mega update: endangered prairie, sustainability expo, pedestrian safety crisis, hunting, EV chargers, oh my…

Ok, there’s too much going on to each get their own post, so here it goes!

First, GOOD news! The Bell Bowl prairie in Rockford, IL has been saved… temporarily. (I posted about it here). To me, the lesson here is that yes, legal protections & organization are good and necessary. But also, culture matters. If we can’t build a widespread and consistent ecological ethic, so serious of laws or guidelines will save us, however well-crafted.

Second, Moontree Studios has a new electric vehicle charger! This runs on wind and solar (and when those aren’t enough, grid power). We now have 4 plug at 3 locations on campus

Third, we were blessed to host Turkey Tracks, a non-profit that relies on the help of volunteer guides and the tireless efforts of founders Carol and Doug Corey to carry out their mission of “Helping young adults with mobility challenges to experience the joy of hunting.” We were honored to partner with Turkey Tracks recently by hosting one of their hunts on the property.

For many years, the Poor Handmaids have used deer hunting as a stewardship tool for maintaining the ecological health of the land. Indiana ecologists have found that in the absence of natural predators or hunting, unchecked deer population growth can harm natural ecosystems through excessive browsing of native plants, in addition to impacts like crop damage, car accidents, and transmission of tick-borne illnesses. We are grateful to those with Turkey Tracks who were able to assist us with this sustainable harvest so that the needs of the land community can remain balanced into the future.

Fourth, I had the privilege of sharing about our vehicle electrification efforts at the Sustainable Solutions conference in South Bend this week. Here’s TV coverage from WNDU. Highlights for me was hearing from the City of Goshen on all of their incredible work around climate resiliency and sustainability, including increasing tree canopy, rooftop solar, bike trails, electric vehicles, and now electric bicycles. Also, (of course) someone brought a Tesla. Tesla just received an order of 100,000 cars (not a typo) from Hertz, which will bring a solid electric driving experience to many more rental car drivers.

Goshen gunna Goshen, you love to see it!
Check out the extra storage in the front trunk (“frunk”).

Fifth, the worst news for last. I found out together that we had another pedestrian fatality in Plymouth, the second one this month. (Here I wrote about the other fatal car crash, and the efforts of our Complete Streets committee to improve cyclist and pedestrian infrastructure in the city).

This week I also twice observed red lights being run at Webster Elementary school during school drop off times with a crossing guard present. I also watched a man in a company vehicle text and drive while he was navigating the same intersection (yes, I contacted the company & I ask that you do the same when you see this). There was also someone driving drunk through the school drop off line.

The U.S. Dept of Transportation also released numbers showing an 18% increase in fatalities caused by motor vehicles for the first half of 2021, the worst in 15 years.

Locally and nationally, we are facing a crisis.

Sixth, a beautiful mushroom I found recently. Because, well, we need some beauty right now.

news round up, autumn edition

It’s fall, y’all.

Here’s a few things I’ve been reading:

Fulton County solar energy project expected to lower utility costs (WSBT) The Fulton County Rural Electric Membership Corporation is a non-profit that provides energy to nearly 5,000 homes. Any money saved goes directly back to members of the REMC. Fulton County REMC CEO Joe Koch says members can expect to save up to $8 million, not including the project paying itself off… When fully charged, the two Tesla batteries can power 2,200 homes for a month, which can be the difference between life and death during an ice storm.

NIPSCO Continues Path Toward Lower-Cost, Sustainable and Reliable Energy Future (Press Release) Recent analysis points to a balanced and flexible approach to transition the generation portfolio

People are realizing that degrowth is bad (Noah Smith substack) The mad schemes degrowthers advocate are a fantasy that distracts us from real efforts to save the planet

Excess fertilizer use: Which countries cause environmental damage by overapplying fertilizers? (Our World in Data) Fertilizers have transformed the way the world produces food. They have not only brought large benefits for food security, but they also bring environmental benefits through higher yields (and therefore less land use). But, there can be a downside.

Listen to the cry of the Earth’: Pope, top Christians urge world leaders to act on climate change (NBC) Pope Francis, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew released their first joint statement ahead of a U.N. conference. [Here’s a link to the statement].

Editorial: Bishops must commit to saving the Earth now (National Catholic Reporter Editorial Staff) Given that the very habitability of our planet may depend on the results of the [climate] summit, it is a good time for Catholics everywhere to be praying and fasting, in hopes that our leaders will finally (finally!) commit to doing whatever it takes to save the Earth we are destroying.

Anxiety from climate change isn’t going away. Here’s how you can manage it (NPR)

5 Midwestern governors agree to create a network to charge electric vehicles (NPR) The governors of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin are joining forces to build a new network for charging electric vehicles. The bipartisan plan aims to improve the region’s economy while also reducing toxic emissions from cars and trucks.

Let’s bust the myth: a car-friendly neighborhood isn’t a child-friendly neighborhood (GGW) What these arguments boil down to is that the convenience of drivers – even in objectively walkable neighborhoods – should take priority over the lives and health of children. Parents should run a mile from such logic. Motor vehicle crashes kill and injure more kids than any other cause in America.

We will not ban cars (Noah Smith) Electric vehicles are crucial for fighting climate change [A very sober and data-filled look at the promise and peril of the future of cars in the U.S.]

Hertz orders 100,000 Teslas, the single-largest EV purchase ever, with Tom Brady campaign (Electrek) Bloomberg reported the news a few minutes ahead of the press release, with sources who asked not to be identified, and said that it represents around $4.2 billion of revenue for Tesla. It will be the single-largest purchase ever for electric vehicles. The cars will be delivered over the next 14 months from an already tight supply of Tesla vehicles.

Birds Thrived Where Humans Feared To Tread During The Pandemic, Scientists Say (NPR) “Anthropause” is a word scientists have coined to describe the scaling back of human activity since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. While it’s probably safe to say that most people have found it uncomfortably restrictive, a new study published on Wednesday suggests the pandemic has allowed many bird species to finally stretch their wings.

Ancient Footprints Suggest Humans Lived In The Americas Earlier Than Once Thought (NPR) The question of when humans first migrated to North America has long been a matter of hot debate among researchers who have continually uncovered evidence of ever-earlier dates. Now, analysis of ancient fossilized human footprints in New Mexico has pushed the date back once again — to at least 21,000 years ago.

The Myth of Regenerative Ranching (The New Republic) The purveyors of “grass-fed” beef want you to believe that it solves meat’s environmental problem. But this is merely a branding exercise, not a climate solution.

temporary crosswalk enhancement arrives in Plymouth

“Four score and seven years ago…” Ok, maybe it was just five years ago… when Purdue Extension brought together area leaders in Plymouth for an Active Living Workshop. During the workshop, we learned about many options to increase mobility, health, and safety via smart urban design. The bulk of the focus was on increasing walking and bicycling rates.

I also had the privilege of meeting the indefatigable Angela Rupchock-Schafer of the Marshall County Community Foundation (she now serves as Director of Community Impact and Communications)! Which is not the point of the story, but in the subsequent five years we’ve collaborated on many community initiatives. Angie knows seemingly everyone in town, so she graciously helped me get connected.

Since that workshop, I’ve served on the Plymouth Complete Streets Committee, which helped craft and adopt a Complete Streets ordinance which states, “All facilities owned by the City and in the public right-of-way shall be designed, constructed, maintained, and improved to allow all users of all ages and abilities to travel safely and independently… including pedestrians, bike riders, motorists, people with disabilities, emergency responders.”

Paralleling that work was the Trails and Transportation Committee for Marshall County Crossroads (aka Stellar Communities). We subsequently published a Trails Master Plan for the county.

No small feats! We have some great collaborative teams in the county. However… planning and publishing are relatively easy compared to actually building and changing the built environment.

So after many conversations and plans, our team launched a temporary crosswalk enhancement this month in a style called “Tactical Urbanism.” The idea is to install a temporary feature quickly and at low/no-cost, gain feedback from users, and use that data to install long-term investments. We can’t expect to get everything perfect the first time, so better to be able to tweak the design before pouring concrete.

Rather than repeat all the details of the project, I’ll link to the press release here.

We installed the crosswalk enhancement on Saturday morning and were happy to watch it being immediately used:

Instead of having to cross 36 ft of traffic, it is now just 24 ft wide (a reduction of 1/3).

Also by a child on a bicycle crossing by himself:

Looking north

I took some time to count traffic as well. By narrowing the road and placing a radar speed sign, only about 10% of eastbound traffic was traveling in excess of the posted 30 mph speed limit. Previously, 40 mph+ traffic was common. Near-fatal crashes with pedestrians are common here. At the beginning of the school year, a child was struck by a vehicle east of this intersection. Having traveled this path many times with children in tow, I can vouch that it is stressful and unsafe.

We were riding high on watching five years of work finally come to the smallest amount of fruition when we got the tragic news that a pedestrian was killed by a driver near the Plymouth hospital (on the opposite side of town). The crash occurred in the dark, at 6:30 AM, soon after the man was released from the hospital.

Something perverse in our brain might jump immediately to assigning fault or blame. Was the driver on her phone? Why was the man in the road? Etc.

But we are trying to shift the conversation back towards design. Looking at an aerial photo of the hospital, what options did the man have available to him? The hospital is surrounded by a state highway with no shoulder to speak of. State highways are designed to move maximum cars and maximum speed. It is just not possible to safely reach the hospital unless you have access to a car, creating a dangerous situation for both pedestrians and vehicle operators.

People understand this. In a recent survey conducted during the creating of the Trails Master Plan, Marshall County residents pointed out that fast vehicle speed, lack of sidewalks, and lack of safe routes keep them from cycling or walking more.

It’s important to remember that not everyone has the choice of picking their mode of mobility. Below is a picture I took while biking home the other day. People are walking on the road at dusk, returning from the grocery store. Of our four major grocery stores, only one is safely accessible via sidewalks. I could highlight several more of these features from my travels around town, but we need to wrap this blog up…

I met this gentleman at the farm market. His is visually impaired and so not able to obtain a driver’s license. Because of the built environment in most places in the United States, that can be a recipe for solution isolation. “This electric bike has been my savior,” he told me. The bike has special sensors that alert him to obstacles. In Plymouth, he can at least ride on the sidewalks and get around.

Lastly, Angie and I had the opportunity to come on the radio this week to discuss the project as well as equity issues around our transportation system more broadly. I was very pleased with the conversation and it renewed my hope that with some leadership and courage, there is enough common ground for us to build a safe and equitable transportation system for all users. Click here for a recording of the show, and you’ll have to skip ahead to the 33 minute, 55 second mark

May be an image of 2 people and indoor

Sustainable Solutions Conference and Expo in South Bend

I’m excited to be sharing on a panel at the Sustainable Solutions Conference and Expo Oct. 26 at the Century Center in South Bend.

I’ll be discussing our electric vehicle fleet and workplace charging arrangement, with all the fun details like installation, employee policies, and fleet usage dynamics.

(In case you missed it, Indiana University published a case study on our electric vehicle initiative earlier this year).

Register today to learn how to jump start your sustainable business practices.

attn: those with connections in Rockford, IL area

This is a re-post / link to a blog I follow. Several people in my field from the Chicago/Illinois-area have been raising the alarm about a high-quality prairie about to be destroyed in Rockford, IL. In this case it is an airport expansion by the local government, I believe to accommodate an increase in orders.

Stephen Packard writes:

So far as I can determine, no public agency in Illinois has ever destroyed an area of comparable importance to Bell Bowl Prairie since natural areas were defined and mapped by the Illinois Natural Areas Inventory in 1977.

Despite some claims, a Grade A prairie cannot be moved and stay a Grade A prairie – especially one growing from a unique gravel deposit and with the hydrology present here. 

This ecosystem has developed its richness and complexity over the last 18,000 years – since the retreat of the last glacier. If it can be saved and dedicated as an Illinois Nature Preserve, it will be thriving 100 years from now, long after airports have been replaced by something better. One hundred years is just a blip in the history of this prairie

For full details, read Bell Bowl Prairie Update.