Online Survey Assess Quality of Life in your Neighborhood

Quality of Life Factors Affected by Growth:

Neighborhood Stop Sign Delay & Safety
Congestion at Traffic Signals
Speeding on Neighborhood Streets
Quality of Lakes & Tidal Waters
Neighborhood Stream Quality
Drinking Water
School Overcrowding
Aging Schools
Neighborhood Parks
Parkland Supply & Demand
Walking-Biking Opportunities
Neighborhood Trees
Noise & Other Nuisances
Fire & Emergency Medical Services

How CEDS Can Help

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Neighborhood Quality of Life

Getting the Benefits of Growth While Preserving & Enhancing Quality of Life in Your Neighborhood

How well is growth being managed in your area?  By "growth" we mean new housing projects, shopping centers, etc. 

Is growth harming or helping quality of life for you and your neighbors?

Are those who profit directly from growth required to pay their fair share or are your schools, roads and other services being short-changed to accommodate more development?

Answering these questions has been challenging in the past, mostly because we lacked a yardstick to assess how growth affects the factors which make a neighborhood a great place to live. 

In this webpage we'll provide descriptions of what responsible growth management looks like.  CEDS also has a brief, online survey you can use to assess how growth has affected quality of life in your neighborhood.  More importantly we've provided responsible growth management practices for preventing further harm and resolving current issues like traffic congestion, school overcrowding and polluted neighborhood waters. 

Contact CEDS at 410-654-3021 (call-text) or Help@ceds.org if you have questions or you'd like a hand improving quality of life in your neighborhood.  Our advice is always available free by phone to those seeking to preserve and enhance neighborhood quality of life.

Neighborhood Stop Sign Delay & Safety

dangerous intersectionYou shouldn't have to wait more than 30 seconds at a stop sign.  But as traffic volume increases so do the number of drivers trying to make it through an intersection.  And each new home adds 10 trips per day to our streets. 

When traffic volume reaches the point where roads become congested drivers tend to speed and engage in other risky behaviors, like ignoring stop signs.  Thus poorly managed growth worsens congestion which then increases accident rates

Delay is used to rate the degree of congestion at stop signs and other intersections.  Delay is greatest when peak traffic volumes occur during the morning and evening rush-hours. 

Delay at stop signs is considered acceptable if it takes an average of 30 seconds or less to get through the intersection.  If you suffer greater delay than your neighborhood streets may benefit from Traffic Calming measures. 

For further background on how to responsibly manage growth to prevent these impacts see the CEDS Traffic, Development & Neighborhood Quality of Life webpage and the Traffic Congestion section of the CEDS Comprehensive Plans, Master Plans & Quality of Life Growth Management webpage.

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Congestion at Traffic Signals

congested intersectionTraffic congestion is one of the most frustrating and costly symptoms of poorly managed growth. Congestion costs a typical commuter 42 hours a year.  In 2014, the costs related to congestion totaled $160 billion nationally.  We wasted 3.1 billion gallons of fuel while stuck in traffic and sent a large amount of climate-changing pollution into the atmosphere. 

The degree of congestion at an intersection is rated using a system known as Level of Service or LOS.  The rating goes from A to F.  Congestion is severe at E and F equals grid-lock.  In many suburban-urban areas D is the lowest acceptable LOS.  In rural areas traffic volume should not cause congestion to drop below C. 

Current standards indicate that traffic volume can reach about 1460 vehicles per hour in any one lane before congestion becomes excessive.  Counting the number of vehicles passing through an intersection can be long and difficult.  Fortunately there's an easier, though less accurate method for assessing intersection congestion.

A traffic impact evaluation manual from the 1960s used green cycles as the basis for rating congestion.  If most vehicles stopped at a red light made it through the intersection during the next green cycle then congestion was considered minimal. 

While this approach may be inaccurate compared to current standards, it can provide an indication of the degree of congestion at intersections in or near your neighborhood.  So, if you can usually make it through an intersection during rush-hour in one green cycle then congestion is probably minimal.  If not, then see the CEDS Traffic, Development & Neighborhood Quality of Life webpage to learn how growth can be managed to prevent and resolve congestion.  Also see the Traffic Congestion section of the CEDS Comprehensive Plans, Master Plans & Quality of Life Growth Management webpage.

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Speeding on Neighborhood Streets

traffic-girlSome may ask "What's the big deal if a driver occasionally exceeds the speed limit on a neighborhood street?" 

Well, in 2015, 5,376 pedestrians were killed in the U.S. by automobiles.  A disturbingly large percentage of these fatalities occurred on neighborhood streets.  For every pedestrian killed by a car, another 24 were injured

Speed is a major factor determining whether a pedestrian will be killed or injured by an automobile. A pedestrian is twice as likely to die if struck by a car traveling at 31 mph compared to 23 mph.  Other factors contributing to high pedestrian accident rates on neighborhood streets include a lack of adequate sidewalks, bike lanes, and crossings. 

Obeying speed limits and avoiding distracted driving is essential to keeping neighborhood streets safe.  If more than a small percentage of drivers exceed the posted speed limit on your streets then consider calling for Traffic Calming measures.  Also, see the Traffic Congestion section of the CEDS Comprehensive Plans, Master Plans & Quality of Life Growth Management webpage.

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Quality of Lakes & Tidal Waters

lake swimmingAccording to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, impaired water quality limits human uses in 64% of our lakes and 30% of our estuaries.  The impairment makes these waters less attractive (and safe) for wading, swimming and other direct contact.  It also hurts fishing, crabbing and boating.  Homes located near noticeably impaired waters also sell for less

Water clarity is the most noticeable quality indicator.  You should be able to see the bottom of a lake or tidal waterway out to a depth of at least five feet.

Nutrients and sediment are the leading causes of diminished clarity in lakes and tidal waters.  Just as the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus stimulate plant growth in your lawn and garden, it has the same effect of aquatic algae.  As nutrient inputs increase so does algal growth causing water clarity to decline. 

Runoff from rooftops, streets, parking lots and lawns can wash a tremendous amount of nutrients into nearby waterways.  Good stormwater management is the key to minimizing nutrient pollution from development.

Sediment from construction sites is a major cause of impaired lake and tidal water quality in developing areas.  The most effective method to prevent construction site mud pollution is to protect exposed soils with a thick layer of straw mulch, grass or other erosion control practices. 

mulchgrass

 

 

 

 

 

Measures like the black-silt fence pictured below and ponds simply cannot trap enough eroded soil to prevent pollution. 

muddy water

 

Federal law and that of most states requires that once earth-moving ceases all exposed soils must be mulched or treated with erosion control practices.  This point is reached when road and building construction begins on a site. 

In summary, if you see exposed soil on a construction site you can assume a nearby waterway will be polluted come the next storm.  In other words, Exposed Soil = Pollution.

If building and road construction has begun then it's likely you're also witnessing a violation of one of our most important clean water laws. 

To learn more about protecting and restoring lakes and tidal waters from poor growth management see:

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Neighborhood Stream Quality

stream childNearly half of our streams and rivers are impaired due to pollution and other factors.  For many Americans, there's a waterway within a five minute walk of their home.  And even the smallest headwater stream can be an attractive playground for our children.  Unfortunately most of these waters are not fully safe and child-friendly. 

These neighborhood waters were degraded mostly by growth throughout the lands they drain - the watershed.  The degradation was first caused by construction phase mud pollution and continues due to the contaminants washed from our rooftops, streets and lawns by  stormwater runoff

blacknose daceFish: To get an idea of whether the stream flowing through or near your neighborhood is among these degraded waters, see if fish are present.  Those you're most likely to see are minnows or other small species. 

Fish should be present in all waters that flow year-round.  If you don't see any fish and the waterway is very small, then look downstream at points where it's bigger.  If you still do not see any fish then the stream is probably in bad condition.

If you do not see any fish then the stream is probably of very poor quality.  If fish are present and it looks like there's only one kind (species) then the stream may still be degraded.  The presence of multiple fish species frequently indicates good quality.

Stream Dwelling Insects:  Aquatic insects, crustaceans and organisms can provide a more accurate method for assessing quality.  Most of stream dwelling insects are immature and live in the swifter flowing riffle areas of a stream. Pick up a few stones bathed in the most rapidly flowing water.  Look closely at the entire stone surface.  Most of these critters are only a third- to a half-inch long. 

caddisfly larvaecaddisfly case on rock

 

 

 

 

Caddisfly larvae (left) are one of the most common stream insects.  They resemble a caterpillar with six jointed legs.  Many caddisfly larvae make a case of sand or wood which may look like a bump on the surface of a stone.  If only caddisfly larvae are present then a stream is probably of fair quality.

mayfly nymphMayfly nymphs (above) look sort of like a small roach with six jointed legs and three tails. 

If both caddisfly larvae and mayfly nymphs are present then a stream is probably of good quality.

If neither caddisflies or mayflies are present then the stream is probably of poor quality.

Unfortunately this method is not as easily applied to sluggish, slow-moving streams or rivers.

For further detail and additional assessment methods see the CEDS Stream Quality Checklist.

Proven methods for restoring degraded waters and preventing future growth from causing damage can be found at the CEDS Protecting Wetlands, Streams, Lakes, Tidal Waters & Wells from the Impacts of Land Development webpage.  Also, see the Streams, Lakes, Rivers & Tidal Waters Quality section of the CEDS Comprehensive Plans, Master Plans & Quality of Life Growth Management webpage.

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Drinking Water

faucetA 2009 study revealed that drinking water from 20% of U.S. public supplies had exceeded federal standards during the previous five years.  In 2016, Harvard researchers determined that the drinking water of 6 million Americans contained contaminant levels in excess of federal standards.  And unsafe lead levels are not confined to Flint, Michigan but have been found in the water consumed in the nations capital and other cities.

Whether your home is served by an individual well or it's on a community system, you should consider verifying the quality of your water.  Even if your drinking water is free of suspicious colors or odors, quality still could be an issue. 

Community Water Systems: All community systems are required to regularly test water quality.  They are also required to provide a Consumer Confidence Report to their customers by July 1st of each year. 

It's likely that yours is one of the 90% of all U.S. homes served by a community water system.  If it is and you don't recall receiving a report, then visit the USEPA Consumer Confidence Reports webpage.  If the report is not linked on the webpage, then use the contact information provided there to request one from your water system. 

Should a report show that any contaminants exceeded state or USEPA drinking water standards then the cause must be corrected before more homes or businesses are connected to the system.

Wells: Unlike community water supplies, wells serving an individual home are not routinely tested for quality. Some local health authorities will test a well if requested by the owner.  Otherwise you can hire a commercial firm to run the tests.  Data on regional well water quality may be available from the U.S. Geological Survey or state environmental agencies

Poorly planned growth can put a strain on water supplies leading to problems with not just quality but quantity as well.  Responsible growth-management is the key to ensuring that the quality of your drinking water is not sacrificed. 

For further detail visit the Drinking Water Protection and Water Withdrawals sections of the CEDS Protecting Wetlands, Streams, Lakes, Tidal Waters & Wells from the Impacts of Land Development webpage. Also see the Water Supply Adequacy section of the CEDS Comprehensive Plans, Master Plans & Quality of Life Growth Management webpage.

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School Overcrowding

overcrowded school signMany U.S. school districts seek to maintain student enrollment between 80% to 100% of the capacity of elementary, middle and high school buildings.  Capacity is based on a set number of students per classroom like 20 for K-3 and 23 for all higher grades.  This figure is then multiplied by the number of classrooms to arrive at school building capacity. 

Without good planning growth can cause enrollment to exceed school capacity.  Though overcrowding does not necessarily mean that student performance will decline, it certainly doesn't help.  The effects of overcrowded schools may include:

A number of school districts also seek to maintain the number of students per teacher at or below a specific ratio.  The chart below shows the average ratio of pupils to teachers for the 2013-2014 school year.  A ratio of more than 20 students per teacher is generally considered undesirable.  In fact, 12 states have adopted laws requiring a ratio of 20 students or less per teacher. 

 

The use of portable classrooms is a good indication that enrollment has exceeded school capacity.  Class sizes above the average for your region is another possible indicator.  To ensure that growth does not lower school quality visit:

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Aging Schools

leaking schoolThere are nearly 100,000 public school buildings in the U.S.  As of 1999, the average school was 42 years old

In the 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, the national shortfall in maintaining these buildings was $38 billion.  While 24% of permanent school buildings were in fair to poor condition, the figure was nearly twice as high (45%) for temporary buildings such as portable classrooms. 

Heating and cooling problems are among the more noticeable and disruptive indicators of school maintenance shortfalls.  Research shows that both affect not only the comfort of students but their performance as well. 

According to a 2014 report from the National Center for Education Statistics, 30% of U.S. schools had heating, air conditioning, or ventilation/filtration systems that were in poor to fair condition.  Many local school districts produce facilities reports that detail these and other infrastructure issues.  If the schools serving your neighborhood close even occasionally due to heating or cooling problems then take a look at the latest facilities report.  Consider supporting your local PTA in calling for the improvements detailed in the report. 

To learn how growth should be managed to prevent overcrowding see the CEDS Preventing Overcrowding & Other School Impacts of Development webpage.  Also, visit the School Overcrowding and Keeping Taxes Low sections of the CEDS Comprehensive Plans, Master Plans & Quality of Life Growth Management webpage.

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Walking-Biking Opportunities

kid on bikeCan you and your family safely walk, run and bike along the streets in your neighborhood?  These opportunities are not just recreational, but are essential to public health.  Childhood obesity is reaching staggering proportions in the U.S.  It’s also increasing among other age groups.  

As traffic volume increases, walking, jogging or cycling along a road can become more hazardous and less enjoyable.  Some increase can occur if well-designed bike lanes, sidewalks, trails and other facilities are present. 

A number of localities require that proposed development projects include provisions to maintain or enhance pedestrian and cyclist safety.  But if growth outpaces improvements then all residents suffer. 

To learn how you can determine if growth is being properly managed in your area with regard to this issue see the Walkable & Bikable Communities section of the CEDS Comprehensive Plans, Master Plans & Quality of Life Growth Management webpage.

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Neighborhood Parks

neighborhood parkThere should be a park within a ½-mile or a 15-minute walk of every suburban-urban neighborhood.  The park could be small, even just a tot-lot and a few benches. 

 

Besides enhancing quality of life, these neighborhood-scale parks are essential to achieving the interaction among residents that makes for a strong, supportive community.  For further detail on this topic see the National Recreation & Parks Association publication Rejuvenating Neighborhoods and Communities Through Parks—A Guide To Success.

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Parkland Supply & Demand

crowded parkAs an area grows park acreage and facilities must be increased to avoid overuse.  A number of towns, cities, counties and states seek to provide 10 acres of park and recreation land for every 1,000 residents.  If local ball fields, picnic areas, and trails always seem to be crowded then the park acreage-to-resident ratio may be low. 

To learn how you can determine the ratio as well as whether growth and park facility increases are being properly managed in your area see the Parks, Recreation & Open Space Congestion section of the CEDS Comprehensive Plans, Master Plans & Quality of Life Growth Management webpage. 

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Trees

city treesFew landscape features enhance our quality of life more than an abundance of trees in our neighborhoods and along our streets.  Trees play a vital role in cleansing our air and waters.  They also make our homes more valuable.  And without forests many wildlife species would disappear.

A number of states and local governments have adopted tree and forest protection laws.  Localities have also included tree-forest goals in their growth plans like the 50% urban tree canopy target set by Annapolis, MD

If tree cover in your neighborhood is substantially below 50% then consider taking action.  Several webpages provide guidance regarding urban tree canopies: Watershed Forestry Resource Guide and NOAA Climate Resiliency and Urban Tree Canopy Assessment.  For further information also see: 

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Noise & Other Nuisances

neighborhood noiseWhile noise, objectionable odors, glaring lights and other nuisances can occur in areas where growth management is excellent, poor land use planning can cause unnecessary impacts.  For example, allowing a new gas station within 500 feet of a home can pose a threat to public health as well as exposing residents to excessive noise, glare and unpleasant odors. 

Responsible growth management minimizes these impacts by permitting only compatible uses in or near residential areas.  The effect of insensitive neighbors is then kept in check through properly-staffed and committed local code enforcement programs.  Advice for resolving these issues can be found at the CEDS Stopping Noise, Odors, & Other Neighborhood Nuisances webpage.

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Fire & Emergency Medical Services

ambulanceFire and emergency medical service (EMS) response time is crucial to the health and safety of you and your neighbors.  The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) calls for a 4.9 minute fire response time in urban areas.  In the publication ISO Mitigation it was reported that:

"more than 1,000 fire stations in the United States lack basic response capabilities for structure fires".  

Fire insurance rates tend to be higher in areas with poorer response times. With regard to EMS, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 1710 recommends a response time of four minutes for 90% of Basic Life Support calls and eight minutes for Advanced Life Support.

Assessing response time can be difficult due to the very fortunate circumstance that EMS is needed so infrequently and fire services even less.  Response time data should be readily available in annual reports and in plans posted online by your local planning and public safety agencies. 

If you cannot find the data online then make a request at your local fire-EMS station or to the public safety agency overseeing these services.  For further detail on this topic see the Fire & EMS Services section of the CEDS Comprehensive Plans, Master Plans & Quality of Life Growth Management webpage. 

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How CEDS Can Help

Contact CEDS at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org if you have questions or you'd like help improving quality of life in your neighborhood.  Our advice is always available free by phone to those seeking to preserve and enhance neighborhood quality of life. 

If you're concerned about the impact of a proposed development project then we'd be delighted to take a quick, no-cost look at project plans for opportunities to prevent impacts and improve quality of life in your neighborhood.  For further detail visit: Free CEDS Assistance To Citizens.

For a fee CEDS can also help with the following:

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