Thursday, March 26, 2009

Local Progressivies and State Conservatives

I saw a recording of the Transportation Planning Committee meeting held yesterday and was intrigued by a few bits of dialogue.

First, there was a comment/question by 5th District Council Member Cheryl Feigel. Her question was about the traffic congestion along Nicholasville Rd. from Southland to Man o' War, and whether we, the city, could have done better. I think that she wanted to know if there could have been better decisions made.

The simple answer is Yes. Actually a resounding Yes.

She asked if the Transportation Planning staff had not foreseen the problems that came with the developments there.

I can safely say that the answer to this one is... No.

You have to go way back in the records to dig it out, but I think that one would find that the Planning staff had warned of these problems the time of zone change hearings...well before any development had reached this far. I can remember, when the building containing the Denny's was a grocery store, and the last major building until you got to the county line. Northern Jessamine County was an even more desolate area, a two lane US 27 all the way to downtown Nicholasville.

As the '60s rolled in, residential subdivisions sprang up on each side, but particularly on the east side(between Tates Creek and Nicholasville Rd). The west side was being held for uses like industry and warehousing because of the railroad and the hopes that it would bring manufacturing and jobs. 1956 had seen the arrival of the Reynolds Tobacco Co and a spur into their plant, so it seemed logical to think that more would come. But this was also the time of our decision to enact an Urban Service Area to contain growth, the start of the Interstate Highway system and the labor problems on railroads exacerbated by the trucking industry. An increasingly auto-centric lifestyle of the residents brought the retail and soon the southern part of New Circle Rd. whose interchange would entice many a larger retailer.

The problems were seen and the recommendations were for residential, high density residential, at the interchange on the east and industrial on the west. Any zone change would have been argued against diligently. The Urban County Council, and before them either to City Commissioners or the County Fiscal Court could have held the line and not granted the requested changes but that was not the case.

Could a form of transit been planned for in this corridor? Yes, but transit was a form of travel that meant that you could not afford a car and this boom area was for auto owners. Transit riders were losers and we had the north side of town for them. Over the years plan after plan spoke of roadways replacing the railroads as it was thought that the railroad industry was dying and trucks would rule the freight as the cars and airlines ruled the passenger hauling.

The solutions devised over the past 30 years are the same ones used in the previous 30, add space to increase capacity. This is as useful as knowing the work expands to fill time available and junk expands to fill space available therefore traffic will expand to fill capacity available, except that we all know that there will never be enough time, space or capacity.

That takes us to the other statement of interest. The comment by Dr. Blues of the 2nd District, in which he asks if some of the current planning will include new innovative methods of transportation, like newer forms of mass transit, light rail, even regional rail. I know that Dr. Blues and his constituents have waited patiently for the Leestown Rd. widening, the Citation Blvd. completion and other enhancements to happen, but he also seems to be looking on down the road so the another Nicholasville Rd. situation doesn't occur.

The answer to this one is that nobody knows. Despite their name the Metropolitan PLANNING Organization does not do any of the real proposal or design work. An MPO is set up to prioritize and allocate projects to be considered for funding and like the other staff of planning can be side-stepped by the legislative process based on political need rather than societal needs. It was refreshing to hear some one of his experience and years seeking to look to future solutions to solve future problems and not just doing it the same old way as before.

There them followed a short expression of Dr. Blues' desire to seek new ways of transit and his attempts to include them in the planning process, to which the Transportation Cabinet's representative plainly stated that rail of any kind "would NEVER be a solution in Lexington". This is not the kind of state level thinking that I want for my children or for my fellow Kentuckians.

Help me find some way to change this.


Ahavah Gayle said...

Don't worry, $10 a gallon gas will change this idiot's mind. Unfortunately, the time to invest in sustainable electric rail transit infrastructure is now, not 10 years from now when we will need it right then. As it is, "then" will be "now" a lot sooner than this short-sighted (or is that bought-and-paid-for?) politician can comprehend.

The US has 5% of the world's population but has been greedily sucking in 40% of the world's natural resources - including oil. That can't last, class. The rest of the world is starting to want their fair share. We are not lords of the nations anymore and we're certainly not entitled to more than 5% of the world's natural resources - and we need to adjust to that new reality. Admitting that widespread use of private automobiles for urban travel is not sustainable is a big part of looking reality squarely in the eye.

This politician is going to be hit by the reality train, because he's too arrogant and self-centered to do the right thing now while it's more affordable. And when he's inconvenienced, he'll probably be one of the first ones to yell "Why didn't you do something about this 10 years ago when you saw it coming?!"

Will anyone then remember enough to say to him, "We tried, stupid, but you worked to prevent any solution from being pursued."

Streetsweeper said...

How right you are in the need to change the states mindset. This gentleman was not a politician but a Transportation Cabinet bureaucrat and as long as they are recommending to the politicians things will not get better.

Anonymous said...

What's needed in my opinion is a core group of citizens who hold similar belief systems to the one Ahavah Gayle expressed. If that core group of citizens were to incorporate into something similar to the Fayette Alliance, or Citizens for Responsible Development (a group of forumers from Skyscrapercity in Chicago who decided to take an active role in petitioning the city in regards to development.) it would be a great oppurtunity to educate the public about the importance of transit as well as petitioning the local and state governments.

I think it would be great to have an organized group petitioning for transit during the next Comp. Planning Session in the same way we have organized pro-sprawl and anti-sprawl groups.