comprehensive accessibility index. These tools are also constrained by their complexity and cost: they require lots of data and analysis, and so can cost millions of dollars to create and manage. Although this may be an excellent investment, it is often infeasible. As a result, few communities have the information needed for comprehensive multimodal planning.

To fill this gap I developed the Transportation for Everyone rating system, based on extensive research concerning factors that affect accessibility. For example, good research indicates that increasing land use density and mix tends to increase the services and activities that can be reached within a given travel time, and that people who live in more walkable, bikeable, and transit-oriented neighborhoods, with carsharing services, tend to own fewer vehicles, drive less, and rely more on alternative modes. The rating system identifies ten specific factors that affect non-drivers’ ability to access services and activities which are rated from 1 (worst) to 10 (best), resulting in a total score from 10 to 100. This analysis can be applied at any geographic scale, from an individual house to a neighborhood, city or region.

Transportation for Everyone Rating System
Rating Factors Rate from 1 to 10
1. Compact, mixed urban development which creates Transit-Oriented Development (if located near a major transit station) or Urban Villages (if pedestrian oriented), where most commonly-used services (shops, restaurants, bank machine, schools, parks and recreation centers, public transit stops, etc.) can be reached within a 5-10 minute walk or bicycle ride of most homes and worksites.
2. Good walking and cycling conditions, including adequate sidewalks, crosswalks, paths, bike lanes, bike parking, and motor vehicle traffic speed control.
3. High quality public transit services, with good geographic coverage, frequency, comfort, safety and affordability, both within the urban region and connecting to other regions.
4. Good connectivity, including dense walking and road networks, and intermodal connections such as walking and cycling access, and taxi services at transit stations.
5. Convenient and affordable carsharing and bikesharing, taxi and ride-hailing services (e.g., Uber and Lyft).
6. Universal design (transportation systems and services accommodate people with diverse needs and abilities, including those with disabilities and heavy loads).
7. Good telework options, such as on-line shopping, banking and municipal services.
8. Efficient delivery services by mail, courier and local shops.
9. Convenient user information concerning transportation options, such as integrated public transit websites.
10. Social marketing that promotes non-automobile modes and enhances their status.


This table identifies ten factors that contribute to a multi-modal transportation system. They can be rated from 1 to 10 to provide an overall “Transportation for Everyone” score.

Of course, individuals’ abilities and needs vary. Some people need an automobile for their work or personal activities, or because they have an impairment which limits their walking. On the other hand, skilled cyclists who live close to their work and have minimal caregiving responsibilities (they don’t care for children or people with disabilities) may manage to live car-free in automobile-dependent areas, but these are exceptions. For most people, transportation system diversity determines whether they can meet their needs without driving. This rating system provides a good indication of an area’s transportation diversity, and therefore the feasibility of households reducing their automobile ownership and use, and associated costs. An area’s overall Transportation for Everyone score is indicated below.

Transportation for Everyone Score

70–100  Multimodal – A car is unnecessary for most daily travel. Many households are car-free.

50–69  Mixed – It is possible but often difficult to rely on non-automobile modes. Most households have at least one car.

0–49  Automobile Dependent – It is difficult to live without a personal car. Most households have one car per driver.

An important point is that multimodal accessibility requires an integrated system of transportation options. Multimodal planning therefore involves identifying and correcting the weakest link in the mobility chain. For example, a high public transit service rating is good but insufficient if stations have poor pedestrian access, or lack convenient taxi services and user information; this rating system can help identify those gaps.

People sometimes criticize multimodal planning as a “war on cars,” but everybody can benefit from a more diverse transport system: Living in a multimodal community can provide a variety of savings and benefits, including direct user benefits and indirect external benefits, as summarized below.

Direct User
Indirect and External
Transportation cost savings

Reduced time spent driving

Improved mobility for non-drivers

Reduced chauffeuring burdens

Improved fitness and health

Increased enjoyment

Reduced traffic and parking congestion

Public infrastructure cost savings

Increased safety

Energy conservation and emission reductions

Improved neighborhood quality

Local economic development

Transportation for Everyone is a small but important step toward more comprehensive and multimodal transportation planning. It is a work in progress. Please let me know what you think and how it can be improved.



Stillaguamish Tribe Receives $1 Million Grant to Research Omni-Processor Technology

August 19th, 2017 · No Comments · Waste, Water

By Christopher Andersson, North County Outlook
Re-posted with permission from North County Outlook

The Stillaguamish Tribe received a national $1 million grant this month to research the applicability of a machine that could process dairy water to improve stream quality.

Stillaguamish Tribe’s environmental manager Pat Stevenson outside of the Tribe’s Natural Resources Department. Photo courtesy of Stillaguamish Tribe.

The Tribe was the lone Washington state recipient of the Conservation Innovation Grant from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The technology the Tribe is working with would process farm water that is contaminated with fecal matter and turn it into water and provide fertilizer as well. The water would be clean enough for an animal to drink, or could be used for other purposes.

“It’s a project we’ve been working on for a few years,” said Pat Stevenson, environmental manager for the Stillaguamish Tribe.

They started with a grant from the Department of Ecology in 2013, and through that work found the Sedro-Wooley business Janicki Bioenergy, which produces it’s “Omni-Processor” to clean human waste out of water from Third World countries.

“We found these devices that they use in Africa to treat water with human waste in it,” said Stevenson.

“We approached Janicki and asked if they would be able to build one that would work on animal waste,” he said. “They finally got back to us about a year later saying they thought it would be possible.”

The Tribe’s grant research will be to see if the machine can work and if it does improve water quality.

“The Stillaguamish Tribe is seeing if they can transport that concept for a trial run on dairy farms,” said Bonda Habets, Washington state resource conservationist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Farmers can currently receive funds for a variety of projects that reduce their impact on the environment.

If the Stillaguamish Tribe can demonstrate that the dairy water processors are effective, those machines could be added to the list giving easy access to the technology for many farmers, said Stevenson.

Currently, water with dairy manure in it is often kept in lagoons, which can get into streams.

Stevenson said that shellfish are hurt the most because of bacteria from the manure.

“They’re filter feeders, so they just filter out all of the material in the water,” he said.

However, too much bacteria and manure will make the water less habitable for all the animals there in general.

“It contributes to poor water conditions in general which hurts the fish,” said Stevenson.

Fish are important for a lot of tribes around the state and nation.

“Washington has a lot of areas with a lot of salmon, which is an endangered species,” said Habets.

“There are 33 federally recognized tribes in the state and many rely on salmon for food,” she said.

Many tribes are downstream in watersheds, she said, so they receive a good deal of pollutants from industrial, urban and other lands.

“The Stillaguamish Tribe is next to an area with a lot of dairy farmland, and that land doesn’t have many other land applications,” said Habets, so cleaning water from dairy farms would be beneficial to them.

She said that the group effort between the Stillaguamish Tribe, Janicki Bioenergy and other partners “makes it a richer project.”

“This could be a win-win-win for the tribe, agriculture interests and the salmon,” she said.

Stillaguamish officials hope to start fabrication of the processor in August and install it in a Stanwood farm in May or June of next year.

The machine will be the first one built anywhere.



Sovereign Power Brings Solar Jobs and Renewable Energy to the Spokane Tribe

July 26th, 2017 · No Comments · Energy

By Jason Campbell, CEO of Sovereign Power, Inc.

Working with the Spokane Tribe of Indians and others, Sovereign Power is “building self-sustaining native nations through energy independence”. Recently this exciting work was featured as a front-page story in Eastern Washington’s top weekly newspaper, The Inlander. To learn more about Sovereign Power’s great work, please check out the video below!

Our vision at Sovereign Power is to attain true sovereignty by attaining self-sufficiency.  Sovereign Power has been tasked with promoting self-sufficiency through energy independence for the Spokane Tribe of Indians.  Our resulting mission is then to identify, leverage, and develop opportunities in the renewable energy market sector in a manner that reflects our historic culture of sustainability.

To successfully fulfill this mission, we identified capacity development opportunities in a few specific areas.  Sovereign Power knew it could develop self-sufficiency through fostering relationships with industry experts that share aligned values.  Through an existing partnership with Make It Right Solar and by identifying incentives in the State of Washington, we knew solar PV (photovoltaic technology) was a great place to start.

So, we identified partners for classroom training of solar PV and rooftop installation.  Respectively, we chose Solar Energy International (SEI) to come to the reservation for introductory concepts in solar PV as well as battery back-up systems, and we chose GRID Alternatives for their experience in rooftop solar applications.

GRID Alternatives also has extensive experience in skilled labor force development in tribal settings.  Those 8 days of classroom training by SEI and the 4 projects we deployed with GRID Alternatives created the necessary experience base for our local labor force to pass the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) Entry Level exam.

The intent is to leverage those experiences and expand on education and certifications to have the appropriate resumé to compete as a market driven business both on and off the Spokane Indian Reservation.

Our approach simultaneously expands the skilled labor force, reduces unemployment, mitigates monthly utility burdens for local residents and the tribal government, moves the community toward energy resiliency, addresses climate change, mitigates rate risk, and boosts the economic multiplier effect within the reservation.  That’s a pretty good day of nation building!

To connect with Sovereign Power and learn more, you can visit them online at



By Bullet Train From Portland to Seattle to Vancouver, BC? Feasibility Study Underway

July 24th, 2017 · No Comments · Transportation

By Tom Banse, Regional Correspondent for NW News Network — Re-posted with permission from NWNN

With an assist from Microsoft, Washington state’s Department of Transportation has launched a feasibility study of bullet train service in Cascadia.

Late this spring, the Washington Legislature budgeted $300,000 for a study of what it would take to connect the region’s biggest cities by bullet train—a train that would whisk you along at 250 miles per hour or more.

The Legislature requested an analysis of a bullet train alignment between Vancouver, BC, and Portland with intermediate stops in Bellingham, Everett, Seattle, SeaTac, Tacoma, Olympia, and Vancouver, Washington. Lawmakers also asked for evaluation of a possible east-west extension across the Cascade Range to Eastern Washington.

Speaking to a conference of regional policy makers gathered Wednesday in Portland, Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith said his company will chip in an additional $50,000 to validate the idea.

“Why not a high speed train from Vancouver to Seattle to Portland? If we lived in Europe it would already be there,” Smith said.

“We know there is a compelling case for this. We’re going to do an in-depth study,” said Charles Knutson, a transportation policy advisor to Washington Governor Jay Inslee, at the same conference.

The feasibility study will look at potential sticking points, including “financing mechanisms” and suitable rights of way. A bullet train would need a dedicated railway.

The current Amtrak Cascades service shares the rails with freight trains. Amtrak’s passenger trains in the Pacific Northwest are limited to a top speed of 79 miles per hour. The twice-daily service from Seattle to Vancouver, BC, usually runs slower than an automobile because of rail congestion and track limitations.

The feasibility study is due for completion in mid-December.

Microsoft’s interest in high speed rail is an outgrowth of a larger initiative launched by its corporate leadership last year to establish a smoothly-connected, high tech corridor between Vancouver, BC, and Seattle—and now Portland too. Microsoft has a growing development center in Vancouver that Smith said employs nearly 700 workers.

Smith also spoke Wednesday of wanting a seaplane operator to begin direct service between Seattle and Vancouver’s downtowns.

“We need to raise our sights and our ambition level as a region,” Smith said.

Engineering consultancy CH2M got the contract to perform the high speed rail study. The consultants have scheduled a kick-off meeting Thursday with an advisory group of more than 20 representatives of local government, the business community, non-profit organizations, universities and state/provincial agencies.

A feasibility study launched this month by WSDOT will analyze what it would take for Cascadia to get bullet trains like these in Japan.


Michael Singer Shares his Vision for Integrated, Community-focused Infrastructure Systems

July 14th, 2017 · No Comments · --Integrated Systems--

By Nancy Rutledge Connery, longtime infrastructure renewal advocate

This Spring, CSI jumped at the opportunity to host groundbreaking artist and designer, Michael Singer at the Olympia Center, where he shared with us his unique aesthetic vision for beautiful, integrated infrastructure systems that provide multiple community benefits to local residents. Thank you Nancy for bringing Michael to Washington and for sharing a bit about his work with the CSI Blog. For more examples of Michael Singer Studios’ infrastructure design work, please follow the links below or visit

I am delighted to introduce Michael Singer to the CSI Community.  Michael’s efforts to advance sustainable infrastructure for more than 25 years have yielded a wealth of real-life examples that illustrate and validate the core mission of the Center.  They are also stunning projects—a term rarely used for things like solid waste facilities, floodwalls, parking structures, and co-generation power plants.

Our paths crossed serendipitously in 1991.  I had recently completed my tenure as executive director of a joint-Presidential/Congressional study on the state of the nation’s public works in Washington, D.C, after completing a related project in the State of Washington, which led to the development of the Public Works Trust Fund.  Michael Singer was an artist based in southern Vermont who had sculptural works in major museums and public art settings throughout the world.  He had just been unceremoniously recruited, along with Dallas-based artist Linnea Glatt, by the City of Phoenix Arts Commission to help design the City’s first solid waste transfer and recycling facility (pictured below)—a task that neither had applied for nor claimed any special knowledge.

Ironically, I was already familiar with this project because I had heard long-time Phoenix Public Works Director Ron Jensen publicly announce in 1989 that he wanted this new facility to be the “…2nd biggest tourist attraction in Phoenix after Camelback Mountain.”  This was a pretty radical statement for a traditional engineer to make but I knew that Ron had to break through stiff local resistance just to get the facility built and even more to convince more than a million Phoenix residents to recycle for the first time in their lives.  He believed in aiming high and was ultimately vindicated.  Michael and Linnea helped him to achieve and vastly exceed his goal, though the process was anything but smooth.  (Ask me for details later, if you’re interested.)

I met Michael in person for the first time at a conference in Phoenix organized by the National Endowment for the Arts where we were both invited to speak before the new transfer station was completed.  Our conversation had actually begun on the telephone a few weeks earlier.  Mainly, he asked tough but really interesting questions I couldn’t answer.

The conversation has continued for 25+ years and I still struggle with his questions, the pace of which has never slowed.  In the meantime, the major focus of Singer’s work has shifted to what he likes to call “Integrative Infrastructure.”  In “Infrastructure and Community,” a publication he produced with Environmental Defense (available at, he describes it in part this way:

Rather than using a predetermined approach, successful infrastructure aligns facilities with individual settings. Design that is responsive to the habitat and to specific light, wind and water conditions increases efficiency and reduces environmental impact. Design that attends to the needs and interests of local communities cultivates positive relationships between the agencies responsible for utilities and the populations that they serve.

I have personally witnessed many of his projects, written about some of them, and collaborated with his studio on several more. Working with him and his studio has been a dazzling learning opportunity.  To impolitely quote myself from that same document, “…these examples serve as dynamic touchstones for next generation infrastructure design.”

Recycling Facility in Phoenix, Arizona

“Michael Singer and Linnea Glatt were hired as artists by the Phoenix Arts Commission and the Department of Public Works to provide the conceptual design for the 27th Avenue Solid Waste Transfer and Recycling Center. The project, a 100,000 square foot facility on 25 acres, transformed an “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” piece of infrastructure into a dynamic facility that stands out proudly within the city’s landscape. At the forefront of the design was the mission to create an aesthetically beautiful and functional facility that would engage the public to promote recycling while simultaneously creating a sense of communal pride in this critical piece of civic infrastructure”

“Renewal, innovation and transformation were the key concepts behind the re-thinking of the 27th Avenue project. The engineering site plan was re-imagined to improve truck and small vehicle circulation patterns, move the self-haul area closer to the visitor’s center, balance earthwork cut and fill and expand and integrate landscape areas with the main building as terraces and courtyards… The building core where the recycling takes place was fitted with numerous skylights with solar tracking mirrors to optimize daylighting. The facility design also added a multipurpose community room, laboratory, viewing galleries, exhibition spaces and office spaces for private and nonprofit organizations. While the project was once derided as a Taj Mahal of trash, the facility was actually completed for $4.5 million less than the original engineering plan budget.”Excerpt from MichaelSinger.comLearn more about this project.

SWA Waste-to-Energy Facility in Palm Beach County, Florida

This recently-installed facility “…produces electricity from waste, reduces landfilling by over 90%, displaces the need for fossil fuels and powers approximately 44,000 homes. The Studio developed the conceptual aesthetic and environmental design for this new $700M Facility, assisted in establishing design criteria, and was involved in design and implementation oversight throughout the construction process. The SWA and Singer Studio goal was to utilize aesthetic enhancements, environmental design and educational outreach to create a place that engages the public and presents itself as a locus of civic pride and commitment to the environment.”

“The Singer Studio conceptual design included numerous aesthetic, functional, environmental and educational elements and programs that have been incorporated into the built project. Large areas of translucent panels are integrated with the primary facades to naturally light interior spaces and in specific areas allow for views into the facility. A skybridge connects tour groups from the LEED Platinum Visitors Center to the main process building to witness the internal waste-to-energy process. The entire facility is designed as a singular rainwater harvesting system to capture and store two million gallons of rainwater for use within the waste-to-energy process and for site irrigation. This harvesting system, combined with air-cooled condensers and the re-use of wastewater from an adjacent facility, creates one of the most innovative industrial water systems in the nation. As a result the facility uses no potable water in its process and produces zero (or net negative) waste water. The air-pollution controls in this new facility are also the most advanced and the cleanest compared to any similar facility in the nation. Other notable features of the design are the extensive use of green walls, an innovative oval stack to minimize visual impact, a naturalized landscape and advanced stormwater management practices.”Excerpt from MichaelSinger.comLearn more about this project.

Sculptural Flood Wall in Grand Rapids, Michigan

“The City of Grand Rapids invited Michael Singer to propose a public artwork in a site of his choice within the city limits. Singer chose 600 feet of riverbank along the Grand River between the Blue Footbridge and the Fulton Street Bridge where he observed severe erosion of the river bank… With the aid of city staff and his team engineers, Singer was able to realize a sculptural environmental regeneration project that restores the river’s edge in a manner that creates habitat and engages the public, while simultaneously meeting the necessary engineering requirements of a flood wall. The 300 foot layered sculptural element is comprised of granite, concrete and pockets of soil and vegetation. The sculptural wall functions as a flood wall while softening the river’s edge with native vegetation and creating small niches that shelter birds and other wildlife living along the river. The sculptural wall is reminiscent of stone foundations from an earlier time, emerging through the steep side of the riverbank. The indigenous plantings as well as the patina of the stone encourage associations with the past. The project also includes a fully accessible walkway to the river’s edge to connect the public to this natural and historic place central to Grand Rapids. The Riverwalk Floodwall became a key precedent for further redevelopment of the river’s edge and riverfront walkways in downtown Grand Rapids.” – Excerpt from Learn more about this project.

Cogeneration Power Facility Design for NY

“Trans Gas Energy (TGE) asked Michael Singer to work with Stephan Solzhenitsyn of TRC Environmental Corp. on the early stage planning of a new cogeneration gas fired power facility in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The plant was engineered to use natural gas to generate 1,100MW of electricity and up to 2 million pounds per hour of steam; about 10% of New York City’s peak steam and electric energy needs. Singer began his process by bringing together a team of outstanding professionals in design, planning, science and engineering. The Singer Team goal was to bring the state-of-the-art engineering design found inside the power plant to the architectural structure and exterior site. The team investigation centered on the question: can there by a close relationship between a power plant and its surrounding community and a communion between functional needs and environment, natural systems and innovative design?”

“One of the primary concepts is to wrap the main power plant building exterior walls in green houses, taking advantage of these highly structured walls, natural light, CO2, waste heat, and harvested rooftop rainwater already inherent in the project. These greenhouses could grow local food, wetland plants for nearby restoration projects and even host alternative uses such as a community heated indoor swimming pool and hot yoga classes. One associated concept was to utilize some of the greenhouses for algae biofuel research that could also tap a portion of the facility CO2 output. The facility was also planned with an extensive naturalized green roof for avian wildlife and rainwater collection.” – Excerpt from MichaelSinger.comLearn more about this project.

For more innovative examples of integrated infrastructure design, such as the Studio’s Living Shoreline Seawall Renewal and Living Docks projects, or to view Michael’s sculptural gardens, fine art, or green building designs, visit



Crossing the Bridge to Sustainable Infrastructure Investing

July 8th, 2017 · No Comments · --Integrated Systems--, Energy, Transportation, Waste, Water

This summary was produced for the CSI Blog by Mercer
Thanks to Alex Bernhardt and Shounak Bagchi!

The world today is in dire need of sustainable infrastructure (SI), most notably in developing and emerging markets. As the global population continues to grow, the need for sustainable infrastructure grows with it. The New Climate Economy estimates that within the next 15 years the global requirement for new infrastructure assets will surpass US $90trillion (more than the current value of the current capital allocated towards all infrastructure projects).

Despite the growing attention and support for sustainable infrastructure projects, overall progress has been suboptimal. Current allocations and projected plans of investments still fall below the estimated $6 trillion per year needed to spur healthy economic development. Further, investors lack a formal approach to sustainable investing, many in the investment community require additional education on the topic, and those willing to make an allocation to this sector often have difficulty finding suitable opportunities.

To further understand what is happening on the ground, identify key barriers to investing, and propose possible funding gap solutions for SI the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) partnered with Mercer to engage in a multiphase project commissioned in November 2016. This paper further supplements Mercer’s previous research in Building a Bridge to Sustainable Infrastructure to offer the reader granular details on the SI financing gap, testimonials from those in the investment community on participating in this space, and possible approaches to fully embed SI within the investment decision making process.

Learn more and download the full report!



Stormwater Management: Lessons from Our Forests

June 21st, 2017 · No Comments · --Integrated Systems--, Energy, Water

By Alexandra Ramsden and Jennifer Barnes
Reposted with permission from the Sightline Institute.
A new report from the Urban Greenprint project recommends biomimicry-inspired design elements for Northwest cities to wrangle their rainfall!

Take a moment to recall your last hike through a Pacific Northwest forest. Maybe close your eyes, listen for the quiet of such lush flora around you, and breathe in the evergreen scent.

If you’re really imaginative, and if your hike was recent, you might also recall the rain. Perhaps you see drops suspended from pine needles, or you feel the buoyancy of the leaf litter below your feet. What you don’t remember, likely, is seeing gushers of stormwater runoff, like you might in a city.

That’s because Earth’s biosphere has about 3.8 billion years of design experience at managing its rainfall. Compared with the typically impervious urban environment, where about 80 percent of rainfall becomes runoff, in a healthy Northwest forest, just 0.2 percent of rainfall does.

A new report from the Urban Greenprint project looks to capitalize on that natural expertise, employing principles of biomimicry to improve how we build our cities. “Seedkit: Design Concepts Learned from Pacific Northwest Forests” identifies properties of forests that cities and towns can imitate to manage the massive quantities of rainfall for which western Cascadia is known.

Here, we summarize the report’s nine components, including the purposes they serve in the forest and the potential to mimic those functions—and their feel—in our built environment. The full report has more, such as questions about materials and product development and images of design concepts.

1. The obstacle course of a layered forest

If you think back to that hike, chances are you imagined a mix of taller and shorter trees, tiers of leaves and flowers, lichen and ferns and moss, and fallen wood, fungi, and other matter underfoot. Together, these make up a multi-layered canopy that, when it rains, helps to break up, slow, and hold water, as well as shield sunlight. From these dispersed drops and small pools, the water has a better chance of evaporating before it even hits the ground, reducing the absorption load of the earth by 10-20 percent in a typical Northwest forest.

How could we mimic that in the urban environment, so that less rain even reaches the pavement? A series of angled rain- and sun-screens is one idea to slow the flow of rainwater down the surfaces of our buildings. They could include mesh materials that separate and hold the rain in more evaporation-prone droplets. Below these, landscaping like planters and bioswales could catch the remaining trickle.


A design concept of rain-/sun-screens, by Jennifer Barnes. Used with permission.

2. The sponge service of textured flora

The vegetation of a Cascadian forest works as a living sponge. From the canopy to the forest floor, different surface textures hold water in greater and lesser quantities, again facilitating evaporation.

Designers could incorporate such texturing into their buildings in many ways, some playful, some sleek. Living walls, meandering downspouts, and sculpted or vegetated gutters slow or even make use of stormwater running down a building—and they look beautiful to boot.

3. Evergreen needles’ drop-by-drop interceptions

There’s magic to the way a conifer looks after a rainstorm, each needle suspending at its tip an ornamental drop. Of course, this splitting, splashing, and holding is yet another means for the forest to intercept and evaporate more rainfall.

How might an urban space mimic this intricate arrangement? Wire sculptures, awnings, and screens hold a variety of answers and can adorn buildings from rooftop to ground.


Shoal revisited (mesh sculpture) by Jes used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

4. Conifer cones: water-smart seed pods

No Northwest forest picture is complete without pine cones. To release their seeds at the best time, conifer cones respond to moisture levels in the air, closing when wet and opening when dry. (Fun fact: Pine cones can serve as an indicator of forest fire potential. If the cones on a forest floor are all open, it means fire danger is high.)

Some buildings already incorporate similarly dynamic elements, such as sunlight-responsive facades and wind-responsive canopies. Could they also get smart to water and humidity in the environment, helping to slow or capture rainfall when it is present?

5. Leaves: Micro-lungs flapping in the breeze

Transpiration—did that word just send you back to a middle school science class? As a refresher, transpiration is the process of water movement through a plant: in through the roots and out through other plant parts. Ninety-five percent of transpiration occurs through the pore-like stomata on plants’ leaves or needles.

What might transpiration look like in the built environment? It could be as simple as flapping fabric: banners, flags, canopies, or fabric-wrapped walls. An absorbent and loosely attached bolt of fabric could divert gallons upon gallons of water from drainage systems, returning that moisture to the air once wind and sun return post-shower.

6. Bark’s textured wrapper

The nooks and crannies of tree bark, grown and fissured over decades or centuries, provide countless spaces to slow or store rainwater and increase evaporation. Though building facades can’t actively grow, they could feature some bark-like texturing in their material: stamped metal or ceramic panels, textured cladding, and poplar bark are all available to builders already, and designers could develop new “bark” options.

7. Moss: An absorbent rain-screen

A Pacific Northwest resident likely would not be surprised to learn that there are over 12,000 species of moss. Moss’s water content typically matches that of its surrounding atmosphere, and its leaves are concave to collect and hold water. Moss lacks “true roots,” so it can grow nearly anywhere. And the undersides of moss repel water so they can be used for photosynthesis.

Porous building materials, living walls, wood rain-screens, and newer synthetic materials could serve as absorbent rain-screens, to soak up and hold rainwater. Replaceable, breathable, and attached directly to buildings, such materials release moisture through evaporation after the clouds blow away.

8. Mycorrhizae: Smart networks for sharing

Mycorrhizae are the symbiotic webs connecting fungi and plants. They serve as a sort of natural internet to collect and pass along information and to distribute nutrients among organisms.

While many cities already employ smart systems to manage energy or monitor water leaks or usage levels, they could step up their game. Imagine dynamic systems that, say, monitored and responded to changing weather systems, opening valves to redirect stormwater or rescheduling irrigation based on a rain forecast. A smart, connected water management system would disburse resources exactly as needed.

9. The forest’s holistic success

The specific Northwest forest elements listed above, in combination with countless others, weave a balanced water cycle because they operate together in a holistic system. If designers approached buildings with the same model in mind, they could blend multiple strategies to emulate natural processes.

The Watershed office building going up in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood has in fact done just that, anticipating it will reuse or treat fully a half-million gallons of rainwater annually on its corner, just under the Aurora Bridge and mere blocks from Lake Union. Firms Rushing and 55-5 Consulting worked with Weber Thompson designers to explore several of the strategies listed above. For example, the team looked at whether the façade could include multiple downspouts, evaporative porous fins, absorptive moss beds, and percolating gutters. (This exercise also led to a competition submission as well with Eleven Magazine. The winner has yet to be selected, but the team is hopeful.) Although not all of the strategies explored were integrated into the final design, this project has been an example of a dramatically altered design process which could be carried through the industry to further improve the way water is handled by the build environment of Seattle.


The Watershed office building in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood. Image courtesy of Weber Thompson.

A sylvan city future

Urban dwellers across Cascadia are debating what they want their changing cities to look and feel like, how they will manage worsening housing shortages, and how these urban centers will remain thriving and diverse centers of culture and opportunity.

If we looked to our much lauded natural surroundings for inspiration, Cascadians could learn a great deal about how to build better cities. Biomimicry holds promising techniques to inform how we manage everything from stormwater to energy use, improving overall performance and efficiency—and perhaps even aesthetic, giving the urban street scene a little more of that special feeling Cascadians treasure when out amidst our region’s rich and complex forests.

Sightline Institute is a community-sponsored resource: Make a donation here to support their work. Alexandra Ramsden and Jennifer Barnes are guest contributors to Sightline Institute.

Alexandra leads Rushing’s Sustainability Studio in providing consulting for sustainability strategy development, LEED and Built Green management, charrette facilitation, and training. Her expertise lies in guiding teams to identify project or company-appropriate sustainability solutions. Alexandra’s passion for looking to nature for design solutions inspired her to co-found Biomimicry Puget Sound. She is a guest contributor to Sightline Institute.

Jennifer is an architect and sustainability consultant with over 20 years of project experience. She splits her professional life between her company, 55-5 Consulting, and the Urban Greenprint, a project that applies biomimicry at a city scale.  Jennifer is co-founder of Biomimicry Puget Sound and is active in the Northwest green building community. She is a guest contributor to Sightline Institute.



Working With the Market for Green Stormwater Infrastructure

June 19th, 2017 · No Comments · Water

 carrieBy Carrie Sanneman, Program Manager for Willamette Partership

Willamette Partnership is a conservation non-profit based in Portland, Oregon. At the Partnership, we envision a world in which people create resilient ecosystems, healthy communities, and vibrant economies by investing in nature. Since 2004, we have been a regional source for innovative conservation solutions that work for both nature and people. Our approach is rooted in a strong sense of place and community, and it depends a diverse coalition of partners from conservation, business, government, agriculture, and science. We are particularly interested in how infrastructure investments can leverage nature-based solutions for a more resilient, sustainable, and equitable future.

A new report by Willamette Partnership and Storm and Stream Solutions, LLC summarizes how stormwater managers can spur cost-effective implementation of green stormwater infrastructure while tapping new sources to finance that investment. It’s called, “Working With the Market: Economic Instruments to Support Investment in Green Stormwater Infrastructure.”


Download the pdf by following this link!

Over the next 20 years, communities across the U.S. are likely to invest upwards of $150 billion in stormwater infrastructure and the associated impacts on water quality, hydrology, and health. Tomorrow’s stormwater solutions will need to meet broad watershed goals, provide benefits to the local community, and be flexible in the face of a changing climate – all without a big price tag. This daunting task has stormwater managers thinking twice about how to get the most out of their infrastructure dollars. They are looking to green infrastructure for a cost-effective multi-benefit alternative to concrete and steel, and for creative ways to raise the capital to install those projects.

Green stormwater infrastructure manages rain where it falls and keeps urban runoff from reaching water bodies. It is often highly cost effective, and provides numerous benefits to the local community, including economic development, enhanced climate resilience, and improved health and air quality.

At Willamette Partnership, we see nature as our original infrastructure. This report provided an opportunity to bring our expertise in market-based conservation and scaling policy innovations into collaboration with powerful partners in the stormwater sector. Authored by Carrie Sanneman, our Clean Water Program manager, and Seth Brown, principal/founder of Storm and Stream Solutions, LLC, the report delves into a suite of policy tools, called “economic instruments,” that recognize and deliberately work within the economic system to create action or drive investment toward environmental goals. They include incentives, subsidies, trading, and mitigation. Economic instruments are a useful tool for stormwater managers because they can:

  • Increase the coverage of green infrastructure on public lands, private lands, new development, and urban retrofits;
  • Provide flexibility and reduce cost for regulated entities trying to meet stormwater requirements;
  • Provide a vehicle for both public and private investments; and
  • Enhance the efficiency of delivering benefits associated with stormwater infrastructure.

Stormwater managers can use this new report to learn how to encourage implementation of green infrastructure on private property, like this living green roof. Photo: Simon Garbutt

This report is a product of the National Network on Water Quality Trading (National Network) 2016 fall dialogue, which gathered over 50 experts in stormwater management and water quality trading for a two-day interactive dialogue about the paths for communities to best apply these economic approaches to meet their stormwater goals. The dialogue workshop was convened in collaboration with Paula Conolly and Mami of the Green Infrastructure Leadership Exchange, Dan Vizzini of Oregon Solutions, Seth Brown of Storm and Stream Solutions LLC, and in partnership with Water Environment Federation’s Stormwater Institute. The content and takeaways from that dialogue are heavily featured in this report, including a) the motivations that drive investment in stormwater infrastructure; b) a set of program options that work with market forces for more effective and efficient investment in stormwater infrastructure; c) the issues that limit these approaches; and d) the ways to get beyond these hurdles.

Storm and Stream Solutions LLC, Willamette Partnership, and the Water Environment Federation’s Stormwater Institute will host a number of events to describe and discuss the report’s content.

Carrie Sanneman is a project manager for Willamette Partnership and their lead on water quality trading and market operations. Carrie holds an interdisciplinary Master’s degree in Environmental Science and Management from UC Santa Barbara’s Bren School and Bachelors of Science in Biology and Environmental Studies from Iowa State University.



CSI Helps City of Olympia Reimagine $14M Project

May 24th, 2017 · No Comments · --Integrated Systems--, Transportation

SophieBy Sophie Stimson, Senior Planner at the City of Olympia

The City of Olympia was facing a $14 million road project to widen Fones Road. Recently, members of the public started to question the scope of the project. While it included bike lanes and sidewalks, they viewed the road widening as inconsistent with the City’s land use and transportation vision.

CaptureFonesRD Staff wanted to explore whether we could re-envision a project that would cost less and better meet our community vision.  We requested help from the Center for Sustainable Infrastructure (CSI) to coordinate a ‘value planning’ exercise for the Fones Road corridor.

CSI convened a multi-discipline consultant team to complete the exercise. The team planned a field trip and charrette process to explore the Fones Road corridor.  City transportation planners brought in a range of other City staff – parks and land use planners, utility engineers, economic analysts, and more.

Capture2With data and maps in hand, this group of about two dozen fanned out to explore the area on foot, and responded to thought-provoking questions developed by the consulting team. While many people had travelled the corridor routinely, the experience on foot took people by surprise.

The full-day design charrette was structured to generate ideas. Teams of consultants and staff generated creative responses to the issues they’d identified along the street. A few key take-aways from the process include:

  • A greater understanding of the population the street serves. Multi-modal improvements to the street would serve a large, dense population of low-income residents who were currently underserved by the street unless they drove a car.
  • There were hidden assets along the corridor. A large wetland had the potential to serve as a park. A regional trail intersects Fones Road, and improved access meant residents could walk and bike more easily.
  • Changing land uses influence the street’s function, and land use and transportation decisions should be made together. While we focused on design solutions, zoning changes emerged as part of the solutions.
  • The potential for low-impact stormwater improvements could bring beauty to the street while serving a valuable infiltration function and improving the health of the nearby wetland.

The process was structured in a way that got people to think about problems and opportunities in more depth.  We were asked to look beyond the commonly-defined issues and typical responses.  The consultant team structured the process to build on the expertise in the room while promoting creative new ways of thinking about solutions. After nearly two days of work, participants were energized and inspired by the process.

The resulting ideas are being synthesized by the consultant team into proposals for improving the corridor.  Once complete, this value planning exercise will set the stage for more detailed transportation analysis and design of improvements. This was a great opportunity to learn about this planning tool and we hope to apply it to other areas of City work.



BIG Solutions for Small Cities

May 5th, 2017 · No Comments · --Integrated Systems--, Water


By Shalini Vajjhala — Founder & CEO of re:focus partners

With Earth Day just behind us and Infrastructure Week fast approaching, it seems especially timely and important to celebrate local leadership and innovation in sustainable infrastructure.

Our most recent initiative—Build it Green (BIG)—was created with the aim of helping small and medium sized cities tackle seemingly insurmountable challenges with legacy infrastructure systems, like combined sewer systems. Over the past year, re:focus partners in collaboration with New Jersey Future and SCAPE—with generous support of The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s New Jersey Health Initiatives—worked with three cities in New Jersey to design, finance, and implement integrated stormwater infrastructure solutions. The innovations in each city and lessons for other smaller cities across the US and around the world are captured in the materials and resources below:

There are very real barriers that exist for all cities looking to upgrade major infrastructure, including the gap in predevelopment capacity and resources, challenges in public procurement, and of course, lack of construction funding. However, smaller cities have an added barrier to this already onerous list: simply because of their size, these cities are often stuck with ill-fitting legacy infrastructure from an industrial past that is poorly suited to their current needs. After decades of incremental fixes and ad hoc investments in aging and failing systems, the integrated approach demonstrated through Build It Green offers a new pathway for cities of all sizes to tackle high-priority projects while simultaneously leveraging funds for city-wide improvements.

In their own ways, both Earth Day and Infrastructure Week each offer opportunities to connect big picture reflections with on-the-ground action. This year, we find ourselves taking heart in the words of Margaret Mead: “’Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

For more on our work visit and get in touch on Twitter @refocuspartners to join our network of thoughtful citizens committed to building more resilient communities around the world.