Rainwater and bike changes proposed in LEED-ND

Now that the full-fledged LEED for Neighborhood Development program has been operating for several months, its rating system is being studied with an eye to making improvements — a standard part of the updating that the US Green Building Council undertakes for every LEED program.

Changes proposed by technical advisory committees were reviewed during a public comment period that ended Jan. 14. Two areas of LEED-ND in which modifications are being considered are rainwater and bicycle facilities.

A subcommittee of CNU’s  Rainwater-in-Context Initiative weighed in on changes proposed to the stormwater credit — now titled Rainwater Management. The group said the new version continues to lack “methodological rigor” and “may not adequately support the development patterns that are best for watershed health.”

The Rainwater-in-Context group, made up of Paul Crabtree, Laurence Aurbach, Sandy Sorlien, Tom Low, and John Jacob, thinks the credit currently places too much emphasis on how rainwater is handled at the level of the individual lot and too little emphasis on “shared systems at the community or watershed scale.”

Nora Beck of the Congress for the New Urbanism explained the subcommittee’s position: “The credit currently applies the same storage requirements to every site regardless of its regional context or density of development. As a result, densely developed projects, which are rewarded elsewhere in the rating system, will face higher costs to meet this credit than will lower-density projects.” The group views this as getting in the way of good placemaking as well as reducing the potential for net improvements in overall watershed health.

Aurbach, who is also a member of USGBC’s Location and Transportation Technical Advisory Group, said off-site or shared solutions (or both) should be allowed for dense urban sites. “Shared assets are recognized throughout the LEED rating system,” Beck pointed out. “Projects are allowed to gain points for assets such as street intersections and commercial and retail uses that are not within the project boundary but that contribute to the overall success of the development. The subcommittee is advocating that this apply to rainwater management as well.”

The group also made a number of recommendations on how the credit can be improved to reflect standard metrics developed by hydrology science.

Proposals for bicycle credits

Separately, Mike Lydon, principal in The Street Plans Collaborative, based in Miami and New York, is asking for changes in the standard for bicycle credits. CNU asked Lydon to study the Bicycle Network and Storage credit in LEED-ND and offer recommendations, His suggestions include these:

• Allowing bike lanes just four feet wide where there is no on-street parking and where the volume and speed of motor vehicles are not threatening. Currently on-street bike lanes must be at least five feet wide.

• Requiring the project to be closer to an array of diverse uses. One of three requirements that a project currently must satisfy is that the development be connected, via a bicycle network, to an area of diverse uses no more than three miles away. Lydon argues that this distance is too large.

• The program should recognize separated bicycle lanes, or “cycle tracks,” and bicycle boulevards (see story starting on page 1), as “facility types” qualifying for the credit.

• Requirements for bike storage should be more stringent.

USGBC will consider all the recommendations and then issue a revised set of proposed changes. After that, there will be a second public comment period, followed by another review by technical advisory groups, according to Beck. The final set of proposals will then be voted upon by the membership of USGBC. “It will be several months before a new draft of LEED-ND is released,” Beck explained.

Changes of a more minor nature are being proposed for credits for mixed-use neighborhood centers, reduced parking footprint, minimum building energy-efficiency, minimum building water-efficiency, landscape water use reduction, wastewater management, solid waste management, light-pollution reduction, and LEED accredited professional.

USGBC’s accreditation program is now certified by a third party, which wants all accreditation programs to undergo a similar level of review. “Because CNU’s own accreditation program does not meet those specific standards,” said Beck, it’s likely that CNU accreditation will no longer qualify participants for this optional credit.

Nonetheless, the CNU accreditation program will continue to be offered. “A survey of CNU-A registrants reveals than at overwhelming number of participants are seeking accreditation because of how it distinguishes them in the marketplace,” she said, “not because of one optional point in LEED-ND.” Since CNU began its program in June 2009, a total of 246 professionals have been accredited.

LEED-ND has beneficially affected other LEED programs, Aurbach says: Some credits that were created for LEED-ND — such as walkable streets and bicycle network — are being proposed for inclusion in other LEED rating systems. “That migration is exciting and is why new urbanists got involved with LEED in the first place,” said Beck. “And it’s not complete yet.”