Yesterday I attended the FAN Fair workshop featuring John Rosenbarger (New Albany Public Works Projects) and his daughter Beth (Planner/GIS Specialist in Bloomington IN), entitled "It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood."
Spoiler alert: It was anything but.
Beth was delightful in recounting how she learned about walkability's importance by living in myriad other places, and arborist Greg Mills made an excellent, albeit brief, presentation about trees as part of the solution. Bravo to the organizers for their efforts.
But after listening to John Rosenbarger speak, I am now more comprehensively pessimistic than ever before as to this city's hope for any semblance of street grid change in my lifetime.
It will take days to organize these thoughts into a coherent whole, but the gist was this:
We are prepared to spend endless years talking about the wonders of complete streets, admiring the way such matters unfold anywhere else except here, but because any such wonderment must be defined by half-ass, no-ass measures that require absolutely no political comprehension or open political support, because the citizenry is abysmally conservative, and consequently almost nothing can ever be allowed to happen, even though we grasp that it must, and whatever does leak through the cordon can happen only slowly, incrementally, over endless decades, reflecting planners like Rosenbarger's workplace experiences and rampant personal design prejudices.
The predictable overall result of yesterday's presentation: Much delightful information that succeeds in other places not named "New Albany," there are few if any "workable solutions" for neighborhoods in such a pit as "New Albany," and absolutely no hope for change here, where we live, even as we know better.
Let's begin with one of many examples. Last week, I took advantage of the one-way comment feature at the East Main Street Top-Down "Improvement" Project web site to ask chief engineer Wes Christmas a question, paraphrased:
Won't the East Main Street project have the effect of diverting truck traffic to other streets, especially Spring?
"The E Main Street improvement was not designed to cause diversion of any existing traffic. The improvement was designed to provide for improved and safer pedestrian mobility throughout the corridor, in part by reducing the speed of existing traffic, including trucks."
Ohkaaay. Yesterday, when I queried him, Rosenbarger quickly echoed this sentiment, although conceding that from a walkability standpoint, the street's revised lanes will still be far too wide, a political compromise undertaken precisely for the purpose of not deterring trucks from using the calmed street., but merely slowing them.
In other words, as Bluegill has repeatedly pointed out, the walkability "improvement" of Main Street begins with measures designed to negate any desired improvements, even if such improvements are more sorely needed virtually anywhere else in the city other than Main Street.
The point to me about truck diversion is this: What is likely to happen in real life?
If you're a truck driver considering the merits of the new, reshaped Main Street, which already was a two-way street anyway, and slower than one-way arterials (if Main Street residents spent a month living on Spring or Elm, they'd understand the difference), what are your driving calculations likely to be when deciding on a route from one end of town to the other?
Clearly the design compromise, whereby a median is added to Main (incidentally precluding the single best place in the city for bicycle lanes that actually matter) and lanes kept unnecessarily wide, merely improves the prospects for trucks to self-divert to other streets ... especially the one-way streets ... where absolutely nothing has ever been done, in design or enforcement, to discourage the presence of trucks by slowing them down at all. Or, for that matter, cars.
Christmas said: We're trying to reduce the speed, not divert them ... but if they have another street to use without reduced-speed streets, what in hell's name do you think is going to happen?
And: Isn't that diversion, whether intended or not?
Rosenbarger spend quite a lot of his time yesterday mumbling about the unacceptable costs of congestion, which pretty much proves something I've been saying for a while about inbred political cowardice, and although I'll have more to write about this with time, what I think about this, I phrased in the form of a tweet to Jeff Speck yesterday afternoon:
@JeffSpeckAICP When your city planner outlines complete street options by parsing 50 shades of traffic congestion, you grasp political fear.
He retweeted it, and that makes me feel very good.
Conversely, while many of the complete street platitudes uttered yesterday make me feel good, the reality that there is no discernible will on anyone's part to implement them induces a very bad feeling. If you really believe the city will wither and die unless something is done, as Rosenbarger actually said aloud -- for heaven's sake, John (and your political bosses over uncounted generations) -- doesn't it mean you're ready to dispense with the idiotic charade and actually DO SOMETHING to change it?