Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Railroads and the economy

I was directed to a link the other day in relation to transportation issues and found an entry about freight railcars. The author uses another story from much earlier in the year to explain how the railroads are not shipping as much goods as the once did and that thousands of railroad cars are sitting idle somewhere in the wilds of Montana. This is to show that the economy is not as robust as it once was.

As one who tries to keep up with what is going on in railroading, I have seen many posts from others asking about cars that are stored in various places in Kentucky. There times during the year that some autorack cars are stored, for weeks at a time, along the Norfolk-Southern tracks near Waller Ave. I can even recall, when the tobacco industry was strong in Lexington, that Southern used to store boxcars in the fall, in order to be ready to transport the leaf to the cigarette plants elsewhere. It makes good press, to say that approximately 1.5% of a railroads entire fleet is in storage, but I think that it is just standard industry practice.

Hunter Harrison, president and chief executive of Canadian National Railroad, recently in a keynote speech to the third annual Canada Maritime Conference, held in Vancouver, British Columbia, explained his views on the future of American railroading. He sees the need for an expansion of freight rail and the need for moving more freight, from trucks, to rail. Fuel economy and reduced emissions are only a few small points where efficiency may be gained.

  • “If only 10 percent of North America’s (road) freight moved to the rails it would save $1 billion in fuel and give a big reduction in emissions,” he said. “Fuel savings, fewer emissions and reduced highway congestion: We are on the right side environmentally.”

  • Harrison said rail carriers can move one ton of freight 423 miles on one gallon of fuel. “Imagine your car giving you that kind of performance.”
Harrison and Canadian National have made a big difference in railroading in the last ten or so years, so he may be on to something here.

The second part of this story, is the need to expand our manufacturing base here in America. By making more of our own goods and shipping them by rail, we could reduce our dependence on a global economy and re-localize our lives.

We, as a nation, are doing ourselves no good deal if we import dangerous, possibly lethal goods, pay shipping by inefficient means, then ship back recalled goods and finally, discard or destroy the contaminated refuse at our expense. Is it any wonder that our balance of payments is so out of whack?

Lexington's largest beer wholesaler is in the process of moving to an expanded location, and while they are currently adjacent to a rail line and will be along side the same rail line in their new location, they do not receive any product by rail. It would not be a major undertaking to make a siding at either of these two locations, yet they choose not to. Big Ass Fan Co. could also ship and receive by rail but don't. Should we ask why?

Monday, December 29, 2008

2009 Wishlist

I guess it is time I thought about a list of wishes and desires for next year. There are the old stand by desires of the community--A better economy, the usual mix of development and preservation and a call for better government representation. I have a set of continued desires in my wish list.

1. It is past time for Lexington to start to really plan for a future without abundant fossil fuels. Whether or not we go with mass transit or personal vehicles, they will have to be powered somehow. There are no state or local plans in place to provide either enough electric power or any other alternative fuel systems devised to make that possible. We could rely on private industry to provide the answers, but for the last 40 years that has just led us to the position in which we find ourselves today, with no national or local solution. Our local planning efforts consist of looking at the recent past and trendlining for the next 20 years. I would like to see the LFUCG and the two universities co-operate and plan for some kind of a solution.

2. The continued gentrification of Lexington will not be possible with the proliferation of service economy jobs. With the cost of transportation for goods and travel, Lexington will need to begin producing most of its own supplies. We will need to re-establish a manufacturing base and a re-localized, sustainable agricultural system. PDR is a step in a direction but I feel that the wrong people are receiving the benefits for the wrong reasons. The whole of Central Kentucky is losing land for the manufacturing of goods we will need should the cost of global shipping become untenable. Planning for a manufacturing base is on my list of needs.

3. For our downtown to really work, there needs to be a transit system planned before we become a city with no parking and no transportation for the masses. With continued growth and the increased densification called for in the Comprehensive Plan the land downtown will become too valuable to park cars on for 8-10 hours a day. Other cities already know this and parking spots on some of the major cities are valued in the tens of thousands of dollars. Driving into downtown will be similar to Fayette Mall at holiday time. Planning for a streetcar system is next on my list of wishes.

4. Lastly, Lexington should return to the days when a professional manager would run the day to day business of the government and have the Council set policy and direction. This i feel would go a long way toward the desired transparency the citizens have asked for. Lexington should return the the CAO/City Manager arrangement of the original charter.

So, there you have it, my wish list for the coming year of 2009. Wishing you all a Happy New Year.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Community Facilities

We have known about the planned move of the Central Baptist Hospital to the Hamburg area since about this time last year. We have also seen the continued building of the residences in the Gleneagles and Blackford subdivisions.

So, why is it a surprise to the residents of these areas that, services will follow the people to these new residential parts of the county? I have told many of the posters on the forums that I frequent that retail always follows the people. And services will follow the retail.

The first pioneers did not just travel until they came to a trading post and decide to settle down. I can see it now, Daniel Boone walking into the bluegrass meadow and settling down at a roadside tavern and outlet mall. Today's explorers, the driving tourists or the family out for a Sunday drive(although they are a thing of the past), will stop when Dad sees some interesting countryside and Mom sees the local shopping outlet. They also cannot get out of cell phone service nor the reach of the GPS locater.

This morning, on WKYT, there was a story about a planned KU substation in the Gleneagles subdivision. The neighborhood spokesperson was concerned the the people had not been considered in the planning of the facility. She cited their concern about the environmental and health issues of an electrical facility on the residents and especially the children. Also among their concerns were asthetic and property values being lowered.

I wonder if they even thought about the services that they take for granted every day. How does KU currently supply their power needs? Might they be on the far end of a tenuous thread of the power grid? Will they fight the next cell tower or multi-story building and still need their cell service, because they have no land line? Will they be the first to contest the next residential subdivision because it is in their "lovely view from the porch", though few houses have them.

Typical Gleneagles scene

These are the same people who have no problem with a substation near their office or shopping, but won't have it near where they spend far fewer hours of the day. Has the substation or cell tower in Lansdowne-Merrick Park had a negative effect on health or property values, either when it was built or when it was quadrupled in size about ten years back? Next thing you know they will want a fire station just a little closer to the house, but not so close that you hear sirens all day.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Lexington's Obama stimulus connection

On Tuesday, Business Lexington reported on a conference call between the Obama transition team and our local officials. The incoming administration is seeking to create an economic stimulus package, that nationwide, could reach nearly $800 billion for what are called "shovel ready" projects. Projects that could be completed in one or two years.

Lexington leaders have identified a number of the projects with an estimated cost of $455 million. These projects are ones that are already on the drawing board to repair or replace existing infrastructure that have not found a funding source. The designs are essentially done but there are no scheduled construction dates set.

Should the Obama administration achieve their package and award Lexington with funds, I would hope that we would not just solve the old problems with old solutions. The buzz words of Mayor Newberry's campaign were health care, high tech and horses and I cannot see how, in these brick and morter, shovel ready projects, that horses or health care could fit in. That just leaves the high tech aspect. Each of these projects needs to be re-evaluated for an application of a higher level of technology in their respective solutions before they actually request the funds be spent.

I would like to call on the Lexington leaders to apply the "high tech" litmus test to all new projects under consideration, not just to have whiz bang, bells and whistles as part of the show, but a real use of technology in the solution. I also don't want the city to rely just on technology in all of their dealings as I try to follow Scotty's comment "The more complicated you make the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain". Technology should not be used just for technology's sake.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Staying ahead of the curve

The other day I wrote of the idea put forth by Suzan Tobin about alternative uses of attached garages. Yes, I know that some of you think that I have gone completely batty, but Lexingtonians used to live like this. Having their livelihood on the same property where they lived. And, not just in the country portion on the county, I mean right downtown.

I also recall reading about "front yard farming" back in April. It seems that there are some enterprising urban dwellers who have plowed up their front yard and are raising food. Now, this can't happen in those areas I spoke of then because... there aren't any front yards to speak of, and practically no back yards either. And the former can't happen in the older areas... because the garages are in the rear of the lots.

Now comes, the latest in urban living. Keeping chickens and/or bees. This is just one more part of the urban farming movement or making city more sustainable. All of these part need to work in conjunction with each other for the system to work. In Cleveland, they are trying to change the rules to allow families to raise chickens in residential neighborhoods and allow beekeepers to have hives within 100 feet of a residence. This is taking place in the birthplace of "Euclidian zoning ".

I don't want everyone to think that I want all of our residential streets to have a jumble of tacky junk stores or continuous yard sales(although I think some could try it), but a mix of retail uses at intersections serving approximately a two block radius is not a bad thing. A little something to supplement the income, not a get rich, retire early type situation. A family run service with only one, if that many, positions of hired help. These kind of places have worked for centuries and they can work in the future, if we want them to.

But we, here in Lexington, have rules and laws and regulations to keep these things from happening. While there is no law prohibiting the keeping of chickens, except the noise ordinance, and I found nothing concerning bees, these uses are not done. There is a prohibition on other livestock and the sale thereof. There are also regulations on home occupations which do not include a majority of Suzan Tobin's suggested possible uses. They fall under commercial uses. Yes, we in Lexington have regulated away just about everything that made us a thriving community. Some people want to regulate more and more, taking away more personal freedoms.

We in Lexington used to have common goals and common wishes. Now we have many varied, disparate goals and dreams, with each person trying to join as many factions as meet their wishes(at the time) and push the city in a thousand directions at once. Sadly, people soon find that they cannot be a part of what they want and just simply go along for the ride. Or leave town.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Will Lextran employ Google Transit soon?

Lexington's transit riders will soon be able to use Google Transit to calculate and map their trips via computer. I understand that Lextran is close to going live with the service which allows riders to:
  • Get step-by-step transit directions
  • Find transit stops in your area
  • View station information & schedules
I doubt that it will be by the first of the year but February is not out if the question.

Sometimes you can be ahead of the curve

I was looking at the December issue of Planning, the monthly magazine of the American Planning Association (APA), and saw the article about some alternate uses for the ubiquitous front loading garage. The author is suggesting that they be used for some type of storefront of a home-based business. Shades of Homer Simpson, when he decided to make money by being a marrying preacher, and ran a marriage chapel out of his attached garage. Was Homer ahead of the curve?

The term "bedroom community" has been around for a while now and has been used to refer to smaller suburban town some distance from the main city, but this is the first I've heard of drive-through sleeping quarters. The author implies that a majority of people buy large houses, with big yards (although a lot of them are on postage stamp sized lots), just to spend very few hours in them, mainly just sleeping. The actual living is done elsewhere. There are some families that do not even use their front door. The come home, drive into the garage and shut the automatic door.(Unless the garage becomes the storage space for something other than the car)

Under Suzan Tobin's scenario the garage could become like the old "live above the store" concept that has survived in the rest of the world for centuries. This would just be live beside where you work or walk to work while serving the neighborhood. Its done in many small towns all around the world. A local merchant peddling his wares to his neighbors and buying what he needs from them. One of them a baker, one a candle maker, one who makes soap, etc. Other vendors would also be there with products and services like books cafes and specialty grocers. It sounds a whole lot like some of the self contained Orthodox Jewish communities near New York

This also sounds like a recommendation of my fellow "peak oil" blogger I mentioned earlier this month. Her letter containing the ideas is found here and this would be number 14. By having the goods and services within walking distance the use of fossil fuels is reduced and the community becomes more sustainable. By allowing neighbors to interact in a social setting the community becomes safer. Is my friend also ahead of the curve?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

More on RAC's -- Airport style

The Lexington Blue Grass Airport board today heard a presentation, concerning a proposal for some hotels, restaurant and other mixed use development at the entrance to the airport property on Man o' War Blvd. This has not been an unanticipated event. The pressure to expand the RAC's (Rural Activity Center) will do nothing but increase as we get closer to preparing for the next comprehensive plan. The report on Business Lexington has a slick video of the presentation.

This is not the first RAC to have unanticipated changes to the area. I posted on another earlier in the month and detailed some of the thoughts I have on some type of revamping of the RAC's.

I believe that this proposal is related to the decline of traffic at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport and the attempt to gain market share for Lexington. Since 2005, the Cincinnati air traffic has fallen by just about half--from 600+ flights a day to just over 300, after the latest cuts take place. Total boardings have fallen from a high of 22 million to a projected 10 million for this year. Things are so bad that an entire concourse will be closed, even though it was recently completed and is still not paid for.

The airfares have risen in the last few years to some of the highest in the country. Even some of the major companies recruited to northern Kentucky, primarily because of the number of flights and ease of travel, are finding alternate locations and airlines in order to save money. I do not have high hopes for the airline industry, as a whole, but this could be good for Lexington in the short run.

The Airport Board will ask the Planning Commission to study the area and create an area plan for their RAC. I would think that the Commission would like to study all the RAC's at the same time rather than piecemeal over several years.

All in all, the wrangling over the RAC situation in the years to come will be very interesting.

Is something happening across from Main & Rose?

I received a call from a lawyer friend today. They were looking into some older property records concerning railroads and street rights of way in the downtown. As always, when they have a sticky question, they call the "old Streetsweeper".

The question started out about Water St and whether it was a State or County street. Some deeds had been traced back which left in doubt if it was either. My first impression was that Water st goes all the way back to the original plat for Lexington in 1792, so named because it fronted along the Town Branch Creek. (We are talking CentrePointe, I said to myself.)

Then came, "Who built and named Water St and did we acquire it from the railroad?" Now I'm out in left field, the railroad came way after the plat of '92. This attorney does good work and follows deed trails well, but when they started speaking of Urban Renewal and service entrances on plats then I know we are not talking the same area. A little more digging and I find that we are behind the Visitors and Convention office, a whole new can of worms.

This the same area that an architect friend and an engineer friend have let me know is in play for development. This the same block that I have discussed on and been told that nothing was doing. The location in question is shown below.

With the location tied down, I could then explain all the history that I knew about the plats and deed descriptions that the attorney already had. I said that there was a proposal to develop the whole block and that there was to be a parking garage built for this project. What I got in return was sharp laugh and a "You did not hear that from me".

Yes, I did not hear that from them but it was a fairly firm confirmation that something is afoot, because I know for whom this person works. I am now positive that the government is in up to the eyeballs and that things are still on track.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What transportation people don't know

I had a fairly animated discussion with a transportation planner today which was a natural extension of the post from yesterday. In my passion about the streetcar topic, I could not help but again ask why the Automated Guideway Transit, (AGT) as they call it, was to be an above ground system and not at street level with the pedestrians. The answer I got was just as passionate, he likes the idea of separating the pedestrians from the vehicular traffic, to eliminate conflicts.

Now, what I can't understand is where this mentality meshes with the recent and currently underway planning efforts in the Downtown Master Plan (Draft), the Lexington Streetscape Master Plan, the Complete Streets efforts of the bicycle/pedestrian plan. Each of these plans or planning efforts have urged the enhancement and expansion of the street level pedestrian experience.

This planning fellow tells me that he "loves" the skywalk system here in Lexington, such that it is, and uses it often to get to a restaurant for lunch, especially in inclement weather. He says that he sees many others using it along with him. I did point out that he has to walk about two blocks just to access the skywalk system, climb stairs and meander another two blocks through office buildings and hallways, desend stairs and enter the dining facility. To get back just reverse the process. He readily admitted that the system was incomplete, apparently expecting additions to it in the future. Nothing has been added in the last 10-15 years and the current bridges are starting to deteriorate. It also seemed to amaze him that other cities had started to dismantle their skywalk systems.

He did try to explain this AGT system in further detail, that this was a "test"phase, if you will, and that later phases would extend for the rest of the people. Now, I pointed out yesterday that they are looking at likely 3 phases currently and they all involved university students/faculty from campus to campus or downtown to campus. How can one measure if it is a success if it does not include everyone?

I was astounded to learn that some of our local transportation personnel are unaware of happenings in cities of the region. Items like the streetcar initiative in Cincinnati, and the aforementioned skywalk removals.

I guess that these ideas go hand in hand with the general public, like the thought that any railroad is ripe to be either removed or commandeered for the purposes of the local government, i.e. the local good. Railroads in this country are already in place and the ones in this area are steadily working to improve service. And the industry, as a whole, is not asking for a Federal bailout.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Will Lexington bring back streetcars?

The local scandal rag The Herald-Leader had an article today that has had the whole city thinking about streetcars. The writer even dredged up enough historical facts to display some sort of familiarity with the topic of a streetcar. He evoked the idea of a trundling rail-guided motor carriage, with bells clanging and people waiting at the stop. This stop ideally would be at a shaded residential corner where one could catch the next car downtown, or home from the store.
He spoke of times fondly remembered and suggested that they may come again, and soon.

There is , he informed us, a local group interested in streetcars. I know that there are many of us out there who are earnestly trying to get someone to listen and really get a streetcar system started again. But that is not of whom he was speaking. This group he is speaking of consists of some University presidents, city leaders, local developers and a smattering of transportation administrators or consultants. They have named themselves The Greater Lexington Automated Guideway Transit Policy Board and Task Force. And they have nothing to do with streetcars.

They have been meeting for almost a year (so much for our beliefs in the transparency of government planning) and have focused, so far, on the technology along the lines of the Miami people mover".
"Initially, the group is looking at a tram system that would run on or above streets, or both, and connect the UK campus with downtown. Later phases could connect Transylvania University and extend up the Newtown Pike corridor to include the new campus of Bluegrass Community and Technical College and UK's Coldstream campus."
The key words here are "above the streets". This is the same elevation of the dreaded skywalks/skybridges that have pulled the pedestrians from the sidewalks, the same idea that has caused an uproar when applied to CentrePointe. This even seem to fly in the face of the soon to begin implementation Streescape Plan. The making of streets for people.

This quote also alludes to this being the first phase "from UK to downtown". Is there any need to move faculty/students from campus to downtown that cannot be accomplished by walking. It can't be more than 1/2 a mile. Hardly worth the wait on a pod. But wait, there are the other institutes of higher learning, Transylvania and BCTC, and the need to connect with them not to mention the research campus at Coldstream.

Nowhere is the mention of the larger population of Greater Lexington. The people who would, if they chose to ride it, have to drive to some destination and park to ride around, come back and pick up the car and drive home. In this scenario there is no up-side to riding the tram, or skypod , or monorail, or whatever but certainly not a streetcar. The streetcar solution should be for the populace that will be at a disadvantage when, not if, gasoline become a limited product and the personal vehicle is a thing of the past.

What I see here is not the University of Kentucky becoming a "top 20" school, but academics playing with other schools' developments for their own enjoyment and not planning for the future of Lexington.

Below find the names of those who are not looking out for the streetcar from the shady residential corner.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Richmond Rd and New Circle Rd TIF?

I have posted about the Lexington Mall property in the past (read it here) and I continue to hear of the local leaders attempts to do something about it. Then, the last Board of Adjustment meeting heard a case concerning the former Continental Inn property and the inappropriate use of storing truck trailers. Both of these properties were once sites of very popular enterprises and the destinations of many local shopping or entertainment trips. Both of these properties fell on hard times either from the failure to keep up with the times, by modernizing the facilities, or the uses of the facilities. These properties were in such decline, and in such prominent locations that they gained the attention of the LFUCG's Underutilized Property survey team.

The map of the surveyed properties (a portion of which is shown above) may be found here and a description of the ranking system here. I have a few questions about the accuracy of this map, mostly about property in the outer growth areas, but also some in the ring of properties adjacent to New Circle Rd. This "ring" contains a bulk of the developments built in the wave of expansion after World War II that ranged from 1948 -1970. The time 22 year span ('48 -'70) corresponds to the time it took to complete New Circle Rd.

A goodly number of developments built in conjunction with or because of New Circle have had to modify how and with whom they do business. The two drive-in theaters, that built "out in the country" but with good access, have been redeveloped into other retail/wholesale businesses and the shopping centers (Eastland, South Park, North Park...) , that used to be the first thing you came to upon entering Lexington, have had to reorient themselves to a more local trade or die.

There are a number of other properties currently in the stages of redevelopment along the New Circle Rd corridor. These being
  • The Lexus of Lexington parcel
  • The rebuild of Parkette
  • Several parcels around the Eastland center
  • The continuing progress of the block from Bryan Station to North Limestone (Goo Goo Car Wash, the Bryan Station Inn, the revamped gas stations and the up coming move of the CVS to the corner at N Lime)
  • The redo of the old Best Western into a brand new Candlewood Inn
Others properties outside this corridor but of the same time frame include the Turfland Mall, Gardenside Center, Cardinal Valley Center and the Springs Inn. Any of these could find themselves of the underutilized map very quickly.

Turfland Mall and Lexington Mall have a great many similarities. Both were built in the late'60s, both were anchored by McAlpin's and another large retailer, both had the other retailer replaced by Home Depot, both have had major drainage problems and both have had the higher end residential, that they relied on, continue to move further out the road.

All the foregoing have been commercial properties, but there are also some residential property that has fallen to underutilized status in the Richmond Rd/New Circle area. One of these is the, now closed, English Manor Apartments(built as Todds Trace Apartments). Three parcels of land comprising approximately 20 acres, 400+ units, purchased for $11.1 million in 2005 and not one of those units occupied for almost a year. Housing for roughly 1,000 people at a point which cold become a primary TOD spot.

So, we see some shortcomings of the underutilized property information and the missed redevelopment opportunities at just one major intersection. Approximately 40 acres of unused land worth well over the assessed $20 million. Why would this area not qualify for a TIF area?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

"Peak oil"--- when will we plan for it?

I have posted before on the subject of "peak oil" and the lack of attention that this city has paid the matter. Now, in my in box was the latest newsletter from Post Carbon Cities and the entry for how, in the past year, a growing number of communities have instituted planning for the possibility(probability) of a declining source of petroleum products. This coming situation is not even on the Lexington radar. I keep seeing short mentions in the local press and more on the forums and chat rooms that I have occasioned. There is no lack of access to the information on "peak oil", relocaliziation, sustainable farming or a myriad of similar topics. The only place where it is not discussed is in the public meetings of the city fathers.

Lexington has a growing number of farmers markets and and increasing system of "organic" and "sustainable farming" growers. The PDR program head keep touting ,that the family farm is the "factory floor" of our agri-business or the hoped for agri-tourism. (Has anyone thought of how tourism will still be possible after peak oil?) The city has pushed for walkable and bikeable communities, yet still approves subdivisions without real connectivity, thereby limiting the real ability to provide sustainable communities.

These are just two of the shortcomings of the city leadership. Some others in the city have also seen a lack of leadership and have blogged about it, only they see a failure in another direction. One of these is Transforming Lexington run by Eric Patrick Marr. He seems to want the City Council to make us more like the cities that continue to deny that "peak oil" will occur. Those are the cities more concerned about image than real progress. Those who believe that a Disney-esque circulator trolley is better than a fixed guideway streetcar or tram system.

Eric and I have traded some comments and he says that, in principle, he can agree with statements I have made on his posts, yet he still confuses the "flash of bling" with the real bang of sustainable progress. I don't see applauding the current council for the continued scatter shot approach to finding solutions. Some of the attempted projects counteract others to the point that progress on both is so difficult, as to appear ineffective, and one then the other is discarded for a new "wonder project".

I also don't care for the individual grandstanding of council members, showing that they have the leadership qualities to move the city ahead. This starts to pit member against member or faction against faction, and makes for some strange alliances just to get their pet projects on the table(which may get unfunded by the next election). A number of these projects spend more funds than they bring in in the long run.

I would call for the city to go back to the original charter, reinstall the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), have the Council set policy and guide the direction of Lexington. In other words , have the "part-time" legislators allow the "full-time" administrators run the day to day efforts of the city. To borrow the analogy from Eric, have the Council steer the vehicle and the department heads apply the gas and brakes as necessary.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Condos --- Glut or what?

I was looking at the condo situation here in Lexington today. Did you know that we have brought 341 condos on l1ne so far this year? Does that sound like a lot to you? Well, it is only 58% of the total put up for sale last year. That would bring us more in line with the year before, 2006 shows that we had 353 condos built or converted being just a difference of 12.

The breakdowns give us a little detail about where they are (or think they are) heading.
  • This year
  • 69 new and 30 conversions in the downtown area
  • 64 conversions in the University area
  • 46 new in the Hamburg area
  • 76 conversions off Richmond Rd across from Lexington Mall
  • Last year
  • 92 new in the Hamburg area
  • 142 new and 99 conversions in the downtown area
  • although 85 of those conversions could be said to be in the University area
  • 36 new in the northern suburban area
That is a whopping 928 condos in two years and 1,281 in three years.

The ones with at least three bedrooms are not convenient to downtown and the ones downtown don't have enough space. All of them with space are priced out of the reach of most families. The conversions downtown(along E. High St.) are barely more than efficiencies or very tiny one bedroom units.

Where does this leave us. Well, many appraisers and Realtors may tell you that we are in good shape, but we have nearly a 3 year supply and in a down market.

I don't understand what the developers are thinking when I look at some of the university area condo projects of the past. The primary one that comes to mind is on Woodland Ave and was built for the students, although most were bought by parents so that the kids could live off-campus. The last time I checked the PVA web site the ownership was concentrated in a very few names of property management companies. These condos have not appreciated as the rest of the market and have barely kept their value. Given that track record, why do they still convert apartment houses into condos?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Reasons for blogging

I started this blog about three months ago with the idea that it would let me have someplace to record the thoughts I have about the neighborhoods I have known and explored for the better part of 40 years. Some I know the history of well and others, I am finding out, not so well.

Mrs. Sweeper has told me for years that I should write about the history of the things that I know. Write down some of the stories that I have been telling her. Talk about what happened when I was young (she thinks that I am older than dirt). Maybe someday this could be a book.

"Who would read what I have to say?" I said. " I don't write well enough to write a book."


Well, somebody has been reading this blog, according to the hit counter, and some of you have been coming back on a regular basis, so I must be saying something you like. I try to stay from the current events and commenting on what is in the news reports, that is what some of you do well on your own sites. I will write about how I feel about the the events of the day or what I think of the interesting sights I see. I will chronicle the progress of some of the developments being built, especially when I can tie them to the history that I remember, or can research of the area.

To those who come here often, you check in to find something different, so I ask for your comments to help direct the flow of the blog. To those who search for specific topics or my thoughts on a topic, I hope you find what you are looking for.

Lastly, I am doing some research on some of the older subdivisions and neighborhoods, particularly those which may have changed greatly or disappeared completely. I hope to call this series "Ghost Subdivisions of Lexington".

So let's hear from you and see if we can take this blog somewhere.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Avon and thoughts on the other Rural Activity Centers

Following up on an earlier entry, I began thinking more about Avon and the activity happening around it.

Avon is one of the areas in Fayette County that has been designated a Rural Activity Center, or RAC for brevity. It, the Spindletop Research area, the Bluesky Industrial Park and the Airport were identified for the 1980 Comprehensive Plan, as concentrations of urban style (non residential) activity, that occurred in the rural portion of the county. At the time of that plan the Lexington Depot was operating at levels much less than in the post war years but had not become a target for closure.

The several industrial buildings had been used as justification for the location of a factory producing pre-cast concrete panels for the construction industry. This I-1 land and the military complex, a rail line with siding and a small retail component along with the sizable daily workforce, made this a very active area.

Bluesky Industrial and the Airport have both grown in activity in the past 30 years . Bluesky in particular has had pressure to not only expand in intensity but size as well. Land adjacent to the industrial park has been worked and filled with dirt (illegally) in hopeful preparation of an expansion.

The Airport is continually expanding as a growing city's airport should. The plans call for a parallel runway for commercial aviation and a new general aviation cross runway. I believe that the land is soon to be acquired for those purposes. The currently designated boundary cover only a portion of the airport property, that which is now in active use. Developers have , in prior plan deliberations, asked for an expansion to allow the building of hotel and meeting facilities to enhance the functionality of the airport. When this is coupled with the activity and the expanding acreage of Keeneland, the eventual RAC could be between three and four times the original size.

Lastly, Spindletop which was begun in the late '60s as an area for the University to do research in a park like setting, along the lines of North Carolina's Research Triangle. Presently the two largest research groups housed in the zoned area are the Asphalt Institute and the Council of State Governments. The University has some storage space out there and the World Equestrian Games organizing headquarters fill out the occupied buildings, so this is the least active RAC of the four. That is, of course, without the furious building and developing of the Horse Park, site of the 2010 World Equestrian Games.

If these Games are as successful as hoped, then the Horse Park should be the RAC and the Spindletop area would be just an appendage of it. The Horse Park, being a State Park, should continue to try to attain a hotel for the property, as I am sure the neighboring landowners will continue to try to cash in on the parks success. The equine veterinary hospital across from the entrance to the Horse Park will also add the activity in the area.

To date, the Planning Commission has held the line and granted only small additions or adjustments to the RAC boundaries . The next Plan and the circumstances in which we may find ourselves could show that by continuing to "hold the line", we are holding to the days of "Father Knows Best" and "Leave it to Beaver" in all their black and white, broadcast to this HD full color world.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Public input--Its use and misuse

I am a firm believer in the term "Peak Oil", the coming realization that the world is on the down side of the oil production bell curve. We have passed the peak of oil availability in the inexpensively drilled fields and from now on the cost of acquiring our fuel from new oil fields will continue to rise until they will no longer try to drill for it. I also feel, that once again, with the new century comes the need for a shift in how we prepare for the times to come, in other words how we plan for the future of Lexington.

Almost two years ago, a fellow "peak oil" believer felt so strongly about the need to plan for the world wide effects of such a problem that she addressed the Lexington Planning Commission's public input hearing, concerning issues related to the latest Comprehensive Plan. I came across the minutes of that hearing, online (bottom of pg 6 pdf), the other day and realized that the gist of her presentation was entirely omitted from the record. I have a copy of the whole letter that she submitted that day and it clearly begins with things we need to do because of "peak oil". She also posted an edited copy on the forum at Planetizen.

The hearing that day was generally about the transportation elements of the Plan and her letter fully encompassed much more of the other elements, so she limited her spoken comments to those related to transportation. If one read the minutes before the forum entry you would not realize that the two were related (or even the same). If one reads the Plan, you will find out that there is nothing at all about "peak oil" or that there could be anything other than life spinning merrily along.

The Comprehensive Plan is supposed to take a look into the crystal ball of the future and devise a method of actions to deal with what we see there. This is very much akin to marching into a long tunnel with only a road map of from where you came and only a candle for a headlight. Is it any wonder that we get anywhere at all?

Lexington's comprehensive plans of the past are not much better. The first plan, prepared in 1931, included a section concerning what we now call "mass transit" Then it was called "Chapter VIII, Street Car Lines and Motor Bus Lines". Now, in 1931, they knew of the "crash of '29" and that thing were not getting better very quickly, so they planned carefully to expand the streetcars and motor buses so as to benefit the suburban dweller outside of the downtown. What they did not know, was that in less than ten years the streetcar would be gone.

The 1967 and its 1973 update included sections on Community Shelters which were concerned nuclear fallout and not other public safety. They also had sections on utilities and streetlights which no longer are a concern due to those services being provided by the private sector.(Homeland Security would have a field day with those sections now) It does surprise me that worldwide economic events play no part in the planning decisions made on the local level. The mid '70s gas crises had no mention in the 1980 plan and the growing "housing bubble" of the late '90s garnered nary a word in the 2001 plan.

If the public officials who take the input from their hearings do not apply that input, then they should not be surprised when the public quits responding to their requests for further input. These documents are not supposed to be feel good reports or plans. They are supposed to be used to prepare the people for the future, by being realistic about the events that may come our way. The ordinary citizen cannot read all the technical data to identify the possible problems that may face him in the next few years. That is why we rely on the appointed and elected leaders to determine the course for Lexington and Kentucky. The input should reflect all the data received and at least a nod to, or a refutation of the input and why.

Just a little something to think about.

Adding a blog list

When I started this endeavor, I stated my intentions on a forum that I have been participating in for almost a year. A fellow forum member asked to allow him to link to my site and I took that to be an honor. I wasn't posting anything worth reading and someone wished to link to me.

I have stumbled my way through arranging this blog to show who I am, someone who cares about the comings and goings along the streets of Lexington, Ky. I have followed other blogs about urban development(mostly in other cities since Lexington does not have so many) and recently, while scrolling down the page of one I noticed ---my blogs---name. I am now linked on two blogs, that I know of, and now I need to return the favor.

As of tonight I have added a Blog List and added these two sites plus a few others of my favorites. I hope that you enjoy them as much as I do and visit them for the furtherance of the understanding of urban development.

Friday, December 5, 2008

A walkable interior neighborhood shopping area

Today I was speaking with some co-workers about living outside the downtown area. One had had to travel home to pick a forgotten piece of information in order to pay a bill. The time taken to go home, pay the bill and come back had exceeded the time allowed for lunch, consequently he had skipped eating.

Another was telling us of her and her husband's decision to move back to within the New Circle Rd. as soon as they could arrange their finances to do so. As they both work downtown, within walking distance of each other during the daytime but far from where the like to be a night, they wish to find something a little closer to town. Their likely location is the Meadowthorpe area, small homes, close to shopping, parks and, although not really walkable, downtown.

I do like Meadowthorpe but it is just not my cup of tea. I have lived and worked for most of my life within 5 miles of the very center of the city. There was an approximately three year period when, right after I got married, I lived outside the Circle and loathed every minute of it. As soon as we could swing it, I made the move back to within 8 blocks of where I grew up.

Also, don't think that I don't like the rural area. I have been on every rural road in the county and a great number of those in others counties, most all of them by bicycle. I explored the new subdivisions as they were developed and mapped them both on paper and in my mind. Mrs. Sweeper is geographically impaired but I see maps as one sees aerial photos and aerials as detailed maps. You might say that, to me, the image in my mind of Lexington is what others see when looking at Google maps in hybrid mode.

The Meadowthorpe area is a very nice walkable shopping center and one of a select few that are walkable. The ones that come to mind just have a single problem, the fact that they have at least one or two main streets running in front of or through them. Since the early '70s there have been a number of shopping areas planned and built within neighborhoods and all have failed to progress very far before stalling out and coming just short of dying.

The Romany Road shoppes are off of a main road, generally well back into the neighborhood of Chevy Chase and, contrary to conventional wisdom, has and is succeeding. Houses, apartments, duplexes, schools and a park nearby make this shopping area very walkable, so why was the street clogged with oversize SUV's and luxury model sedans taking up every legal and non-legal parking spot the other night? You've got it, the wealthy of this subdivision (and those bordering it) will not walk when it suits them not to. They may be on their way home from the gym, need to pick a quick bite and will park as close to the door as possible, so as not to walk in the cold or rain.

The Romany Road area began to be developed after WW II and contains a grocery, pharmacy, restaurants, offices, bank branches, medical services and a post office. Some elderly housing and other personal services complete the scene and, at one time there was a gas station. Everything neatly, well contained along a short stretch of a narrow suburban street.

I'm sure that there is a lesson to be learned there somewhere, but for nearly 60 years it has escaped the planners and developers, and nothing in Lexington come close to the feel of this jewel of a shopping area.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Side effect of the smoking ban

I was up along E. Short St today, by the employee entrance of the District Court House where they have placed a "smoking station". The photo of the location is shown to the left. It also functions as the access to the parking garage, there fore many people gather there to smoke before entering the building or they come out to take a break. This is their "home away from home" for 8 hours a day, or in the latest lingo, their "place 2".

I realize that it is a bit difficult to see, but try to focus in on the base of the shrubs and the landscaping in the photo to the right. All those little white specks are cigarette butts. Somehow a large number of the smokers have missed the commodious ashtray on the pole.

The smoking ban has been proven to have made the air in our government buildings cleaner and I can tell that it has left the interior surfaces without the customary nicotine film that we are all used to. But, did we have to move the ashtray to the whole outside? How lazy does one have to be to not drop their butts (cigarette) into the supplied receptacle? If they are this lazy about this, then how lazy are they about their jobs? These are the folks serving us, doing the peoples business, so do we really want to know?

I can't just pick on these people, because it happen almost everywhere. And not only near the entrances of public buildings, or private offices, or shopping centers, or etc....etc. Look at the concrete medians at the stop bars in major intersections --massive amounts of discarded butts for all the world to see. If we have the world invited to come see us in less than two years, do we want them to see us with our butts showing everywhere?

Its not all bad though, the front door has a trash can with an ashtray on top and all I saw there was a plastic utensil that had missed it mark.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Avon and the State Parks system

Several years ago the Federal government began transferring the operations at the Avon Depot to private industrial entities and renamed to facility Bluegrass Station. The majority of the new industrial operations were military in nature and the army kept a small force there for security reasons.

Recently the Lexington-Fayette County Government began offering recreation opportunities by opening the golf course and pool as facilities of the LFUCG Division of Parks & Recreation. On their current web pages, they show the golf but not the pool ( I believe they ceased operating it due to low attendance) in Avon.

Today I learned that the State of Kentucky took title to 211 acres of the former Avon facility at the end of September. This was not in the news, either TV or print. Where was the crack investigative team from the Herald-Leader? "Rita Skeeter" must have been tracking down something about CentrePointe at that time. Anyway, the State will now be responsible for the land and I guess the recreation to done there. I cannot put much stock in the city's parks website right now since the entire LFUCG website is to be revamped and relaunched within the week, the current pages may not be the most correct. That is the reason that I did not link to them.

I will try to keep my eyes open an learn just what the State has in mind for the property and if the LFUCG will contiue to provide services to that portion of the county.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Commuting in the future

I was confronted the other day on the city-data forum, about the desires of some, here in Central Kentucky to widen the Versailles Rd (US 60) to 6-8 lanes each way as far as the Bluegrass Parkway, or maybe even on to Versailles and Frankfort. This, they claimed, was necessary for all the commuters from Anderson, Woodford and Mercer Counties. There must be a tremendous backlog during the morning and evening rush periods (I don't think I can call them hours) to justify 6-8 lanes, and if that is the case, why don't they travel together together instead of together separately?

Now I am sure that they will be quick to say that they ...may... need to alter the routine and travel at different times, every once and a while. But if that is so, then they can commute, one to a car, occasionally, but is it necessary every day? I know that some of them carpool, but car/van pool trips is a very small percentage of the overall trips. This situation literally cries out for a commuter rail solution which will not be answered by this group of city-bred, country-living youngsters.

From my experience, the larger number of these commuters are in their mid-20s-to-late-30s, of the so called "creative class", wanting to have a new home and a yard that they can afford. Housing prices in Lexington are to high for the size lot that they want and the inconvenience of the drive is not that great....yet. They travel out, to the point of commuting economics equilibrium and citify their little piece of the rural landscape. This is the exurbs of America.

When anything causes the equilibrium of the situation to become unbalanced, then the pieces fall apart. Many of us can handle one or two pieces getting slightly unbalanced but three, four or more in varying degrees of balance/unbalance and most of us cannot deal with it. I tried, unsuccessfully, to point out that just one piece of the balance (fuel prices) could cause great pain to those commuters.

One of the responses was that 'an automobile was now a requirement for even the simplest lifestyle', as common as a horse at the turn of the last century. Even if gas was priced at $20 a gallon, people would find new technology to power the cars. This confuses technology with fuel cost and affordability of the technology. Automobiles using hydrogen would still pay higher fuel prices as it would take a massive switch out to convert the present system to hydrogen at a great cost. Those using mag-lev or electricity would still be cost prohibitive to buy or charge up. Think about it, most would like to charge up in the off peak hours of electric usage, which then would not be in the wee hours of the night, there would be no off peak hours. We, the entire country would have to beef up the entire electric grid to handle the demand. He, the responder, even went so far as to suggest a nuclear powered auto, which my 15 year old told me, would be so heavy , from the lead shielding, as to negate as benefit of the propulsion. Also where and from whom would we have to buy the fuel rods, how would we dispose of them and how, pray tell, could we keep them from any known or unknown terrorist factions?

I also feel that if gas were to rise to $20 a gallon the jobs in Lexington would dry up and commuters would no longer need to get to town. But that is fodder for another post.

Lexington and Louisville not alone

The budget woes of Lexington and Louisville that I wrote about yesterday are not limited to Kentucky. It appears that Hamilton Co in Ohio(Cincinnati) is also looking to trim fat from the wrong areas.

Why can't city leaders realize like the regular families do, that even though some promises were made, some deals were struck or someone else claimed the right, that situations change (of no fault of their own) and priorities have to be re-evaluated.

This all reminds me of the homeowner of recent housing development, who called to complain about the new apartment complex being built behind her house. "The Realtor said that I would be surrounded by single family houses." she said. "When did the get that rezoned? I wasn't told about this." The property 's zoning was all changed at the same time, three years before her house was built. Sometimes we and our city leaders don't do "due diligence" and sometimes it is the "law of unintended consequences", but situations do change. And so do our priorities.

Let's just deal with it.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Local Governments talk budget cutting

Louisville has decided to cut some fat out of their budget in order to make up for a revenue shortfall. Lexington is thinking of doing something similar. In both cases, it seems, that they look for the quick fix and not the underlying problems.

The role of government is to do for the populace, things that they cannot do for themselves. Such necessary duties as police protection, fire protection, sanitation (both solid waste and sewers) and transportation maintenance are items that the general population should not do for themselves. No one wants a vigilante force or forces roaming the streets at night and nowhere to be seen in the daytime. Volunteer fire departments work well in the rural areas but not in the urban confines of a metropolitan area. Sanitation and road maintenance would be equally as disastrous, if left to the the individual to take care of. Have you had trouble remembering to take out the garbage?

In tight budgetary times the typical family will cut back on the unnecessary expenses while making sure that the electricity and food are paid for. Governments, likewise, need to delay paying for line items that don't keep the city clean, safe and unobstructed. Things like PDR and some arts or recreation funding should be put on hold until better economic times. PDR alone would save $2 million this year and if no development rights were purchased, then where is the harm, the developers don't have the funds to build right now either.

How about cutting back on the Holiday decorations a little. Do we need to have bigger and flashier decorations than last year? Do we have to emphasize one celebration over all others? We used to have the downtown property owners and merchants do their own decorations, now the city has to have a consistent look for all the downtown district. Where is the diversity that we seek in the rest of our urban dealings?

And not just the winter season, we need to be more frugal for the rest of the year also. Individual neighborhood groups seem to be able to have their own holiday celebrations (4th of July, Memorial and Labor days) so why not let them be held without governmental intervention? I have advocated this before with the Second Sunday events so this is nothing new.

Any time governments find themselves in financial crunch, there are threats of newer, higher taxes (sometimes renamed as fees) which just makes the populace more irate, when they also are in a tight spot. Perhaps now would be a good time to explore new revenue generation techniques like a local sales tax instead of a payroll tax, or split the revenues (a small sales tax and a reduced payroll tax) . In this fashion, locals who earn and spend here will pay for the services rendered here, those who earn there and spend here pay less as do those who earn here and spend there. Families that spend $100 at Aldi's will pay x percent and those who spend $250 at Whole Foods will also pay x percent The fellow who buys a cheap used car and the the one who buys a Cadillac will pay the same percent just not the same amount in taxes. (I know, someone will say that food should be exempt, but the principle is the same)

All this talk of cutting services in these lean budget times only points out that the civic leaders are unwilling to tackle the difficult task of making sure that the city will continue to render the services required (not desired) of them. On this issue Louisville and Lexington, regardless of the size differential, are in the same boat and are both sinking at the same rate.