Steve Hankey drew lots of curious fellow bikers last year on Minneapolis streets as he hauled a covered bike trailer sprouting a pipe that extended up to his helmet level. Many assumed that he was photo mapping for Google.
Instead, the University of Minnesota graduate student was mapping one aspect of the city’s pollution—concentrations of particulates—with an eye toward improving the health of bike commuters and pedestrians, and potentially influencing public policy.
Although the health impacts of bike commuting are well documented, the downside can be increased exposure to a brew of pollutants, especially those from auto, truck and bus exhausts.
Hankey’s work could influence which routes bikers and walkers choose. Preliminary results found concentrations of particulates were about half again higher on the city’s arterial and collector streets than they were on off-street paths such as the Midtown Greenway. Moreover, those concentrations were almost twice as high in the morning rush hour as its evening twin.
Ultimately, he’ll use sophisticated statistical analysis and land use modeling to produce a block- by-block map that estimates particulate exposure across the city. He’s hoping to integrate that with online bike route finders, such as Cyclopath at the university, so that commuters have a choice of mapping the shortest route, the fastest or the healthiest.
The work could also be integrated into bike route planning, although representatives of two prominent organizations that site bike facilities say they first want to review Hankey’s work when it’s completed.
But it’s already influencing Hankey, who used to like to speed by snarled traffic on his bike, to pick less-traveled routes. His normal 100 weekly miles on a bike helped prep him for the demands of his fieldwork.
That involved repeatedly cycling three different routes that averaged close to 20 miles each, all while hauling more than 65 pounds of monitoring gear in the bike trailer. He sampled four types of particulate air pollution, including the finest particles that are associated with increased heart risk when inhaled. He accumulated more than 800 miles during his sampling runs.
The lesson of his studies isn’t that cycling is harmful. One Belgian study found the health benefits of cycling to average nine times the potential risk from higher inhalation of pollutants or accidents, when measured in years.
Rather, Hankey’s findings suggest that a biker could greatly reduce exposure by shifting over a block or two. Shifting just 100 meters (about one block) off a major road cut morning particulate exposure by about one quarter. That was the sharpest drop, although moving over another block would trim the risk by a cumulative one-third.
Hankey’s research for his civil engineering doctoral dissertation is already drawing attention. He’s won prizes for presentations at academic conferences in France and Switzerland. It grows out of dual masters he earned in engineering and urban planning.
But his real impact would be if he influences planners to shift the planning of bike route and facilities. For example, two of the higher traveled bikes lanes in south Minneapolis on Portland and Park avenues also are heavily traveled by motor vehicles.
Simon Blenski, a bike planner for the city, said the findings support the city’s efforts to add bike boulevards, which are bike-friendly streets, a block or two off main thoroughfares. But he’d like to see the final research. Ditto for Bill Dossett, executive director of the Nice Ride bike-sharing operation that sites stations for its ubiquitous lime-colored bikes. He considers it a sign that bikes are becoming mainstream as a commuting tool that work like Hankey’s is being conducted. But he considers vehicle pollution a moving target.
“We are doing things to reduce this exposure. Cars are a lot cleaner than they were when you and I started riding bikes,” Dossett said.
Photos: Above: Steve Hankey samples on the 5th St. NE bike boulvard at Broadway St., photo by Simon Blenski; Right: Hankey's bike and trailer with air intake pipe and sampling equipment.:
The sale of the school district’s former headquarters at 807 Broadway St. NE is now halfway home.
Hillcrest Development, selected by the school board as the preferred developer for the sprawling site, has signed a purchase agreement for the Logan Park neighborhood site. The district said that happened June 27; the developer said it happened last week.
The price hasn't yet been disclosed because state law allows that until the deal reaches its final stage, which the district estimates at four to five months. The district said there may be further neogitaitons over price.
The developer began investigating on July 8 the condition of the site as part of the environmental checks it will make before a planned closing on the property later this year. Hillcrest expects testing and analysis of the buildings for asbestos, lead, and other potential contaminants to last into the fall.
The developer plans to fill the rehabbed brick building with commercial tenants, although it expects to tear down some of the back shop areas of the site. The Logan Park neighborhood strongly backed commercial reuse of the site to restock the supply of jobs lost when the district last July moved its headquarters to 1250 Broadway Av. across the Mississippi River.
The June 21 storm may have scattered its damage more than the May, 2011 North Side tornado but the tree loss appears to be higher.
That's the assessment of Ralph Sievert, forestry director for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. He's estimating about 3,000 trees were lost in the public realm, which includes boulevards and parks, compared to 2,600 in the tornado. But the tornado created a more visually striking loss because damage was concentrated in strips.
Park Board tree crews are looking forward to only their third day off in the three weeks since the storm hit. That comes Sunday. They got July 4 and one other Sunday off. Sievert said 51 park employees are involved in the storm cleanup.
Meanwhile the nonprofit foundation supporting parks is dedicating the profits from its Sept. 8 5K race at Lake Harriet toward replanting tres in parks and boulevards. People for Parks hopes to raise at least $7,00, according to spokeswoman Felicity Britton.
More information about the race is available at www.peopleforparks.net .
One way to rile a Minneapolitan is to mess with his or her supply of free wood chips from the Park Board for mulching around the yard and garden.
The chips distributed at a dozen sites around the city have been regarded as a payoff for paying property taxes for parks.
So this year, people such as Bill Kahn of Prospect Park noticed when the chips were down. Turns out they were right, owing to a change in how the Park Board processes pruned and storm-downed trees. And park officials this week remedied the situation in response to rising complaints.
"I feel like it is the old story of less service for more revenue," Kahn complained.
By Friday, four sites should get an initial 100 cubic yards of chips, a supply that park officials say they'll replenish through Aug. 2.
A major reason for the reduced supply of chips is that the Park Board has changed how it chips waste from normal tree pruning. In the past, eight crews began pruning trees in the winter, and brush was fed into portable chippers. Then the crews shiftied in the spring to planting trees, shifting in the summer to removal of elms with Dutch elm disease.
That normally meant two surges of chips for residents. But this year the Park Board cut back to three chipper crews, and shifted most chipping to Koda Energy, which rents park land at Fort Snelling for $125,000 and keeps the chips to burn in its Shakopee waste-to-energy plant. Koda is a partnership of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and Rahr Malting Co.
Forestry Director Ralph Sievert said the shift was made to lessen worker injuries and improve efficiency. The smaller chippers cause more injuries from workers feeding branches, while Koda's mammoth chippers are larger and require fewer people. Moreover, centralizing the chipping means that workers can focus on pruning while tree limbs are hauled by trucks with pincer claws to Koda's chipper. Except for the lease payment, no money changes hands for the chipping, he said. But the arrangement is expected to save the Park Board $400,000 annually from reduced injury costs and running fewer crews.
When the storm hit, residents expected to see chips at the usual dump sites scattered through the city. But with the chips headed for Shakopee, that wasn't happening. Park officials had to ask Koda to donate chips to avert a PR problem.
The upside is that because ash wood was mixed with other woods in the storm, all the wood had to be ground to Minnesota Department of Agriculture specs to avert the spread of emerald ash borer. So the newly available chips should be of more uniformity than the ragged pieces that often show up at chip dumps in the city.
Where are the chips headed? They'll be stockpiled at Armatage Park parking lot in the 5700 block of Russell Avenue S., Lake Nokomis parking lot on Nokomis Parkway between E. 50th Street and 22nd Av. S., a Marshall Terrace site near Randolph Street NE and 30th Av. NE, and Folwell Park's parking lot near Dowling and Knox Avenues N.
(Photo: Park workers prune trees after a May snowstorm. File photo by Jeff Wheeler)
Wood chips from trees that came down during the June 21 storm have been ground down to wood chips and are now available free to Minneapolis residents.
The chips will be at four locations by the end of the week through Aug. 2:
Folwell Park parking lot: From the intersection of Dowling Av. N. and Knox. Av. N., the park entrance is east of Knox Av. N. The chips will be in the northwest corner of the lot.
Marshall Terrace neighborhood: The chips will be on the north side of 30th Av. NE just west of Randolph St. NE along the road in a community garden just east of Marshall St. NE
Lake Nokomis parking lot: The lot is off of Lake Nokomis Pkwy between 50th St. E and 22nd Av.. S on the north side of Lake Nokomis. The chips will be in a lakeside parking lot.
Armatage Park parking lot: The lot is on the east side of the 5700 block of Russell Av. S; the chips will be at the south end of the lot near the Dumpster.
Minneapolis Park and Rec said the chips will be available on a first come, first serve basis to Minneapolis residents only.
For more information, go to this Park and Rec page.
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