A clean, sustainable community for all

By Lucy Berry DeButy

Just like the homes we live in, our environment needs proper care and attention to thrive.

The City of Huntsville understands this philosophy all too well.

In fact, it’s the driving force behind work to protect Huntsville’s natural resources and stay on top of the latest trends in sustainability and conservation.

“The environment is our most precious resource,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “As we continue to grow our community, we must work together for a cleaner and more sustainable future, and that starts by being transparent with citizens about our efforts.”

Sustainable community

A summary of the City’s environmental efforts on the Sustainability & Initiatives page reflects the work it’s doing to promote a green community. From recycling and anti-litter programs to greenhouse gas reduction and tree preservation, the City is committed to a sustainable future.

Walkable neighborhoods are a key part of the City’s plans because they promote better health, increase home values and enhance resident safety.

“Walkable communities are more than just a trend,” said Dennis Madsen, manager of urban and long-range planning for the City. “They are a return to classic neighborhood planning that focuses on providing all the activities and services a resident might need within a reasonable distance. Walking is an option, biking is an option and shorter drives are more common.”

Madsen said these neighborhoods are among the most popular communities in the U.S. and include sites like Village of Providence in Huntsville.

“We expect to see more and more developments like this, as builders respond to consumer demand for more walkable, better connected neighborhoods,” he said.

Public transportation

With more than 3,000 daily riders, fixed-route City buses offer a fast, convenient and greener alternative to riding alone. Buses, which include bike racks for first- and last-mile commuting, operate on 11 routes across the City and are trackable with Route Shout 2.0, a free mobile application.

Public Transit Manager John Autry said the City bus system is popular despite assumptions some people have about public transportation.

“A lot of people think it’s only poor people who ride the bus or people who don’t have a car, but we see a lot of people riding the bus every day to get to work,” he said. “We see students who ride the bus to get to school and some people get off the bus a couple of blocks early on purpose just so they can get a little bit of a walk in.”

To take more single-occupancy vehicles off the streets, Autry said Huntsville Transit promotes shared rides through car and van pooling. As the City plans for growth, leaders are also exploring electric buses and other technologies.

Now, Autry said electric buses can only run 10-12 hours at a time and are more costly than the low-emission/sulfur diesel engines Huntsville Transit currently uses.

“We operate 15 hours a day, so at some point, the battery technology will improve where you can operate an electric bus all day,” he said. “I feel like that is where the country and the industry are going.”

Power consumption

General Services is also doing its part to be more efficient. In addition to maintaining LED lights in parking garages and buildings, the City is working to install occupancy sensors and lighting controls in its facilities.

The department operates programmable building control systems on most City facilities that can change set points on heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems when buildings are not in use. Automatic vehicle location (AVL) software also tracks City vehicle routes, checks mileage and monitors idle time.

Director Ricky Wilkinson said General Services pays utility bills for most City facilities, so they use UtilityTRX software to manage power consumption and save money.

“As technology advances, we’re always looking for opportunities that make fiscal sense on implementation but we try to balance that life cycle cost as well on some of the initiatives coming out,” he said.

But it’s not just about cost-savings. Wilkinson said being more environmentally friendly “is the right thing to do.”

“You only have so much of these natural resources, so you have to use them efficiently,” he said.

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