Oct 11, 2012

Green Streets Mean Both, Environmental and Aesthetic Benefits

Buffalo has been really turning a corner in the last few years about better street design and 21st century infrastructure improvements. We’ve got the Green Code in the works, new projects announced practically every week, and downtown finally seems to be gaining some momentum. Whether a historic structure comes back online or a streetscape gets a long needed overhaul, now is an exciting time for Buffalo.

Rain Gardens completed on Parkdale Avenue. Image courtesy of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper
Unfortunately, infrastructure improvements have been falling behind the pace of redevelopment, until this summer. The City has been quite busy with repaving projects like on Main Street, Elmwood Avenue, and several residential streets. While that’s all well and good, the infrastructure improvements at the pedestrian level are still largely behind in comparison.

Elmwood Avenue Bioretention planters under construction
That’s why I was so excited when I saw the new bioretention planters being built on Elmwood Avenue between Forest and Bird. Some people may be familiar with this type of design if you have been on Old Fall Street in downtown Niagara Falls in the last few years.

After the winter garden building was demolished, Old Fall Street was redone to include these bioretention/rain garden features, which add a really nice touch to the streetscape. Image courtesy of Google Maps
This project is happening on six, west side streets in Buffalo and each street is getting some a little different. Elmwood Avenue is the only one getting the biorentiton planters. Claremont and Claredon are both receiving new pervious pavement, Parkdale and Windsor are getting rain garden inlets, and Granger Place is having a stormwater treatment structure installed.

The Buffalo Sewer Authority is working in collaboration with Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper to implement these new projects, within a combined sewer overflow sewershed. The runoff water ends up in the Scajaquada Creek. "On really rainy days, the stormwater will overwhelm the wastewater treatment system" explained Jessie Fisher at Riverkeeper. "However, it is not just the stormwater that overflows into our area waterways under these circumstances, which would obviously be bad enough given the contaminants involved. Since we have a combined system, the stormwater mixes with our raw, untreated sewage and both the stormwater as well as the sewage waste overflow into our local waterways." 

Jessie went on to explain that, "The original solution for this problem was to separate the stormwater into separate pipes and just pipe it directly (contaminants and all) into local waterways.  What the new solution does is to keep the stormwater out of the pipes in the first place so that it can recharge our groundwater and so that all of the sewage waste can make its way to the treatment plant where it belongs."

Rain gardens installed and planted on Windsor in addition to the pervious pavement. Image courtesy of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper
These “green streets” elements go a long way in minimizing overflow into our waterways and aid in the revitalization of streets. It also looks exponentially better than the typical blank, stamped concrete that it replaces.

Check out this link  to see the current projects underway or that have been recently completed. Also be sure to look at the presentation board for rain gardens on Parkdale to get a better understanding of how they work.

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