Dec. 31 2012 01:33 PM

Designers in Washington, D.C., are pushing the envelope in terms of concepts for green infrastructure. The designers, Fuss & O'Neill, American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) members, have created a vision for an inter-connected series of green "complete streets" in the city’s Chinatown area. The streets would have new, safer bicycle lanes, a pedestrian-friendly "festival street," and a central hub for new street-level sustainability education programs.

The designers say that permeable pavements along with underground cisterns can be put in key areas that would preserve car access while absorbing water into the ground. What is now a source of huge amounts of runoff in the center of the streets could become a central place for absorbing rainwater into the underlying soils.

Another idea in their vision is a green "festival street"--crisscrossing systems of green streets that could be a pedestrian-friendly zone. Designed to be like a pedestrian mall, this street could be used to slow down car traffic so that pedestrians could move more freely. Throughout this new green boulevard, called a pedestrian "arboretum," different materials would designate different realms—those for people or for cars.

Creating, additionally, a dual-direction bicycle lane would create an opportunity for yet more green infrastructure. The bicycle lanes would be protected by a four-foot "physical separation filled with plants," said ASLA President Tom Tavella. That physical separator would not only protect bicyclists from car traffic, but also help create a sense of place and add greenery.

Lastly, among their ideas for implements that would educate the public are “open grates” and a parklet. The open grates would allow people to see that water moves through the area, even when it doesn't rain. And the parklet would be designed to give people a place to sit and read signs about the new green features of the neighborhood. Throughout the district, "signage would show what a green street is about, what porous pavements do.”

These innovative designs were motivated by the city of Washington’s goal of making 1.5 million square feet of public right-of-way permeable by 2016.