Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Reason and Madness

Reason and Madness

MINUTES by Stephen Kelly
March 20, 2012

Reason and Madness
In his dense treaty on faith, Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton said, “we have taken the circle as the symbol of reason and madness.”  Well circle madness has taken over the City of Saint Paul Public Works Department. In their much revised plan for the Jefferson Bikeway, they have proposed adding three traffic circles, one at every intersection, between Snelling and Fairview and adding two more West of Fairview on Finn and Mount Curve. This, along with some signs, more of that pricey paint they use for sharrows and allowing additional parking, is the sum total of how they are going to spend the rest of our money.  I say our money because whether its the $250,000.00 of City money or $750,000.00 of Federal money laundered through Transit for Livable Communities, you paid for it.

First, a word on traffic circles. A traffic circle was added to the corner of Wellesley and Wheeler replacing the 4-way stop sign intersection. I drive through that intersection several times each day and to my surprise have found it to be less annoying than I thought. To be sure it is ugly. Also, this winter has not put the traffic circle to the test.  So what’s wrong with traffic circles?

Well . . . the in a document titled “Griggs Street Bikeway FAQ” (which proves they’re not just after us) the Department of Public Works admits, “[s]now plowing is more challenging with neighborhood traffic circles, but the division head for Street Maintenance has assured our engineers that his staff can handle sufficiently plowing around neighborhood traffic circles.” This is hard to believe when the City can’t “handle sufficiently” plowing 3” of snow off a straight street in front of my house. The City states these traffic circles cost $10,000.00-$15,000.00 to build and $450.00 per year for maintenance. Pardon my skepticism on City estimates on how much it will cost. The City has not made an estimate of how much it would cost to leave these intersections alone.

Further, the proposed plan for Jefferson, taken in its entirety, is to turn Jefferson into something that is not a street.  A street is by definition a thoroughfare which allows one to move easily from one point to another free from obstruction.  A driver who winds in and out of the proposed Jefferson traffic circles like a pinball to only be confronted by cars parked on both sides of the street will freely choose to avoid Jefferson. They will instead choose Juliet where there are no circles or Wellesley where there is one or choose Randolph and St. Clair.  In other words, so that a few citizens can recreationally ride bikes, residential streets will become thoroughfares and arterial streets will become four stop light cycle congested traffic jams. I would hate to be in charge of driving a big rig firetruck down a traffic circled Jefferson. The thing will tip over. Some thouroughfare.

And by a few citizens recreationally riding bikes I mean few. I kept count during this whole of this mild-mild winter and saw 8 bikers on Jefferson, four of whom I saw last Saturday when it was 70°F.  Is spending a million dollars on 8 bikers at the expense, inconvenience and safety of everyone else worth it? In a recent article in the The Oregonian newspaper, reporter Beth Slovic asked the question, “Why Can't Portland Repave Its Rutted Roads?” Portland has scrapped all future plans for road paving and street maintenance, primary functions of government, and will be cutting such services as “bridge monitoring, street cleaning and sidewalk inspections.”  “Why?” you ask. Well it turns out Portland's has a "’multimodal’ ethic” giving it other priorities such as:

1.    “$900,000 to build 13.5 miles of bike routes,”
2.    “$665,000 to add eight permanent employees to oversee streetcars,”
3.    “$15,000 to help sponsor a "Rail-Volution" conference in Los Angeles,”
4.    “$55 million toward the $1.5 billion MAX [lightrail] line”
5.    “$5,000” for the Portland Director of the Bureau of Transportation (salary $152,000.00) “to join Portland business leaders on a tour of thriving European cities,”
6.    “$2.1 million” for “consultants and staff time,” “to revamp [a] Street for ‘economic vitality,’"
7.    "$50,000 . . . to support handmade-bicycle shows and triathlons,” and
8.    “$250,000 . . . to buy fancy planters and streetlights for the downtown retail core.”

All this while “46 percent of neighborhood streets and 28 percent of major roads are in "poor" or "very poor" shape.”  It is fascinating how Portland’s Mayor defends the decision to stop maintaining the roads by highlighting recent “big capital projects”  “getting big chunks of federal funding.”  When asked how the Portland will pay “for long-term costs of maintaining the new projects when the city already has a road-repair backlog,” the good Mayor doesn’t answer and blames his predecessor for “an [in]accurate baseline."

The largest single asset the City of Saint Paul owns is its street system.  If Portland, Oregon,the model berg for City Planners, can’t pave or maintain its streets because of its “multimodal ethic” where do we stand? How about we save the $10,000.00 to $15,000.00+ x 5 for traffic circles and pave a street or buy a plow or pay someone to work overtime during the next snowzilla or (hold on to yer britches) not spend it and ask for less tax money next go round?

Chesterton said the circle was “perfect and infinite in its nature . . . but . . . is fixed for ever in its size; it can never be larger or smaller” and “returns upon itself and is bound.”  The cross, on the other hand, “can extend its four arms for ever without altering its shape.”  It “opens its arms to the four winds; it is a signpost for free travelers.” I fear the City will soon bind us free travelers forever to these circles.

See http://www.stpaul.gov/DocumentView.aspx?DID=19612;
http://forums.e-democracy.org/groups/stpaul-macgrove/messages/topic/1oQ2MBDxRzaeEpeVejDF5Z;http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2012/02/portlands_roads_to_ruin.html; andhttp://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2012/02/portlands_roads_to_ruin.html

for more information.
And be sure to submit your Sidewalk Poetry by April 13 at http://www.stpaul.gov/index.aspx?NID=2820.  My submission:

As I sit four traffic signal cycles deep
The Jefferson Bikeway makes me weep.
Home I could be with my little dog Pickles
If my lane hadn’t been co-opted by bicycles.

Oh where are the traffic lanes that carried me to my door?
And where are the bikes to which the new lane was made for?
To my dog I could be throwing a little green ball
And to think that my taxes paid for this all.