Thursday, December 26, 2013

ON THE AVENUES: Roundabouts make the politicians really ring.

ON THE AVENUES: Roundabouts make the politicians really ring.

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.

Earlier in 2013, New Albany’s planners announced a long-gestating “improvement” project for Mt. Tabor Road.

Residents in the vicinity promptly objected to the plans, noting presciently that proposed measures to reduce traffic congestion would have the real-world effect of putting more cars on the road at faster speeds, compromising safety and reducing their neighborhood’s quality of life.

In short, they’d spotted the likelihood of induced demand, and decided to press the case against it.

The neighborhood activists found an eager ally in 6th district councilman Scott Blair, who lives nearby. He assisted them in the orchestration of a city council appearance, in which elected officials were petitioned for a reconsideration of the improvement project. Specifically, a roundabout proposed for the intersection of Mt. Tabor Road and Klerner Lane came under intense criticism, and not merely owing to the selective logic of the NIMBY. Rather, these were very good points.

If the four-way stop at this intersection functioned so well amid existing traffic that there had been few, if any, accidents reported there in years, why construct a roundabout that would require a larger topographical footprint than the current working arrangement?

And, by extension, wouldn’t the “need” for a roundabout serve as tacit acknowledgement from planners that far from regulating traffic in the neighborhood, the coming “improvements” actually would be increasing it?

There came a magical moment when the words were spoken aloud (paraphrasing): Won’t these changes bring more traffic from people using Mt. Tabor to pass through to somewhere else?

Yep. In a nutshell.

Veteran council watchers agree: Nothing tilts the legislative balance quite like large numbers of citizens crowding the inadequate council chambers. Public forums are one thing, and demonstrating at a regularly scheduled meeting something else entirely. It brings out the fears in their eyes, and the tears in mine.

There is little doubt that CM Blair was being quite savvy, indeed, in the sense of leveraging a positive resolution to his district’s roundabout issue by transforming it into one of those political chits, to be redeemed in the form of a favor returned for previous support … say, for an aquatics center.

Well, this is the way the game is played, isn’t it, and these thoughts came back to me this week when I received a tweet from one of the Mt. Tabor activists.

“Ding dong the roundabout is DEAD! Now hopefully one way streets follow.”

Roger couldn’t agree more, but I was curious: How did he know, seeing as I’d not yet heard the news through normal channels?

“The four of us on the corner received a personal visit from the mayor Sunday evening. Nothing in the paper that I know.”

Roundabouts are not intrinsically evil, but the Mt. Tabor Road residents looked past the surface dollar sheen and got to the heart of the matter: Roadway engineers would be altering conditions to suit the maxim of moving traffic through their neighborhood as “efficiently” as possible, and by doing so, would be reducing their quality of life in an almost mathematical, commensurate ratio.

These activists asserted their right to some degree of neighborhood autonomy, and because their councilman almost surely understood that it was time for a favor to be returned, the point was made, and the mayor visited their homes to concede it. It may be the single most important lesson of the year, and a template I hope is being grasped in Midtown neighborhoods, where the very existence of one-way arterial streets affects quality of life, property values and fundamental prospects for renewal as feet are dragged, Main Street is fluffed, and City Hall’s eyes are averted.

Mt. Tabor residents, I salute you. You clarified some very important points.

Midtown residents, just this: See what we’re trying to say?

Quality of life might be a valid concept, and it might also be a cliché. Quite possibly, it is both. But one recurring feature of life in New Albany is that rational definitions always pale in comparison with organizational skill and raw bile.

And selective hardball on the part of a councilman doesn’t hurt, either. It can be distasteful … but like invasive surgery, sometimes it is necessary. Shall we count favors?


Throughout the year, the newspaper’s Amanda Beam has been writing a weekly “Bicentennial column,” which I often enjoyed prior to the Alabama Pop-Up Paywall’s construction.

(Mr. Hanson, tear down this wall)

In her final installment, at least until we commence the People’s Bicentennial celebration in 2017 (the 200th anniversary of the city’s actual incorporation), Amanda looks to the future – and remember, when it comes to future versus past, 1 for 52 is a far better batting average than Bob Caesar can muster.

New Albany residents, business owners and community leaders were asked to answer the question, “where do you see New Albany 100 years from now?” Below are their responses.

Respondents include Ed Clere, Jessica Knable, David Barksdale, Alice Miles and Dan Coffey … and your faithful blog columnist. I was hesitant to offer a reply until I’d conferred with the Green Mouse, who has seen it all.

“In 2113, the tiny number of white-skinned speakers of English left in New Albany will gather together during Cinco de Mayo at the usual spot by the Fork in the Road sculpture, decant their bottles of NABC Quadcentennial Ale, and say: ‘You know, 100 years ago there were one-way streets here. That’s amazing. It’s a wonder they ever figured it out; but after all, even a stopped clock is right twice a century.’”

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