Monday, August 31, 2009

Two Chances to Enjoy Downtown

There are a number of events coming up that I wish to bring to your attention. They are (1) World PARK(ing) Day and (2) Lexington's 2nd Second Sunday.

On Saturday the 18th of September the world will celebrate PARK(ing) Day. PARK(ing) Day is the name of an annual, one-day global event during which individuals and groups transform parking spaces, parking lots (and other areas of the landscape built to store stationary motor vehicles), into places for people to congregate, socialize and play, to the exclusion of motor vehicles. The original concept is by by Rebar, a San Francisco art and design collective. This is a chance for all of you to grab you favorite parking space and make it into your little piece of recreation space.

There are a few rules to abide by, mostly just you can't use your PARK(ing) space for commercial purposes without permission, and many folks have usually made a quiet seating area with temporary landscaping(sod, potted bushes, small trees, etc...).

I have not seen that anyone in Lexington has done a PARK(ing) space before, so if our young creative class of activists(i.e. those protesting CentrePointe so much) is so creative, then maybe they can come up with a group of real interesting spaces. I hope so.

The other event comes in October, and as the name suggests is on the second Sunday of the month, this year it falls on the 11th. I posted about this last year and gave some very definite proposals about my likes and dislikes of this event. The more I think about it, the more I believe that it should be handled less like a community festival and more like a "grass roots" happening.

What began last year is a local emulation of the program that started in Bogota, Colombia. Their program has grown so large that they close approximately 70 miles of roadway EVERY Sunday, and they do it without any government run activities. They just let the people take back the streets. Lexington's successful event last year caught the eye of State officials and many other communities around the Commonwealth, so much so that they have now coordinated this years event to occur in 99 of Kentucky's 120 counties. I has now become a measurable boasting point to compare with other states. Letting people have free run of their streets and get healthy at the same time should not be a feather in some politicians cap.

The ongoing events in Colombia prove that it is not a numbers game for political gain and, although it is allowed, the government is not required to arrange activities for the participants. I am not calling for a free-for-all to take place and some sort of police presence is needed but yoga classes on the court house lawn(not in the street at all) or even focusing on activity downtown is the unnecessary part.

This year's closure (I still prefer to call it opening) of Main, Mill, Short and DeWeese is again concentrated in the downtown area. A location to which a majority of participants will have to drive for a four hour period. True there should be plenty of parking, but if the idea is to get people OUT of their cars then this project FAILS. The carbon footprint of the event negates any alleged benefits of the exercise undertaken, as it would include all of the organizers and volunteers as well as interested participants, of whom 80% or better will drive and park for the afternoon.

That brings up another point, four hours of a Sunday afternoon. Why not take all afternoon, or the full 24 hour period from 6:p.m. Saturday night to 6:p.m. Sunday? Involve the whole community for the entire time. Can you imagine an outdoor church service on the courthouse lawn in sight of the homeless of Phoenix Park? Or the morning strollers meandering by the accumulated trash of the previous nights revelers? Each segment of the city's population using the street for their own purposes, just without car and trucks.

Once again, I like the idea of Second Sunday. I like the idea of letting the people take back the streets. I don't like the sanitized version being foisted upon the people to let them feel good while being bad.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

365 Days Later

I have been at this for a year now.

Tomorrow will begin my second year of writing this blog and I did not expect it to take the turns that it has. I wanted to write about some of the things that most people believe are trivial and insignificant about the streets and neighborhoods of Lexington. I wanted to stay away from all the controversial items in the news. I wanted to see if I could improve my typing and writing skills.

I don't think that I succeeded at any of them, although Mrs. Sweeper says that my writing style does show some improvement.

What I have done is write about some of the things that I do know about. Things that I have an opinion on and even some things that I question. Along the way I have accumulated a somewhat regular following. There are a few of you that stop in about once a week and some who come by EVERY day. Most of the regulars are from the Central Kentucky area but some are from a little farther away. I even have a regular who stops in every morning from Arizona.

There are some other web sites that have linked to me from their sites and a few who have re-posted some of my stuff or sent a number of their readers my way, for that I am grateful. There are also the odd visitors who are looking for real street sweeping information, to them I am sorry to disappoint but I hope that they took something away with them.

I have tried to allow every comment made to my posts, whether you agree with me or not, and will not censor anybody unless the get very nasty or vulgar. I will continue to blog about things that interest me and give my point of view. Where possible I will give the historical background on the topic and my experiences from growing up right here in Lexington. I hope I don't drive anybody away with my biases, but you keep coming back so I must be doing something that you like. If you have anything that you wish me to look into just drop me a line and give me a direction.

If you all will keep coming back then I will keep putting myself out there and we will just what the next year will bring.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Pedicabs Are Coming To Downtown

I spent this evening with an interesting group of young people. I was allowed to attend the orientation meeting of potential pedicab drivers for Sprocket Jockeys. I want to thank Lauren and James for allowing me to see their enthusiasm for what I think is a wonderful new service for downtown Lexington. It makes me wish that I was 30 years younger so that I could drive one of those things.

First off Lauren Pfannerstill, a promotions person for a local liquor outlet, and James Gonyer, who if I heard correctly, works in a local bike shop have come together to bring Lexington its first pedicab service. Both are avid cyclists and but even so they could not drive all the time, so they let it be known, they need for drivers. My oldest son expressed interest in doing so and I was just interested in seeing what it took.

They seem to be modeling this as a cross between a taxi and the horse drawn carriage rides through downtown. Each of the drivers will be an independent contractor, leasing out the pedicabs to cover shifts and are able to pick their clientele/service area. Some may serve the downtown area alone or they may wish to go between the various concentrations of activity(downtown/Distillery District, downtown/campus, campus/Chevy Chase, ...). They have even lined up some specialized promotions at set locations and will be a visible feature at UK football games.

The drivers will be fully licensed and well versed on the Lexington bicycle ordinances. Charges for the service are not set and each driver may charge as they see fit. There will be NO dispatching center, so each driver will have to coordinate with the others to get things to go smoothly. So far, Lauren and James have found that most people do tip well for this novelty.

Their projected initial hours will be Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, starting at 6 and continuing until 4:00 am. This should take care of the early "dinner/date" crowd and the later "bar-hopping" crowd. The pedicabs do come with lights (front and back), turn signals and electric assist for that extra "umph" to get up those longer hills. My one caution on this is for the safety of the drivers in carrying substantial amounts of cash at that time in the morning. These independent contractors should not put themselves unduly at risk.

From the number of potential drivers at tonight's gathering and the interest displayed, these folks will have to add more pedicabs to the two currently in the stable. Most of them appeared to be post college age although some may be in their last years at school.

I am optimistic that this will work and can't wait to see the downtown public's reaction. Lauren, James, Here is wishing you well.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Thoughts On Some Current Controversies

Several things have come to mind today that relate to some current events.

There has been a great controversy about the overhead wires either being shown(or not) in the pretty renderings of the Newtown Pike Extension. Several people have their shorts in a wad about the subject and compare a simple set of poles and wires along the new roadway to the gigantic transmission lines being placed on Euclid and Woodland. I personally have a greater disdain for the wide right of way and lack of urban businesses facing this new "urban" thoroughfare. The setbacks for any buildings along here are NOT what an urban roadway should be.

The mistakes being made on this road are the same that were made with the widening of Vine St forty years ago. Wide travel lanes, buildings set away from the street, facilities for pedestrians, but no reason for them to be there and the traffic lights timed to quickly get the autos past the things that they are not interested in. In other words, a raceway from the Interstate to UK (and I do believe that UK will begin expanding the campus to the west in the near future).

One mistake that they are making anew is the omission of the possibility of a fixed guideway transit mode, and I do mean a streetcar line. From UK to the BCTC campus, then over to Transy and on through downtown to UK again. In any case, with or without a streetcar facility, I don't feel that this project ends in a "complete street" in any sense of the concept.

The placement of the utility line overhead is said to ruin the aesthetics of the road and will ruin the streetscape. A fellow blogger, who is a transit consultant, is currently in Vienna and reports that to the Europeans the overhead wires are just part of the charm. I shall simply state that due to all the other errors in the design, the wires overhead is the least offensive.

On another note, that of growing our food locally and very close to home, I came across this bit of information from Seattle.

The Seattle City Council has relaxed its rules about requiring a permit to place anything in the parking strip. The parking strip is what we call a utility strip, that area of grass between the sidewalk and the curb. They now no longer prohibit growing food in the parking strip and many Seattlelites are jumping at the chance.

Lexington's usual utility strips are a bit narrow for something like this, most are only 5 1/2 feet wide, with the wider ones in the more affluent neighborhoods or along the newer boulevards. It also appears the Seattle does not have a street tree requirement and they are the more sunny area of the front yard. One of the photos in the linked article shows a few rows of corn growing in the strip and right at an intersection. I wonder how they keep that sight triangle clear. Low vegetables in raised beds are one thing but the more vertical or climbing stuff must be a problem.

Not only is Seattle using the streets, but portions of the city parks and creating local farmers markets in neighborhoods, thereby not only growing it locally but selling and eating it locally. I have seen, on two occasions, the kitchen staff of Natasha's walk out to the herbs that they had growing in the street tree planter bed, and cut some of the fresh stuff for the dishes being cooked. You can't get any fresher than that.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

What Is Happening On Two Way Streets

Today's question is about the impending change of the one-way streets in downtown to two-way streets. There has been much said about it in the press this spring, at least to a point, then nothing. They say it has to do with the "complete streets" concept yet beyond the streetscape project currently in progress very little has been publicized.

I am aware of several meetings of a "working committee" about the first pair of one-ways to be considered, Second St and Short St. There have been visual inventories made with aerial photos and a video taken along the two streets and lots of notes. I also hope that there have been discussions with more than a few of the affected businesses and property owners.

I think that we all have heard the fall out from the South Limestone corridor owners and their claims(valid or not) of a lack of timely notice, understanding of the total concept or awareness of the late changes in the scope of work. If there is any way that these problems could be avoided in this venture, can we make sure that we do it RIGHT this time?

I read from the comments on a post on UrbanCincy, that some Cincinnati council members are also considering the elimination of some of their one-ways, and Charlotte, NC. has already started.

The controversy in Charlotte also appears to be very similar to Lexington, in that they have a number of one-ways like Vine St. No storefronts or places for pedestrians to pause for, and certainly no reason for the autos to slow down for. The wide roadway and timed lights make for a quick way to get through town but absolutely no reason to stop in town. Vine St is not a destination(Main St is little better) so it is no wonderthat during the '70s and '80s some people thought of proposing to bridge it when considering the redevelopment of some of the downtown blocks, a la the Galleria proposal.

It seems like such a simple thing to do, just make one of the lanes flow in the opposite direction, but after many decades of living with the traffic flow as it is it could be a traumatic situation for some. Some of these streets have been one-way for better than 70 years, but changing them to two-way may set the course for the next seventy.

For now, I just want to know what the progress is.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Are You Paying For Someone Else's Airport?

I learn something new every day but today's new facts are startling. The Federal government pays(subsidizes) airlines to fly to many smaller airfields that cannot support regular air traffic. And this is how the "free enterprise" system is supposed to work?

This whole subject came up from a link on Overhead Wire to a story in the New York Times on small cities helping to pay for their air service. There was mention of a program that I did not know existed, the Essential Air Service program. This program was put in place during the deregulation of the airlines in 1978, so that smaller communities which had air service would not lose it due to corporate decisions.

The original program was set up to last 10 years, more than enough time to plan for and fund some alternatives to air travel for these smaller cities. The program has been extended and modified over the years with some airports being removed from the list of subsidized fields and, remarkably, others added to the list. The airport in Owensboro, Ky. was added sometime around 2000, perhaps due to the efforts of 2 Republican senators and a Republican congressman, and is subsidized to the tune of approximately $1.5 million a year. Recently, a new airport was opened in Somerset, Ky., another Republican stronghold, but it has not made the list -yet.

The timing of this program, coming just 10 years after the creation of AMTRAK(or the dismantling of America's passenger rail service) leads me to wonder-just where is the Essential Rail Service program for those cities who lost passenger rail service? And what about those cities who lost ALL rail service because of a heavily subsidized highway system given to the trucking industry?

Forty years of disproportional funding of transportation infrastructure leaning more toward highways than rail(or air) has left us well behind the rest of the world in terms of a balanced transportation system. Thirty years of funding airlines serving sparsely populated regions could have been spent on implementing a High Speed Rail ground work(like the Europeans and the Japanese) to the point the we too could be knocking on the door of 300 mph train travel.

The NY Times article focused on the smaller cities which don't appear on the EAS list, yet are seeing a loss of air service and the local community's efforts to maintain air services. These cities are too large for government subsidy and too small for economic air travel. They would be perfect for a regional rail connection to the HSR system currently proposed. The Europeans do it all the time, why can't we.

How many of these small communities will have the Federal government foot the bill for an airport and enough funding to get things started, priming the pump as it were, and then expect the same or increased funding to tide them over the rough spots. And how many rough spots will there be in the future? Airlines are the least efficient of all the mass transportation systems available today and I wonder how much longer they will be around.

With a new transportation bill pending(and maybe held up for a while) in Congress maybe now is the time to reconsider legislation of Essential Air Services and just how essential some of it is. Should these communities be weaned off the Federal dole and let their airports fend for themselves, a la the route that the Bush administration wished to do to AMTRAK? Should these airports let the free market decide(without outside manipulations) and if they aren't used adequately then they should fold? That is the Republican, is it not?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What I Missed At The Art Fair

I was wandering through the LexRides website today as I try to do on occasion and tripped across an interesting tidbit. They had a pedicab at the Woodland Art Fair. And I missed it.

I was all enthused about the availability of a bike corral that I missed any discussion of a pedicab service. It seems that I am not the only one, I think that a lot of others missed it too. So for all of you out there who may be interested, here is what I know.

A young couple, Lauren Pfannerstill and James Gonyer, have formed a company called Sprocket Jockeys, LLC to provide a pedicab service in downtown Lexington. Wow, what a rush, a pedicab service in Lexington? And they tried it out at the Art Fair to, from what I understand, was a good business.

Their website says that they will begin with weekend night in downtown and see how it progresses. I can see this as being a contender, of sorts, to the Lextran trolley system which has yet to be rolled out. One could go out for a night on the town, dining at Baker's 360 and then dancing at the Penguin on the other end of town, or a short ride downtown from campus (once South Lime gets finished) and back. It is not inconceivable to consider some of the other near campus destinations like Chevy Chase/Euclid or the new South Broadway developments. The possibilities are almost endless. Distillery District may be a ways off but who knows what will happen with the completion of the Newtown Pike Extension. These thing would also be great for the Gallery Hop evenings.

I wish these guys a lot of luck and hope to take advantage of their service real soon. And I hope that you do too.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Today At The Art Fair

This weekend was the Woodland Art Fair and, as a playful jab, I suggested to Mrs. Sweeper that we should bike in this year. We have walked to the fair when we lived closer and usually find some way to get there, just to see what is available.

Then, while watching the news last night, they gave a report on a new service at this years fair-a secure, monitored bike storage for those who bike to the fair. Mrs Sweeper said "We should ride our bikes in and use that".

Oh boy, now I was now in trouble. I have, in the PAST, done a whole lot of biking. I used to ride to work every day unless the weather was just too bad. There were days when I used to go home for lunch(3 miles each way) or go for a ride in the country on the way home(an extra 20 miles or so). Every weekend I could be found out riding through some portion of the county and a trip to the river was not out of the question. Like I say, that was in the past. At least 25 YEARS in the past.

My two youngest boys have recently decided to take up cycling and I have, just this summer, got my bike back in working order. Last week I and one of my youngest did make it to Woodland Park, along with my eldest who has been biking around town for a while now, and I did pay for it for the next few days. I am basically out of shape.

This morning, after breakfast, the Mrs. and one son(the one who had not made the trip before) struck out to trek to the Art Fair and try to get back in one piece. Half an hour later. a bit winded and a little sore, we found the bike corral and had our bikes taken care of for the next few hours.

This years Fair had been spread out over the park in a much more logical manner than in the past and refreshment were more interspersed on the Clay Ave side of the exhibits. I can't help but compare it to the St James Ct Art Fair in Louisville and still the Woodland Fair come up short but it is growing. Maybe when it spills out onto the surrounding streets on more than one corner we will have arrived.

The one thing that still irks me about the people who attend these type of events is: the fact that they bring their dogs. Their strollers with the kids and the wagons so that the kids can ride around is understandable, but the dogs? Can the dogs appreciate the artisans or the craftsmanship? No!!! Take the dogs to the dog park for a run with companionship, but leave your DAMN dogs at home during such things as an art fair or an outdoor concert(Ecton Park, Thursday Night Live, etc...). If you need to spend more time with your dog, then stay home a little but we don't need them to be underfoot at every event we attend.

We spent two and a half hours at the Fair, went back and collected our bikes, thanked the attendants and slowly made our way back home. Today did prove one thing to all of us, that we could make it to Woodland or Ecton, or even the grocery, but more than that that we needed to do it more often.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Is The Downtown Spotlight On Dim?

I was wandering around the Spotlight Lexington website last night, when one of the headlines caught my eye. There is a second call for artwork to be utilized in a poster for the free festival that Lexington is preparing to coincide with the WEG(World Equestrian Games).

A second call. What happened to the first call?

I searched through the earlier posts and found the first call for art. This was issued probably in May as the deadline for submission was June 26th of this year. A simple set of rules and very little description of desired content. Horizontal in nature and may be done in any medium.

Then on the first of July there was a deadline extension until July 15th. Did they not get enough entries to have a contest? Were the entries depicting scenes undesired by the committee? Winners would now be notified by August 10th.

Now there is this second call for art. The rules are fleshed out a little and a few more restrictions are placed on content. Still, there is no better idea for concept than before. The most prominent restriction is the prohibition of any connection to the WEG. Just show some festive occurrence in downtown Lexington.

Things must be going fairly poorly for these guys. I just don't feel the groundswell of optimism about this and the sponsors seem to be few and far between.

I'll keep my eye on this as we get closer.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Downtown Reflects Its Residents

The other day I responded to a comment on an article in Business Lexington The comment wasn't so much about the article as it was to an(I thought) inadequate response to another commenter. Since then I have decided to expand on these words here.

The original commenter is a well respected real estate broker who concentrates on commercial properties and the gist of what he said dealt with the look of downtown and his thoughts on who should be responsible for its usual condition. He pointed out some specific locations and named adjacent property owners. I took him to imply that, although we have some fine, civic minded property owners, there are still things that they could do for some of our main thoroughfares. He finished with a thought or two on simply enforcing the laws that are currently on the books and identifying that we are all stakeholders in how the face of Lexington comes across to the rest of the world.

The editor, Tom Martin, came back with a description of some efforts in other cities that could be implemented here. But these were still basically impersonal, government run clean-up campaigns that would be paid for by imposing some kind of additional fee somehow. Not quite the same as involving all the stakeholders, except for paying for it.

My thought is to place the blame squarely where it belongs. Downtown would not look as it does if it weren't for the people of the area. Downtown is a reflection of the people who live and work there.

My first point is also probably the most obvious one, as it occurs right in the center of town. Most folks would say the CentrePointe block, but I am looking across the street in Phoenix Park. A certain set of our residents have literally taken up camping in the park. Complete with assigned sleeping areas and stacks of their worldly possessions covered with tarps , to protect them from the rain. Some days, as I pass there, it looks like a roofless dormitory with some of the residents beginning to stir and others still sleeping in. Shortly after, they set up the rec rooms and the friends come by for a day of hanging out, playing cards and good conversation. Sooner or later some ministry group will come by with food and water for lunch and dinner.

Other cities have similar problems, as evidenced by an article recently published in the Wall Street Journal about urban tent cities for the homeless. Our homeless just haven't been provided with tents yet.

My second point takes on how we treat our places of public assembly, primarily the Court House Plaza. It is the most recent showplace for large crowds and a focal point of our civic pride. But have you looked at the pavers and stone walls of the plaza lately? Increasing numbers of black splotches of used gum (or whatever) and cigarette butts litter all around the approaches to the doorways. Trash barrels that get aimed at and hit about 60% of the time and skateboard tire marks on the steps and some low stone walls. Take a good look at this place after a public gathering of some size, a rally or holiday weekend, and before the city's clean-up crew get to it. It can be just disgusting what a crowd can leave behind.

The third point is about not just what a crowd leaves behind, but some of our favorite establishments in downtown. We have a burgeoning entertainment district going on in downtown Lexington, and I have not been shy about blogging about it. But some of these places leave the sidewalks and streets around their kitchen doors and areas where they place their refuse for pick up in a horrible state. Some of their Herbies and Rosies are sitting in a sea of detritus or a caked pile of grease, which nobody claens up for days. I have seen some places with sidewalk cafe tables just a few feet from a night spots recently emptied garbage bins. Mmmmm' good eating for lunch.

Then there are those night spots who advertise by posters and placards. Stapling, nailing, pasting or somehow adhearing said placards to whatever lightpost, box or other inantimate object that will take it. They do not remove any old ones, just rip as much as they can of what was left off and replace with a newer one. Occasionally the city will send a crew out to tryto clean thing up, but that is getting rarer in these times of budget crunches.

My questions to all of this is "Why are we such pigs about the way that we (ab)use our downtown?" Are we all like teenagers who allow their room to get so piled with trash that Mom has to come in and throw everything away? Why do we expect someone else to do the cleaning up?

People, we have the World coming to our house in the near future. All that some folks can talk about is the vacant block where a few ratty buildings used to stand, and they complain that it looks trashy. To me, it looks like someone is planning to do some type of project, that there is progress of some sort in this town. This is the space over the sofa reserved for a piece of artwork, while the rest of the house is littered with junk and piles of dust balls.

Our house need a good cleaning and we all need to help.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

More Thoughts on Yesterday's Post

I left something out of yesterday's entry on High Speed Rail and its possibilities in the state of Kentucky. Our Transportation Cabinet planners and the ones from Wisconsin must have attended the same classes.

The Wisconsin Transportation people are advocating an airport location for the site of a HSR extension/enhancement strictly on the basis of the amount of available parking. Yes, that's right automobile parking. Can these people get an auto-centric society out of their heads?

The beauty of the European mass transportation "system" is that it is seamless. Home to downtown, downtown to downtown, downtown to business/recreation and back again, all without using a personal automobile. Why does it work so well?

Frequency and speed. Multiple trips a day between cities at high speed(+110) and from downtown to downtown would make a personal auto for out-of-town travel unnecessary. It would remove the need for gas, parking and the inevitable traffic jam delays that we now see on our inter-city trips via Interstates.

Central location of stations. Transportation from where the people are to where they want to be. Why do we go out to the airport, park the car, fly to a destination, rent a car/hire a taxi, go into town and do business? And then repeat in reverse to come back home. Why not just cut out a few of those expense laden steps? You may also notice that I left out the time waster of TSA screenings.

Integration of systems. The European model is a co-ordination of multiple systems(or sub-systems) that are coordinated into one well functioning transportation system. We, as Americans, should not try to implement just one or two of these. We will doom ourselves to failure by leaving out, what may appears to be a small element, which binds the whole together.

Granted, the planning for this AMTRAK station in Wisconsin started in 2000, about the same time as the Kentucky study, but conditions do change and their(and our) thinking must change with them.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

What High Speed Rail Can Do To Regional Air Travel

Back in March I posted about an old document on Kentucky's high speed rail thoughts of 1999. In that post I linked to a projection that Spain's short haul air travel would be affected.

Today I have a link to some more recent facts. People are getting around Spain in more comfort and more ease by train than by plane, and leaving a smaller carbon footprint.
High-speed trains pulled by aerodynamic engines with noses shaped like a duck-billed platypus are grounding aircraft across Spain. The year-old Barcelona-Madrid line has already taken 46% of the traffic – stealing most of it from fuel-guzzling, carbon-emitting aircraft. As the high-speed rail network spreads a web of tracks across Spain over the next decade, it threatens to relegate domestic air travel to a distant second place.
46% This is the kind of results that the US should be experiencing today, if they had started planning for high speed rail(or any kind of rail) following the gas crisis of the '70s.

From England we get a report that their new Secretary of Transport, Lord Adonis is advocating the end of domestic air travel and even the short flights to European destinations. The comments come as air passengers are having to contend with the scrapping of hundreds of flights a week by airlines and fact that domestic flights have been in steady decline in recent years, with the number of passengers dropping from 26.1 million in 2005 to 24.3 million last year.

How about Germany? Even there we see a sharp reduction in domestic air travel.
Germany's high-speed rail network has put pain to short-haul flights between several cities. Once, there were hundreds of flights a day transferring tens of thousands of passengers between Berlin and Hamburg, Frankfurt and Cologne, Frankfurt and Stuttgart, Bremen and Cologne. All have been closed down due to cheaper and faster rail travel.
Is it any wonder that President Obama and Transportation Secretary La Hood are talking about America's need to join the High Speed Rail community? Of the industrialized nations, only one has fewer planned HSR miles than the US. The tiny island nation of Taiwan. These industrialized nations are also charging ahead with expansion and funding that roughly equals what we spend in federal money on highways.

I won't even speak about the fact that their (Obama and La Hood) idea of HSR is less than half the speed of the those who are really doing something.

I also want to thank The Overhead Wire and Broken Sidewalk for the links. I had a record day for visitors.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Why Are We Unlike The Rest of The World

LA Times columnist David Lazarus, in yesterdays edition, started off with this broad statement:
It's hard to appreciate how truly pitiful our public transportation system is until you spend some time with a system that works.
And then goes on to gush over how the transportation in Japan is far superior to what we have in the states. I have also heard for people who long for a train system similar to Europe's. Lazarus and others speak somewhat fondly of the ease of use and the simplicity of the linkages found in these systems. So, what is keeping us from creating the same atmosphere on this continent?

For the most part, I think that we all find only one or two things that we like about those cultures, that we would be willing to emulate. Some like the active street scenes with the restaurants and shops on the ground floor and residential above. Some like the narrow streets and hidden nooks and crannies. Others like the grand public spaces and the wide plazas and boulevards. There are those who enjoy hopping on the train and running to another city for the evening(and returning before morning). And those who desire to walk to the local green grocer for the fresh harvested produce from which to prepare the evening meal. These are all pieces to the whole picture. But we American don't want the whole picture, just selected parts of it.

Americans, from the Revolution, have tried to differentiate themselves from the Europeans in almost every way possible. Driving on the right and not the left, English measures and not metric(dosen't that sound odd), horse racing counter-clockwise and not clockwise just to name a few. We have tried to become unlike them, even though before we got here, we were them. We charted our own course and took it on with rugged individualism.

Except that that rugged individual still needed some kind of support network. Very few explorers went off into the wilderness alone, they traveled in groups. Often in groups of twenty or more. The frontier farmers didn't establish their farms alone, the usually did it similar to the way the Amish do it still, as a group effort. The westward push across the Great Plains were in wagon trains and even the great "mountain men" had to have somewhere to get supplies.

Now we look back at Europe or other places that we have come from, sometimes longingly, sometimes not, and wish that we had some small part of what they have. Be it their rail system or their local street scene, some of us just wish that we had it. It reminds me of the local Chamber's trips to similar "successful " cities for "ideas". This buffet of ideas will work only if all the pieces complement each other, otherwise you may just end up with a toxic cocktail.

Lazarus at one point says that we will need to make our cities less comfortable in order to force our population into mass transit. Are these Japanese or European cities so uncomfortable that we will stop visiting in such great numbers? Are they so uncomfortable that their own inhabitants are fleeing in droves? I think not. So, why do we visit there (repeatedly) and long for what they have, yet fail to bring it about in our own country. Even our own "world class" cities cannot pull it off with the same panache as they do. I don' t think that we want their comfort level, because we are Americans and we deserve more.

And maybe we are just deluding ourselves.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Thoughts on Possible Changes for MPO's

I have given the earlier post some more thought and have come up with this.

In the terms of electing the "citizen members" in a greater number than "ex-officio" members, I think that that would present more problems than currently exist.

Lexington's MPO covers Fayette and Jessamine Counties containing three cities, Lexington, Nicholasville and Wilmore. The County Judge Executives of each county and the three city mayors sit on the Policy Committee, along with four LFUCG district councilmembers(each representing 3 districts) and the three at-large councilmembers. A representative of Lextran and the state Secretary of Transportation round out the voting committee members. Fourteen members in all.

Finding 15 or more interested "citizen members" who will volunteer their time for no pay, is a daunting task, as would be the chore of bringing these new members up to speed about transportation issues. This is not to mention that a committee of around 30 members, each with something to say, could make for some long, boring and/or contentious meetings. Even cutting back Lexington's representatives some would leave a body of about 20-25.

It could be done, but would have to be done carefully.

In thinking about giving the MPO more authority, I believe that the state laws would have to be changed. Zoning land, levying taxes and enforcing state and federal regulations all belong to other entities currently and most of them are not willing to share. I cannot see a simple way to resolve adding one more layer of government oversight to any of these differing positions.

I can understand requiring more focus on GHG, as well as traffic flow and movement as a means of recommending and funding solutions for the mobility of goods and people. Transportation planning should be about more than just getting from one place to another in the shortest amount of time, with the least cost to a single individual. Total cost to the community as a whole should be a part of the equation.

I fully agree with the idea of requiring neighboring regions to link up in their transportation planning efforts and their transportation services. Even though Lexington and Nicholasville are covered by the same MPO, getting the respective services to link up between them has been a monumental failure. Enlarging the MPO to include other cities(Richmond, Georgetown etc.) will only show how fragmented we still are.

Developing a multimodal regional plan would first mean that the foregoing problems are well on their way to being resolved and may have to be enforced from the federal level.

And lastly, a "fix it first" strategy has beentalked about since the bridge collapse in Minnesota and was to be a hallmark of the "stimulus plan", yet has been sidestepped from the beginning of the Obama administration. Lexington has not had any major repair situations of existing infrastructure, but there are still a goodly number of simple fixes which should be done before any major projects are started.

More on this as I get more information.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Future of Transportation Planning

On Friday the 31st, William H Hudnut III had an entry on about his ideas for restructuring the MPOs of America. MPOs for those who don't know, are the local/regional transportation agencies that allocate federal funds in a logical coherent manner. Yeah, right.

MPO is an acronym for Metropolitan Planning Organization and is supposed to plan for the transportation needs of a larger city and its surrounding area. One could imply from the name that they propose new transportation services and modes to provide for the need of the population they serve. From what I have seen, they take the transportation projects of others and attempt to divide the appropriated funds among the projects in some pre-determined formula. This formula seems to come from the state level and appears to favor the highways more than any other mode. As long as they are simply placing beans into separate silos, there is hardly any planning taking place.

Hudnut accurately states;
...they largely lack power to implement the transportation improvement plans (TIPs) they recommend. That’s why we can think of them as “sleeping giants.” They can propose, but not dispose. They can veto federally funded projects allocated under state plans, but not rewrite them. So they have few if any teeth. They are good for jawboning and horse-trading amongst a selected group of interested officials, but they have difficulty walking their talk. Their job is to coordinate, not operate. They lack clout, and are not given the power to enforce the plans they recommend to city or county councils or the state legislature.
These planning agencies do not look at the various projects and devise a more efficient solution or even propose a better mode to achieve the same goal, nor do they combine the long term goals into a long term solution, they simply continue the status quo of patching the system with band-aids when a complete reworking is called for.

We are currently at a critical point in transportation thinking. The federal transportation funding cycle is about to be reauthorized and the new administration has some new priorities. The Highway Trust Fund is showing signs of not being able to sustain itself and the infrastructure that it built is beginning to crumble as we watch. Fossil fuels are giving way to alternative ones and so should our transportation concepts.

Below are some of his ideas on changing the MPO structure:
Elect the membership. Elected officials and agency staff could be excepted; they would serve ex-officio. But let all eligible voters have the opportunity to vote on citizen members in any number chosen as long as it exceeds the number of ex-officio members.

Give MPOs actual authority to zone land, allocate funds, issue bonds, levy taxes, and enforce federal and state regulations regarding clean air and water.

Require MPOs to focus on GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions as a planning issue, since lower densities generate a larger carbon footprint than higher ones. And not only that: federal law should require that the TIPs comply with results-based goals for climate stability, furthering national energy independence and clean energy goals.

Require neighboring regions to link their planning through a uniform approach to presenting information and benchmarking results. And require, indeed, that there only be a single MPO for a single metro region–Many are now all split up, with predictably minimal coordination.

Develop multimodal regional access plans, establish local transportation governance standards and best practices, and fund approved multimodal access plans (as recommended by the White House).

Mandate a “fix it first” strategy for MPOs, which is to say, rebuild the old before building the new.
William Hudnut’s e-mail address is I am sure that he would like to hear your comments, as would I. Anyone care to take him up on it.