Friday, November 28, 2014

Leaf Pickup--The Fairness Issue

This website has long argued for a better approach to Princeton's collection of compostables--yardwaste, leaves, brush and foodwaste. The aim should be clean streets for nine months of the year, less expense, less distraction of staff from other important tasks, and consistent service.

This fall's looseleaf collection has, in my neighborhood, appeared to go pretty well. But this photo shows a neighborhood after its last looseleaf pickup in the fall. The streets should be clean, but they're not. In fact, there is scarcely a week of the year when the streets are clean with the current system.

This post focuses on just one of the many strong arguments for a revision of service: the fairness issue, which manifests itself at the end of the year. With the town divided up into four zones, the last pickup will vary by several weeks, depending on the zone. In the less fortunate zones, the last looseleaf pickup in the fall may come before all the leaves have fallen from the trees.

That's what happened for this neighbor, whose pin oak still has leaves, one week after the last pickup. The unfairness would be greatly reduced if each participating homeowner had a rollout bin. A fuller, succinct description of this approach is provided in this letter, but the upshot is that these small piles of leaves, and similar ones of yardwaste that are currently dumped loose on the streets year-round, could easily fit into a rollout bin. The larger versions of rollout bins hold the equivalent of three yardwaste bags. Though yardwaste bags could still be used to complement the bins, rollout bins are superior in that they are sturdy, waterproof, mobile, and easily filled.

Rollout bins are also perfect for stowing these pumpkins, and the little blob of leaves just beyond it. The bin would be rolled out to the curb for weekly pickups, leaving the streetscape uncluttered the other six.

Princeton can do better, and there is reason to believe that making the rollout bin the core of compostables collection would increase convenience, consistency, fairness, and street cleanliness--all at a reduced cost.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Seeking a Foodwaste Composting Site In NJ

There was a surprise announcement a couple months ago at a Princeton municipal council meeting. The plant in Wilmington, DE where Princeton's foodwaste was being trucked to has closed. A September 26 article in Delaware Public Media suggests it is unlikely to reopen. I've heard that Princeton is now trucking its foodwaste to a pig farmer in south Jersey, but the pigs and the farmer aren't happy with all the paper and yardwaste mixed in.

What to do? There are a number of options in the works.

As described to me by Tom Tjanick, AgriArk is in Trenton and uses
"a proprietary biological microbe to break down food waste/ organics in an anaerobic environment that produces a soil amendment that acts as a replacement for chemical fertilizers. Our process actually sequesters large volumes of CO2 back to the soil." 
There's an informative writeup on the company at this link. Sounds like they're ready to go if sufficient funding comes along.

Trenton Biogas
This company got approval to convert a never-used sludge plant into a facility than can convert foodwaste into energy. Informative writeup here.

Gloucester City Organic Conversion
Fifty miles south of Princeton, construction is beginning on another plant to convert foodwaste, yardwaste and brush into energy and compost. A 2012 article with a drawing of the facility is here.

Co-composting with yardwaste/leaves
If Princeton shifts towards containerization of yardwaste by providing rollout bins to residents, as has been done successfully in other municipalities, it's possible that foodwaste could eventually be put in the rollout bins as well and co-composted in windrows with the yardwaste. This would require a permit from the DEP, which a DEP official made sound not too terribly onerous to acquire. The result should bring a significant savings from reduced landfill tipping fees and a merging and streamlining of the town's foodwaste and yardwaste collections.

With interest rates low, it's a good time for governments local and regional to be investing in these solutions, rather than continuing indefinitely with the bandaid approach.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The New Dinky Station--Sun and Shadow

This coffee-centric still-life of the new Dinky station seeks to show that there is life after death. After long mourning over the moving of the station, a morning comes when sunlight plays upon gleaming glass, metal and stone. People can see sun or shadow as they please, and seek to drown lingering sorrows in the Wawa's grand-opening weekend's free coffee.

Looking north from the new station, some may see a highly symbolic giant gash in the ground, spanning the grieved and grievous 460 feet from old station to new. It's as if the ground finally collapsed under the weight of connotation that distance acquired. But others will see the old station buildings still intact--a cafe and restaurant to come--and underpinnings being set in place for a new arts campus to rise.

The new platform's canopy is an inversion of the old, with "v" pointing down rather than up, and combines with the Lot 7 parking structure across the tracks to give a strong metallic feel.

The waiting room echoes the canopy's "V" shape in its ceiling, and the progression of pillars in its southern wall. As one of the far too few buildings in town purposefully oriented for passive solar heating, it's more welcoming to people on a chill fall day because it welcomes the sun as well.

The wooden benches were designed by George Nakashima of New Hope.

Usually, a passive solar building will have a broad overhang on the south side, to shade the windows in the summer. Instead, the university planted a grove of 6' caliper honey locust trees tall enough to shade the station when they sprout leaves this coming spring.

Botanical aside: Honey locust trees are a popular choice for plazas. Their shade is open and airy, and their tiny leaves disperse unobtrusively in the fall. These are thornless varieties, as the wild honey locust has giant spines that once protected it from now extinct megafauna. Out in the parking and turnaround area are some Kentucky coffee trees, another native that is particularly well suited for making the most of solar heating in spring and fall. (Its seeds have the look but not the taste of coffee beans.) The tree drops its leaves very early in the fall, and leafs out very late in the spring. Interestingly, the seeds of both the honey locust and the Kentucky coffee tree were once eaten and spread by megafauna--those lumbering wooly mammoths, et al, that disappeared from North America just 13,000 years ago. Just as the wooly mammoth, in furriness and size, was adapted to very cold weather, the Kentucky coffee tree's short growing season seems tailored to much shorter summers and longer winters than we currently have. With no megafauna to spread their seed, these two tree species "don't get around much anymore", and depend on human fauna for the chance to pop up in plazas and next to parking lots.

Perhaps the trees will have dreams of megafauna past each time their roots sense the vibrations spread by the Dinky's arrival.

The shelter for bicycles runs parallel in placement and size to the train it's meant to complement.

The bikes seem to say "Don't leave me behind. Let me take a ride, too."

Workmen were putting the finishing touches on the bike borrowing self-service.

Interesting concept.

Another coffee-centric photo, of the inside of the Wawa on its first day open, just a few steps across the plaza from the train. This may be the first Wawa ever to have a big skylight over the cashier area,

and several slivery ones in the bathrooms that cast ethereal light on the proceedings. That may be why the woman collecting donations at the front door for a church's humanitarian efforts recommended the bathrooms so highly.

The bathrooms also have an Airblade hand dryer whose "420 mph sheets of air scrape water from hands, drying them quickly and hygienically", along with faucets that automatically turn on and off, and a waterless urinal (no photo, sorry). The forced air approach to hand drying avoids the waste of paper towels and the energy-intensive hot air of traditional hand dryers.

From the top of the parking structure next door, you can see the "green" roof of the Wawa, with circular skylight. The roof actually looks like a small hill, and should green up with plants come spring. Not your typical Wawa roof.

Seen from above, the arrival of the Dinky brought back a sweet memory of the train set I had as a kid--a mass transportation mecca laid out on a 4x8 piece of plywood in the basement.

Though there is lamentably no photo of my childhood train set, here's what it might have looked like if my big brother had come along, torn up some track, and inserted a center for the performing arts. How long would it have taken, after such an intrusion, before I could emerge from the shadows and walk in the sun once more? The Dinky offers its own answer, with an early morning "toot!" that yet and still begins each new day in Princeton.

(Previous writings on Big Bro's, a.k.a. Ma U's, relocation of the Dinky can be found here.)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Bob Moses Speaks--Fifty Years After Freedom Summer

A great man spoke on Sunday, Nov. 16, at JW Middle School's auditorium. Bob Moses is one of the most influential leaders of the civil rights movement, beginning with Freedom Summer in 1965. He began his talk by asking all the kids in the audience to come down to the front rows so he could speak "to them", not "at them", and then proceeded to lead them on a journey that began with the Preamble of the Constitution. In his talk with the kids, he was relaxed, patient, but firm in his goals--the embodiment of a movement for change that continues to the present day.

He began by asking what it means to be "a constitutional person". In the Constitution when first written, white men who owned property were constitutional people, while Africans were constitutional property. When one of the kids would give a good answer to various questions, he would have him or her stand up and repeat the answer to the audience. He then divided the movement for equality up into three periods of roughly 75 years each. The first extended from the Constitution's writing in 1789 to the Civil War's slaughter. The second period extended to 1941, just after the attack on Pearl Harbor, when Roosevelt's Circular 3591 (he had the kids commit the number to memory) finally abolished slavery. It decreed that blacks could no longer be rounded up as vagrants and sent to work in mines for U.S. Steel and other industries. Douglas Blackmon, in his book "Slavery By Another Name", documents that second period.

It has been left to the third period, from 1941 up through the present, to deal with the contents of the 13th and 14th amendments, according to Moses. He said we still have only "a negative right to vote, not an affirmative right to vote", and asked "will young people become constitutional people?" I would extend that to include those generations still to come, the posterity who are included in the Preamble but left to fend for themselves as we permanently transform life and climate on this planet.

Some adults in the audience wished Moses would have spoken more about his role in the 1964 campaign to register African-Americans in Mississippi to vote, and his activities since then. (When asked afterwards if he is discouraged by recent efforts to restrict voter access, he said the movement has historically lurched forward and back, and this is one of those lurches backwards.) But his interactions with the kids were touching, and informative in a different way. We were in a school, after all. He ended by having everyone recite the Preamble of the Constitution.
"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
Of additional interest is Moses' Algebra Project, which he founded in 1982 to "use mathematics as an organizing tool to ensure quality public school education for every child in America." He sees algebra as the gatekeeper, critical for anyone wishing to go to college. His approach is student- and relationship-centered, not the teacher-centric approach that is a legacy of the industrial era. Afterwards, I told him about our efforts to restore the Veblen House, home of the famous visionary mathematician Oswald Veblen. Though the Algebra Project focuses on historically underserved communities, perhaps there's a way to connect. Moses' connecting of numbers and the civil rights movement, the increments of 75, Circular 3591, amendments 13, 14, and 15, Blackmon's birth in the meaningful year of 1964, and the importance of algebra in a kid's future--these suggest a special relationship to mathematics.

Additional events organized by the Princeton Public Library can be found through this link, including a panel discussion this Thursday.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Bicycles in Princeton

Some interesting info came out of Sustainable Princeton's most recent Great Ideas breakfast at the Princeton Public Library. One of the issues raised was the riding of bicycles on sidewalks. Mayor Lempert explained that, contrary to many people's impression, bicycling on sidewalks is legal, except along the town side of Nassau Street, where signs to that effect are posted. She hastened to add, however, that bicyclists using sidewalks need to be sensitive to pedestrians, and also get off their bikes when crossing streets.

(edited to reflect comment) There was also word of a proposal to rework a portion of Hamilton Avenue to make it more bicycle-friendly, and interest in providing bicyclists riding between Princeton and West Windsor with a route away from automobile traffic. It would require, however, a new bridge to be built over Route 1. If that comes to (by)pass, then Biking Rev-Olution will be more than a catchy title for an edifying breakfast.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Que soLar, soLar

After this week's election, which put the Que sera, sera, climate denying, out-of-control Party firmly in control of Congress, I remembered a brighter moment a month ago, walking by my neighbor's house, where light is more welcome than in the political process. The finances of solar energy in NJ are such that the installation required no money down, followed by lower energy bills.

Then, a chance encounter yesterday with the tail end of a radio program called Onpoint, and a discussion of climate change with just the right potion of urgency, objectivity and good old American can-do spirit. By the end of the program, it seemed possible that all those backfiring cash-for-clunkers just elected will be rendered irrelevant by a stampede of enlightened action. And Doris Day will return to sing to Congress:

Que soLAR, soLAR,
The future is ours, you see.
As long as we're carbon free.
Que soLAR, soLAR.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Vote on Plastic Bags Tuesday--Plastic Bags Kill Cattle

Vote tomorrow on the "county question" on the ballot, which asks if you support a 5 cent fee for each single-use plastic bag given out at groceries, drug stores and convenience stores in Mercer county. It's not binding--more like a poll conducted at the polls.

Interestingly, cities in Texas have been leaders on this issue, because the winds blow bags out into the countryside, the cattle eat the bags, and some of the cattle die. I learned this at an October "Climate Chat" organized by the Sierra Club, and an internet search bears it out. Here's a bit of insight coming from the plains of Texas:
"Hoss Cartwright didn't have to worry about plastic. The range was clean and no one was constructing a subdivision joining the Ponderosa. Today, much different, most people live within a mile of an open construction dumpster, trash pickup container or uncovered disposal site of plastic and litter. Add to that condition a strong wind and various plastics will float into your cattle grazing or growing areas. From bread wrappers hanging on a fence to grocery bags, hay bale wraps, weather balloons, party balloons, to pallet wrappings; some people even toss plastic bale strings on the ground. It is all lethal once inside a critter. Internally let a few hay strings wrap around a bread wrapper and you have a "deadly cow plug.'"
California's statewide ban of single-use plastic bags goes into effect next July. Interesting how the statewide ban came after 100 municipalities banned bags. In other words, municipal action can lead cumulatively to state action, which can lead to national action. Which is why it's so important that Princeton lead on climate change.

I reuse single-use plastic bags for many things--kitchen trash can liner, picking up after the dog, and they're great for transporting plants that have been dug up, since they conform to the shape of the rootball. But even while using reusable bags most of the time on trips to the grocery, we still somehow end up with more single-use plastic bags than we can make use of. A fee will serve to prompt everyone to remember to actually use those reusable bags sitting in the car trunk. And for anyone who really likes the single use bags for some reason, most can be used multiple times for groceries.