Thursday, January 29, 2009

Shelters for the Trolley Riders

On the MLK Holiday, Lextran and Art in Motion cut the ribbon on their first artistically designed bus shelter the Bottlestop, in front of the LFUCG campus on Versailles Rd.

AIM's website shows that they are planning to do more "art stops" in the near future.
East End Shelter
Newtown Pike Art Shelter
Euclid Avenue Art Shelter
The two preceding facts combined with the discussion of "branding" for the circulator trolley could lead to some serious thoughts about bus stops in the downtown area. I don't think that anyone is giving it much thought now, so I went on the trail to see if I could find just something.

The current version of the Lexington Streetscape Master Plan has very little about the bus stops in the downtown and only lists a few locations for stops to be considered. They are:
145 East Main Street across the street from the Police Station.
Main Street at Cheapside in front of the Court House.
333 W Main Street.
200 W Vine Street in front of PNC Bank.
The Streetscape Plan does call for the new bus stops to be of the art type, but other than this there is very little said. The draft Downtown Masterplan says absolutely nothing.

Once again it appears that mass transit, in the form of Lextran, is left to the mercy of the current riders and given no incentive to prepare for any new ones. Even in the context of "complete streets", where pedestrians and cyclists are well cared for, the lowly transit rider is not mentioned. Is it possible that with the restoration of the circulator trolleys, that the branding could in some way lead to an art stop in one of these proposed places?

From what I have been told, the branding will run along the lines of "The Colt". This seems simple enough, a colt is a young male horse, something that will grow up to be a mature animal someday. (maybe there is hope for a real streetcar someday.) There are some statues in Thoroughbred Park of some colts, the ones frolicking on the hill, the one of the baby near Main St. the one of Lexington near Short and the ones driving for greatness at the finish line. What this park doesn't have is an art bus stop.

If what I proposed here the other day could be built upon, this would be either the start or the finish of the entertainment loop, and what would be better than a Colt branded, art type, bus stop. As I think of it now, this could be difficult to do or it could be simple. I doubt that we could get Gwen Reardon to donate her talents to help design a stop, but something along that line is not totally out of the question. This will go a long way toward making up for the lack of public art which I posted about back in November. There are other equine artists working in bronze . Seeing as how the Triangle Foundation own the park, could we approach them for a little assistance.

What about a challenge to some of the famous horse owners to have a design for their top thoroughbred, for a series of stop progressing down Main St. (and maybe some Standardbreds along Short)?

I have shown disdain for this in the past and still believe that we as Lexington can do better, do more, for the mass transit starved people of Central Kentucky, but if I can put forth these ideas as an opponent what are the proponents putting forth? Where is our "creative class" in such an artistic endeavor?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Entertainment Loop Follow-up

I have had a few more thought on the subject of the downtown circulator.

If the route described in my last post(or something like it) is adopted, then the businesses that benefit from its service should have some say in how it is branded. My first thought was for the stores and restaurants along the route could distribute cards for discounted rides, much like the parking tags from the garages that we are used to. Then I remembered that there is no fare to begin with. But there must be a way to gauge the effectiveness of the trolley on the downtown businesses.

While in Whole Foods the other day I saw their "wooden nickel" campaign where they let customers donate to their favorite charity by donating a wooden nickel. Something similar could be done for the trolleys. A set of tokens could be prepared for any business which wants to participate, each entity having its identifying number, then allowing their patrons to essentially vote for the trolley by dropping their token into the farebox. The tokens are then counted and the businesses with the highest number of patrons for the month get some promotion by Lextran or some other type of benefit out of the trolley. It would also allow for ridership breakdowns and friendly challenges

The Mayor has said that he would like to see the trolley given some sort of "branding" to make it stand out in the minds of the riders, especially the tourists. It needs to be some sort of fresh idea and, I would hope, much more different than the typical "vintage" things that they had previously. I am, by nature, a history buff and enjoy perusing old photos, but if we can't do better than the last weak attempt at trying to stylize a regular streetcar, I think that we ought to stop right now.

As I have stated before I wish for a modern, steel-railed streetcar and believe that one can be placed downtown. There are now systems being developed that allow for the trams to be powered without overhead wires, using inductive coils to power the motors. These systems are currently being tested in France and Germany and appear to hold great promise.

I will leave you with these last questions.
Are the European engineers better trained than ours?
Do the Europeans and the Australians know something that we don't?
Are their cities better than ours or their history better than ours?
If they can do it , why can't we?

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Downtown Entertainment Loop

I am not a big fan of the so called downtown circulator that is being planned for Lexington, but if the powers that be are going ahead then let us make it work to the City"s advantage.

When Lextran first began to gather input for the possible "trolley route", my wife and I attended a meeting or two. I can tell you that I was not impressed with the way the survey was conducted. I can now tell you that the situation downtown has changed, some say not for the good, but it has changed.

There are now new restaurants and bars that were not open at the time, and more planned.
Devassa, Lower48, Cosi and the Chase Tap Room in the Victorian Square.
The Penguin Piano Bar in The 500's on Main.
Buster's will be relocating to Short and Broadway.
Cheapside has been closed to traffic and will be a publc gathering place.
The Court Square Building has Redmond's in the basement and a coming Skybar on the roof.
The Olive Tree has replaced Kiser's at Upper St.
Mia's moved to Short and Lime to join the long list of eateries on Limestone.
The business owners on the Esplanade have announced a renovation of that block to go along with the renovations going on in the North Mill block.
The Dame has made a successful move to E. Main beside the Main and Rose complex
There is supposed to be a CVS pharmacy replacing the Integra Bank and other buildings soon.
These combined with the existing Portofino's, Bellini's, Taste of Thai, Desha's and some other smaller places all make up a dining/entertainment district between Main St and Short St. These places do most of their business at night, so why not run the circulator along Main St. and Short St., not just at noon, but in the evening, well into the later hours of the entertainment schedules.
This seem to make more sense than an East/West run at lunch and a North/South all evening. Where is the sense in traveling along Vine St, with no place to get off from Broadway to Midland. If we are concerned about the Lexington Center businesses, there can be a figure eight around the Triangle Park to accomodate them.

If the eventual restoration of two way traffic to Main & Vine is made, the completion of CentrePointe and the additional developments that will replace the Transit Center, then another loop along Main & Vine is not out of the question.

If we can't have a real streetcar on rails, then let us do something that may just work as a stopgap measure.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Destination 2040: Part 5

Picking up on the discussion of the Destination 2040 report, today I will look at Aspect 3 Economic Expansion. They describe Lexington as a fertile field of opportunity, where taking advantage of key strengths and exploring creative new endeavors will benefit all its people. That has long been the case but what they do not mention, or see the prospect of, is that it does not benefit all people equally. By simply reading the statement, one could imply that all will benefit equally, but that has NEVER been the case.

The community elements of Economic Expansion are:
New or Existing Business Expansion
Stable Employment / Adequate Wages

Agricultural Industry

Workforce Training and Educatio
Stabilization of Government Revenues
Regional Cooperation
Institutes of Higher Education as Economic Engines
Business Recruitment Strategies/Methods
Entrepreneurship and Innovative Partnerships/Programs
Generation of New Markets or Products
In this aspect, the ranking do not show any great need for any one to be ahead of any other as the all may be equally valid. I do question the first one, as to whether It should better read Existing and New Business Expansion, but that is just quibbling details.

This time the report re-arranges the order of the elements and starts with number 2 Stable Employment/Adequate Wages.

To further enhance business, government, and non-profit job expansion efforts toward both high wage skills-based workplaces and high-income knowledge based workplaces… sounds like an admirable goal, but that should hardly be first in a long line of actions. This action will, in the long run, increase the revenue collected by the local government, but we need to enhance the abilities and wages of the lower classes first. When we ensure a living wage for the common workman AND ensure that the so called “high-wage “ positions are not in the realm of the “New York financiers” that we have heard of lately, then we can gain more opportunity for both ends of the economic scale. The worker training opportunities are(or will be) there, what is not there is the ability to attend, due to pressing needs to provide for a family. Assure a living wage and reduce the economic pressure and people will advance themselves.

We do have an active cultural arts scene. It may not be as active as Danville/Centre College’s Norton Center for the Arts, but there is a cultural scene going on. We have two fine university concert halls, one publicly owned venue and a number of smaller sites. There is no reason why Lexington should not have concerts and shows of the caliber of those presented almost weekly in Danville It is curious the both universities are left out of the list of initiators for this action. There is a nice arena for other concerts and events in our Rupp Arena, the unfortunate reality is that what plays well there is not considered cultural enough for the upper echelons of cultural society. Country music concerts and monster truck shows are all cultural events.

The action to create permanent school based personnel to facilitate job placement come too close to a Big Brother society for my tastes. We already have school counselors which cannot seem to correctly assess the real problem students in order to provide real help, otherwise we would currently be reaching the intent of this goal.

Community element 1 Existing and New Business Expansion has seven action statements with such broad reaching, generalized meanings that each and every one of them could be working a cross purposes with any of the others. Mostly, what I get out of them is a sense of doing here the same that has been done elsewhere and had brought this country to the brink of financial collapse. Our need is to return to the basics and let the people do what they have done before the global economics got in the way.

Element 3 is our treasured Agricultural Industry and by that we mean the equine industry( plus some of those food farmers) since we have lost the tobacco market as a major money mover. The actions all have something to do with our “signature” industry and have nothing to do with our sustainable agriculture that was predicted in the opening section of the report. The industry of thoroughbred horses will not feed the families of the high-paid high-tech workers that we apparently will have, nor will it support the well paid health care workers and scientists housed within Lexington’s boundaries. What is needed will be acres upon acres of re-localized, truly sustainable food production, supplemented by greenhouses of non-local species plants. Even agriponics is not out of the question.

Once again, in Element 4 the action statements do not follow the form of the element heading. Workforce Training & Education actions are all about education and very little about training the real workforce. If the past 30 years is any evidence, then one would realize that the real workforce is not the highly educated, but those that do the bidding of the educated elite.

The first action of setting and reaching a top tier in U.S. education still puts us somewhere near 16th or 17th globally, which is a far cry from the top. The second action desires a nebulous number of “free scholarships”to local schools of questionable reputation which is like getting free gas without asking about quality. Action three tells me that if we throw enough money at education, then we will have the highest paid teachers graduating the same quality of students as we are presently. Fifteen years to raise the standards but five years to over pay the teachers. The last three actions will continue to display efforts that have done "sooo well" in the past.

I , myself see very little coming from these actions that is not already being done.

Next time I will tackle one of my favorite topics the Cultural Creativity of our creative class

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Mayor's Stimulus Package

Today, I want to take a break from the Destination 2040 visioning comments and think about the Mayor’s $556 million stimulus package wish list.

This list contains some interesting and somewhat confusing items, but I think that all of them are needed at some level.

All of the Airport projects are well documented but yet may be less needed if the airline industry declines further or the tourism industry continues to falter.
  • Carrier Ramp Rehabilitation 2,618,000
  • Terminal Drive and Airfield Lighting Electrical Vault 5,930,000
  • TW D Relocation and Corp. Ramp Addition ? Phase II 7,033,000
  • Construct RW 9-27 Phases II and III 18,000,000
There are a number of projects that puzzle me concerning the Government Center Buildings. Primarily the main Government Center, the Switow building , the Phoenix building and the Old Court House(now the History Museum). The Mayor and the Council have made a big deal about the need for a new City Hall Complex and have had a consultant study the same. The recommendation has been given that, yes, we do need a new building but a location has not been identified. The Mayor an Council have proposed replacing the Stewart’s garage and Police headquarters with a new City Hall and removing the Phoenix building and parking garage. With that as background, we find on the wish list these items:
  • Switow Building; Painting/Flooring and HVAC Improvements 170,000
  • Phoenix Building; Windows/Flooring/Painting and HVAC Improvements 2,020,000
  • Government Center; Total Building Renovations 8,000,000
  • Coroner's Office; Total Building Renovations including HVAC 1,500,000
  • Government Center Parking Garage Restoration. Safety, ADA, and structural improvements to important downtown public parking garage. 2,181,000
  • Annex Parking Garage; Concrete Repairs 100,000
  • Courthouse Parking Garage; Upgrade Revenue Producing Equipment 100,000

Each of these would be vacated and/or demolished in the near future if a new city hall is built, so is the administration covering its bases or wasting money?

A great deal of discussion has been held in many forums, about the CentrePointe TIF. Several public projects have been identified for the use of the TIF funds in the area surrounding the new hotel/condo tower, not the least of which is the old Court House renovation. So, where did this come from?
  • Fayette County Courthouse; Major Renovation/HVAC 23,000,000
If the old Court House is done with stimulus money for what do we use the TIF money? Does this put the TIF status in jeopardy? Can we be double dipping?

The Distillery District is also in the pipeline for TIF status and it too has a stimulus entry.
  • Distillery District public improvements to include new sidewalks, Town Branch Trail, placement of utility lines underground, storm drainage improvements, and new sanitary lines 15,000,000
And how about the following, can they not be combined into one project?
  • Upgrade of Roofing (insulation)and HVAC systems of Bell Place 200,000
  • Renovate historic Carriage House Theater at Bell House, a 150 year old historic landmark in Lexington 250,00
  • Bell House replacement windows on signature public space in Lexington. Project will reduce fuel costs, water incursion and deterioration to 150 year old National Historic Register property 150,000
The only skatepark in Lexington is in Woodland Park which is also the site of Realtor’s Plaza. There is also a set of tennis courts sandwiched in between.
  • Renovate outdated shelter/restroom building that houses Therapeutic Recreation and swim camp programs and skateboard/concession functions with energy and security efficient structure 150,000
  • Redevelopment of Realtor's Plaza 130,000
Once again these could be combined in to one project.

There are several signalized intersections listed to be rebuilt.
  • Rebuild Signalized Intersection, Cooper Drive at University Drive 200,000
  • Rebuild Signalized Intersection, Rosemont Garden at Southland Dr 200,000
  • Rebuild Signalized Intersection, Third Street at Race Street 200,000
  • Re-build Traffic signals in downtown 1,600,000
The last entry does not identify which signals or how many, but from the cost given, I would guess the number to be eight. That would not jive with the number of jobs created though. The first three add five jobs each, but the last one adds 15. Go figure.

This next ones really throws me. Somewhere there is a disconnect in these two entries.
  • develop centralized city-wide 4 field Football Complex with artificial turf to avoid 'home-away' conflicts and provide safer surface 3,000,000
  • Lafayette High School Football Stadium 6,500,000
Each of the 4 other public high schools has rebuilt their football stadiums in the past few years and each with artificial turf, I believe. Two of the private high schools have their own sports complexes. So, where can we find a “central location”, presumably, currently owned and construct 4 fields, for half the price of one, at its present location. Does anybody have any idea where this is proposed?

The Board of Education has a few items on the list, and well they should, and only a handful give rise to questioning.
  • Arlington Elementary School 13,206,275
  • Bryan Station Middle School 16,983,245
  • Cassidy Elementary School 13,827,791
  • Leestown Middle School 18,227,636
  • Russell Cave Elementary School 6,905,067
I know that the plans for Cassidy are ready to go and Bryan Station Middle are close, but I thought that Arlington was already underway. The students who attend there are in the old Johnson School site this year so that work could progress. If this item were to be approved, would they just reimburse the Board for some other project? Are a majority of the others currently bonded/ funded?

I know that to some this may sound nit-picky, but if Cheapside as a street, has been closed permanently, then would this item be a streetscape or a part of the old Court House renovation?
  • Streetscape Improvements - Cheapside Park 2,000,000
Transit has been a large part of the Obama campaign during the election, so it has a number of requests. Also, the City has awarded the development rights above the Transit Center to a national design/build firm who, I understand, wishes to acquire the current garage, demo it and build from the bottom up. To that end, how do we explain this:
  • Transit Center Parking Garage Restoration. Safety, ADA, and structural improvements to important downtown public parking garage. 1,026,000
  • Transit Center Parking Garage; Upgrade Revenue Producing Equipment 300,000
  • Transit Center Parking Garage; New Lighting/HVAC Improvements 136,000
  • Construction of new transit center in downtown Lexington. 20,000,000
Once again, I don’t want anyone to think that I am against any of these projects. I want to see a stimulus to the local economy, but not in the worst way. I am sure that these projects were listed so as to be able to be done on a “stand alone” basis , if necessary and they were pulled together in a short time span. I just think that we can do better if we give the public some wiser planning.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Destination 2040: Part 4

Today, we will pick-up with the action statements for Physical Growth. This aspect concerns where we place the elements necessary to implement to actions for Human Needs and should be thought of in relation to the next aspect, Economic Expansion.
For Aspect 2, Physical Growth, the community elements are:

Transportation Alternatives / Monorail
Public Facilities such as Parks, Schools

Land Use Decisions

Infrastructure - Roads / Utilities

Population Growth
Infill and Redevelopment
Planned Urban Growth Areas
Green Building - Sustainability
Preservation of Natural and Built Environments
As we saw previously, the rankings are a little out of kilter. The implementation of infrastructure, public facilities and transportation alternatives is simplified by good land use decisions. To that end I will re-arrange the top four elements in my comments.

Actions suggested for Land Use Decisions begin with identifying a group of “permanent stakeholders”. Is there not a group currently identified, called the population of Lexington and Central Kentucky? The participants listed lean heavily toward the rural preservation side of any land use question, so, how does this limit the conflict in these said decisions?

The next two actions may be reversed as I see that a total review of the zoning ordinances and regulations should take place before any revisions would take place. Both of these are needed and it is probably a good time to set this in motion again. The last re-write of the ordinances was done in the late 80’s and the one done before that was mid-60’s, so every twenty years or so is not a bad average.

Our fourth action statement about Land Use is a move toward using less land for residential development, which is almost a given since maintaining the Urban Service Area boundary as a limit to growth is a treasured goal. This smaller, more vertical housing type is perfect for mixed-use and/or TOD projects.

A move away form the current restrictive system of parcel-by-parcel zoning into a more general sweeping rezoning of property may have greater legal implications and in some instances a perceived taking by some landowners. Five years may be a very short time-span in which to complete this action, considering the possible legal ramifications.

The last Land Use action entails expanding to a regional approach in all planning decisions and some respects, small baby steps have been taken. These small steps should continue until we can pick up the ball and run full force. The history of animosity between Fayette and our surrounding counties needs to be acknowledged and each party make amends to foster a useful regional planning agency.

The Transportation and Public Facilities actions should be taken in cooperation with each other, as the public facilities need to be connected by the transportation facilities. The first three transportation actions are a logical extension of the current mode of operations. More park and ride lots are a short-term solution, at least until the transit system can begin to reach within a quarter mile of the residents. The park and ride lots can evolve in to stops for the light rail/streetcar system. Light rail, in the context of this report, does not seem to be a regional system but more of a streetcar style transportation mode. The expansion of services to regional communities and the regional agreements (and not just those concerning Versailles and Winchester) should go hand in hand. The expansion should not stop at the first ring of surrounding communities, but they should help connect us into the rest of the Kentucky Triangle.

The enhancements to the regional parkway and Interstate system may be obsolete by the time they are paid for, so any return on investment should be carefully considered. Likewise the use of HOV lanes, as these solutions have had various levels of success in other locations.

How did we let the discussion of cycling and our trails system get so far down the list of actions to be taken (8 out of 9). This should be much further up the list.

The work with out state legislature, should not be about more funding (that sound like tax increases), but a re-prioritizing of the existing funding structure. The new Federal administration appears to want to start the pendulum in the other direction in terms of its funding of transportation in the latest stimulus proposal. We and the state should jump on that band wagon.

The advanced planning for predictable public infrastructure/facilities should, as noted above, be done in conjunction with the transportation elements being set forth. Facilities should not dictate where transportation linkages go, but should be planned along side the linkages. Any park/trail funding should be similar to the transportation funding and be re-prioritized from within existing funding.

The other three actions under the Public Facility Capacity list are ones which may be combined in some way. A large amphitheater and a new major civic arena may (or should) be considered together, likewise the requested brownfield redevelopment on Old Frankfort Pike have the amphitheater. In any case they all should be planned along a transit/streetcar/light rail route.

All infrastructure be it public or private should be adequately maintained. That is the reason that we have a Code Enforcement division, to keep everything up to code. We should and do allow for flexibility in the design of creative solutions, but we should not jump at any and all different designs just because they are different. We should not only promote, but require underground utilities in the urban core area. It should be required in all redevelopment of anything within a two mile radius of Main and Limestone and we should enlist the cooperation of UK in the accomplishment of this action.

The implementation of all the transportation facilities, public facilities and infrastructure utilities need to completed within the framework and predicated on the good land use decisions with we started this entry.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Destination 2040: Part 3

Today let us pick up with the actual actions identified for each of the different aspects; human needs, physical growth, economic expansion and cultural creativity. The elements which comprise each aspect make sense, but I am a bit confused as to how they arrived at their rankings. I must assume that during the civic involvement phase some sort of weighting system was used as only the top four of these community elements has an action proposed.

For Aspect 1, Human Needs, the community elements are:

Safe, Adequate, Affordable Housing
Educational Opportunity
Medical Services / Health Care
Essential Resources
Governmental Services – Citizen Safety & Welfare
Adequate Nutrition
Adequate Treated Water Supply
Spiritual Life of Community / Religious Expression

Just how an Adequate Treated Water Supply was not included in the Essential Resources baffles me, as well as why it rates below the Government Services element. There is no need for feeling safe and secure if you have no nutrition and water, medical services become more necessary without nutrition and/or water, so these elements should be rated higher.

As for the actions to be taken on Safe Housing, the first one starts out “Take action, through ongoing practices and policies,”. To me that says to keep on keeping on. Continuing to use the same policies only reaffirms the status quo, and we can see how well that has been handled. Action two wants to extend, to other areas, a program that, in Lexington, has not been tested fully. Maybe we should walk before we run. Thirdly, the action of adding to the government staff to enforce the rules upon a populace which, as we saw yesterday, will be cooperative, willing and trusting, and only trying to do what is best for the community as a whole (see value statement #1).

Action statements for element two, Educational Opportunity begin with a desire for alternate funding to support a primary public education and progresses to full support of the UK mission and the Fayette County Schools vision plan. These three individual statements do not indicate that there is any actual (or perceived) opposition to any of them and as state mandated/supported entities, these actions are currently being followed both locally and statewide. Frankly, in my opinion, I believe that any post-secondary education should be encouraged and that the costs of such should be kept affordable, but they are hardly an essential human need. It has been said “The poor, you will always have with you…” and they need a basic education, but beyond that a practical experience education will suffice.

Element three, Medical Services/Health Care, has actions such as making a commitment to healthy living and wellness plus affordable basic health care, which are laudable goals. Is this only asking to grow the health care field, which, for Lexington if not nationally, is already one of the fastest growing segments of our services sector? This starts to smack of trying to emulate a Nashville or other major medical center. The action statement to make Lexington a leader in secure electronic medical records makes me nervous and leery of a Big Brother type scenario. Even the OnStar program has its assurances of privacy, but the car thief does not push that little blue button.

One can tell that this is a government directed process when the starting actions for Essential Resources concern the LFUCG’s pre-conceived, coordinated strategic plan and as such are already in place. Mission accomplished anyone? Fresh, locally grown food is available, but the combined readily tillable acreage in Fayette and the surrounding counties could not provide an adequate nor sustaining supply. Given the idea of sustaining the entire community, one single Farmers Market location is not sufficient. As it is, there are multiple sites currently operating in temporary locations and one, central location would pose a transportation/parking nightmare. Come on people, we have better vision than that.

This next Essential Resources action may take a paragraph by itself. Make Lexington a leader in improving air quality by reducing greenhouse gases and employing sustainable choices in housing, transportation, energy, and other community activities. As part of this approach, ensure that LFUCG, LexTran, and other public sector entities continue to invest in energy efficient vehicles. On the face of it, it seems to be about air quality and the use of new technology to bring about that end. Better planning, form-based land uses, TOD (transit oriented development) and mass transit(streetcars, light rail) are all existing, low-tech strategies to be employed which will reach the same results. Larger numbers of energy efficient vehicles will not reduce the greenhouse gases, they will just relocate the sources of those gases. Lower numbers of higher capacity, efficient vehicles will affect the level of said gases significantly. As these transportation and planning efforts are completed the following action about low-income/disabled residents will solve itself.

Lastly for today, an action statement relating to connecting to the digital world. People must remain connected to important basic living systems… Folks, as much as I use the Internet and a computer, and Mrs. Sweeper says that I spend way too much time online and may have an addiction problem, life can go on without the technology that we have all become used to. Life would not be as comfortable as we may like, we would have to re-learn some of the old ways to get by and we may have to start to relate to each other in a more personal way, but life would go on. The technology of the digital world is not an essential resource.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Destination 2040: Part 2

Continuing on with a review of the report on Destination 2040, the visioning project of Lexington’s mayor Jim Newberry.

Yesterday we looked at the Value statements and their “feel good” claims that make Lexington sound like it will be a Utopia of the Bluegrass. Next, we will examine what they call Informing statements.
  • Rural / Urban Mix
We will continue to place a high value on how close our rural and urban areas are to each other, and on how quickly we can move from one to the other. The unusual closeness between the city and the adjacent countryside, commonly referred to as the “rural / urban mix,” helps make Lexington truly unique, and requires vigorous protection for that delicate co-existence of urban and agricultural land use.
  • Region
We will strengthen our bonds with neighboring communities, seeking ways our individual strengths, assets, and advantages can be joined to forge a stronger regional partnership and more powerful economic alliance. Regional relationships built on mutual trust and respect will value the unique character, identity, and leadership of each individual community, and be marked by a willingness to share new and existing resources to develop the future of the region.
These two statements claim to be continuing efforts to do ideas not held by a majority of the regional residents. Our urban/rural mix allows us to have a small town feel while maintaining ourselves to be a metropolitan city of the “world class”. We may be a unique looking city, but we have the same problems as the larger cities when it comes to attitude. This attitude is also our stumbling block when it comes to the region and our relationships with our ring of bedroom communities. Lexington is often perceived as a controlling big brother so generating a relationship of trust is sometimes difficult to come by. We must be willing to share or existing resources, without appearing to be mandating compliance, before we can move on to the newer resources. Most of us in Central Kentucky can understand the existing economic alliance, it is the regional partnership that they have trouble with.
  • Sustainability
We will lead in sustainability through our use of practical, environment-friendly practices and emerging technologies to bring about a safer, more resilient community. We value initiatives that improve energy efficiency through reduced energy consumption and develop responsible energy sources for transportation and built infrastructure; increase the available supply of locally-produced food and energy; sustain quality and self-sufficiency in our water supply, and build the community’s capacity to be adaptable and flexible in response to future change.
Lexington has already passed the point of being a self-sustaining community. We may implement new policies designed to reduce our demand on the region for our required needs of food and energy but we will never be able to supply our water needs. The improvements in energy efficiency will best be accomplished by changing the attitudes of the residents, primarily by planning, allowing and then building the elements of society whereby the people will want to live accordingly. Any community has the ability to be flexible and adaptable, it is in man’s nature t resist change.
  • Community Appeal
We will be a community with a consistently magnetic quality of life that attracts and holds creative and talented persons of all ages. We value educational, employment, entrepreneurial, housing, and cultural initiatives that generate an appealing mixture of both workplace opportunity and exciting cultural life, so that many such people, especially young people, will choose Lexington as the place to live, work, and raise families.
Lexington currently has a magnetic appeal that holds creative and talented people. It has from before I was born. This city has, through the University and the basic economic attraction, been a collection of intelligent and hard working immigrants from the rest of the state and beyond. I have often been pointed out as one of the few native Lexingtonians and usually out of a large group of friends and co-workers. I great number of the current movers and shakers came here from somewhere else as did most of the folk with whom I come into contact on a daily basis. These are the people, if the term had been around when they were younger, which would qualify for the name “creative class”. Many larger cities, most twice or three times the size of Lexington, have bemoaned the loss of the creative class and even Atlanta made note of the lack of things to do in their downtown area, leading to the loss of conference and convention bookings. I have seen, first hand, the return of a percentage of those who left home for the greener pastures after college, a less than 80%, but no city hold on to all of their young people.

These informing statements, while not as Utopian as the previous value statements, are supposed to give specific direction to the vision, yet they appear to remain mired in a slightly wider rut than the present course of action.

The next step in this process is to have action statements or approaches to specifically outline actions to be undertaken and by whom. I will look at them next.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Destination 2040: Part 1

Lexington's leaders received Tuesday, the final report on the visioning project, Destination 2040, that the Mayor initiated soon after he took office. The result of months of meetings with local citizens and civic interest groups has been distilled down into a document purporting to reveal the broad based view of where Lexington could be in thirty years. I have rarely read anything that has so dripped of sweet, rosy nothings, that I feel the contents resemble horse apples made up to be Calvin's favorite cereal "Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs". Reading the summary page made my teeth hurt.

Two of the phrases at which the project team arrived were:
  • “Great City Life in a Productive Rural Paradise”
  • “Lexington will be one of the world's great mid-sized cities by striking and sustaining a brilliant balance of dynamic urban living and a matchless rural setting.”
Both of these statements are extremely over optimistic as to Lexington's chances of becoming a "world class city". I don't think anyone should have allusions of us being a great mid-sized city and the chance of achieving and maintaining the "brilliant" balance has eluded us for more than half a century.

After laying out the elements of project development and the process of civic engagement, the report gets down to the individual value statements for four aspects of community life. The four aspects and an explanation are:
  • human needs, A place where all people can thrive,
Approaching 2040, we will be a friendly, embracing, and diverse community that values the dignity and worth of all persons. Basic necessities of life such as food, water, and housing will be abundant, accessible, and affordable. People will be known as healthy, hardworking, motivated, and neighborly. Each individual will find ample educational opportunity and be encouraged to thrive in a fulfilling role that is personally rewarding and makes a productive contribution to the well-being and advancement of the community.
Wow, what a utopia. No more murder, hate or thievery. Everything will be at your fingertips and the work that you do will be fun and easy. No city has found a way to do this throughout the extent of recorded history, but in a few decades Lexington will solve all the worlds problems.

Uh, .... no.
  • physical growth, Always in balance,
Approaching 2040, we will be a beautiful, clean, safe, and prosperous community. We will protect and promote the signature rural landscape and associated agricultural industry, continue the momentum to bring about a truly vibrant downtown, and ensure that all urban and suburban neighborhoods flourish. Acknowledging that the future will bring growth in population and needed public facilities, we will use proactive, cooperative regional planning to address change positively while appropriately balancing the community’s needs.
With all the human needs taken care of we will have so much growth that the boundary line between the urban and rural areas will look like a wall. The densities of the subdivisions will be such that multi-storied residences will look out over the productive landscape. The anticipated sustainable farming operations necessary to feed all the residents will change the "signature" landscape so as to make it unrecognizable. The thoroughbred horse industry will be dead in the Central Kentucky area.
  • economic expansion, A fertile field of new opportunity
Approaching 2040, we will be a place of great economic opportunity where unified, progressive community leadership capitalizes upon our heritage as a center of higher education, health care, agri-business, services, and technology. A climate of widespread economic prosperity will be generated through initiatives aimed at entrepreneurial inventiveness; research, development, and expansion into new markets; a competent, motivated, well-paid workforce; support for new and existing business ventures; and strategies to strengthen economic resilience through future change.
Once again, with all human needs taken care of and affordable, the climate of widespread economic prosperity will have to be generated by initiatives, because the need will not be there. New inventions are driven by need, not incentives. The rest of this is feel good garbage.
  • cultural creativity, Exploring artistic expression in all things
Approaching 2040, we will sustain a lively, diverse, exciting cultural scene for residents and visitors alike. Affordable opportunities abound for Lexingtonians to take part in our community's expressive life as students, participants and audience members. Our commitment to celebrating the community through arts and cultural programming, sustained support for artists and arts groups, interest in emerging art forms, and investment in promoting the signature equine brand work together to make our community a noted destination for cultural and arts tourism.
The arts and culture scene has always been supported by a small group of patrons, and I see no change in that. There will always be an arts niche that will struggle to survive and complain about the lack of support. Also , with the decline of the horse industry, there will be no "signature equine " brand to work with.

I don't care for most visioning attempts because I find that they are looking to use words that please the majority of the participants, but cannot be accomplished. The diversity of the people in Lexington is the one thing that keeps a consensus from fully being reached. If we could actually attain all the points stated above, then we would lose our diverse populace and all be goo little "Stepford" residents.

Next time we will get into the "Informing " statements.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Thoughts on suburbs and transit

Lexington has not planned for any kind of mass transit, nor have they insisted that mass transit be a consideration for any kind of land use decision. There has been no thought of inclusion of mass transit in any plan even though it has been 30 years. A planning pattern established in the 60's has continued right along with very little to distinguish this years subdivision from a 25 year old one save the size of the lots (smaller) and the size of the houses (larger).

Looking at sprawl and the effects of mass transit was made easier today when Overhead Wire posted a link to a 1976 report that was Part of an ASSESSMENT OF COMMUNITY PLANNING FOR MASS TRANSIT. It is not surprising that this report was done following the 1973 gas crisis and America was searching for ways to save fuel. In April of 1974 the Real Estate Research Corporation produced a report titled The Costs of-Sprawl. In their synopsis was this assessment:
Several conclusions and findings are made in this report.

The high density planned community consumed 40% less energy than the low density sprawl pattern. In annual terms this means 400 million BTU per dwelling unit in the low density sprawl pattern compared to about 210 million BTU per dwelling unit in the high density planned pattern. The high density planned community cost per residential unit was $21,000 compared to $49,000 per unit in low density sprawl pattern. This is for all community costs prorated. Water and air pollution are substantially less and water consumption less in the higher density pattern. With 52% less travel time required in the snore(? more) densely planned community, less accidents and other psychic benefits are described. Gas and electricity use ‘is a function of housing type and structural characteristics: no variation among planned and sprawl communities with the same housing mix is shown." But, ‘significant variation in consumption of gasoline occurs as a result of the differences among community types.. . ."

The report concludes that significant energy savings can be attained through greater use of mass transit.
Here we are 30 years later and it seems that we haven't learned a thing. In Lexington, we just keep on trying to use up the land that we set aside for growth and insist that we are going to hold the line.

From Planetizen, we find a piece by Neal Pierce who states the transit is the key to the development in metro areas, although he specifically is using the New York MTA as the example the same could be said for Lexington, Louisville and Cincinnati. Retrofitting transit into a development pattern based on the automobile will be expensive but it can be done. The longer that we wait will only increase the cost. And his solution does not sound too dis-similar to the one that I sketched out here just the other day. As Mrs. Sweeper is fond of saying "Its way too late to get started now. We've already missed the train".

On a bit lighter note, the Modern Mechanix site had an interesting piece about suburbs and how they relly haven't changed over the years. It posts a story from the magazine, Ladies Circle, from the mid 60's about how one certain housewife declares that she hates the suburbs. It may have been a planted piece designed to slow the "white flight" of the period, but it reads cute. Maybe too cute. It does have a lot of the stereotypes about suburbs and our modern subdivisions today, about the blandness of the houses, the similarities of the opinions and the distances necessary to travel to accomplish a task.

I do find that the desires of a large number of people are to have like-minded friends, especially where they live, since they have so much diversity where they work. It even seems worse on another forum CityData, where more than a few are in real estate and/or from the well-to-do sections, many of them direct a prospective resident to the newer, pricier suburbs and failing that, to the pricier older sections of town. Any place else is "showing its age", "middle class", "undesirable" or worse.

Maybe it is the anonymity of the web that lets us believe that everyone else is just like me. But is that any different from going home, entering the house through the garage, spending the evening watching TV, going to bed and starting all over in the morning, just like everyone else. We are all equal, my neighbors are just like me--except for that odd nut out there.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Everybodys talking - Nobodys planning

In today's entry for Naked City, Mary Newsome relates that John Muth of Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) gave a presentation to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission on Monday. Regardless of the content of the presentation, I find this to something worth thinking about. In my 30+ years of watching the doings of planning in Lexington, I have never, I repeat, never seen the representatives of Lextran or their predecessor approach the Lexington Planning Commission to present anything, much less a report of their thoughts on transit planning.

The Lextran board and staff seem to have an agenda and process for dealing with the growth of Lexington. From what I can see, it looks like We'll wait until it shows up and then we'll deal with it...maybe. Mass transit in terms of land use decisions is always an afterthought. The Planning Commission's process for dealing with growth looks like We'll see what they bring us and see if we can tweak it until we like it... or it is tolerable. Mass transit in terms of land use decisions is a never thought. The Urban County Council's process for dealing with growth looks like The larger our population the more Federal dollars we can justify...or at least ask for.

From the very beginning Lexington's mass transit options have been privately held corporations operating under a franchise granted by ordinance. The omnibuses, the mule drawn streetcars and the electric trolleys were all private corporations. They built the lines for the people and built some entire residential developments specifically for the streetcars to service. It is only since other private corporations lobbied for and influenced legislation to remove the streetcars that they evolved into a motor bus system. Then, as they struggled and slowly declined, did the government step in and assist in the operation of a mass transit system, and barely funded it at that. It is now assumed, nationally, that governments, local and national, are required to operate any mass transit system and many do, so as to assist the poor and under privileged in reaching jobs and remaining employed.

There have been several commenters on Mary's blog who are blatantly anti-transit, as expected, and they echo the many other anti-transit folk nationwide. Most of them call for a transit system to be self sufficient and pay for itself by fares. This, of course, is countered with the claim that drivers should pay for the roads and those who call the police should pay for that service. This of course cannot work, but under that scenario, I would pay for the construction(but not the maintenance) of the sections of the arterials that I drive to work each day. As there has been no construction on any of the roads I travel on my 7.5 mile daily round trip, in the last 40 years, what do I owe and to whom?

Some say that the gas tax pays for the roads, well, yes and no. The gas tax does go to fund the Federal Highway Fund, but I can use local streets that were built by private developers as far back as the 1920's and are maintained by the local general fund, without a cent of Federal money. So, what I pay in gas tax goes to pay for your benefit? In reality, the roads built in the urban areas is paid for by the more rural counties, so how is that fair?

This argument also shows up on the Overhead Wire, in his entry about Salt Lake City . Here we find the regional planners wanting to go with a reversible lane setup and HOV lanes, and the local council wants a light rail system. A couple of legislators want to plan for the future demand and not for the current ridership. My question is; Would the Interstate highway system have been implemented nationwide based on the demand of the 1940's (without the military influence, of course). I'm glad to see that some city councils wish to direct the growth and type of growth in their jurisdictions.

Lexington can say that they want mass transit and then do everything possible to make it easy to avoid using said system, or they can build the system and then do everything possible to encourage the people to use it. These would include, but not be limited to:
  • Reducing parking
  • Eliminate extra lanes
  • Increase vehicle fees
  • Congestion pricing
  • Implement land use decisions dependent on transit
For that last one all the parties involved would have to get together and get on the same page. Now I know that the Council and the Planning Commission will hold a joint session soon, but the Lextran board is still missing from the mix.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Streetcars for redevelopment

Several things have come to mind in the past few days.

First, the thought that a streetcar/light rail system could help pull Lexington and the rest of the nation out of the economic quagmire in which we find ourselves. Surely not, you say.

No. Not by itself. Not as a single effort. But as an essential cog of a larger effort, yes I think it can. It can not be a limited system serving a small section of downtown, but as a city-wide system reaching all the far-flung sections of population and destinations. It should be centered on the downtown, but not as a cross-hair or central station concept, but as an encircler of the business core. Think of the Ringstrasse and substitute the streetcar for the driving lanes. These would circle downtown about one or two blocks off Main and Vine Sts. That would mean Second or Third on the north, High or Maxwell on the south, the new Newtown extension on the west and a combination of Ashland, Walton or Midland etc. on the east.

Two streetcars, one running clockwise and the other running counter-clockwise would circle the downtown on a regular basis. Now, add to this a series of outward circles of routes. For example, a route running out Richmond Rd to New Circle Rd., around New Circle to Liberty and back in to Winchester Rd/Third St. and in to join the ring around town until reaching Main/Richmond and heading out again. Other similar ring routes would progress around the city, the outbound leg using the previous routes inbound leg, providing two way traffic on all inbound/outbound legs of all routes. Ideally no one should be more than three blocks or so from a streetcar line. Another set of ring routes would continue outside of New Circle Rd, at reasonable distances, until the urban area is covered. Some south-side areas may need to have a series of smaller ring or figure eight loops arranged in order to fully cover the residential areas.

This would be no small feat to accomplish and would need the backing of the Federal government, but if we subsidized transit the way we do roadways it is do-able. President-elect Obama has indicated that his administration will encourage and fund more mass transit projects.

Secondly, with systems similar to this in other cities and states, the steel industry, which has seen orders fall sharply lately, would be called on to supply the rails and rolled steel for car bodies and wheel sets. The auto makers by retooling to produce streetcars could be inundated with orders. The power companies would have to upgrade the entire statewide power grid in order to supply the electricity. New pylons and towers with wires and cables again helping the steel industry. More power generating capacity and distribution will require more design and production personnel. We have one of the premier rail service companies in the US in our own backyard, right down Nicholasville Rd, in the R.J. Corman Co. All of this means jobs.

Thirdly, and last, where two or more of these ring routes meet, there is the possibility of transit related development (TOD) . Some of these sites are already in decline or dead (i.e. Lexington Mall, Turfland Mall). Retail redevelopment of a mall site would not normally constitute a TOD, but adding some New Urbanist elements or large amounts of residential and deleting the auto centric design features similar to this Natick Mass. mall could revitalize some of our recognized underutilized property.

As big as this proposal sounds, it is just a first blush glance at how Lexington and a streetcar system could help lead an economic stimulus for the whole nation. Does anyone want to help flesh this thing out? Help push this to the powers that be?

Give me some feed back.