Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Reaction To The Health Care Vote

This morning I watched as the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele gave his familiar rant about the Democrats and their arrogance. Does he not represent the very party that "coronated the god king Ronald Reagan" and spent the budget surplus of Clinton?

Then I watched as he spun his tale about "needle moments" Needle moments are those time when you have to go to the doctor and get a shot. We all have those needle moments and I hate getting shots. I still refuse to get the yearly flu shots, even if they are free. In this case, Mr Steele was explaining about the doctor giving the patient a lollipop to suck on before the needle prick, I usually got mine after, and then jabbing the painful device deep into the skin.

He likened the recent health care overhaul legislation to America's "needle moment". All the up front incentives and new benefits allowed to those who never had them before are supposed to be the lollipop and the tax hikes would be the needle jab in the butt. America will regret the pain of the needle moment, he says, for a long time.

I still don't like shots and the painful needle moments and America may well avoid their needle moment, but Mr Steele, every time I got a doctor ordered shot-and I imagine that this goes for all you others- I GOT WELL.

Now is the time for America to get well.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Locavore / Slow Foods

The Locavore/Slow Food list (in the right hand column) is continuing to grow.

These are web sites of local or regional producers of food products. I believe that they meet and generally exceed the requirements of the Kentucky Proud system. In most cases I feel that they exceed the usual standards for USDA approval and as such provide exceptional value for the consumers of Kentucky.

I will continue to explore and sample others providers in an effort to build a market for their style of food products. If you have a suggestion for inclusion to the list, send it along. I will check it out.

Gray Keeps It Local???

The other day our friends at Lowell's Under the Hood referenced this site and the question I asked about Vice Mayor Gray's campaign web site. I have followed Rob's diatribes on planning and the supposed failures of the downtown projects both, announced and started, along with his unrelenting support for Mr Gray. Now, maybe, Mr Morris would like to take on the real reason as to why he supports Mr Gray so heavily.

As mayor, Jim Newberry has failed to improve Lexington's downtown planning efforts

The latest Comprehensive Plan was adopted in 2007, after the Downtown Master Plan (DMP) was completed, and references the specific principles as outlined in the DMP. The whole document was not included as an element of the Comprehensive Plan for various reasons. The Urban County Council does not adopt the Plan under Kentucky State law but they do set the goals and objectives of the Plan. Several principles of the DMP have been earmarked as items to be studied or initiated at a later date, though none have been as yet.

Is this what they are calling failure?

All downtown projects in the works or announced have complied with the rules and regulations currently in force. Mayor Newberry has brought no requests to study or initiate any of the previously referenced principles (maintaining the status quo) nor has any of the council members, presently or formerly. If this is failure, then the blame should be spread across all parties involved. If this a campaign issue, then it is an issue for all.

As mayor, Jim Newberry has allowed the complete destruction of a whole, historic city block

The Herald Leader was probably the first to fly this flag, yet they were also the banner bearers of all the Urban Renewal projects, the Lexington Center and any Webb project announced. In the "70s and "80s, anything purported to be a downtown development was deemed to be progress. When will those responsible for that be vilified? Has the Herald Leader apologized for their "rah-rah" behavior toward what is now considered the destruction of downtown?

As mayor, Jim Gray will give direction and focus to Lexington and its future

This all sounds good if there were any evidence to support it.

We have all seen Mr. Gray's efforts to influence public opinion about some local controversy, but usually after someone else has done all the legwork and heavy lifting. CentrePointe, the airport and the library are the first to come to mind. Vice Mayor Gray, for all of his insight, has NOT been at the forefront of the investigation on any of these.

From all the accounts that I have heard(these are probably rumors of some sort) concerning the Infill/Redevelopment Committee and others have been slowed in their work by the antics of mr. Gray. I am sure that this will be construed as him going up against the staid "old guard" of complacency and striving for better planning but I don't think it comes across that way to the others involved.

Then, there is the constant touting of the 21C hotel in Louisville. Is that it? He has done more for Louisville, in terms of downtown redevelopment, than he has for Lexington? The only building that he has renovated here is his own and that it. He did do the new Kentucky Eagle Beer building to LEED standards, not Platinum or Gold or even to the more stringent European standard, so setting the bar high is not something to write home about.

I am not that enthused about any of the candidates, but of the top three, Mr Gray still needs to show me something more.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Chevy Chase Meddlers

I just learned about a the meeting of the Chevy Chase Neighborhood Association this past Monday night, not that I would have been there but I would have liked to ask around about it. The Chevy Chase group is like most neighborhood associations- full of local, grass-roots activists- keeping their fingers on the pulse of the community. Most of the time they want to know just who is doing what.

And then, there are the ones that my dad called "the Meddling Bessies". These are the ones who then want to tell you "how to" or whether "they want you to" do whatever it is that you wish. Unfortunately it usually involves property, your property.

A topic of the meeting, maybe the only topic of the meeting, involved a redevelopment project. It was not about the High St/Euclid/Fontaine intersection's redesign (I would like to see a nice round-a-bout there). Nor was it about some upcoming civic gathering for the well being of all. It WAS about the expansion of the Christ the King complex.

There is not much available about the project yet. They want to build a new rectory for the bishop(probably one a little bigger than the current one) and some more classroom space with a modern gymnasium. They will probably have to reconfigure the parking lot and all. All in all this is not an easy thing to do on a lot like this. It will take a lot of effort.

Already the neighborhood wants to take control of the situation. Where is it going to go? How tall is it? What is it going to look like? What about this situation, or that one?

Folks, this is PRIVATE property. Yes, they would like to work with you but this is NOT your project. There are certain rules that have to be met and then there are the RLUIPA laws which can supersede our local zoning laws.

I don't see this as much different than the CentrePointe situation downtown, as long as no rules or laws are broken, if they don't want to listen to you-THEY DON"T HAVE TO.

All of this is spoken of in terms of "transparency" in the planning and implementation of civic life yet that only goes over well when you are not the one being told what to do. Majority rules does not often override private property laws, although it may if it clearly involves public safety and security not the aesthetics of personal opinion.

I do wish that I had been there.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Relic In The Garage

I read today that the French oil giant TOTAL is planning to close nearly 10% of their 5000 gas stations in France, wherein the rural drivers and residents would be the most affected. Over the next two years, they intend to concentrate their stations along major highways and industrial/commercial areas.

Sounds a lot like what has been happening in America lately.

The action is being taken partly to comply with new environmental rules. Rules that include a minimum setback from a major roadway, so I imply that the gas pumps set a little too close to the road. The smaller, rural stations probably more so which makes them an easy target.

In America, we are apparently consolidating our gas stations into larger, self serve convenience markets along the major arterials and Interstates and removing them from downtowns and neighborhoods. With the coming lifestyle changes, following the realization of peak oil and the skyrocketing price/limited availability of gas, many people may be left in a lurch. Our transit systems don’t serve them and they cannot serve themselves.

I can remember growing up, that within a several block radius of home, there were numerous gas stations. Five around the intersections of Main St/Walton and Main St/Ashland, six in the Chevy Chase shopping area and four or five more just east of the railroad as it crossed Main St. (now the Main/Vine/Midland intersection). Almost all of them are gone now, replaced by the self serves and definitely none of the personalized care of the old days. I used to be able to walk to any of them, buy a few gallons of gas and then take the lawnmower out to cut a few yards. You can’t do that these days.

Once we have used up all the easily retrieved, cheap oil and gasoline I wonder who will get the then available supply. Will it be the transit services or the police/fire folks? How close will the transit get to your cul-de-sac or large lot McMansion in the suburbs? Will you have to walk far to the stop? Is the concept of all electric vehicles, affordable to all, a viable one?

Mrs. Sweeper has asked how we will get to the store for food but the better question is, “How will the food get to the store?” or “How will it get off the farm?” I believe that the people living in the suburbs will see a tremendous change in their lives but the rural residents and our farming community will be facing the most serious impact. We feel that we are now living a comfortable walking or biking distance from a store and the rest is available by transit, although there is room for improvement. Many of our friends and family are not so lucky.

As for that lawnmower of old, how many like it will end up as relics in the garage along with the other yard tools? And will the garage be a relic also?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Follow-up On American Railcar

I posted back in February about the American Railcar Industries (ARII) efforts to expand the country’s rail infrastructure and the increase of passenger rail. It appears that they have been busier than I thought.

American Railcar expanded their plant in Marmaduke in 2007-08, probably on the anticipation of an increase in rail traffic that did not materialize. Instead it moved the other way with the beginnings of the current economic recession, the expansion was downsized and operations consolidated. However they did leave themselves in a good position to think “outside the box”.

ARII is now one of four Arkansas businesses receiving stimulus money for clean energy manufacturing and will be reconfiguring the plant to produce structural towers for large scale wind turbines. Combined with others in the state, they will now be able to configure complete wind generating systems.

Kentucky, on the other hand, is continuing to push coal and the immense carbon footprint that it carries along with the environmental damage created by its mining. If Arkansas can transition into a cleaner type of industry then so can Kentucky.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Lets Get An Answer To This

Has anyone heard of a group called Crossroads Campaigns Solutions?

They are a PR firm that seems to specialize in political campaigns. National, local, all kinds of campaigns. You should go to their website and check their client list.

Is this the type of candidate that we want leading our city? I am all about the re-localization of our food sources and other necessities of life. But shipping our election campaigns out of state steps a little too far.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Questions Not Asked

I have not been able to attend any of the Mayoral forums as of yet but I have kept up with how they went through all the reporting and the Twitter logs available. It seems that I and Steve Austin are in agreement in the notion that - so far all the questions have been about things that are already water under the bridge.

We are going to be selecting a person the lead the city into the future, not worry about how it should have been handled last time. The problems looming on the horizon are much more worrisome than whether there is full disclosure about some private business project in downtown. What I want to know is- How are we going to handle thing like "Peak Oil", climate change, or some of the other situations coming down the road but not yet fully manifest. These are questions that our young, "creative class", social media savvy bloggers and reporters have avoided completely.

How will our future leaders solve the dilemma of the residents of our outer suburbs when the price of fuel is out of reach to the common person? Our edge subdivisions are not being served by mass transit and the idea of regional transit is not on the radar. How do they plan on feeding the masses when transportation costs could be roughly 1/2 the going price in the stores? Where will the tipping point be when the agricultural land is more valuable for food crops than equine crops? That may be real value of the PDR program.

I have seen how some of these "progressives" have brought in officials from other cities ,where there has been some modicum of success, to explain their methods. The situations and conditions are never the same in all cities, even during good economic times, so the results will always be different. It is the "Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle" in action. Those same officials, operating in differing cities, would not have fared as well as a general rule.

Our city leaders of the past few decades(especially from the '70s) have failed to secure the infrastructure and facilities to ensure the basic necessities of life; sufficient potable water, locally generated energy or alternative power sources, locally available food sufficient for all residents... and we have known that the day is coming. As we have seen with RWE and now E.on, the divestiture of the global corporations controlling utilities (and probably soon with food) is coming.

Where will these new leaders take us in this "Great Reset"? That is the line of questioning that should be taking place. Had I sent them in by social media, they would not have been asked and had I been there in person, I would have been considered as "off the wall" as Skip Horine.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Lets Walk Before We Run

Lexington, as well as the rest of America, still has a problem coming to grips with the idea of mass transit. We want to run before we have relearned the simple steps of walking the mass transit walk.

America began dismantling their urban rail (streetcars and interurban/regional rail) facilities right at the beginnings of a time when we needed them most, the middle of the Great Depression. Then, right after the Second World War, while Europe was rebuilding their rail infrastructure with a lot of Allied help, we started to remove our intercity passenger rail. The concept of the Interstate Highway System would soon allow interstate trucking to grow while the railroad unions, in an effort to preserve jobs, did a number on the freight rail service. Our eggs were just about all in one basket.

Europe on the other hand, took our assistance and rebuilt their streetcars, their intercity rail and by the "60s began to think of a higher speed rail system. Japan made similar decisions with similar results. In other words, they took the simple steps of fixing a broken body, learned to walk again, then running and then took off racing. A story not too different from that of Red Pollard and Seabiscuit.

The simple fact is that both Europe and Japan (and now China and others) have discovered that the answer of mass transit is in a balanced approach of all modes interconnecting to become one system. Only a handful of East Coast American cities have tried to follow this approach and most of them are facing rising fares due to failing to complete all possible connections. The Federal agency charged with assisting this complete approach has, for the past 50 years, done a poor job.

The U.S. Department of Transportation, which one would assume, should coordinate all the transportation facilities across the nation(pedestrian, bicycle, auto, trucking, rail and aviation) into one system, funded at the State and local level and by private industry, instead has become the primary provider of funding amid massive political wrangling. It used to be, in the days of the "rugged individualist", that roads and railroads were built by the people who wanted to get somewhere. Now these "creative class" folks are waiting for someone else to build their roads for them. The idea of going the route of private toll roads (a free market system) is abhorrent to most people now that freeways and the lure of the open road has been let out of the bag.

Most people in America, outside of the larger east coast cities, can not remember the days of regularly scheduled passenger train traffic of more than twice a day. I can recall the two daily trips of the George Washington, C&O's remaining service to Lexington, from about 1963 until the creation of Amtrak. One in the morning and one in the evening, with never more than 3 cars and barely any one boarding here in town. There used to be much more traffic than that and there can be again.

I am not here to downplay the need for High Speed Rail but I do want to emphasize that HSR alone is not the cure-all of our transit woes. Let us take the baby steps of local transit and regional service before we cry about not getting a HSR connection

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Art Style Bus Shelter Updates

If my information is correct, and I have every reason to believe that it is, we should see the art style shelter planned for Newtown Pike coming alive very soon.

They have their design, they have a location, they have $30,000 in pledges from Lextran and others and they have a (probably self imposed) deadline of before the World Equestrian Games. So I have a feeling that we will see something in the near future.

Art In Motion should be in the process of reviewing the entries of the design competition for the shelter to be built in Aylesford (behind the King Alumni House) and the winner is supposed to be announced on April 14.

The buzz that I hear is very positive about other potential locations. The developers of the Hamburg development, I think, are looking a multiple locations and I would guess that they will be in a common theme. My bet would be an equestrian theme as all the street names are horse related.

I spoke with someone from the Southland Drive area the other day and learned that they have been mulling the idea for over a year. With both the Good Foods Co-op renovation and the continued success of the Sunday farmers market, either location would make a nice site. The Southland portion of the bus route has also proved to be a winner for Lextran.

There are other interested parties and suggested locations being bandied about and I am starting to feel that this could begin to overwhelm this small group. I don't see any reason to prevent another similar organization from also supporting Lextran in like fashion, but there should be a central coordinating panel, free of politics and its infighting to help spread the wealth.

Lexington could soon have a good number of clean, well lit, art style shelters and the Lextran riders (as well as the neighbors) will benefit.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

When Will We Try To Be Better?

One of the things that has perturbed me about the City-Data forum that I frequent is the propensity of the "local experts" to reply to posts with answers to questions that weren't asked. One of the most common ploys is to respond to queries about things to do in Lexington ,other that the usual college pub crawls and night spots, with a typical "Head to Louisville" or "Go to Cincinnati". Those two cities are always touted as being much better than Lexington and the so called "experts" have usually come from somewhere else (and may have moved back).

But everything in larger cities is not always better.

The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area does have a lot going for it yet even they seem to fail to put all the pieces together. Cincinnati has resoundingly endorsed a streetcar line. It will run from downtown, through the Over-the-Rhine district and near the University of Cincinnati and then back downtown. Cincinnatians have wrangled federal funds to plan a Cross-Ohio high speed rail line as part of the Mid -West Initiative. And... there is nothing in between. No commuter rail, no regional rail, none of the other pieces that will make it all work, no seamless mass transportation across the area.

Louisville is not any farther along. Their airport is more centrally located and can be accessed by transit, but a city bus is no way to get to and from an airport. Commuter rail and regional rail is brought up on occasion but, other than trying to use existing rail facilities, nothing comes of it. And, a streetcar, why I think that Kentuckians would rather walk than go back to streetcars.

These progressive communities have done little or no preparation work for the coming energy reset, where relying on a fossil fueled vehicle will be a crap shoot. I hear you say it-"We will be using electric autos, soon"- but it won't be soon enough to do any good.

For everyone to switch to an electric auto will be like everybody buying a $50 thousand car in the next couple of years, if they would be available. I don't see that happening any time soon.

Charging your car will take all night when utility rates are low(called off-peak rates), but if everybody is charging at that time then it becomes a peak generating and consumption time. There will be no off-peak rates. Charging your car while it is parked during the day(while at work presumably) will bring its own set of difficulties and extra parking fees. There will be no such thing as free parking.

Commute distances of more than 40 miles will be a thing of the past. Even with an auxiliary generating engine, a commute which would use both the electric charge and fossil fuel is counter productive. People will live closer to where they work and higher densities will mean even higher costs for the parking of a vehicle.

The larger, more progressive cities of Cincinnati and Louisville do have a lot going on for the average young professional-the so called "creative class"- yet the don't seem to be preparing for those that this class will need just a few years down the road. And I don't see Lexington doing any better.

Lexington should try to be less like theses progressive cities and more like a city that wants to be better than they are. When are going to begin?