A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.
At the conclusion of Tuesday morning’s Board of Public Works and Safety meeting, Dale Bagshaw sidled up to me with a glimmer of mischief in his eyes.
“What’s your cause going to be now?”
It’s a seemingly simple question, although I haven’t the slightest clue how to answer it. Fortunately, it isn’t yet necessary for me to formulate Plan B, because until two-way streets are implemented, they’re still running one-way.
Until the newly painted stripes hit pavement, and I can sit on my front porch with a beer and a stogie, watching as the traffic crosses in both directions before me, nothing has been accomplished.
Because: Once patronized, twice shy.
We’ve been misled before, and Team Gahan has spent tens of millions of dollars prioritizing the wrong projects. It’s enough to make a man cynical. Accordingly, I’ll believe street grid modernization when I see it, and when I finally see it, there’ll be time for alternatives – after the month-long bender.
As far back as 2003, when we moved into our house on Spring Street, the restoration of New Albany’s two-way urban street grid has been an obsession of mine. There probably are people in the city who have no idea I ever owned a restaurant/brewery, and know me only as the nutzoid two-way streets guy.
That’s fine by me. We all have our skills, and I try earnestly to look at the bright side, seeing as a mere 13 years represents warp speed in the underachieving New Albany tradition. Remember, when the end of the world comes, we’ll all want to be right here in New Albany, because we’re always at least 20 years behind the times.
So it is with our street grid.
All the way back in June, 2007 something called the Inner-City Grid Transportation Study was submitted to New Albany's Board of Public Works and Safety. In large measure, the report recommended just the sort of two-way street conversions and traffic calming measures we've been advocating for years, both before and after the report.
HWC Engineering’s Jim Rice repeated most of them verbatim on Tuesday morning, to the widespread nodding of heads, many of which previously moved their faces in the other direction.
Can there possibly be a fix that’s both “in” and “correct”? If there is, how would we know to act?
We've had no experience.
The following column was published on May 30, 2013. There have been a few errors corrected, but I’ve left intact the final section, in which I displayed a wee bit of shakiness on the topic of how street widths can be used to creatively delineate space.
However, this muddle reinforces an important point, this being to learn, not pretend.
It’s the wrong way, pal.
Every now and then, you have to suck it up and admit that Dan Coffey was right about something.
As a case in point, here’s a stray thought from Chairman Cappuccino’s little unread book, as relayed by the News and Tribune’s Daniel Suddeath on September 9, 2009.
The way it looks right now, the lane changes are confusing, City Council President Dan Coffey said. He feels the bike lanes were added to appease a certain segment of New Albany. “The mayor is going to do anything he can to help the progressives out because he figures they’re going to help get him re-elected,” Coffey said.
The bike lanes on Spring Street are almost four years old?
And we’ve done nothing else to augment them since then?
Yep, it’s true. Overnight in 2009, the street was reduced from three 12-ft, one-way Indy-car lanes to just two (still 12-feet wide), an improvement that calmed traffic, albeit briefly.
Two bike lanes were added on either side of the traffic lanes, both running in the same direction toward the city center.
Was there dancing in the streets? Hardly, because New Albany’s street grid is designed to accommodate cars alone, not people, so dancing is best done wherever there’s a pole -- but let’s leave Rustic Frog out of it.
It’s true that “progressives” applauded the addition of the bike lanes. We clapped while waiting for the remainder of the biking and walking plan to unfold, and of course it didn’t, because there never was a plan, just a re-election campaign that failed. Then it became clear that we HAD been fooled again, and the crickets chirped anew.
And so I used to be a fan of bike lanes on Spring Street. Now I’m not even sure they matter.
Clearly, the dilatory and deservedly defunct England III administration created the Spring Street bike lanes in a self-congratulatory mode of bare minimalism, and it isn’t surprising that they’ve functioned as well as any strictly symbolic, otherwise orphaned project might be expected to work – which is to say, half-assed at best.
But victory was declared, balloons were released and press bromides were distributed, after which ruling class attention spans quickly lapsed back into sloppy microdot patterns. The carrot dangling just behind the traffic lane reduction and dual bike lane addition was that they were undertaken in preparation for restoring two-way vehicular traffic to Spring Street.
There was no carrot. What about the stick?
It was soggy and flaccid, because the England administration lacked the political cojones to initiate anything that might have required the expenditure of political capital, this being because their wallets were utterly bereft of cash, and their minds incapable of pursuing ideas or ideals, as opposed to petty small-pond lap swimming.
Four years later, Spring Street as yet runs one way, with too few stop signs or lights, still tailor-made for speeding and reckless driving. Although you’ll see knowledgeable recreational cyclists using the bike lanes on the north side alongside traffic (as they should), dozens of others merrily pedal the wrong way on both sides of traffic -- when not engaged in doing the same on adjoining sidewalks, with scant regard for walkers.
I’ve never seen a policeman stop one. I’ve never seen any effort on the part of the city to educate cyclists, or to enforce any outdated laws pertaining to them. This would require having a plan, a scheme, a semblance of an outline, rather as Jeffersonville is doing right now in trying to coordinate a master plan.
New Albany’s chosen methodology is plainly piecemeal, now and always. If there was a way to visualize “half-assed piecemeal”, it really should have been the bicentennial logo.
The hardest thing for me to concede is that these serial vagrants riding their bicycles against traffic in existing bike lanes, and navigating sidewalks as recklessly as they would in their automobiles had their licenses not been confiscated owing to persistent drunkenness … well, they’re not entirely stupid, after all.
They’re displaying understandable defense mechanisms in a hazardous environment. In the absence of calming on Spring Street – because Doug England didn’t see fit to finish the job he started, because those nasty bullies on the council wouldn’t let him (sniff, sniff ... HONK) – today’s rogue cyclists correctly intuit that regularly tolerated vehicular chaos in the traffic lanes makes the bike lanes intrinsically unsafe to use as intended.
That’s why bike lanes which begin and end nowhere are ineffective in a vacuum, in such a setting, where everything else about the street grid around is designed to fail.
It is as yet unclear whether any elected official will come out in the open and truly get in front of this issue. Most of them seem to feel that furtive non-transparency conducted behind-the-scenes is the best tactic to proceed, while I tend to prefer revolutionary notions like openness and public meetings.
There is a palpable fear that any changes to the street grid will prompt complaints from the usual elderly Luddite (Democratic Party) suspects, which are the same elderly Luddite (Democratic Party) suspects typically bothering to vote – and that’s the scary part for the politicos.
And yet, openness surely would rally at least some support for street grid reform among New Albany’s younger cadres.
If we finally begin having public chats about such matters, it is my view that a Spring Street finally properly right-sized, calmed and returned to two-way traffic probably means doing away with the bike lanes, although reduced lane widths might allow one bike path to remain.
But there'll need to be two traffic lanes, one running east and the other west. With street parking on both sides (the street is primarily residential), it’s either the bike lanes or a center turn lane – and a center turn lane is inevitable on a former arterial street intended for taming.
We’d lose the bike lanes, but right now, they’re pretty much useless, anyway. They were built wrong. There’s been no follow-up; the city has no comprehensive biking and walking plan apart from assuming that until the end of time, everyone who votes will drive a car.
It may well have become even more dangerous for a cyclist on Spring Street since the lanes were installed. The rapidly fading bike lane stripes inhibit a degree of non-vigilance already sorely tested by mobile phones and in-car curling irons, and drivers think more about the cyclist’s duty to stay within his boundaries than their own obligation to pay attention to the road.
We set up speed traps, and pretend they work.
To pretend; pretending.
That’s New Albany’s real bicentennial legacy, isn’t it?
September 8: ON THE AVENUES: It no longer keeps me waiting.
September 1: ON THE AVENUES: Complete ventriloquism, or the stagecraft of "throwing" your two-way streets.
August 25: ON THE AVENUES: You won't believe what happens next.
August 18: ON THE AVENUES: There has never been a better time for an Independent Business Alliance in New Albany.