Treyger climate change bill aims to cool New York City streets

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal is getting a lot of national attention, but closer to home, a Brooklyn lawmaker is proposing a climate change solution at the street level.

Councilmember Mark Treyger has introduced legislation to require the Department of Transportation (DOE) to explore the idea of applying some type of light-colored substance to street asphalt to reflect sunlight and lower the temperature on the city’s roadways. The reason: Dark colored asphalt absorbs the sun’s rays, Treyger said.

Specifically, Treyger’s bill, which he introduced on Weds., Feb. 13, would require DOT to conduct a feasibility study that would look at the types of materials that could be applied to reduce street surface temperatures. The study would also include cost estimates.

Once completed, the study would be submitted to the mayor and the City Council speaker for review.

New York City has more than 6,000 miles of roadways.

Other cities are starting to explore street surface coatings, according to Treyger, who said preliminary testing in Los Angeles found that applying sunlight-reflective materials to street surfaces reduces temperatures by as much as 10-15 degrees.

To further bolster his argument, Treyger pointed to a phenomenon known as the Urban Heat Island Effect, which finds that urban areas like New York, with its prevalence of buildings, concrete and asphalt, and lack of vegetation, have significantly higher temperatures than surrounding rural areas.

“Now more than ever, we need creative and practical solutions to combating climate change that can produce tangible results as soon as possible,” said Treyger, a Democrat who represents Coney Island, Gravesend and parts of Bensonhurst. “Reducing the temperature of our street surfaces can lessen the impact of the Urban Heat Island Effect, lower energy consumption and cut energy costs. It can also protect more New Yorkers from extreme heat, which disproportionately affects our most vulnerable communities.”

Ida Sanoff, executive director of the Natural Resources Protective Association, an environmental protection organization based in Brooklyn, said that while Treyger’s legislation sounds intriguing, she was reserving judgment.

“I would like to know the cost. And I would like to know if the material they would apply would be as durable as what we have now,” she told this newspaper.

Lowering the temperature on the street can also reduce healthcare costs, said Treyger, who added that extreme heat is the top cause of weather-related deaths in the U.S. New York City sees an average of 450 heat-related visits to emergency rooms every year, he said.

There is another benefit to lowering street surface temperatures, according to Treyger, who predicted that it would lead to less reliance on air conditioning, which in turn would reduce energy consumption and decrease emissions.

The city should be doing more to encourage energy conservation, according to Sanoff.

“We are ignoring conservation. We should be promoting it. There are things people can do as individuals about energy consumption. Open your windows instead of turning on the air-conditioner in the summer. Turn off the lights when you leave the room,” she said.

Climate change isn’t just a global issue, it also hits people at a grass-roots level, Sanoff said.

As an example, Sanoff, who lives in Brighton Beach, said she and her neighbors have noticed a troubling shift in the winds coming off the Atlantic Ocean over the past five years.

“We used to get a cool sea breeze at 2:30 in the afternoon. You could set your watch by it. But now, it’s not happening. We’re getting a hot, dry wind from the west,” she said. “Climate change is real and it’s not going away.”

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