Red Pill or Blue Pill

Fall 2012

Dual Realities Exist in the Matrix of Stormwater Management



Red Pill or Blue Pill

For some, the 1999 sci- movie The Matrix accurately characterizes a world with two realities. The story is about a giant matrix of interrelated computer programs that creates a machine-based manipulated world; the other world, the real world of humans, is tormented by the machines and forced underground to survive. Their means of entering and leaving the Matrix is via airships that travel through the underground utility chambers packed with sewer pipes. At times the humans disrupt and reprogram Matrix computer codes to survive. Eventually a savior, Neo, emerges to tame out-of-control machines disguised as humans. His biggest revelation is that the Matrix is a fabricated, digital reality. He learns how to operate above and outside it, so that he can eventually defeat the wayward machines.

This dual reality seems to exist in the stormwater management world. The Matrix exhibits itself as soulnumbing impervious pavements like sidewalks, plazas, parking lots and streets, mostly supporting petroleumfueled transportation, mostly computer generated. This reality is that big institutions support such pavement. The reality of the stormwater community, the smaller and less inuential folks who try to reduce stormwater runoff, seems to be slowly nibbling away at the programmed path of the Matrix. This begins with permeable pavement, often energized by runoff regulations, and when deployed, the Matrix programming seems to yield.

This magazine issue demonstrates some evidence. The feature article on permeable interlocking concrete pavement sidewalks and a parking lot in downtown Raleigh, NC, could have gone conventional under the inuence of the Matrix. However, a human intervened and redened the surface, reduced runoff, and increased the possibilities for friendlier urban places. Another Raleigh space is shown in the photo, a green alley between two buildings just blocks from the Governor’s house. Again, someone intervened and reprogrammed this part of the Matrix.

Two other things might reprogram the Matrix: research and specications. These can point it toward the humanizing reality of permeable pavement. An article in this issue notes the ICPI Foundation is supporting permeable pavement research. While research results support the stormwater community, the transportation folks (i.e., local and state DOTs) will only condently embrace permeable pavements for applications beyond lowspeed residential roads when structural testing and design charts for base thicknesses become available. The article notes that research on this is about to start at the University of California at Davis, and this effort is supported by the California concrete paver and cement industries.

Another reprogramming of the Matrix lies with dissemination of experiencetested specications placed into state transportation agency manuals and municipal construction guidelines. The challenge is that each specication is written in the language of each agency with references to their materials and test methods. Each specication requires technical review to minimize transportation agency risks. That’s a lot of specs taking a lot of time to change.

However, the Matrix at its core is a multiplicity of interconnected networks. And like the conclusion of The Matrix trilogy, the ultimate transformation of transportation agencies to permeable pavements will be viral. For now, the stormwater management world and the concrete paver industry are building the programming to make that happen.