Tidbit Tuesday | Green Buildings in Philadelphia

On Tuesdays, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation & Utilities (MOTU) posts a map or graphic that tells a story about transportation or utilities in the City of Brotherly Love.

How can we produce less waste, conserve energy, and minimize our carbon footprint? One way to do this is by constructing “green” buildings, such as those that meet LEED standards. LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, was established by the US Green Building Council in 1998. Buildings earn LEED certification by demonstrating that they are constructed using responsibly-sourced materials and practices and that they are maintained and operated in a resource-conscious way.  Some strategies for achieving LEED certification, available in grades from certified to, silver, bronze, gold, and platinum, include using recycled building materials, installing green roofs, using efficient shading devices on windows, and incorporating efficient plumbing fixtures which use less water.

Today, we are taking a look at the number of LEED Certified buildings in Philadelphia, using data from the Pew Charitable Trusts. The graph below shows that the number of green buildings has been steadily increasing in Philadelphia since 2005. A zoning code adopted in August 2012 further encourages the construction of green buildings by offering density bonuses for projects that meet LEED Gold or Platinum standards.

Leed Certified Bldgs Philadelphia-01

The second chart shows how Philadelphia compares to the most populous cities in the United States. What do you think of these results?

Leed Certified Bldgs Philadelphia-02

More information on LEED Certified projects across the country can be found here.


Utility Update | City buildings get energy efficient upgrades

On Thursdays, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation & Utilities (MOTU) posts a graphic, map, news, or research about utilities here in Philadelphia.

Utility Update_2014-5-29

Look up! New LED lights are shining at City Hall.

Greenworks Philadelphia, the city’s sustainability plan, set an ambitious target of reducing the energy consumption of municipal buildings by 10% below 2006 levels by 2015. The City is on its way to meeting this target due in part to the Quadplex Guaranteed Energy Savings Project, an initiative of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, the Department of Public Property, and the Mayor’s Office of Transportation & Utilities. The project, enabled by the Pennsylvania Guaranteed Energy Savings Act (GESA), uses the savings from increased building energy efficiency to pay for retrofits and other upgrades.

The Quadplex GESA Project has been in the works since late 2008, when the City issued an RFQ to select an energy service company to assist with the initiative. In late 2009 the City selected the energy service company Noresco to complete an energy audit, develop energy conservation measures, and to manage their implementation. In 2011, City Council passed ordinances enabling the project, and in May 2012 the City issued bonds to fund the improvements. Improvements to four of the City’s biggest energy users, known collectively as the “Quadplex,” (City Hall, the Municipal Services Building, One Parkway, and the Criminal Justice Center) will be finished by this summer.

Many of the upgrades are invisible to building users. These include improvements to boilers, steam pipe insulation, and HVAC drives and filters. In addition, the City has adopted new building control systems. These systems include web-based software that allows city staff to remotely monitor and manage, in real-time, building HVAC systems. Increased capacity to control HVAC is particularly important because building heating and cooling account for between 50-60% of Quadplex building energy use.

Some of the Quadplex upgrades are more visible to building users, such as the installation of low-flow water fixtures. In addition, those who enter the Municipal Services Building from the underground concourse may have noticed newly sealed doors. Visitors to City Hall who look up while in main building entrance vestibules can now see new LED lighting (as shown in the picture above).

In addition to cost savings, there are significant operational benefits associated with upgrading to more energy efficient building features. For example, LED lights require replacement far less frequently than traditional fluorescent light bulbs.

The results of the Quadplex GESA Project after only one year are overwhelmingly positive. The City saved $1.34 million dollars in energy costs in the first year of the program. The City used around $990,000 of this to repay the costs of the retrofits, leaving an additional $350,000, some of which will be put aside for additional repairs. All bonds will be completely paid for in 15 years.


The Urban Street Design Guide: a guidebook for complete streets nationwide

In recent years, cities have been leading innovators in shaping complete streets that accommodate the needs of pedestrians, transit vehicles, bicyclists, freight and motorists, all while considering the businesses and residents located along the street.  The Urban Street Design Guide (USDG) is a new compilation of the design concepts and the lessons learned in the complete streets movement.  Published back in September by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), the handbook offers detailed guidance on all sorts of complete street retrofits, such as reimagining the urban boulevard, installing a raised intersection, or tightening a turning radius.  It also advises on how to use limited resources to make improvements through incremental, interim progress.

An Urban Street Design Guide illustration of an interim public plaza. (Credit: http://nacto.org/usdg/interim-design-strategies/interim-public-plazas/)

The USDG is grounded in the philosophy that streets in cities and town are not merely for conveying traffic but are also public spaces that should be safe, sustainable, economically beneficial, and enhance the quality of life.  Roadway design in the U.S. has traditionally been oriented toward moving lots of cars safely, quickly, and over long distances. However, urban areas also need walking, transit, bicycles, and freight to maximize the efficiency of their transportation system.  The USDG is the first comprehensive national guidebook to emphasize city street design as a unique practice with its own set of design goals, parameters, and tools.  NACTO believes that this guidance will help allay the political and legal concerns over trying out new roadway design standards.

As a founding organizer of NACTO, Philadelphia has been a key part of the complete streets conversation.  The city’s 2012 complete streets ordinance led to the development of the Philadelphia Complete Streets Design Handbook, a document that communicates design guidance for engineers, architects, and planners and helps communities understand the tools available for creating better streets.  Today, development proposals and roadway projects that meet certain thresholds are required to fill out a Complete Streets Checklist demonstrating consideration and compliance with complete streets guidance in Philadelphia.  Find out more at the Streets Department Complete Streets website.

Urban Street Design Guide before-and-after example of a “Slow Zone” street. (Credit: http://nacto.org/usdg/streets/neighborhood-street/)

Utility Update | Solar Energy Projects in Philadelphia

Every Thursday, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation & Utilities (MOTU) will post a graphic, map, news, or research about Utilities here in Philadelphia.

This week we took the data from the Philadelphia City Maps Portal about known solar energy projects here in Philadelphia (you can check out the interactive map here) and made the graphic below!  The data from the map is based on self-reported solar projects from various developers, distributors, etc.  Next week we will take a closer look at the top 5 largest solar energy projects here in Philly.

Solar Projects (stage) [Converted]-01


Do you know of a solar energy project that isn’t shown on the map or on the City Maps Portal?  If so, tell us about it!  Please email the below project details to Mardi Ditze at Mardi.Ditze@phila.gov :

  • Developer
  • Year built
  • Size in kW or MW
  • Address
  • Project name, if any
  • Notes about the project, if any
  • Image of project

MOTU@5 | 5 Years in Review: The New Business as Usual

The Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities released a report titled MOTU@5: 5 Years in Review.  We will be featuring a section per day on the blog from now through the end of the month.  You can find the full report online here.

“The New Business as Usual: Sustainability Matters” describes how MOTU has has worked with the Streets Department, Water Department, Philadelphia International Airport, Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, and the Energy Office to ensure that sustainability is the new business as usual.  From this section, we picked what we thought were the top 5 most interesting facts:

5. Many lighting systems have been repaired and upgraded


4. Over 7 million pounds of trash have been cleared from sites


3. Decreasing trash collection has decreased costs and fuel usage


2. The City is investing in energy


1. The City recycles 20% of its trash


[NEW WEEKLY FEATURE] Utility Update — Green Energy Buying

Every Thursday, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation & Utilities (MOTU) will post a graphic, map, news, or research about Utilities here in Philadelphia.

In order to keep everyone up to date on what the utilities side of MOTU is up to, we have decided to start a weekly segment featuring a graphic, map, news or research about utilities here in Philadelphia!

For the first Utility Update segment, we took a look at green energy buying here in Philly.  The City of Philadelphia’s Mayor’s Office of Sustainability in 2009 published the Greenworks Plan which is a plan of how to reach Mayor Nutter’s goal of having Philadelphia “become the greenest city in America.”  One of the goals that this plan has outlined is for Philadelphians to buy or generate 20% of our energy from renewable sources by the end of 2015.  As you can see in the graphic below, we are well on our way to achieving this goal —


The above graphic displays the percentage of total energy that is bought or generated from renewable sources.  This energy is broken out into four categories.  One of the categories is that of voluntary renewable energy certificates — this is the category the displays the energy that was voluntarily bought from renewable sources.  Another category is that of on site generation.  This is the percentage of energy used that came from generating the energy on the building’s site from a renewable source.  A third category shown is that of alternative energy portfolio standard mandate.  The state of Pennsylvania has committed to requiring 21% of its energy be bought from a renewable sources by 2021 (more info here), and this category outlines that increasing state mandate.  Finally, the last category is that of the City of Philadelphia.  Because the City has set a goal for all Philadelphians to buy or generate 20% of their energy from renewable sources, the City has taken a lead in buying approximately 20% of its energy from renewable sources.

The Mayor’s Office of Sustainability has just published its 2013 Greenworks Progress Report, check it out here!

Could Grocery Delivery be More Efficient Than a Trip to the Store?

Most research and investment toward improving transportation in cities has traditionally addressed the commute to and from work.  However, less than 20% of our everyday travel is work-related, while the rest are for shopping, social, and personal purposes.  Efforts to make transportation more sustainable and equitable will benefit from more research into these other travel patterns.  Today, we look at the rise of online shopping and ask whether getting fresh groceries delivered to your home could be more efficient than a trip to the store.

A new study published this month suggests that not only is grocery delivery a time-saver, but you can also feel good about saving energy and fossil-fuel emissions—maybe.  Erica Wygonik and Anne Goodchild, two researchers at the University of Washington, examined the difference between everyone driving to the grocery store and a system where everyone gets their groceries delivered instead, using the Seattle area as a case study.  They found total miles traveled by vehicles would be 83% lower with a delivery system, and carbon dioxide emissions would be cut almost in half.  These large savings are possible because the groceries are sharing a ride instead of traveling individually, even though delivery trucks are not as fuel efficient as personal vehicles. “Shared-use vehicle transportation services provide for the movement of passengers and goods and may offer opportunities for reducing the environmental footprint of these activities when compared to individuals using personal vehicles,” write the authors.

Online grocer Peapod truck at the Museum of Art (image courtesy of progressivegrocer.com)

Grocery delivery truck at the Museum of Art (image courtesy of progressivegrocer.com)

This is one of the first studies of its kind done in the United States, but can these findings be applied here in Philadelphia?  Many city dwellers finding this headline were probably thinking, “How is it possible that delivery could be greener than my walk or bike ride to the store?”  In fact, in this city, many residents already have additional options for getting to and from a store other than driving a personal vehicle.  Replacing a walking, bicycle, or public transportation trip to the store with delivery, then, will unlikely have the same savings.  Although this study did not account for such trips, the authors do note that grocery trips not involving a private car should be accounted for in further research.

These findings highlight the need to manage and accommodate deliveries and freight within urban areas.  Here in Philadelphia, being a delivery driver on busy Walnut Street in CenterCity or tiny Third Street in OldCity means competing with many users for limited space.  How could we best fit loading space into a complete street that provides safe sidewalks, driving and bicycle lanes, and parking?

To learn more about how Philadelphia is incorporating a complete streets policy accommodating all users into planning and programming, visit the Philadelphia Complete Streets Design Handbook website.

SEPTA Releases Annual Sustainability Report

Last week, SEPTA released its annual sustainability report, which records the progress that the transit provider has made over the past year to attain its own economic, environment, and social sustainability goals.

SEPTA's 2013 Sustainability Report

SEPTA’s 2013 Sustainability Report

SEPTA’s goals include reducing water use and stormwater runoff, improving access to local food via transit, and increasing the transit mode share, among others.  So far, SEPTA has progressed on many of its sustainability goals: avoiding almost 70 million pounds of carbon thanks to ridership increases and congestion reduction; produced over 1,500 pounds of food at the Walnut Hill Community Farm; issued nearly 20 thousand “Seniors Ride Free” passes; and planted 170 trees at 12 project sites.

Although SEPTA has already made incredible progress towards its sustainability goals, there is still much work to be done.  Check out the full plan to see how SEPTA will become the leading transit provider in economic, environmental, and social sustainability.

SEPTA Report: SEP-TAINABLE Empowering Action

SEPTA Press release

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