Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Props to VAB for an excellent Greenway forum.

Once upon a time, my friend Bob and I were bicycling through the lovely wooded hillsides of the Franconia region of Germany, and we stopped to soak up the countryside and look at a map. While doing so, we were overtaken by a group of five elderly men who we’d passed earlier in the day, before we had lost ground to them while pausing for a brief, restorative beer at one of the area’s many brewpubs.

All spoke English and were eager to exchange information about the immaculately signposted, maintained and dedicated bike route. In addition, as the precursor to a pattern we’ve observed so many times since, they were openly amazed to see Americans of any age riding bicycles in Germany.

It turns out that these well-heeled, multilingual and retired gentlemen were engaged in their 45th annual, several-hundred-mile-long, bike jaunt in celebration of their university graduating class, and in this instance were making the trip from Frankfurt to Kulmbach – carrying light rear panniers loaded with the basics, traveling 25 to 30 mildly strenuous miles a day, then stopping for hearty meals, local beers and a good night’s sleep at an inn or bed and breakfast.

I looked at them, calculated their approximate ages, and thought, “that’s what I want to do when I get to be that old – but why wait until then.”

Even now, five years later, I’m transfixed by the scene of these gracious, nonchalant, ruddy men enjoying a road trip’s worth of bicycling reunion time – and the five of them as utterly flabbergasted to see Americans riding bicycles for recreation as I was by the thought of my parents marking such an occasion by exercising in such a manner.

Valla Ann Bolovschak is New Albany’s recently appointed representative to the Greenway Commission, and last night she hosted a forum at the Grand to solicit opinions, suggestions and recommendations as to the future orientation of the Greenway, which in some way, shape or form will someday connect the cities of Jeffersonville, Clarksville and New Albany along the Ohio River.

It was a supremely educational evening for someone who admittedly has come late to the project’s conceptual basis, which was devised some time ago, but now to the casual observer seems somewhat out of touch with reality on the ground in the sense that it certainly must be wildly baseless to spend more than $40 million dollars to build a roadway for cars when most trends point in the direction of greater value derived from the recreational component of pedestrians and cyclists, and the manner that such value will be compounded as new economies evolve.

Naturally, it’s more complicated than all that, with considerations that include the competing aims of three cities, the unavoidable involvement of the Corps of Engineers, the profit motives of two different railroads, and the intriguing location right in the very center of the Greenway’s path of Al Goodman’s Loop Island Wetlands, which apparently was completely ignored when planners first plotted a $10 million dollar bridge to rip through what we now understand is as pristine a wilderness as we’re likely to find alongside the river in the middle of a major metropolitan area.

At roughly the halfway point of the loosely structured discussion, Valla Ann was about to poll those in attendance as to their views of the Greenway’s possible future as a link with a strictly limited role for motorized vehicles when Anna Schmidt, wife of councilman Bill Schmidt, interjected that to restrict the Greenway in such a fashion as not completing it by means of a bridge through the wetlands would be to shortchange elderly residents (and their grandchildren) by denying them easy access.

That’s when I thought of the five elderly Germans on their bicycles.

I thought of them again when Councilman Dan Coffey spoke about the need of making it easier for people to get across the levee from downtown to the river, noting that Scribner Place’s original design included a long ramp that would have eliminated the stairs currently required to gain a view of the river at the Trinkle Dome – and how hard it is to make that climb.

The whole point of the Greenway should be to reduce the presence of automobiles insofar as possible, increase the presence of walkers and cyclists insofar as possible, and allowing the boat club people to remain where they’ve always been.

The whole point of the Greenway is recreation, and there isn’t any reason for the elderly to be excluded from the Greenway or from the possibility of exercise, which in the end is a fairly healthy phenomenon.

Before you make the mistake of assuming that I’m about to launch one of NA Confidential’s famous tirades against the pronouncements of Coffey, Schmidt or the other councilman in attendance at the forum, Steve Price, then please think again.

I’m not, because they were there, at the forum, in attendance, taking part in the discussion about a project that represents progressivism at its best – yes, with Coffey and Price grandstanding a bit, because it’s in their blood, but for the most part being involved, listening, and showing interest.

The other City Council representatives … where were they?

There is reason for optimism. Reasonable solutions to the shortcomings of the current Greenway plan were offered, and numerous related ideas considered, and all in all, last night’s forum was among the most heavily thoughtful in content that I’ve experienced during the time of my responsiveness to civic issues. It’s much to Valla Ann’s credit that she organized the session, much to the credit of the Grand in hosting it, and much to the credit of the councilmen in attendance, along with city officials Scott Wood and Paul Wheatley.

As for the Chubby Checker quote … well, Ann, maybe I’m just in a good mood tonight, and will let that one pass. Just this once.

See also Greenway Forum Enlightening at the Diggin' in the Dirt blog.


Brandon W. Smith said...

The access argument doesn't fly with me, at first blush. It seems that you could have plenty of paved access to the Greenway without building a road for automobiles right through it...Waterfront park in Louisville, anyone?

Tim Deatrick said...

I agree Brandon, Anna's comments about making this a roadway are ludicrous. Many senior citizens walk regularly for exercise, perhaps if Anna would spend more time walking and less time talking real progress in New Albany may occur.

Debbie H. said...

You want the greenway to develop in the way you think is best.

I want the greenway to develop in the way I think is best (which happens to coincide with yours it appears).

Others want the greenway to develop the way they think is best.

Since it's a government funded project, everyone has a say. We were not given the opportunity to decide whether the idea was set up in a way that satisfied us that it was a worthy one in which to to donate their hard-earned money.

So what's left then? Pitting people against one another and fighting yet another battle that really wouldn't even be necessary if we'd only get back to people doing things voluntarily and then doing the work of persuading people to join them in their cause.

The New Albanian said...

Brandon, Al Goodman's got the whole thing doped out.

In essence, his idea is that instead of the vehicular roadway following the river through his property, you loop it instead through the CSX rail right-of-way where the tracks were removed (just to the north, between his property and the Spring Street corridor, and then hook it back into Emery Lane, thus completing the link for vehicular traffic.

Meanwhile, the pedway goes across the old rail trestle within the wetlands and reconnects roughly a half mile later with the main route.

Close to 1/3 of the total pricetag owes to the plan to build a new bridge across the creek (and the bank stabilization that goes with it). Probably everyone in attendance last night, including Mrs. Schmidt, agrees that this is insane. The question now is how to repair and revise the plan without requiring (literally) an act of Congress to do it.

As John Gonder perceptively noted, the plan was drawn up before the existence of the Loop Island Wetlands became relevant, as it was then still the back lot of the working tannery business.

Ann said...

I think it was good to get people together in a forum to respectfully toss around ideas. I didn't think anyone's viewpoints were "ludicrous". The Greenway's being constructed with a lot of tax dollars, so everybody should be able to have a say without being belittled.

Debbie H. said...

Sorry for two posts, but I just thought of a couple more comments before I run off to work.

I forgot to mention the people who have no need for the project at all. And that includes one group of exercisers: there is a growing group of bicyclists, the ones who really put up the miles and really need more than a bike path, who feel that these huge government funded bike paths are making it more dangerous for cyclists to use the regular roads. Why? Because drivers now think bikers "shouldn't be allowed" to use the roadways now that they have the bike paths. So the resentment at following a slow biker is at risk of getting even worse. (But again, I want to say I love bike paths, my dh and I just rode one last month that goes from downtown Washinton D.C. along the Potomac to Mt. Vernon. Very cool. And I would have gladly paid to use that trail.)

Also, some of the folks who would like access through cars have just as worthy points about recreation, if that is the purpose of the greenway. For example, my father, who recently passed away from ALS, could not even sit up for very long in a wheelchair, yet his mind was fully capable of experiencing everything as before the disease. Why would we want to exclude someone like him from experiencing the greenway?

Again I make these points because everyone is forced to fund it. If it were a private project, the funders could make the decisions on how best to create the project. And if you didn't agree, you could simply not help fund it, try to persuade them otherwise, or go create your own project.

Lastly, there are those who simply just don't use these sorts of things. For example, there may be a family who is so focused on how they are going to pay for their kid's new blue jeans. And they are likely thankful that at least they can go to Walmart if they so choose. ;)

The New Albanian said...

Annie, I agree completely ... which is why I left Chubby out of it.

Jeff Gillenwater said...

Take it as political commentary, half-asse humor or just genuine optimism, but I think it's a big step forward that nobody actually argued against the Greenway.

The fact that everyone in the room seeemed to agree that the Greenway project is valuable, I thought, was meaningful.

Even the Chubby comment, although not quite on target, was at least pointed in the right direction.

People showed up. Nobody yelled. Good.

Anonymous said...

I am wondering what economic development is envisioned for the greenway project. If they are planning to have businesses etc. along the way, I can see a need for roads, otherwise just have access points along the way.

I have been biking at Steven's Point College in Wisconsin when my kids did Suzuki violin summer sessions and they have a wonder bike trail built along the old railroad. No cars allowed, but access points along the way to different cities and locations for businesses.

It was extremely nice!

Debbie H. said...

Well, shoot, bluegill, what would be the point of arguing against the greenway now? It's a done deal in essence, the questions now are to the details, right? Of course the people that showed up thought it was valuable, the meeting was how to implement the details. But you just have to wonder how the project would have gone if the project were taken to people asking for their explicit consent and asking for their funds voluntarily. There are those of us out here that do not think these sort of projects have anything to do with the purpose of government. But to go and yell at a meeting like this seems to be a huge waste of time don't you think?