Monday, September 26, 2011

Sprawl Pays for Itself?

Find 15 minutes. Watch this:

That's Charles Marohn from Strong Towns Blog. His words should strike a chord, especially for those of us here in Little Rock who just passed a $500 million sales tax package in order to pay for critical services and infrastructure that have to cover a city that's physically bigger than the land areas of Manhattan and Brooklyn combined. We only have about 5% of the two boroughs' population though to share the load.

For comparison's sake, Groningen (the "World Cycling City") in the Netherlands has about the same population as Little Rock but only takes up about 1/4 of the land.

I definitely don't want to oversimplify things by saying density is the answer to all of our problems. I lived in the middle of Brooklyn for three years and much prefer the layout of things in the old part of Little Rock, thank you very much. But, it's ludicrous to think that we'll some how be able to keep spreading our roads, water pipes, fire stations, schools, hospitals, parks, etc, etc, etc. further and further afield and then expect to be able to afford to maintain them when they inevitably start crumbling some time in the not-too-distant future. We listened to the sprawl-boosters just 15 years ago and didn't charge any meaningful impact fees on Deltic Timber's Shinall houses because that type of growth was "going to pay for itself"... and now we see that those promises simply weren't true. Just imagine what the bill is going to be when all that infrastructure out there starts reaching the end of its life expectancy and we have something like 2 people per acre citywide to shoulder the load.

Road Users

Click to embiggen.
I usually take 15th Street from Summit to Commerce on my way to school in the mornings, and today I counted just 2 people in cars along the entire ~2 mile route, 4 of us on bikes (the getting-from-Point-A-to-Point-B crowd, not the lycra type), and several pedestrians. That bike number is with absolutely zero encouragement from the city. Zilch, nadda, nil.

Twice as many road users on bike than in cars... hmmmm.... seems to me like we need to devote more than just $1.5 million to trails and bike infrastructure out of the extra $500 million in sales tax cash coming to LR over the next 10 years. How about passing and adhering to a Complete Streets policy so that the $67.5 million earmarked for street resurfacing can also create some high quality bike infrastructure at the same time?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Little Rock is Three Cities

I think Arkansas Business' Jeff Hankins gets it right in this article. While I disagree with some of his other analysis, he's right on the logistics. We're divided and what does it are the freeways. Robert Moses said "... when you're developing a city, you have to hack your way through it with a meat ax". That's unfortunately exactly what we've done in Little Rock. The biggest shame of it is that we didn't learn our lesson with West Little Rock.

Sure, that's where the majority of retail growth has happened over the last 12 to 15 years and it's also seen no small amount of housing growth, though little of it could be classified as 'affordable'. In fact, it's largely high dollar housing. What we haven't seen is a significant population growth for the city. It's grown just about 0.7% from 2000 - 2006. That's nothing to write home about as the population is growing overall in this country and we're finally a urban nation; people are (sadly) fleeing the rural areas.

Yet the shame of it all is that it didn't have to be that way. We could have had a more focused growth pattern if we'd have had leadership that focused investment and encouraged growth in neglected areas of the city such as it's the Southwest portion which remains in need.

This westward sprawl is wholly unwalkable in the retail areas. It doesn't distinguish itself beyond the fact that there are a few high brow shops in that area (Apple, Fresh Market, J Crew, etc). Worse, it's greatly increased the need and demand for services - roads, water, fire & police protection, etc. unnecessarily. That sprawl is no small reason whey we needed the additional revenue.

It didn't have to be that way and we've just enabled it.

I hope we're wise enough to soften the sprawl with this revenue through traffic calming, dedicated bike lines and a strong focus on good design but history isn't on our side.

Downtown Little Rock, September 17, 1958

Bike Infrastructure Hits Congressional Speed Bumps

Worth the read

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Rex Nelson Gets It

Rex Nelson makes some strong points in today's blog entry That New Little Rock Sales Tax. I'll simply quote my favorite parts: the knowledge-based economy of the 21st century, you attract young, smart, creative people by having a high quality of place. Frankly, that has a lot more to do with quality schools, parks, trails, restaurants, bars, wifi connections, sports facilities and cultural amenities than it does with research parks.

You have to wonder about the priorities of any city that turns its back on children and instead sells off valuable parkland for parking lots

Talented people who are new to a city can quickly sense if it’s going to be the right place to live. It either has that creative vibe or it doesn’t. It also needs to be clean and efficient.

– Finish the Little Rock portion of the River Trail.

– Add as many miles of new sidewalks and streetlights as possible to make this the next great walkable city in the South.

– Truly create a system of city parks that’s the envy of the region. That slogan “City In A Park” (the city probably paid some advertising agency good money for that) rings hollow in a town where they sell off ballparks for parking lots.

NYC Announces Bike Share System to be Run by Alta

New Yorkers and those of us who visit there will have about 10,000 simple, strong, utilitarian bikes parked around the city to use as we please starting some time next year. Read about it in the NYTimes, the Post, and the Daily News.

For those of you who might be conjuring up memories of the failed Yellow Bikes here in LR, strike that association from your head. A bike share system like the one proposed in NYC is completely different from just scattering some clunkers around and relying on the honor system to keep them available. To use a contemporary bike share system you walk up to a kiosk, swipe your card, take a bike that automatically unlocks and ride away. In most systems the first 30-45 minutes of use are free, and you don't have to return the bike to the same kiosk you picked it up from.

Note to LR Planners: New York has spent the last few years massively beefing up their bike infrastructure. A bike share system can't be plopped down as a silver bullet to make a city bike friendly overnight when there's no infrastructure to use it on to speak of.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Demographics Are Destiny

Interesting piece in the latest column

According to housing and location preference surveys, the younger crowd wants to be in the center of things — downtown. They want cafes, restaurants, entertainment, and other young people to socialize with. They want walkable communities with parks; they want bike trails; they want to bike to work; and they want transit.

Metroplan's Proposed Expansion/Review - Perspective of a Park Hill Resident

After posting this to the Park Hill listserv, some were concerned about how the expansion of the trolley would affect biking to downtown. I figured if half of the world has managed both trolleys and bikes, then we can figure it out too.

If you download the linked report you'll see Park Hill & the potential expansion route up Main Street in NLR mentioned many times. I completed their earlier comment form this summer expressing desire to expand north. Our friends in LR logically advocated for expansion throughout that side of downtown. It's my understanding that we in NLR have the next 'option' of expansion but it's our charge to advocate for us to take advantage of this opportunity.

I am of the opinion that expansion north up Main Street makes the most sense for NLR & certainly for Park Hill. Expansion to H Street up JFK as proposed in Alternative 6 along with an earlier start time for the trolley & a more expeditious speed would make the trolley a viable alternative for commuters who work downtown. Perhaps or arguably more importantly for those of us with property in PH, expansion of the trolley would improve property values in that it is an additional selling point to new home buyers as well as aiding in entertainment travel for those who desire to hit Argenta and/or downtown LR (or at least the RiverMarket, for now). I'd argue that public investment in the trolley & in Dickey-Stephens is one of the foremost factors that has aided in its revitalization. It's that investment that made it viable for other developers to invest their money in Argenta. PH should advocate for that kind of investment, along with the development of that 'gathering place'/3rd place that we lack.

Admittedly, there are challenges - construction, where/how the rail would be routed & turned around, the viaduct over Main Street in NLR (the biggest challenge/expense as I understand it) etc. However, I believe that the benefits outweigh the negatives.

Frankly, the trolley isn't terribly viable until it expands both further into NLR & LR (throughout downtown & then into South Main, etc) but when it does expand, it will be quite the asset.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

BACA- Updated

I'll be at the Bicycle Advocacy of Central Arkansas meeting tonight at 7:00 at the Oyster Bar and will try to have a report up later. Mayor Stodola is going to talk about how the sales tax plan will benefit trails in LR. Stay tuned.

Update: A packed house provided a friendly ear to the Mayor as he again touted the reasons to pass the sales taxes. Nothing new there. Ed Levy from the Bike Friendly Community Committee also spoke though about bike-friendly things in the works like: a few bike stations for LR, the trails from the Heights down to the River Trail, closing the loop (apparently there's a video showing the cantilevered cliff-hugging bridge around Dillard's that will be released soon), some organized rides in the works to build excitement about bikes, and so on and so forth.

The Clinton bridge is set to open at 11:00 on Friday, Sept 30. The big dog himself will be here to lead the dedication, and there's talk of a celebrity musician making an appearance too.

Trails from the Heights to Riverdale

Max Brantley reports on plans  by the Heights Neighborhood Association, the city and the Bike-Friendly Community Committee to build an ADA-accessible trail from the Heights down to the River Trail and Rebsamen Park Road. Possible starting point would be at the corner of Taylor and Scenic with the trail going down into the gully to the east before angling north to cross the tracks.

The only paved access that exists now for all the people north of Cantrell Road is Overlook Drive, which is extremely steep and not very close to the eastern end of the Heights. This new trail will provide a key link in the city's bike infrastructure by connecting a large bike friendly neighborhood to the main path leading downtown. By my figuring the heart of the Heights will be an easy 5 mile ride from Capitol and Broadway after this trail goes in, making commuting by bike a very viable option for a large number of people.

Future plans include an ADA-accessible trail connecting the Foxcroft area to the River Trail too.