Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Potemkin Diverter

The Potemkin Diverter

MINUTES by Stephen Kelly
October 19, 2011

The Potemkin Diverter

TLC/Saint Paul Public Work’s first justification for the Jefferson Roadblock was that it promoted biking.  Well that didn’t pan out when confronted with the technical question:  How?  They had no answer to that.  Then they said it would help pedestrians.  When confronted with the fact traffic on Cleveland Avenue would have no reason to slow down at Jefferson because of the elimination of the left turn, the argument failed.  Then various arguments about Jefferson being a residential street, the traffic calming effects, etc. were put forward.  No one is buying it.

Now, like Maxwell Smart saying to Chief, “Would you believe . . .” they have found the long lost “real” reason for the Roadblock:  it’s a façade that must be put up or there will be no Federal money.  TLC states it needs the Roadblock because it is part of the Jefferson Bikeway “plan” and shows the Feds work was done which conforms to the City’s initial plans.  Public Works says it needs the Roadblock to show actual work was done West of Snelling to get the TLC money.  They both have said this, out load and in writing.  Really.  The reality (or real “real” reason) is they both need a justification to the taxpayers as to how in blazes they spent $1,000,000.00 on signs and paint.

In 1787, legend informs us, Russian minister Grigory Potemkin ordered built fake façades of villages along the Dnieper River to fool Tsarina Catherine II during her visit to Crimea.  These “Potemkin Villages” have become the bywords for any false building used by middling bureaucrats to cover up something.  Well we have a Potemkin diverter right here in River City.  Public Works/TLC is the sly Minister Potemkin, the Roadblock is the fake village and you the taxpayer are a fooled Catherine.

The real crux of Public Works/TLC’s argument is that the Bikeway “plan” shows something being done West of Snelling so we must do something.  What “plan?”  Or which version of which “plan?”

The City came up with the idea of a Jefferson Bikeway.  As TLC always reminds us in that patronizingly patient voice, “it’s the City’s project; we only agreed to partially fund it.”  The Jefferson Bikeway has gone through a lot of changes since originally conceived.  There were to be roadblock all along Jefferson, speed bumps, restrictive parking and so on.  Stuff has been removed in a spasm of good sense and proper traffic engineering; stuff has been added when no one was watching.

As to the Roadblock at Jefferson and Cleveland, the Community Council did not endorse it, the City Councilman opposed it, the Transportation Committee passed on it and, as yet, it has not been approved as part of the Jefferson Bikeway “plan.”  When they tell you its part of the Bikeway “plan” they are wrong.

They now tell us that the Bikeway “plan” contains the Roadblock and simply cannot be built without it.  It’s as if there is an official guide to bikeways (Bikeways for Dummies?) and there is only one way to build a bikeway.  Hogwash.

What they are telling you is TLC really, really wants the Roadblock.  They are willing to threaten other City council members by removing funding of projects in their Wards and they are willing to remove funding from this project unless they get their Roadblock.  One can almost see them standing astride their $2,000.00 bike as the Roadblock is installed rubbing their hands together smiling at the thought of the inconvenience this will cause regular people driving their children to and fro.  “They’re finding out now that Jefferson is closed!  They’ll have to drive on to Saint Clair or Randolph and wait with all the other traffic in a jam caused by this diverter-dozzel.  I know just what they’ll do!  Their mouths will hang open for a minute or two then the MacGroves down in MacGrove-ville will all cry BOO-HOO!”  They’ll have a laugh in their throat.

I was stuck in a traffic back-up last Tuesday on Marshall Avenue just East of Snelling.  The traffic was backed up a good half mile.  It was 7:30 p.m. at night.  As we creeped along waiting for rotations of the traffic light I started to wonder, how many lanes of traffic have been removed from Saint Paul in the last 20 years?

According to the City of Saint Paul website, Saint Paul has “30 miles of bike lanes,” “10.8 miles of bike routes” and “30.3 miles of striped shoulders.”  Let just say, for the sake of argument, for every mile of bike lane, route, shoulder put in, a lane of car traffic has been removed.  That makes about 71 miles of road that have been removed from the City of Saint Paul.  Is it any wonder I was stuck in a 7:30 p.m. traffic jam?  Remember this next time you are stuck in one of these jams in the middle of the City and ask yourself, did it use to be like this?

Bike lanes are not about transportation policy, they are about making it harder to drive a car.  The Jefferson Roadblock is not about bikes, it’s a dog and pony show, a Potemkin Village to make taxpayers and drivers forget how much worse getting around Saint Paul has gotten in the last several years in the name of recreational bikers or how much more “suburban” like it is as we wait four rotations of a traffic light before we can cross an intersection.

The real question is whether Saint Paul Public Works makes decisions about streets based on automobiles and traffic engineering or on the need to build a façade to appease TLC?  Who is in charge of the streets of Saint Paul, Public Works or TLC?  Or maybe the question is:  who is in charge of Saint Paul Public Works, the citizens and their elected representatives or TLC?

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