A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.
Speck's downtown street network proposal finally was released early in 2015, only to be shredded one page at a time for use as toilet paper by a captive Board of Works charged by Mayor Jeff Gahan with gutting and delaying it during an election year.
As recently as this week, Gahan was unable to take a substantive public position on a topic (two-way streets) that he is disinterestedly willing to concede addresses public safety, but seeks to defer until long after his presumed political re-enthronement -- never mind all the promises he made four years ago to me and others in downtown business community as to his eagerness to support them with precisely this long overdue and fundamental infrastructure improvement.
It's been a cynical gamble. If Gahan genuinely understands that traffic speeds are excessive, and in densely populated urban areas, that speed surely kills, then every moment of delay in implementing a solution comes with the risk of death and injury.
Concurrently, if he grasps the empirical record of success in other locales of assisting local independent business growth through street grid reform, he's actively abetting daily infrastructure conditions that work against economic development.
The following was published on December 14, 2014. Almost a year has passed.
What has been the opportunity cost of Jeff Gahan's cowardice?
Oh where oh where, can our Speck study be?
(There’s no hope if Duggins is the addressee)
Speck’s gone to Portsmouth, so we’ve got to be good
So we can see the study before we’re dead
Let's go all the way back, a full 200+ entirely wasted, squandered and lost civic days ago – not to mention the 730 ones ticking past before these – to April 18, 2014, and what should be required reading for owners and employees of each and every independent small business located in downtown New Albany.
Grace Schneider’s article in the Courier-Journal on that day was about Jeff Speck's then-ongoing (and since forever-impending) streets study.
The streets study was supposed to have been finished in September, but now it's almost Christmas, and if the city of New Albany actually possesses a copy of the study, not one of its supposed "proponents" at City Hall is saying a single word about it. “Coy” hardly does the silence justice. “Gag order” comes closer.
I’m holding out for “sheer primal terror.”
In fact, when the topic of Speck’s streets study is publicly raised, the muzzles come out faster than Wyatt Earp’s six-shooter, with those who claim that Speck’s recommendations are their first priority are transformed into inward and outward censors, seeking only to suppress discussion of what they purport to support.
Luckily, a Third Floor insider explained it to me last week in plainer English:
Two way streets? You won't get them from Jeff Gahan. He doesn’t think there’s a problem, and if there is, he thinks it will just go away and solve itself. He’s scared to death – and he’s getting most of his information from Duggins. All the trust is gone.
Strong words … but so far, amply buttressed by observable reality and the administration’s own bizarrely frank admissions. For the benefit of those readers who own and operate businesses downtown, only one brief pull from Schneider’s article is necessary.
(Speck) said he expects to recommend removing all one-way streets and converting them to two-way because "the data shows very clearly (one-way streets) hurt businesses."
Granted (and ranted), we’ve known since the Reagan administration that mayoral teams in New Albany simply do not have economic development plans for downtown, although it is striking that in the past, “lifer” luminaries like the since-deposed Carl Malysz would at least offer periodically creative lies to the contrary: “That’s DNA’s job,” or “Mainland Properties should do the trick for a mere $15 million.”
In today’s Down Low New Albany, various functionaries can do little better than make limp excuses, assuming they can be roused to so much as even try. In fact, they seldom do.
The polar Inuit have fewer words to describe "snow" than Mr. Duggins possesses excuses as to why a downtown economic development plan isn’t only implausible on his watch, but impossible.
But please, read Schneider’s paragraph again.
If one-way streets hurt businesses, then removing them helps businesses.
And, by readily logical extension, if helping businesses is a function of economic development – and this seems both reasonable and widely accepted – then simply removing one-way streets and retrofitting them into two-way streets is a function of economic development.
Are you still with me, Mr. Duggins? I know, I know ... books, reading and all that shit.
Two-way streets are economic development tools of the precise sort this administration persistently denies it can manage to conceive.
Two-way streets stand to lift all boats, pro-actively, without the need for selective interpretation and random political awards.
In short, the Gahan administration need only calm and retrofit the city’s streets to rightly lay claim as steward of the only discernible downtown economic development plan in recent memory.
And yet, not only does it obfuscate and delay consideration of Speck's streets study, owing almost surely to the coming election cycle, it also refuses to speak aloud about any of it, seemingly terrified of its own shadow ... or, perhaps, more pathetically, of its own Luddite supporters among locally unreconstructed Dixiecrats.
But there’s even more.
Walkability is a key component of any rational definition of “quality of life,” providing “better access” to all users and enhancing “public safety” in the process.
The ripple effects of any and all measures promoting walkability, as forcefully advocated by Speck (traffic calming, complete streets, two-way traffic and other measures to support increased levels of walking and bicycling) would extend into the neighborhoods nearest the city center. Walkability actively supports other revitalization efforts, not negates them in the fashion of the defeatism inherent in one-way arterial streets.
According to Richard Florida, just last week:
Walkability is no longer just an ideal. The evidence from a growing body of research shows that walkable neighborhoods not only raise housing prices but reduce crime, improve health, spur creativity, and encourage more civic engagement in our communities.
As an aside, kindly note an instance of supreme irony: In their zeal to defend the Main Street Improvement Project beautification boondoggle, some friends among home owners living on the street have taken to contesting my assertion that they’ve been the prime beneficiaries of selective largesse, in the sense that any street changes benefitting walkability, even those botched as thoroughly as John Rosenbarger’s use of state money to butcher theirs, still will have the effect of raising property values. If not, the “improvement” project is more indefensible than we reckoned, correct?
The opportunity cost of Jeff Gahan’s neglect is irrefutable, and the evidence to support my position is overwhelming.
When cornered periodically into stating a position, Gahan’s team insists it believes the evidence, and intends to implement every last one of Speck’s recommendations – when, and if, the study ever materializes to provide them with requisite political cover.
However, it is precisely this interminable wait for political cover, and damningly, this element of wasted time, that should be at the forefront of each downtown business person’s and surrounding neighborhood resident’s mind, because contrary to the administration’s feeble protests, there most certainly is something it can do in terms of economic development downtown: Remove one-way streets.
At a time when times are tough, can there be any excuse for a doctor waving a prescription before an ill person’s eyes, all the while saying, “I’ve got just what you need to help you feel better, but you can’t have any just yet, and we’d rather not talk about it, so don't ask. Maybe later. Try to stay alive, okay?”
One month ago, David Duggins told me that if City Hall publicly touted the benefits of two-way streets for independent small businesses, the mayor’s team would be blamed for the failure of just one business.
But if City Hall already knows the answer and perpetually procrastinates, then how many businesses has it already caused to die?
Tell us, Mr. Duggins.
How do you defend such abject and purposeful neglect of the “economic development” brief you pretend to carry?
Not to be giggled away like a hung over frat boy over a recuperative Miller Lite longneck, but for attribution?
Not privately, but aloud.
To the very business owners you’re so poorly serving.
October 26: ON THE AVENUES EXTRA: Gahan says speeding sucks, but street safety can wait until after he is re-elected.
October 22: ON THE AVENUES: My career as a double naught capitalist.
October 19: ON THE AVENUES REWOUND: Courtesy bicycle to the Hotel Silly (2010, 2013).
October 15: ON THE AVENUES: To the New Albanians, each and every one.
October 8: ON THE AVENUES: There’s an indie twist to this curmudgeon’s annual Harvest Homecoming column.
October 1: ON THE AVENUES: No more fear, Jeff.
September 24: ON THE AVENUES: Almost two years later, Mr. Gahan has yet to plug in this clock, and so it's time for him to clock out.
September 17: ON THE AVENUES: Dear Neighbor: If you’re tired of the same old story, turn some pages.
September 10: ON THE AVENUES: Lanesville Heritage Weekend comes around again.
September 3: ON THE AVENUES: When even Mitt Romney can run to the left of New Albany’s Democrats, it's a very big problem.