Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Merchant Mixer notes (2): Empty storefronts, Harvest Homecoming and Bob Caesar's all-way street confusion.

Here's the second part of my notes on this morning's Merchant Mixer meeting.

Previously: Merchant Mixer notes (1): New businesses, landscaping, parking, signage and dog poop.

Empty storefronts: The second-most interesting topic of the day was concern with doing something to improve the appearance of empty storefronts, the theory being that with so much happening down town, the appearance of unused properties should be enhanced.

Carl Malysz immediately expressed frustration that the city’s property maintenance codes allow windows to be boarded, suggesting that it precludes action. After a brief discussion, Carl ventured the viewpoint that the Urban Enterprise Association (UEA) might be delighted to spearhead a program of window treatments for vacant properties, because the UEA, “In fact does have some cash.”

Of course, the question left unasked is this: If we are to suggest using UEA money to treat windows on vacant building that we possess no legal means of squeezing, what about the many downtown buildings currently IN USE that have boarded windows?

Curt Peters actually asked this question, albeit without mentioning the names of furniture stores downtown. No answers were given, and none were attempted.

Harvest Homecoming: It was asked whether all merchants located in the area of the booths had arranged for their access points.

Two-way streets: John Rosenbarger explained that the city has procured a Federal street conversion grant subject to various Federal restrictions, which must have a 20% match from the city: $1.6 million from the Feds, and $400,000 from the city. Mayor England volunteered that while it’s “no slam against the council,” it would be the council’s job to find the money, which might come from EDIT.

Councilman, jewelry dealer and part-time Roman centurion Bob Caesar responded by defending the council, and added (italics mine): “One-way is the way to move traffic through a city; it is proven by numerous studies all across the country.”

The discussion continued, with the owners of Preston Art Supply joining Caesar in defending the inviolable sanctity of Pearl Street’s one-way flow, and this led to Caesar stating bluntly, unprompted and aloud:

“Pearl Street will NOT be two-way.”

I asked him how he could say this; he looked away and did not respond, but after the meeting, he walked past me and we had one of the most useless discussions in recent memory. If I were to have stated that 2 + 2 = 4, I'm certain he would disagree.

In short, after I asked him why he invariably opposes change and new ways of thinking about downtown areas, Caesar denied it, and explicitly permitted me to divulge this exact quote:

"I am for change. Change every street to two way (but) not Pearl Street. Pearl Street will NOT be two way. It's more convenient for people to park without having to drive around the block."
Don Preston added that all police departments support one-way street grids. Previously, Kathy Brennan had warned that if streets are two way, big trucks will park in traffic lanes to unload ... and what then? Throughout, listening to it, you'd think that cities are scary places, indeed, and meant for dashing into and away from as quickly as possible, in a car ... always in a car.

I realized (yet again) how so many of the older generation of merchants sincerely believes that whatever works out yonder in the soulless exurb should be implemented downtown, whereas the way I see it is that whatever can be done to create the polar opposite atmosphere downtown – including people-friendly, slower-moving traffic to accommodate humanity, and alternative modes of transportation apart from the automobile – should be the desired goal.

NAC has extensively and exhaustively made the case for two-way streets: Two-way traffic: A city permitted to function as designed is good for business.

All Bob Caesar and a handful of downtown reactionaries can offer in response are “numerous” studies, which he has so far failed to produce, and the admittedly honest (and I believe amazingly self-serving) stance that because he personally regards a one-way street as critical to his business (as though people cruising past a jewelry store are slamming on the brakes when they decide, spur-of-the-moment, to park next to the Endris front door and buy some bracelets), he will damn the torpedoes and impede potential two-way solutions in the same manner as he denounced the aborted proposal to divert the Harvest Homecoming Parade down Pearl Street.

Sometimes, as in the case of the usefulness of two-way streets, the future indeed is the past. A few questions occur to me:

Exactly when was Bob Caesar awarded veto power over the 21st century?

Is it true that Caesar, the most nominal of Democrats, is supporting Jameson Bledsoe, a Republican, in the 3rd district council race?

Am I the only one who cannot wait to see how Develop New Albany manages to avoid takng a position on two-way streets?

And: Why is rationality such a precious commodity 'round here?


Iamhoosier said...

If you are south of Spring, it's a pain in the butt to get to his store. With two way traffic, it would make it equally easy to get there from any direction.

Jeff Gillenwater said...

Assuming they can convince their most immediate neighbors (and I'm not sure they can), I'm fine with reclaiming two-way streets in every instance except the one block of Pearl inhabited by Endris Jewelers and Preston Art Supply.

commonman said...

where is New Albany coming up with the money to re-route streets from one-way to two-way? Seems there are bigger fish to fry.

The New Albanian said...

Funding was explained in the article above: 80% Fed, 20% city.

Jeff Gillenwater said...

Our transportation system (cars and alternatives) is a basis for nearly everything else. There aren't many bigger fish.

But here we are, again, with plenty of cash in hand to advance the whole thing with a majority of funding coming from outside the community and people like Caesar arguing against it.

We've easily frittered away more than the $400K needed for this the past couple of years on things that will not have anywhere near the positive impact.

w&la said...

Where's the BIG expense in making a one-way street into a two-way street?

You take down the "One Way" street sign, recycle the aluminum, and move on.

Of course, you'll have to move one stop sign to the other end of the street - but that's no reason for lethargy...

Jeff Gillenwater said...

As explained to me by city officials, most of the expense is in reorienting or installing new electronic traffic signals.

Because New Albany earlier took the cheap and easy route on signals that could not be reoriented, we needed all new ones to facilitate two-way traffic.

BUT, as also explained to me by the same city officials, we used stimulus funds to purchase and install the necessary new signals a while back. As visible to the casual passerby, they are already in place.

The rest is bureaucracy, some at the state level in cases where those two-ways would intersect certain roads. Since we've taken responsibility for some of those roads, I'm not sure how or if that's changed.

The same concept is seemingly even more true of bike lanes. Can we not afford paint, particularly on those streets that have already been repaved? And what of other very affordable traffic calming measures?

w&la said...

I'm always amazed when I hear what seem to be incredibly high estimates for projects. They seem designed to scare people into accepting the status quo.

"Gee, that feller says it'll take a lot of money... better not try after all... I figure they know best."

$ 400,000? Who wouldn't take that job? Seriously, $ 400,000? Seems that pork-barrel pork is wrapped in lardon!

Jeff Gillenwater said...

Agreed, but the actual total number is $2 million. The $400K is just the local match. Strange, given that the number before receiving $900K for the signals was $2 million also. The estimate has gone up $900K in a couple years.

It's not unlike the $400K for a new shelter house at the farmers' market. I'll take that job all day and just hire someone else to do it.