A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.
It’s time again for NA Confidential to select New Albany’s "Person of the Year." In 2016, we’ll be approaching the task a bit differently than before, although our basic definition remains intact.
Person of the Year (formerly Man of the Year) is an annual issue of the United States news magazine Time that features and profiles a person, couple, group, idea, place, or machine that "for better or for worse ... has done the most to influence the events of the year."
Admittedly, in past years the selection process has been conducted with a certain flippancy, and what I mean by this is that … we've done it with tongue planted in cheek, disrespectfully and facetiously.
(Just trying to help Shane out, in case he’s reading.)
- 2011 ... The Sherman Minton Bridge
- 2012 ... Bill "Slumlord" Allen
- 2013 ... (tie) Houndmouth and "Quality of Life"
- 2014 ... Heroic Non-Incentivized Downtown Developers
- 2015 ... New Albany property tax payers
Yes, we’ve been flippant in the past, but not this year. This year we're playing it perfectly straight.
That’s because in May, Chloe Allen was killed.
Chloe Allen was trying to walk across Spring Street where it intersects with Vincennes. It’s a chaotic intersection for pedestrians because it is designed expressly for cars, not people, with drive-through retail businesses trafficking their wares via numerous curb cuts on three of four corners.
To walk there regularly even while remaining entirely on the sidewalk is to know how unsafe it feels, but walking isn’t something Jeff Gahan’s team of Bud Light-swilling, frat-brother suburbanites understands, and so Chloe Allen was running errands in preparation for a family wedding, and she tried to cross Spring Street.
It should have been routine, but she never made it to the other side.
A distracted, negligent or otherwise rotten driver hit her, and she died. Of course the driver wasn’t charged, because the firebrand ideological appendage Keith Henderson evidently saw no potential for a book deal in the wake of her passing, and in the weeks following her death, New Albany City Hall contracted a severe and abiding case of laryngitis.
It remains a telling silence induced by pure, pitiful, bottomless cowardice.
Chloe Allen’s death was briefly discussed at city council, though not by those Disney-Democratic rubber stamp council persons who yawningly align themselves with City Hall’s every whim.
Her death was mentioned before the Board of Public Works and Safety during public comments, although these bored time servers were able to muster little more than tepid gurgling sounds for fear their phones might ring at 2:00 a.m., with Hizzoner himself breathing heavily and suggestively on the other end of the line.
Speaking for myself, I’ll never forgive any of them for their giggling remoteness, their nonchalant callousness and their cavalier gutlessness. I never will, and you shouldn’t, either.
It didn’t have to be this way, and it shouldn't be this way ever again, but what can we do?
For starters: Not forget.
In December, when I solicited nominations for Person of the Year, more than one blog reader suggested that Chloe Allen would be the best choice, precisely because the cosmic senselessness of an ordinary citizen’s murder while on foot, seeking nothing more than to continue her walk on the other side of a street designed to terrify any user not passing through at high speeds in an automobile, is a lamentable (and preventable) state of affairs perfectly illuminating the fundamental and enduring disconnect between New Albany's political hacks and their subjects.
And so it does, chillingly so.
It also holds an inconvenient mirror aloft, one that catches the reflection not only of Team “Image First” Gahan’s leering, abysmally-mannered, serial refusal to accept responsibility for anything at all that can’t be alibied in a poorly written press release, but serves also to expose these very same pusillanimous tendencies in the city’s populace as a whole.
However, when Chloe Allen’s name was mentioned as a possibility, I was hesitant, mindful of the local political caste’s knee-jerk reaction earlier this year when some citizens dared to speak truth to power.
Like the reaction of my councilman, who insists he supports safe streets for everyone, but spent the first five years of Gahan’s personality cult idly watching, with nary a peep, as the Dear Leader sat on his hands, though at least my councilman will concede privately that he has felt constrained and unable to object openly, lest his imperial overlord respond by doing even less for public safety than before – if that’s possible.
Greg Phipps expressed annoyance with those who feel it is a public official's responsibility to speak to matters of the public's interest -- especially when these matters pertain to safety. Phipps referred to "malcontents" in this context.
Or City Hall’s anonymous house spokes-tweeter:
Hey everybody watch me crassly exploit a human being's death to score extremely cheap points for my pet agenda.
Which begs the question: Shouldn’t public safety be Gahan’s foremost “pet agenda” as mayor -- not dully repetitious ducking and covering?
In time, with our bureaucratic political caste busily lobbing flaccid missiles from their pea shooters, the sound of circling wagons brought Matthew Shepard to mind.
(The) backlash following Shepard’s murder was knowingly spurred and intentionally politicized by LGBT activists, civil rights advocates, world famous celebrities, but also ordinary folks inhabiting a table at Denny’s. It was crass, exploitative and fully justified. I supported it then, and I do now.
Perhaps then we’re all malcontents, each and every one of us, crassly exploiting tragedy for political purposes, whether it’s Marc Antony, the grieving Armenians pointing fingers at the Kremlin, Dr. King, human rights proponents memorializing Shepard – or a citizen like Lori Kay Sympson, who doesn’t want you to forget that her friend Chloe Allen was killed trying to cross a dangerous street in New Albany, where streets are kept dangerous due to crass exploitation – that’s right, for political purposes.
Politics is power. For a prevaricating politician like Greg Phipps to selectively deny the efficacy of this statement by tarring others as malcontents is a tragedy in itself, and a misreading of history eligible for crass exploitation by those of us, malcontented or otherwise, who apparently understand his elected position – and his past – far better than he does.
Alas, it seems we're no less malcontented now than in May, and so Chloe Allen is NA Confidential’s Person of the Year for 2016, but not without a respectful and sizable caveat.
Chloe Allen’s death cannot be allowed to become another forgotten civic footnote.
Her passing must not have been in vain. In years to come principled citizens of this city – the ones for whom conscience isn’t a high school vocabulary term to be discarded once they’re elected to office – must forcibly insist that her memory be honored, nay, overtly exploited for the sake of a worthwhile agenda.
Specifically, an agenda of public safety in this city. Among other aspects, this public safety agenda reorders auto-centrism by reimagining our streets as community spaces, not mere transit routes. This agenda urges a genuine commitment to public safety by design, for all users, not drivers only. This public safety agenda empowers from the grassroots up, not the TIF bond down.
The late Chloe Allen is New Albany’s Person of the Year because we have no choice except to rededicate our efforts to honor her memory by lobbying for street grid improvements that matter for people, too, and not only their machines.
An excellent place to begin is the horrible intersection of Spring and Vincennes, though not to neglect Main and W. 1st, where City Hall gratuitously fumbled a nuts and bolts traffic taming opportunity in 2015 in favor of showy repaving prior to an election.
And then there's Spring and W. 1st. The only surprise here is that a lawyer hasn't yet been hit. Make it a Democratic donor attorney, and traffic calming might actually occur.
Not to mention State and Spring, where speed and recklessness are everyday occurrences for walkers.
But all these opportunities for correction simply must be accompanied by a civic mission statement of intent, as in Toronto, Canada:
Six Principles of Toronto Pedestrian Charter
Walking is a free and direct means of accessing local goods, services, community amenities and public transit.
Walking is the only mode of travel that is universally affordable, and allows children and youth, and people with specific medical conditions to travel independently.
Health and Well-being
Walking is a proven method of promoting personal health and well-being.
Walking relies on human power and has negligible environmental impact.
Personal and Community Safety
An environment in which people feel safe and comfortable walking increases community safety for all.
Community Cohesion and Vitality
A pedestrian-friendly environment encourages and facilitates social interaction and local economic vitality.
The Toronto Pedestrian Charter is an initiative that came from residents who serve their city on the Toronto Pedestrian Committee. The Charter reflects the principle that a city's walkability is one of the most important measures of the quality of its public realm, and of its health and vitality.
This is the first pedestrian charter in North America, and the first approved by a municipality anywhere. So this is an historic first that we hope will set an example for other municipalities across the country, the continent and around the world.
In approving the development of the Charter in 2000, The City intended:
- to outline what pedestrians have a right to expect from the City in terms of meeting their travel needs;
- to establish principles to guide the development of all policies and practices that affect pedestrians; and
- to identify the features of an urban environment and infrastructure that will encourage and support walking.
Most importantly, the Charter was intended to serve as a reminder to decision-makers, both in the City and in the community at large, that walking should be valued as the most sustainable of all forms of travel, and that it has enormous social, environmental and economic benefits for the city.
We can dedicate these to Chloe Allen, but unfortunately, we also can predict with near certainty that City Hall will remain indifferent.
Gahan’s grandiosely termed Downtown Street Grid Improvement Project might yield a bare minimum return on investment by restoring two-way streets, but otherwise it’s just another of his mock Potemkin façades, dedicated to garnering as much campaign finance lubrication as possible from the usual suspects in engineering and construction without making truly transformative changes to the grid.
It’s why the forever uncomprehending Gahan stripped Jeff Speck’s plan of its most potentially useful recommendations, and it’s why we’ll have to add them back as we’re able, with or without City Hall’s permission.
Rest in peace, Chloe Allen. I proceed and persist in the hope that we can make you and your family proud of us, and help this city become a safer place for people to live, work ... and walk.
December 15: ON THE AVENUES: Truth, lies, music, and a trick of the Christmas tale (2016).
December 8: ON THE AVENUES: It’s never too late to beer all over again.
December 1: ON THE AVENUES: Once more with feeling, because as the notable American philosopher Moe Bandy once sang, “Here I am, drunk again.”
November 11: ON THE AVENUES: Kind-a full-a you know what, but now we're going to find out whether Jeff Gahan has any cattle under his hat.