Trickle down economics

Perhaps, after reading the Northfield News on Wednesday, you think the City Council has agreed to some new stormwater fee with which to punish businesses who want to expand.  No, the Council is making decisions to address the trickle down economics of stormwater management.

Stormwater is regulated at the federal level through the Clean Water Act.  The MPCA administers CWA programs and any additional Minnesota stormwater regulations.  Northfield has what’s called a designated MS4 permit. This permit requires, since we can’t stop storms, that Northfield develop a SWPPP (that’s a stormwater pollution prevention program) that incorporates BMPs (best management practices) to manage the water once it hits the ground (or the roof).  To complexify matters, the Cannon River is Outstanding Resource Value Water which requires specific (additional) BMPs mostly concerning construction and in a buffer zone near the river – check out the cool impaired waters map.

The basic principle is to reduce runoff reaching the river by infiltrating water on-site.  Impervious surfaces whether natural (bedrock) or manmade (pavement, roofs, buildings) don’t allow infiltration, so the City must find ways to divert that runoff to regional ponds, nearby swales or raingardens.  Here’s how we do it

  • All property pays a monthly stormwater utility fee to pay for the construction and maintenance of stormwater infrastructure
  • Anyone – commercial or residential – who applies for a building permit (for a project which has stormwater implications), plat, or site plan review must submit a stormwater management plan.  The SWAC (stormwater access charge) approved Tuesday is for those properties where no management is possible on-site – like those in the completely built up downtown – and so we have established a fee in lieu of on-site infiltration which is analogous to the better known SAC/WAC (sewer and water access charges, respectively) as a buy-in to the stormwater system.  We must, to reduce stormwater runoff under the MS4 and pay for the city’s system, charge a fee something like this.  We can argue about whether the theoretical raingarden calculation model is the right one, we can consider whether it is a useful economic development tool to subsidize this fee to encourage development, and we can think about whether there are other incentives and tools (how much green roof would one need, for example, to reduce the stormwater sufficiently or what if a property owner made all pavement pervious?  What about rain water harvesting?).
  • Construction projects have additional regulations about managing runoff, sediment and erosion.


TIGER grant modal integration project – crossing Highway 3

There was an open house for the TIGER grant project to build an underpass under Highway 3 at Greenvale Avenue last week.  I’ve supported this project, but I sure wish it wasn’t needed because it is very expensive and takes some creative engineering to try to retrofit this area to reunite east and west.

If only, I have been thinking, MNDOT had adopted its context sensitive solutions attitude when the highway was reconstructed and if only the state of MN and Northfield had adopted their Complete Streets statute and policy before the highway was reconstructed because it would have been much easier and cheaper (and more direct, geographically speaking) to have build the pedestrian crossing and bicycle facilities into the highway design.

Government transparency

My position is that all information not explicitly protected by data privacy laws belongs to the public and members of the public should be able to find out what they want to know about city operations.  I’ve been asked relatively frequently about city employee salaries – what does the city administrator or the public safety director make?  Seems to me this should be readily available.

Governing’s Disclosing Public Employee Pay Troubles Some Officials sounded like other people in government did not share my view.  Actually, the article reports the results of a survey and it turns out most officials think disclosure is good, but are concerned about linking names with numbers.  Fair enough, although in practice disclosing the city administrator’s salary or any department head does not require a name because the number is easily connected with the person through other means.

I’ve noted Ft Collins before where you can find out what everyone makes down to the most part time and seasonal employees.  Governing also noted TransparentNH in New Hampshire.  Shouldn’t be too hard to manage a spreadsheet updated annually in Northfield or even better access on the new city website.

More about parking

For transportation geeks: parking, parking lots, parking pricing, price of parking…here’s a selection of what I’ve been perusing:

The aesthetics of parking lots: Taking parking lots seriously as public spaces.  Michael Kimmelman, art and architecture critic, argues we should treat parking lots more like architecture than mere infrastructure.

new technology, new money and parking: the National League of Cities with its corporate partners IBM and Citi announced a $25 million credit facility for parking innovation.  Reading further on IBM’s Smarter Planet site reveals they aim to improve “drivers’ experience, not just where and when they drive. And it could lead to advances in the cars we drive, the roads we drive them on, and the public transit we might take instead.”  I remain skeptical that their modeling, traffic flow analysis, and the like are going to be sufficient to manage traffic for their projection that the 1 billion cars on the road today will double by 2020.

Atlantic Cities’ It’s the parking, stupid describes Nelson Nygaard transportation consultant Jeffrey Tumlin’s anti-free parking mission which he describes as operating “like a methadone clinic to get cities off their parking addictions,” he says. “And each addict goes through a different route.”

More about the problems with free parking, minimum parking requirements, and other “traditional” practices can be found in Parking Policy Reform More Important Than LEED Certification by Todd Litman (the guy behind the Victoria Transportation Policy Institute – check out the page on parking and land use).

And some questions about parking over at Finding a place for parking at the Project for Public Spaces  designed to get planners to think less about parking spaces and more about bringing people to places, as well as practical questions about how to maximize existing parking.

And some blogs devoted to parking: Reinventing Parking and Parking World.

Action alert for bike/ped funding – updated

Act now!

Just when I think we’re making progress toward a transportation system that meets the needs of more than SUVs, something bad happens.  Tomorrow, February 2, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will vote on John Mica’s (R-FL) American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act which eliminates Safe Routes to School funding, makes Transportation Enhancements optional, and other steps to remove non-motorized transportation from transportation planning and funding.

Read more at Streetsblog DC, Transit for Livable Communities, Bicycle Alliance of MN, and/or League of American Bicyclists.  Contact your legislators now – the League of American Bicyclists will even help you find your representative on their handy dandy form.

February 2: Amendment fails by 2 votes and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood blasts the bill as “the worst.”