Poop Pipeline

December 28, 2014

I visited my sister in Oregon for the holidays and needless to say, it’s been a wet Christmas.  We considered ourselves lucky since it only rained about half the days we visited and not all of them, like the weather app predicted.  Whenever I visit the northwest I’m always struck by the abundance of water the region has.  Everything is green and mushy–always.  It doesn’t seem fair that I can hop a plane and fly two hours north where people have more water than they know what to do with.  Why can’t they share?

California has been graced with a good start to our rainy season this winter, but we’re nowhere near to being on the other side of this drought.  A refrain you’ve probably hear more than once said of Californians to friends and family elsewhere in the country: “Send some our way.”  Meteorological difficulties aside, what if they could?

I first used to think about this problem by somehow collecting ground water and siphoning it off to reservoirs.  I thought about installing a grid of small drains all over the countryside that would collect rainwater before it could become run off or seep down into the water table.  Not only would this be completely impracticable to build, it would probably beget other ecological complications, disrupting further the amount of water habitats are used to getting.

poop pipeline
Poop Pipeline

Then it hit me the other day while I was taking a long, hot, guilt-free shower at my sister’s place; how easy it could be to ship water south to California.  Don’t send us your rain… send us your used water!  San Diego just implemented a closed loop system, if they can drink their own poop water, we can certain use Oregon’s to grow everybody’s food!

Used water, which is already conveniently collected through the current infrastructure could then be piped down to California’s reservoirs.  We could either build a massive treatment center on the Califoregon border a la Omniprocesser, the Bill/Melinda Gates backed water processing plant, or simply take over all of the treatment plants in Oregon.

Oregon towns would save money because they would no longer have to pay to process their water, California would.  No body would loose their job, since we would still need people to run the treatment plants.  If anything we would be creating them!  We would need to build new water treatment plants and a giant poop pipeline, plus the folks needed to maintain that infrastructure.  And you can’t tell me Oregonians don’t need jobs–they don’t even let me pump my own gas for crying out loud….

Governor Brown is already set on spending billions of dollars on a water pipeline that hurts our overly taxed San Joaquin delta ecosystem and does not add a new source of water, it just pulls it from further upstream; a terrible idea all around.  Why not instead build a pipeline that I’m willing to bet would be much less expensive than the 6.5 bajillion dollars proposed for Brown’s idiotic delta pipeline.  It will actually generate a new source of water.  It won’t deplete water from either state’s ecosystem.  It will create jobs in both states.  I don’t know how much more win/win/win you can get without throwing kittens into the deal!

Maybe Oregon will finally warm up to it’s warmer neighbor to the south if we offer to buy their dirty water.  Now if only we could somehow send them sun….

4/20/15 Update: William Shatner proposes a Kickstarter campaign to build a pipeline from the north to CA to transport water.  I can only assume he read this post and was struck by ingenuity of it.  No need to thank me Mr. Shatner, (but I won’t turn down a job….)  While 30 billion might actually be too crazy to work, I wonder how far we could get with 30 million?  The internet says CA has almost 39 million residents, that’s less than a dollar per person; even I can afford that.

Now all we have to do is get Bill Gates on board and we’ll be set!

Modal Priority Streets

My last post was about how self-driving busses would be the saving grace of public transportation.  However when I brought this idea up in person, most people were a little concerned about unmanned busses barreling down the same streets as cars, motorcycles, bikes and pedestrians.  Which I guess is a good point.  So how does it all work together?

This is a problem civil engineers and designers have been struggling with for decades.  How do different sized modes of transportation that go differents speeds play well together?  My solution: they don’t.

You might have read about “complete streets”–a concept I support–which means a street should be designed so that the most vulnerable of society feels safe no matter what mode of transportation they use.  That’s all well and good, but in a city like San Francisco where space is at a premium, there’s only so much room you can take away from the road itself for wider sidewalks and bike lanes before there’s no room for cars or busses.  Trying to cram everything in is not a working solution either.

I say stop sharing the streets and divide priority.  For instance, take a neighborhood like the Mission.  It’s longer than it is wide, most major streets run north/south and it’s laid out in grid-like fashion.  Right now, both Mission street and Valencia street are impossible for anyone to get anywhere at a pace faster than a shuffle; because everyone else is trying to do the same across all types of travel.

My vision would be to give each street a different modal priority.  Mission street would be public transportation since they already have at least two bus lines and bart, Valencia would be bikes (because, duh) and Guerrero would be cars/private vehicles.  It’s more or less already worked out that way if you are familiar with the area.  Cars would still be allowed to drive down Mission or Valencia, just not encouraged; say for the instance that you need to drop someone off at a store on a bike priority street.  The ends of blocks could have divots where taxis or private cars could pull in and out of traffic to drop off or pick up passengers without gumming things up, or mowing over cyclists in the process.

If three blocks is a lot to ask for, then maybe only every other block could trade off and cars can be lumped in with transit.  (Since now, SF transit is the eighth wonder of the world remember?  And the demand for private cars has plummeted.)  As a cyclist myself, I don’t really want to share the street with transit whether manned or no, so human powered vehicles will still get a street unto themselves.

This makes most sense for parts of San Francisco that aren’t grid like, or for connecting different neighborhoods by bike thoroughfares.  For example, the wiggle, which is the most well known neighborhood traversing bike way.  It winds it’s way off of Market through the lower haight and out to the panhandle, finding the least steep route from downtown to the panhandle and beyond.  There are many other passes like this through the hills of San Francisco, but not nearly as well known–maybe yet undiscovered!–and if anything not nearly as well marked as the wiggle is.

The point being, if you’re trying to get anywhere fast in a car, you do not want to be driving through the wiggle.  Not only is it residential, but there is now hundreds of cycles that use it everyday.  (Yay!)  You want to use Fell/Oak or Turk/Golden Gate, because they are wide one way streets that will zip you downtown faster than you can roll down your window to yell someone.

The only time this becomes a problem is with streets like Divisadero.  Which, is the flattest route to take between Haight street and California street.  Which by my system would make it a bike priority street, and in real life it’s a car priority street.  No bike lane, no sharrows, nothing.  Just two lanes of traffic with barely a shoulder to squeeze into.  AND a bus line!  To make matters worse, it’s not even a fast street for cars to travel.  Everybody loses.

In order to fix this mess I would double the size of the sidewalk on Divis, (which is pitiful small, once again, everybody losing…), and would make the street one lane on each side, with priority for cyclists.  I would even keep street parking–you’re welcome.  The streets to the left and right of Divis would become one way streets to compensate for the bike thoroughfare.  (For the sake of brevity, we’ll just glance over how much construction that would be…)  Voilá.

Oneway Scott/Broderick
Scott and Broderick as oneway streets

My idea really isn’t all that original, since it seems to be the direction the city is kind of headed in.  Or was headed in at one point before complete streets became in vogue and they decided to  kind of head in another direction.  I suppose I’m just sick of city planners not having strong convictions.

Self-driving Busses

Google has been all over the news this past week when they revealed the design for their self-driving cars.  This week, Muni is broke.  Which begs the question, why is Google working on self-driving cars?!  What we really need is self-driving busses!

I understand the problem that Google is trying to solve.  People are terrible drivers, and yet we still insist on driving everywhere.  It’s bad for our minds, bad for our bodies, and yet there is no alternative.  The problem is, Google just solves that one problem with driving by giving us an alternative driver.  They do not take into account the BIG problem with single person driven vehicles; they don’t scale.

Everyone who commutes knows they should carpool or take mass transit, but for some excuse or another, do not.  Tens of thousands of people driving cars meant to carry anywhere from four to seven people, only carry one 80% of the time.  While Google’s design is smaller, it’s still bigger than what it needs to be for only one person.  Which means Google will give you the freedom to work from your car–while you’re still stuck in traffic.

This week Muni once again reminded us that the biggest cost of running a public transportation system is paying it’s employees.  Which is as it should be, this post is not about fair or unfair wages.  Lets pretend that all Muni employees are happily compensated.  The facts still remain that: one, being a bus driver is more often that not a terrible job; and two, Muni does a horrible job of running a municipal transit system.

When was the last time you heard someone proclaim with glee “I’ll just hop on the N and be there fifteen minutes!”  (Trick question, never, because that has never happened in the history of Muni… ever.)  Trains are late, busses are unreliable, everything is covered in a fine layer of filth like only San Francisco can accumulate.  Creating a reliable public transportation system–which should be one of a big city’s top responsibilities, right behind keeping us safe and making sure everything doesn’t burn to the ground–is the worse experience you’ll have at any point in your day in SF.

The worse thing is, I feel like Muni is relegated to the city’s most vulnerable: the poor, the elderly and the homeless.  The rental market is already doing a decent job of dispatching the first two, so really Muni will just become a means of ferrying around the homeless while every else flees to ride-sharing private cars.  Maybe they’ll take over the busses and finally have a place to live…  They’ll become roaming RV’s carrying bands of homeless people!  Maybe there will even be rival busses, and they’ll have gang wars and fight like pirates when enemy busses cross paths!!

I digress…

While I think it should be a top priority for cities to have well managed pub-trans for the sake of the most vulnerable populations, that does not mean it should be the third class form of transportation.  Not only is that unfair, but because we ALL pay for it.  Everyone should feel like they want to use Muni.

Which isn’t cheap.  Up until now, the only way to bridge the gap between how much Muni costs, and how much Muni makes, is by raising the fare.  Which only works for so long before people get fed up and decide that their homeless camper commute is not worth five bucks.  Kudos on the valiant effort the SFMTA made by introducing Sunday meters; which was wildly successful, so of course, they stopped it.  (If you actually do read that article, you’ll learn that continuing Sunday meters was voted down because a “charitable donation” from Google will fill the expected gap instead, paving the road for corporations to directly supplement city income.  Red flags should be going off in your brain now.)

I say to you Google, instead of buying influence, develop the technology for Muni to cut it’s costs in half or more, by making driverless busses!  I realize this cuts jobs, which is a cardinal sin of politics, but who actually wants to be a bus driver?  I mean other than two-year-olds.  Even they snap out of that phase pretty quick.  Plus, if you wanted to be all ethical, you can always give people who would loose their job as a bus driver another city job–for which they will thank you–then wait until they retire and then never have to worry about hiring another bus driver ever again.

Step into my transportation utopia: With the money saved from no longer funding driver salaries and pensions, Muni is able to buy hundreds of shiny new vehicles!  They have a support staff (of ex-drivers?) that will actually keep them clean.  ALL lines run every five minutes, because the only thing stopping that would be the size of the fleet–which I just fixed in afore mentioned sentence.  Rides cost one buck, unless you’re really old, really young, really poor or really don’t have a place to live.  MUNI RUNS ALL NIGHT LONG.  All lines, all night.  Let’s just take a moment to let that sink in.  I really want you to appreciate that last bit.  Finally, Elon Musk is so impressed with new Muni, (Newmi? Nuni… never-mind) he makes sleek new Tesla busses that don’t need wires to run!

But no.  Sadly, we do not live in the make-believe future world in my head.  All I’m asking for is to have a little vision when inventing your awesome new technology, Google.  Yes, I’m calling you short-sighted.

For now I’ll just suck it up and ride this wave while I’m on it.  I am, after all, an Uber/Sidecar driver.  I currently profit from both a poorly run public transit system and lack of other options to get around.  That being said, I do not want to be what amounts to a glorified cab driver for the rest of my life.  (Please, click on all the ads…)  I believe taxis provide a premium service and should be treated as such.  I couldn’t be more happy if one day I was put out of business.  But not before being able to support myself otherwise, of course.  Now get clicking!

Sky Scrapers that Direct Wind Up

From the title of this post you might have guessed that I am not an architect, or have too firm a grasp of physics for that matter.  What I do know is that tall buildings create wind tunnels, which sucks for the people on the ground.  Especially those of us in skirts and dresses…  (Pro-tip for city newbs, remember those cute shorts you never get to wear because it’s always “too cold”?  Here’s your chance!)

I’m sure people who do study physics know why this happen.  I know that skyscrapers are tested for wind load to make sure they can stand up to high winds, but why don’t we do anything about the resulting wind tunnels that are created?  Is this factor even taken into consideration when developing plans for a new building?  Or is there anything that can be done?

Without any substantial knowledge on this phenomenon, I’ve created a few mock ups:

skyscraper directs wind up
Skyscraper directs wind up

Or, in the case of buildings already in existence, perhaps something can be done to break up the wind?  Or, at the very least, take advantage it.  Just think if wind turbines were small enough to be attached to the outside of a building! They could be attached to light poles, sign poles, have their own designated poles installed.  We could paint them and call it art!

Skyscraper directs wind up, and converts to energy
Skyscraper directs wind up, and converts to energy

It’s the best of all possible worlds, we could be creating great green energy AND beautifying the city!  Nobody could argue that power would only be generated a faction of the time because it’s always windy.  Environmentalists might raise a stink because wind turbines kill birds.  And it’s true, the huge windmills you see on the Altamont pass are notorious for decapitating various birds, (some of them endangered, blah blah blah), but there’s a flaw in their argument.

Perhaps the happiest accident of all, these as-of-yet uninvented turbines will be small enough to kill the only birds that live downtown.  And I’m not talking about the Parrots, they generally stay away from tall buildings.  I’m talking about pigeons!  Filthy, stupid, inbred flying vermin.  They really are the worst animal on the face of the earth.  Even rats are better.  Rats at least eat actual food.  And if one of their own was as retarded as a pigeon they would kill him.  And then, probably eat him, because they are rats, and rats roll hard.  But their still not as bad as pigeons.

I once saw a pigeon that had a missing foot and then somehow managed to stick it’s stump into a turd ball of some sort.  Maybe it’s smarter than I give it credit for, and it did that on purpose because the turd ball created stability, but probably not.  It was the most wretched looking creature I’ve ever seen.  I’ve never wanted to put something out of its misery so bad in all my life.  And this was when I was living in the outer Richmond.  It’s supposed to be nice out there.

After that I lived in the Tenderloin, and I’d see these old crazy grandma’s feeding the pigeons and I just want to yell at them.  Of course, being old and crazy and living on the streets of the Tenderloin, I’ll either speak their language, or they’ll take their crazy to a whole new level I’m not willing to experience.

You know I used to think pigeons were cute?  Growing up, in the country, pigeons were just the poor man’s dove.  They made pretty cooing sounds and had shiny, iridescent feathers.  My cousins would actually shoot them and then eat them.  Like they were some foreign delicacy.  Yet city pigeons somehow go from being squab to flying poison bags.  The homeless don’t even touch city pigeons because they know it would be certain death.

Anyway… there might be a quick backlash because of all of the mangled pigeon corpses littering the ground, (I won’t mock that up), and the city might have to step up their street cleaning plans in the first months after the tiny turbines are installed.  But that will only last as long as pigeons remain.  Which, one would hope, will not be long.  Then San Francisco would be a pigeon free, manageably breezy, clean energy paradise!

Smart Greywater

It’s too ridiculous to think that California has gone this far in it’s history without enacting some of the most forward-thinking water conservation policies yet.  We’ve consistently set the bar for air quality standards and fuel efficiency in cars, (to give the most readily available examples.)  We take pride in the fact that as California goes, so goes the nation, especially when it comes to conservation.

However, the closest we’ve come is a road map that was in introduced back in 2008 as one of the last things Arnie did as gobernator.  Which delineates the steps the state can take “to achieve a 20 percent reduction in per capita water use statewide by 2020.”  It’s a good start, but no policy has come from it yet.  Incase anyone is keeping track, we’ve got less that six years to 2020.  I didn’t read all 76 pages of the plan but I’m going to go out on a limb and say we’re not nearly as far along as where we should be on paper.

Urban water use accounts for 10-15% of demand, and while it is not the biggest slice of the pie, it’s good to be as efficient as possible across the board.  Especially since 2013 saw California’s biggest population growth in nearly a decade, and 2014 feels like it’s continuing in the same vein.

Think about what we use the majority of our residential water for: bathing, cooking, cleaning and… watering your lawn.  Aside from your lawn or garden, used water gets sent to the sewer along with everything we flush down the toilet.  Which is a little extreme if you think about it, because the water you just took a shower in isn’t so dirty that you need to send it off to a plant to be treated with everything else, you just wouldn’t want to drink it.  But you could water your lawn or garden with it.  This is called a greywater system.

This idea is not new by any means.  Unfortunately the state has not encouraged residents to use greywater to conserve, and more often than not, local regulations around greywater are unclear, if not discouraging altogether.  Not to mention–contrary to what the media would have you believe–all Californians are not uber-liberal, tree-hugging hippies, and would not take or have the time, effort and resources to install their own system.

But desperate times call for desperate measures, and I think it’s past time that California make it mandatory for all new houses built come equipped with a greywater system.  Every fixture should have an easy on/off switch that will direct water running down the drain to your greywater system or to the sewer.  That way if you need to clean your bathroom you can easily direct water to your sewer, and then turn it back to greywater again.

Now, lets pretend that California did push everyone to have a greywater system installed in their house.  Here we get to the real problem with widely implemented greywater.  How many of us know exactly when to turn it on and off?  Do you know what chemicals are in your body wash?  Or your laundry detergent?  Or your dish soap?  If you water your lawn and it dies the next day, you would probably be a little frustrated at your government for forcing you to install this system in your house.

This is where the “smart” part of “smart greywater” comes in.  If we want our plumbing to really reflect the type of technology we are capable of inventing–and are in fact inventing now–the smart system would be able to detect chemicals that are not okay to go into a grey water system and automatically switch off to run to the sewer!  How awesome would that be?  This will help folks who do not know or are unsure how to use greywater at first, to gradually work their way onto a new system.  They’ll be able to track when the greywater is turned on and know those products are okay, as to when it shuts off, which might be self explanatory if they’re using bleach to scrub off mildew.  Eventually, people we be educated on what they can and cannot use for maximum conservancy.  Not only will greywater give you a two-for-the-price-of-one water use deal, it has the added benefit of making people really think about the products they are using!

Of course “smart” greywater technology has not been invented yet so to speak, but that’s not to say it would be beyond creating.  Once invented, it would be easy enough to install on all new houses going forward.   Too bad plumbing isn’t sexy, so no one is interested in making their house more efficient.  (But my phone on the other hand can take my temperature, pulse, tell me how many calories I burned, and soon be able to tell if I’m pregnant or not…)

The downside to all of this is it would be a big deal to install on homes already created, requiring all sorts of new plumbing.  Which would make this idea one of the costliest, most time-consuming and frankly hardest over all to implement.  Which is a real shame, because I think it would be one measure people could take where they would see the biggest difference.

Another problem with this idea brought to light by the same aforementioned friend from my last post, who highlighted a project he worked on in the Pacific Northwest, where some areas have had trouble with clogging sewer systems when enough reusable water was diverted: there wasn’t enough liquid to keep the solids moving freely the way the system was designed.  Sooo… there’s that.  But then again the whole sewer system idea hasn’t really changed since it was invented over a hundred years ago.  It could probably do with a little revamping as well.