Monday, July 23, 2018

Beta Bike Lane Presentation Tonight at Town Council

For one brief week or two in May, bikelanes bloomed in Princeton on Hamilton Avenue. They called it a beta bike lane, a trial run that left a trail of comments/impressions on the town website, by bike enthusiasts and, no doubt, disgruntled neighbors who saw parking spaces displaced to make room for the bike lanes on the narrow street. We get to hear all about it tonight (Monday, July 23), in a report on the results of the experiment in bicycle empowerment.

From emails urging attendance at the 7pm meeting at council chambers on Witherspoon Street, it sounds like the public will have an opportunity to speak of what it's like for a bicyclist to actually have designated space on the street.

For me, using the bike lanes was a revelation. I still remember, years ago, when I switched, mentally, from car to bike, when I overcame the ingrained impulse to grab the car keys any time I needed to go out. Over time, I became more of an optimist, slow to be deterred by a threat of rain, and I found myself feeling an inexplicable happiness while riding. What's that about? Fresh air? A new-found sense of empowerment, of freedom from the need to feed dystopia just to get where I need to go?

But the happiness is mixed with an awareness that there's no pavement upon which I can feel I belong. The sharrows were meant to show that we have a place on the street, but it's hard to feel comfortable when my uphill labors are testing the patience of the car driver close behind. My strategy is to stay out of the way of cars and pedestrians as much as possible, to be unobtrusive, unobstructive.

The bike lane removes that ambivalence. It gives a bicyclist a home, even if only for a few blocks.

Potentially relevant to tonight's discussion will be the town's policy on parking in driveways, which seems to forbid using driveways for parking except behind the house. If parking is to be sacrificed to create bikelanes, parking options for homeowners may need to be reviewed.

Sec. 17A-387. Required parking spaces - Size; design; signs.
(b) Areas counted as parking spaces include any private garage, carport or other paved off-street area
available for parking, other than a driveway; except, that in the cases of one-family and two-family dwelling, and
secondary residence buildings, driveway space not in the front yard may be counted as parking spaces.
(c) Parking spaces shall not be provided within a required front yard. If in a rear or side yard, parking
spaces shall not be located within four feet of any lot line.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Blue Curtain Concerts July 14 and 21

Every summer, Blue Curtain brings to Princeton a welcome infusion of music from around the world. The Princeton Recreation Dept. hosts the free concerts at Pettoranello Gardens, just off 206, with parking accessed from Mountain Avenue.

The concerts are tonight and next Saturday, at 7pm.

Princeton Rec. Dept staff were out this week, sprucing up the grounds in preparation.

Four years ago, the concert continued into the night, allowing for some photos of the actual blue curtain for which the nonprofit is named.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Serving as a Redistributor of Scrap Metal

I never go looking, but often encounter metal placed out for the trash along town streets--slightly rusted lawn furniture, file cabinets, folding bed frames. During World War II, citizens would gather scrap metal and contribute it to the war effort. People back then felt like their small efforts could add up to a big success, and they proved right. We're cheated of that sense of empowerment today, as the ideology-based attacks on collective effort have left people feeling isolated and powerless.

Growing up in the post-WWII years, I absorbed enough of that can-do collective ethic that I can't let good metal languishing on back streets end up buried in the landfill. So I pick it up, put it on the curb of my busy street after trash day, and it quickly disappears into the truck of this or that scrap guy passing by.

A very nice wooden table ended up on the restored patio of Veblen House.

A lot of this is driven by imagination. The way my mind works, I instantly imagine the lost potential of the metal, the needless space taken up in the garbage truck as it drives to the landfill an hour away, the potential utility an object still has. All of these are real things--the long drive to the landfill, the lost potential--but can only be accessed through our imaginations. All too often, as political sabotage increasingly allows us only to use collective power to unintentionally create problems (climate change, water pollution) rather than intentionally solve them, people spend their mental energy not on thoughts that spur action, but instead on rationalizations for inaction.

Meanwhile, the pleasures of serendipity and steering stuff towards a better end await.

Using Parks to Demonstrate Sustainability

People tend to emulate what they see, but many sustainable practices are invisible. Composting, raingardens, leaf corrals--these tend to be in the backyard. Buildings don't advertise their carbon footprints. Making sustainable practices visible is an important step towards more widespread adoption.

Parks can be a great place to teach both kids and adults about sustainable practices--simple things, like letting the nutrients in leaves cycle back into the soil from which they came, or separating out recyclables from trash, or utilizing water runoff to feed a raingarden. The small municipal park behind my house holds a few examples.

First is the humble bucket hooked to the trash bin that makes a handy place for park users to put their recyclables. Nothing could be simpler, or cheaper to install, yet the duct-tape on this bucket testifies to its many years of service, and the copious, clean contents testify to the visual clarity this setup provides. Many high-priced recycling/trash dual containers encountered elsewhere may look good, but provide no clear visual cues as to where to put recyclables.

Second is the mulch mowing done in the fall. As the oak trees whose shade provides a haven for birthday parties and other gatherings in the summer have grown, they've generated more leaves. Two autumns ago, I watched as a crew of five spent four hours blowing the leaves into piles and hauling them away. Why not mow the leaves back into the grass, and save lots of staff and trucking time?

The parks department agreed, and now mows the leaves back into the grass. Yes, the lawn may appear less verdant for a month or two in the fall/winter as the leaf fragments break down and return to the soil, but the extra nutrients and organic matter sustain a healthy lawn the next year.

Aesthetics is a recurring issue in sustainable practices. The consequences of nature-abusive behavior (fossil fuel use, landfills, water pollution) are not seen by most people. For anyone who can visualize those consequences, though, the park's highly functional recycling bucket, or a solar panel on a telephone pole, or a mulch-mowed lawn, or a leaf corral in the frontyard, are welcome sights.

The water faucet offers an opportunity to demonstrate how water runoff, whether from sump pumps, air conditioners, water fountains, roofs or asphalt, can be used to feed a raingarden. This park has yet to take advantage of that opportunity.

A leaf corral--this one's in my front yard--is another possibility, though it would likely need to be made out of sturdier materials to endure the (welcome) hands-on curiosity of kids.

Parks are a place where people have some time on their hands to take a look around, and where some learning can happen. Let's use them.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Shade and Sustainability

Our house stays cool deep into the morning thanks to two trees, both imperiled. The one on the left in the photo is an ash, which in its love of the sun has bent southward like a shielding hand over the roof. Though it has yet to show any symptoms, we almost certainly will lose it to the appetites of the Emerald Ash Borer. If its lopsided growth were to cause it to fall against the house in an ice storm, we've decided it would do little damage, like the giant elm on Murray Ave that simply tipped a few feet in Hurricane Sandy's fierce winds to rest softly against a house. And so we keep it, for now, feeling fortunate when we think of those who have to crank the A/C in houses or apartments unprotected from the sun.

The other tree, taller and to the right, is a red oak, planted by the builders and first residents of the house, the Dubas, who love oaks in part because their family name is derived from the Ukrainian word for oak. That tree, too, is threatened, by the introduced bacterial leaf scorch that causes increasing dieback in the upper limbs.

The ash's sheltering embrace is most evident when seen from the inside of the house.

These trees are on the east-north-east side of the house, where solar panels are not an option. Trees on the south and west sides of the house, however, stir ambivalence. The shade is appreciated, as is the additional cooling effect that comes from all the water being transpired through the leaves.

But the two trees shading the southwest side don't come close to the beneficial effect of solar panels, which not only would shade the roof like trees do, but also would generate energy that would otherwise come from fossil fuels. Trees pull carbon out of the air, until they give most of it back when they die and decompose. Even more important in the longterm is to not be adding more and more carbon to the above ground world as we combust coal, oil and natural gas. The more carbon being pumped or dug up from where it has been safely sequestered underground, the less likely it is that the plant world can ever pull enough out to sustain a livable planet.

If I had my druthers, I'd cut down the large trees on the south and west sides of the house, which also are suffering from dieback, and use their collected solar energy in our wood stove to heat the house in winter. I'd install solar panels from the opened sky, and replant our southwest exposure with smaller tree species that will still provide cooling but not shade the solar panels.

Some people view trees as an unalloyed good. Others view them as pests that keep making a mess. What I'd advocate for, and would wish to see better reflected in our shade tree ordinance and in the actions of homeowners, is a more complex view of trees that integrates the many ways a tree can contribute to or interfere with sustainability, depending on location, size, and species.