In recognition of the exemplary design for the land use project called GreenLink Windsor, Sam Schwartz Engineering (SSE), of New York City, and the City of Windsor, Ontario, have been honored with ASCE’s 2012 Innovation in Sustainable Civil Engineering Award.
As the prime engineering consultant to the City of Windsor, SSE developed a 6 km extension of Highway 401 called the Windsor-Essex Parkway, which will run through the city to a new international plaza and a bridge crossing to Detroit. To conform to and apply the principles of sustainable development in the GreenLink Windsor project, SSE designed a state-of-the art, partially tunneled roadway with 90-degree retaining walls along its entire length, thereby adding 300 acres of usable green space and a 20 km path for pedestrians and bikers free of grade crossings. The highway will not intrude into the communities along its path and will offer vehicles traveling to and from the border crossing into the United States a direct, fast, and safe thoroughfare.
The Innovation in Sustainable Civil Engineering Award recognizes a civil engineering project that demonstrates creativity in furthering the goals of sustainable development. According to the award citation, the GreenLink Windsor project was selected “for incorporating sustainability—community, environment, and economic considerations into the Windsor-Essex Parkway, 20 kilometers of pedestrian and cycle recreational trails and 300 acres of green space—a local solution for Windsor.”
“I was absolutely thrilled,” says Samuel I. Schwartz, P.E., M.ASCE, the president, chief executive officer, and founder of SSE, who was presented with the award last month in Montreal during the Society’s annual conference. The presentation was made by Andrew W. Herrmann, P.E., SECB, F.SEI, F.ASCE, in one of his last acts as ASCE president and Patrick J. Natale, P.E., F.ASCE, the Society’s executive director. “This is one of the highest awards that an engineer can receive,” says Schwartz. We [at SSE] have always viewed ourselves on the cutting edge, and we believe strongly in sustainability, so we are pleased, honored, and thrilled to receive this award.”
“We are very honored to have been recognized by ASCE for our work with Sam Schwartz and his team on developing our new GreenLink,” says Windsor’s mayor, Eddie Francis. “Our project was driven by our community, who believed strongly that quality of life and transportation can coexist through smart design rooted in a sustainable and green vision.”
“Projects like the GreenLink Windsor demonstrate how a project can be done sustainably while delivering value to the community,” adds Natale. “ASCE, through our Innovation in Sustainable Civil Engineering Award, needs to continue to promote sustainability and identify great examples in projects like this. It must become a way of life for civil engineers to produce projects like this that not only coexist with the local environment but focus in on the triple bottom line—environmentally friendly, economically viable, and with a positive impact on the public.”
Schwartz says that the Canada–U.S. border crossing from Windsor to Detroit is one of the busiest truck routes in North America. Since nearly 28 percent of all trade between the two countries uses this crossing, nearly 70 percent of all the vehicles on the route are trucks. To help relieve congestion, a new highway extension through Windsor became a key component of the Detroit River International Crossing Project.
“What we had was a bit of an unusual situation in that many highways in the fifties, sixties, seventies, and even in the eighties were built right through cities in the U.S. and in Canada,” explains Schwartz. “And what we encountered in Windsor was that the highway ended about four or five miles from the border, and this is the heaviest international truck corridor in North America. So the trucks left Highway 401, which is the Canadian equivalent of an interstate highway, then went through local streets in the city of Windsor.
“My job was not only to assist [the Detroit River International Crossing Project and the City of Windsor] in conceiving a new border crossing, but how to get to the border crossing. Clearly, it was not acceptable to have international traffic continue using local streets or have a highway that would split the city apart.
“So the design problem we had was, how do we build a highway going through an existing city without destroying the very nature of the city, without creating the kind of highways like we did in the fifties, sixties, and seventies, which separated communities and created either a wall of poverty or a swath of areas that were not very livable?”
The answer, says Schwartz, came from New York City’s Central Park. “I can remember the moment sitting with the mayor [of Windsor] and the city council when it occurred to me that the best example that I could come up with of a highway that does not destroy the fabric of the city was in my hometown of New York City,” recalls Schwartz. “Central Park is really five different [sections], but every New Yorker and every visitor will tell you it is continuous for two and a half miles from Fifty-ninth Street up to One Hundred Tenth Street.
“What Frederick Olmsted and Calvert Vaux did when they designed Central Park in the 1850s is that you never feel like you are leaving grade. It is tree lined and it is parklike, so you have absolutely no concept that you are crossing a bridge” or anything else. “So I said [to the mayor and city council], ‘We can do something like that in Windsor, where we can have pedestrian and bike paths that go end to end [of the Windsor-Essex Parkway] without crossing a car, where we have a fair amount of parkland, where we have connections between communities, and where these communities feel that they are not up against a highway.’”
To achieve this, Schwartz says, SSE designed a series of short underground tunnels along with what he termed multilane roundabouts, or traffic circles, at the highways exits that break up the 6 km between Windsor and the U.S.–Canadian border into sections, as in Central Park. Schwartz estimates that the new, four-lane Windsor-Essex Parkway will have the capacity to handle traffic “beyond 2035.”
“What made this project such an excellent example of sustainability and set it apart from all the other projects was the fact that the project team started with a vision,” says D. Michael Mucha, P.E., M.ASCE, the chair of ASCE’s Committee on Sustainability and the chief engineer and director of the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District, in Wisconsin. “This vision was looking at the type of community they wanted to create and how to use the highway project as an opportunity to advance that vision.”
Natale, Schwartz, and Mucha all agree that this kind of sustainable design, which links highways to communities in “livable” ways, holds great promise.
“When we are doing highways in urban areas, I think this is absolutely the highway design of the future,” says Schwartz. “Any engineer highway designer who chooses the old option is going to find [himself or herself] with years and years of delays from public opposition. We are not going to design highway projects like the I-95 in Philadelphia along the Delaware River anymore; that is just not the way that American or Canadian cities will permit.”
For more information about the Windsor-Essex Parkway, click here