Sunday, April 29, 2012

A History of Jaywalking

Great piece in The Atlantic Cities on the History of Jaywalking.  Check it out.  On a related note and as the recent piece in Slate points out, why to we refer to walkers as 'pedestrians' and not simply 'people'?  I'm taking it back.  

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

On Crosswalks & North Little Rock

I've been reading a lot about walkability. Driving home from work in downtown Little Rock through the two distinctly different parts of Main Street North Little Rock.

Generally speaking, North Little Rock does a good job trying to promote walkability. The work with the Built Environment Committee, largely focusing on Levy is to be lauded. However, there’s work to be done. When you enter into our fair city from downtown Little Rock, you get the 14 year overnight success story that is Argenta. It looks great, despite numerous ‘holes in the teeth’.

But, there’s a distinct visual change when you cross the viaduct in Downtown North Little Rock. You go from Argenta to Holt/Mid City. I suspect everyone just thinks you’re in “North Little Rock” until you hit Park Hill which has a distinct visual change due to its historic replica light poles & medians. And while I could go on & on about the things we need to do to make Park Hill a truly walkable neighborhood (A Third Place, anybody?)

What caught my eye recently was the inhospitably of this part of town to pedestrians.

It was this stop that caught my attention on my drive home from work.

People were getting off the bus, likely coming home from work just like me. They quickly moved to crossing the street while I was waiting at the light, traveling home, north to Park Hill. If they wanted to cross the street (which they did) at the bus stop, at the four-way traffic light, there was no crosswalk! Now this wasn’t the biggest deal given that it was a bright, lovely day outside. But I’ve traveled this road home from an evening in Argenta or the downtown Little Rock. When the sun goes down & it’s black as pitch outside, absent the over-illumination of Argenta, people crossing the street, particularly when they’re dressed in dark clothing, can make for some dangerous situations. God forbid something were to happen to a pedestrian, all I could think is that we’d have another Raquel Nelson situation on our hands.

You can see that attention is paid to signage & florescent colors have been used for signs in recent years. That wasn’t always the case as the sign in the first photo shows.

Additionally, we miss an opportunity to enhance safety at nearby North Little Rock High School.

As you can see above, some of the crosswalk itself is faded & nonexistent. Compare that with crosswalks in Argenta.

While the paint has faded a bit, you can still tell that there’s a change in color & design for the downtown crosswalks. As a driver, you can feel the difference in the stamped concrete that at one point was painted maroon. And there’s the rumble strips for ADA compliance. Now, this was done with TEA-21 money something like 13-14 years ago and that money hasn’t been as available since.

But shouldn’t we invest to make the areas by our schools more walkable? Sure, there’s a crossing guard out nearly every morning, but let’s give him or her the additional tools they need before they jump out in front of a 2,000 lb. car armed with nothing but a sign.

There’s quite a bit of development in the Mid-City/Holt area, largely done by the Argenta CDC. The area is home to strong housing stock and when the economy finally, fully turns around, I suspect this area will see a serious revitalization. It’s very close to downtown Little Rock & Argenta, gas is rising and North Little Rock is hemmed in geographically. This is a good place to invest early. So we should help that by showing that pedestrians matter here. Let’s upgrade the safety of the area & put into place ‘best practice’ for crosswalks, as we have in the Argenta area. And let’s invest in walkability for all of our schools. If we commit to updating just the crosswalks by our schools in order to again make schools an integrated part of our communities, we’d be off to a nice start.

Traffic Explained in Less Than 4 Minutes

Thursday, April 12, 2012

UALR Shuttle Tracking

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock unveiled a two-route shuttle bus system earlier this year dubbed the Trojan Trolley. It's part of an effort to provide a meaningful choice besides driving on campus and in the surrounding area. The system gained a major upgrade this week with the addition of real-time GPS tracking. This link will take you to a page with a map showing the routes, the current location of the buses, and a table showing ETsA at the various stops, all updated every few seconds as you watch. I haven't confirmed on the ground yet, but it appears that they've also enabled text updates at the stops. This kind of system completely eliminates the classic bus riders' anxiety that comes from standing at a bus stop a little too long wondering if and when the next bus is going to arrive. This should greatly increase convenience and ultimately ridership.

High Tech!
Now, I wonder when the stewards of Central Arkansas Transit will find the funds to implement something similar for that much larger bus system. If they're able to make just a limited roll-out happen I'd suggest starting with the four lines that pass by UALR. Thanks to the Trojan Trolley tracking system there's already going to be a sizable population of people accustomed to using smart phones to access bus tracking data, and young folks in general have been willing to think outside the box and not feel confined to their cars.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Mayors' Broadway Bridge, Visualized

If any ol' picture is worth a thousand words, then there's no telling how much word-value the ones below carry. 

Looking south over Dickey Stephens
Go up the Arkansas River from its confluence with the mighty Mississippi. Look at the bridges as you pass under them. The Broadway Bridge is the only historic road bridge you'll see before you reach the similarly grand example in Ozark.* Broadway is one of the most iconic and elegant structures in central Arkansas with its cast concrete arches growing out of the North Little Rock side echoed by the newer steel arch over the shipping channel. It connects what many of us hope will some day soon be a walkable and livable downtown on the south bank to another downtown on the north that is already well on its way toward a brighter future. The current plan moving forward through the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department though calls for demolishing it and replacing it with a wider, faster span that will likely just lead to more traffic and congestion in both cities. 

As you may have heard already, Mayor Stodola of  LR and Mayor Hays of NLR recently pitched an alternative plan to AHTD. It involves building a new bridge to cross at Chester Street and then preserving and adaptively reusing the Broadway Bridge as an urban linear park. (a la the High Line). Makes sense to me. See some of the images from their presentation below and dream big...

* You won't see another  historic road bridge upstream from Ozark until you go past the end of the McClellan-Kerr Navigation System at Muskogee, OK. Yes, the shipping channel does extend all the way to Tulsa, but it's in a tributary of the Arkansas above Muskogee. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

True Cost of Unwalkable Streets

A great read:

Kaid Benfield makes no mention of carbon footprint, or reliance on foreign oil, or global warming, or electric cars as a silver bullet solution, or the importance of LEED-certified buildings, or any other topics that tend to cause division and miss the main point for a lot of people. Rather, he focuses on the simple and direct correlation between the way in which we've chosen to build our towns and the health consequences of that decision. When we design for just one choice (driving) at the expense of other ways of going about our daily activities, the vast majority of us will make that one choice the resulting lack of physical activity will cause our collective waistline to get bigger. Not to mention the social harms of making it more and more difficult for people to just walk from their homes to the corner store. It's seems so obvious and straightforward, yet turning this ship around is no easy task.


I've seen a disturbing number of traffic counters recently on roads throughout central Arkansas, and if past action is any indication of future steps, I'm pretty sure what the likely outcome of those traffic counts is going to be. I know the road 'improvement' projects could be delayed temporarily by channeling my inward Edward Abbey to use the limb loppers in my trunk for nefarious purposes (I've heard that loppers work great on the rubber hoses attached to traffic counting machines), but we need something more permanent than that. 

We need more folks saying things like: "City of Little Rock, Metroplan, AHTD, City of North Little Rock, Pulaski County, Faulkner County, Conway, Saline County, etc., etc.- STOP trying to solve traffic problems by making it easier for people to cause traffic! Let's slow down to think about the outcomes we'd like to actually see happen and take steps to make those outcomes possible instead of just reacting to today's perceived traffic problems with yesterday's antiquated responses. Let's engineer choice back into the system instead of spending billions of dollars to force everybody into one unhealthy, dangerous, and expensive choice!" 


Spring break is over, but the aforementioned  posts did not happen. Plumbing work, mowing, swimming in a creek in the Ozarks, a 7+ hour march/crawl to the Eye of the Needle and back again, reading, and hanging out in the Coolest Town in Arkansas all got in the way of blogging. Sorry! Words will flow as time allows.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

It's the Design, Stupid.

I went for a spin around the River Trail loop this afternoon and came upon a bike-car crash in front of Episcopal Collegiate School on Cantrell:
Shaken up. And hurt.
There were some police people and others milling about and doing important things, so I tried to stay out of the way and didn't catch the cyclist's name. But, from what I could ascertain, she was riding east to west (away from downtown) trying to negotiate the crosswalks and pedestrian islands in front of the school when the light changed for the teachers and parents leaving the campus. A collision ensued.

The first thing that I noticed when I walked up to the scene of the accident crash was that the cyclist was blaming herself. Yes, it sounds like she could have avoided it had she done what the walk/don't-walk signs were telling pedestrians to do. However, this crash was not her fault (and nor was it the driver's). The real blame lies with the design of the intersection and road with their complete lack of any space for cyclists. The official River Trail route through this section forces cyclists to break the law by riding on the sidewalk and the wrong way down a one-way street, and the street design here encourages drivers to mash the gas pedal like they're out in the boonies instead in the middle of an urban space with mixed transportation modes.

Cantrell Road is 6 lanes wide just to the east and west of this intersection. That's about 75 feet, curb to curb. The posted speed limit is 40 mph, but it seems that most drivers treat that as a minimum rather than a maximum- not because they're evil law-breaking speed demons, but because the road design itself encourages faster speeds.

The green space between the sidewalk and the Episcopal School is about 20 feet wide. That's over 100 feet of total width to play with (including the sidewalks), yet some how no one could find room for cyclists. It makes no sense. We need to shrink the space for cars here, carve out ample space for bikes and pedestrians, and beef up the public transit infrastructure. And we don't need to do it by spending $15 million on a cantilevered bridge around Dillard's. There is plenty of space in the Cantrell right-of-way for good, 21st century street design.

Bad design.
 (image from the Google)
If we design and build for cars, then the result will be more cars. If we design and build for choice and balance in transportation mode, then people will make balanced choices. The second way is less expensive and pays off later with lower maintenance costs. Plus, traffic will still flow fine; there will be fewer injuries and death from crashes; we'll have less road rage; and maybe we can use some of that wasted surface parking in downtown LR for higher and better uses when more people are able to get there without driving. Heck, we might even improve our health. Simple. Easy. What're we waiting for?

Tom Ezell over at BACA wrote a great description of the design problems with this section of the River Trail and made this video. The spot where the crash above happened comes at 2:33 with general commentary about that intersection starting at about 2:15:

 (and lest anyone think otherwise, the title of this post has absolutely nothing to do with the crash victim. "Stupid" refers to the people who decide and continue to think that intersections like this are a good idea.)

Spring Break and the Tech Park

Spring Break is almost here, and with it will come a few updates from this blogger. In the mean time, regarding Little Rock's Technology Park plans, two articles came across my screen this week that are apropos:

1. How Amazon got the urban campus right.
2. How Apple is getting it so wrong.

I hope to dive much deeper into the issue next week, but for now- take a gander at what the LR Tech Park Authority is showing off to illustrate their suburban vision. Those yellow buildings are parking decks. That red line is likely a perimeter fence to separate what's going on inside the development from the life outside. The grey things are surface parking lots.
This couldn't be farther from where we need to be going as a city.
Come back to this here blog for a more detailed critique, alternative ideas, and maybe a Venn diagram or two next week!

Friday, March 2, 2012

There's New Asphalt on the Fort Roots Climb

There's fresh, smooth, buttery tarmac running from the gate at the bottom all the way to the top. Judging by the heat coming up off of it and the "Road Closed" barriers at either end and the unmistakable feeling of my tires sticking to the road, I'd say they (who are those mysterious they?) installed it today. I didn't stop to take a pic, but if you like riding up there you'll see it soon enough for yourself. 

Happy weekend, and enjoy this great weather everyone! 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Welcome to Little Rock, Hold On To Your Recycling

I just returned from a quick trip. I bought an overpriced bottle of water in the Charlotte airport. I carried it off the plane looking for a place in the terminal to recycle it before I got to my car. I saw five different styles of trash cans but nary a recycle bin. A little design consistency, please.

I tried to recycle my newspaper when I finished reading it the morning of my outbound flight but absent a recycle option I left it lying around hoping some other soul would enjoy with wit & wisdom of Wally.

This can't be terribly complicated. I visited four other airports this week - Memphis, Dulles, Reagan& Charlotte. Each had recycling. The Little Rock airport's website notes they re
cycle nearly 50 tons of cardboard & paper a year. I can only assume this is commercial recycling. I applaud those efforts. But it'd be nice to send a signal to our visitors that we care enough about the environment to give travelers the option of recycling their overpriced water or complimentary hotel copy of USA Today.

I tried to call the airport to ask why they don't have consumer recycle bins but an overly complicated computerized menu made that next to impossible.

one of the lovely trash bins at LIT

Monday, February 20, 2012

Gas, Roads and Conspiracies

$4 a Gallon? It’ll be here before you know it.

Reports are coming to & fro about gas prices rising. In fact, they’re the highest they’ve ever been in February. There are lots of reasons for this, of course. Production haults due to nuclear production and the like. There are attacks on the non motorized vehicle related portions of the transportation bill, the transportation enhancements portion. There’s an amendment that would put some of that money back and maintain local control, as well.

There’s also the serious nuts who will tell you that all of this is an attack on their freedom. That it’s a U.N. conspiracy to take away our freedom. This is sad. And small. There are good people who think that 2% of all the money we spend on auto-focused transportation could be used to enhance our trails and provide alternatives to the sprawl that we’ve built up over the last sixty or seventy years (some of us are a two generations away from family who traveled by horse). A few percentage points of these billions of of dollars that will enhance our collective ability to get off our butts and move. Not a bad idea given our 30% obesity rate, putting us in the top (bottom?) 10 in the country. Take a moment to look at that link & see how in 1991 we were under a 10% obesity rate in 1991 and where we are some 21 years later. You think that has anything to do with our addiction to cars and stationary lifestyle owing to poorly built neighborhoods, too often lacking sidewalks and building schools that kids don’t walk to any longer?

But, all of that aside I think the root of the attack on transportation enhancements isn’t just the nuttiness of the Agenda 21 zombies. Rather it’s that the machine needs more money to feed the beast. Highways have long been largely funded by a tax on gasoline that’s been stuck at 18.4 cents per gallon. It’s not news that the congress and the country’s are in no mood for a tax hike (those of us in Dogtown excluded) and that's probably a good thing. So, gas prices rise and people travel less. Fewer weekend trips, more strategic trips to the store, more use of public transportation (maybe not so much in Arkansas, but true nationwide) and lo and behold less gas tax collected.

Who suffers most? I submit to you it is rural America who suffers most. It’s simple logistics. They’re further away from goods and services. Often times rural communities are shrinking and thus have less revenue to keep up with infrastructure built for a greater population. And too often it’s these areas that are loudest in their protest against non-vehicle focused transportation. So in the end they’re the ones that will be hurt the most.

Gas isn’t going to stay cheap or more accurately moderately affordable forever. And as the price increases, we’re going to have to make some changes. We can’t start too soon. One way to start is to not spend 100% of our transportation funding roads.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Broadway Bridge Comments

The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department held a public info meeting last night to show off their very well-done maps and renderings of the new Broadway Bridge plans. Go here to read about the project, look at the visuals, and download a public comment form.

Speaking of comments, mine are below. They may be a little over the top, but not nearly as over the top as rushing into a $50+ million project of questionable worth based on outdated assumptions in times of limited funds...

Do you feel there is a need for the proposed bridge replacement on Hwy. 70 (Broadway Street Bridge) over the Arkansas River?
Heck no! The current bridge should be maintained to extend its life. The proposed designs come nowhere close to replacing the historic and unique architectural form of today’s bridge, and there is no genuine need for additional capacity into and out of downtown Little Rock. People in other places who cherish the context and character that old structures like the Broadway bridge provide for their communities find ways of preserving them. Let’s do the same here.

Regarding capacity: there are 26 car/truck lanes connecting Little Rock to North Little Rock today (I-430, Broadway, Main St., I-30, and I-440). Brooklyn and Manhattan, with a combined population of 4,000,000, only have 25 connecting them to each other (Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, Brooklyn Bridge, Williamsburg Bridge, and Manhattan Bridge). To say that we do not have enough capacity across the Arkansas River and need to add lanes demonstrates a dangerously narrow view of our transportation system. Instead of locking everyone further into one very expensive mode of travel we should make investments that build choice and resiliency into the system.

What is your main concern for the proposed bridge replacement project? Please select one: __Cost, __Time to Completion, __Visual, _X_Other.
Little Rock is choking under an overabundance of parking lots and transportation facilities today that mainly serve to store tens of thousands of cars from 9:00-5:00 and move them into and out of the city at the highest speed possible. A stream of fast-moving cars equals neither value nor prosperity for the people and communities of this state, and adding capacity and speed, as all of the proposed bridge plans purport to do, will only worsen the problem. Reacting to today’s traffic problems by creating a bigger traffic problem tomorrow is not a sound long-term strategy.

Of the bridge types considered, what BRIDGE TYPE do you prefer? Why?
The one with the arch. The other two look too heavy, yet somehow incomplete at the same time.

Please provide comments on the various proposed roadway cross sections of the new bridge (additional travel lanes, shared use path for pedestrians and bicyclists, dedicated lane for La Harpe West, etc.).
-A physically-separated 16’ shared use path is a great start, though separating bike and pedestrian facilities from each other would be even better. If AHTD must keep 5 car lanes in the design, then I suggest shrinking them to 9’6” each, adding a 5’ sidewalk to the west side of the bridge, separating an 8’ foot sidewalk on the east side, and building a dedicated/separated two-way bike facility in the remaining ~10’ of space. There is no need for 11’ travel lanes on that bridge, given the surrounding street context.

-Putting seven traffic lanes at the north end of the bridge would be ludicrous. The intersection of N. Broadway and W. 3rd Street in North Little Rock at Dickey Stephens Park could be one of Arkansas’s gems of pedestrian-friendly, people-centered design. Today it fails in that role. Instead of improving and adding value to that place though, all of the prosed bridge replacement designs only carve out more room for cars from what is pedestrian space today. Any changes made there should improve the experience for people instead of sacrificing walkability in the name of higher throughput for cars. The Dickey Stephens surroundings could and should feel more Ebbets Field than Astrodome. Keep the tunnel under Broadway, but beef up the above-ground pedestrian experience too.

-The entire project should be put on a Mike-Huckabee-running-for-president-esque diet with fewer lanes for cars and more consideration for active transportation options. AHTD, the cities, Central Arkansas Transit, pedestrian and bike advocates, and the general public should hash out a vision together instead of one department unilaterally injecting its car-centric ideas into the process. Only after we figure out what we actually need should we start looking at designs.

Please provide comments on the pedestrian connections to/from the bridge on the north and south side of the river and the potential Riverfront Park impacts that may occur.
Bravo! The ramps down to the parks are a huge step in the right direction. As other projects have shown, anything that improves connections and perceived safety for people outside of cars will result in even more people choosing to walk and ride bikes. A few tweaks though would elevate the bike and pedestrian facility from a simple River Trail connection for the recreational users to an actual part of the transportation network. The current pedestrian experience at both ends of the bridge is dangerous and unwelcoming at best. Any changes to the Broadway Bridge should incorporate bold steps to connect cyclists and pedestrians into the cities at either end of the bridge. Huge, safe, inviting crossings across Broadway on both ends, Markham Street in Little Rock, and 3rd Street in NLR must be a fundamental part of the plan from the beginning instead of something that gets tacked on at the end. Start with that and then figure out where the cars can fit in. Just because AHTD’s car-centric policies of the last few decades have resulted in thousands of cars using that bridge every day now does not mean we should double down with those same policies as we move forward.

Please provide comments on the examples of architectural finishes shown in the bridge renderings (brick vs. stone/concrete treatments, open vs. closed railing, etc.)
I have no opinion other than that the materials used should respect/support the chosen design. Making design and material decisions independently seems like a bad idea. We’d end up with things like paper hammers and marble beach balls if we followed that model in other parts of life. That being said, it’s clear that concrete and COR-TEN are the building blocks of choice for AHTD these days. If that’s the route you go, then figure out a way to showcase those materials in a beautiful way without trying to make them look like something they aren’t.

Please provide any additional comments below.
The primary goal of public works projects like roads and bridges should be to create value for the people of this state by facilitating connectivity and exchange. As drawn, the current plans for the Broadway Bridge seem to have been conceived under the goal of “move as many cars as possible as quickly as possible.” Those goals may have been equivalent at some time in the past, but they definitely are not the same anymore. Massive roads designed to move lots of cars at a high rate of speed have the exact opposite effect from creating value, especially in dense urban areas such as Little Rock / North Little Rock. Connectivity and exchange happen best when people have genuine choice in how they move about in their daily activities; all of the proposed bridge replacements though will simply make the area more accommodating to cars at the expense of choice. We cannot keep trying to pave our way out of congestion. Additional capacity begets additional demand which simply leads to more and wider-spread congestion with people driving farther and farther.

The Broadway Bridge is a signature piece of Arkansas’s infrastructure that has hosted significant events in the state’s history. My hope first of all is that the stewards at the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department do not destroy this treasure for anything but the sincerest of needs. Secondly, if they do decide that it must go, I hope they take the opportunity to begin transforming how the Department perceives the transportation system in Arkansas. Instead of throwing more and more money at a failed model that only leads to bigger problems in the future we need to invest in a resilient system that builds actual value by facilitating connectivity and exchange. The Broadway Bridge planning process so far has focused on the aesthetics of the bridge. While that issue is vitally important, the discussion should have started with meaningful dialogue about the purpose and vision of the bridge with regards to the region’s transportation infrastructure. Do we want to build a bridge that encourages ever more time-sucking, money-wasting, and community-draining sprawl or do we want to build something that brings people together, improves our health, and strengthens the state’s economy? I vote for the second path.

(taxpayer, car-owner, walker, cyclist, bus rider, voter.)

Thursday, February 2, 2012


(I can't help but picture Fozzie Bear every time I hear the name. Waka Waka!)

Anyway, Bicycle Advocacy of Central Arkansas's monthly meeting happens tonight at The Oyster Bar on Markham at 7:00. With Congressman Crawford's vote today to defeat an amendment to restore Safe Routes to School and Transportation Enhancements to the transportation bill I'm sure we'll have some lively discussion.

See you there!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Little Rock Tweed Ride

from J Stuart Williamson
Little Rock's first tweed ride saw about 75 stately folks of all shapes, sizes, and ages enjoying the absolutely perfect weather on Sunday on an eclectic collection of bikes. Good clean fun was had by all. We started the ride at the Clinton Library, rolled down President Clinton Avenue, crossed the Main Street bridge to Argenta, circled back around to Little Rock, made a short photo-op stop at the Old Statehouse, headed over to the Capitol, and finished things up with drinks at the Capital Hotel. The staff there greeted us with open doors and led us with our bikes through the ornate lobby and into the ballroom / bike parking area.

Mason Ellis and both have write-ups about the event if you'd like to read more.

And finally, additional pictures from Sunday's ride, in no particular order...
From Kelsey Thornton
Mid-day January shadows are cool:
From Vanessa McKuin
From Vanessa McKuin
Heading back to LR from Argenta:
Main Street bridge, via Kelsey Thornton
Leaving the Clinton Library:
Preservationists before the ride:
From Vanessa McKuin
Heading south in Argenta:
From Vanessa McKuin
Nice hat, Professor Gould!
From Kelsey Thornton
What century is this again?
From Kelsey Thornton
Capital Hotel lobby:
From Vanessa McKuin
Handlebar moustache:
From Kelsey Thornton
Cords were welcomed too:
Yours truly, via Kelsey Thornton
The only way to travel:
Refreshments. From J Stuart Williamson

Monday, January 23, 2012

Designing Healthy Communities

It's great to see the health community grab onto the idea of designing livability and walkability into our surroundings and promote it as fundamental component of a healthy society. As part of that growing movement, PBS is airing a four-part series this winter and spring that will explore all the interconnections between health and our built environment in great detail. For those of us in the AETN viewshed, we'll get to see two of the segments on Sunday, February 12, and the other two on Sunday, February 19. They'll run from 12:30-2:30 p.m. on both days.

A preview:

Episode 1: Retrofitting Suburbia (preview all episodes here) from MPC on Vimeo.

Thinking about what the health community alone has built here in central Arkansas over the last few years reveals no shortage of opportunities for improved walkability. Yes, they got together and made the Medical Mile happen in the River Market area a while back, but the actual campuses of ACH, UAMS, St. Vincent, Baptist, and others represent the polar opposite of healthy living. Despite their urban locations the planners decided to develop all of the campuses under the outdated suburban model in which the vast majority of people working there have to drive. The car-centric, blank glass-walled form that dominates our hospitals discourages healthy lifestyles and runs completely counter to the amazing work happening inside. When the leaders of those institutions recognize the direct link between their missions and the physical design and layout of their campuses, not to mention the interface/connections to their surrounding neighborhoods, we will see a revolutionary transformation. Instead of a moat of parking lots 'buffering' a children's hospital from the neighborhood it sits in, we'll see a safe, people-centric place that encourage interaction and contributes to the revitalization of a neglected part of the city. And instead of a high-speed five lane road separating our state's medical school from its neighbors, we'll see an attractive human-scaled street that promotes walking. Obesity, diabetes, traffic crashes, and violence are some of the biggest health epidemics facing people today, and the way in which we've chosen to build our cities, towns, and the places within exacerbates (causes?) all of them. It's time to change.

And in the mean time, tune in to AETN on the 12th and 19th to see what the folks who created Designing Healthy Communities have to say about it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hitting the Nail on the Head

At one point during the walking portion of Dan Burden's trip to Little Rock earlier this week we were all discussing the potential of putting University and Asher Avenues on road diets and replacing the 29 lanes of traffic and 15 stoplights (it's 29 lanes if you walk all the way around) at the intersection with a simple traffic circle. Someone said something along the lines of "but University is an arterial road that brings lots of people into Little Rock from the suburbs" implying that chaos will ensue if we inject some common sense and livability into that space. I find that to be a common theme of responses to proposed change and don't blame the people making those statements at all. "But all these cars are here as the result of the natural forces of growth. Progress means more cars and more lanes, not less. We're pro-growth, pro-development, pro-progress, by golly!" It's how we've all been taught to think for the last few decades, and changing that paradigm is going to take some time and effort.

Read this. Today. Right now

First of all, replacing big wide roads and traffic lights with smaller roads and traffic circles to keep traffic moving often doesn't reduce capacity much, if at all. Secondly, our car-centric policies of the last half century have led to people making more trips by car than they used to. (surprise!) If we make University and Asher more people-centric and promote dense, safe, walkable development there, then a lot of people will choose to live there instead of out in the boonies. They'll be able to take care of more of their daily needs very close-by instead of having to drive back and forth all over creation. They'll still be able to drive anywhere they want, but they won't need to drive as much as they do now. Plus, that area is already decently served by CAT buses; a walkable, livable design will only make that service even more effective and efficient, further reducing people's reliance on driving.

Yes, right now University Avenue is an arterial road that lots of suburban commuters and shoppers and hospital visitors and students and concert goers and diners use, but let's not allow an arbitrary label to limit our future.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Dan Burden Visit

Dan Burden at UALR, from Bud Laumer
Dan Burden leading the walking audit.
(photo from Bud Laumer)
A few dozen people (100+?) spent the afternoon over at UALR yesterday with Dan Burden of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute. He presented his spiel in the Donaghey Center, and then we went outside for a 2-ish hour walk near the 'corner' of University and Asher. Let's just say that we found a lot of opportunities for improvement for the University District planners to tackle over the next few years. One of the most encouraging aspects of the event was the wide variety of people and organizations present: Mayor Stodola, AARP, UALR, Arkansas Coalition for the Prevention of Obesity (, Bicycle Advocacy of Central Arkansas, Little Rock Bike Friendly Community Committee, staffers from North Little Rock and Little Rock, staffers from the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, developers, individuals from all over the state, and others all came together with the common goal of learning more about making people the center point of community design rather than cars.

University and Asher
Not Walkable... yet.
Another encouraging observation was that Dan seems to be  very focused on Arkansas. He lives on the west coast and most of his work has been on the coasts, but he has recognized that (a) because of the size of our cities and towns, significant change will be a lot easier in Arkansas than in larger states, and (b) when significant change happens here, an often overlooked state, it'll be a major wakeup call for the rest of the country. This clearly wasn't his first visit to our state and nor will it be his last.

Here are some resources for further reading that Dan mentioned yesterday-
-LA County's Model Design Manual for Living Streets. Dan said this could easily be customized to fit the needs of a state like Arkansas.

Dan's ~20 minute TED talk back in 2011 gives an excellent overview of his message:

And here's a much longer version if you want to learn more. See the full version here, and a preview below:

Dan Burden: Building Livable, Walkable Communities from Commonwealth Club on

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Dan Burden Talk & Walk

I meant to mention this a while back, but somehow it fell through the holiday / school break cracks. Dan Burden from the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute is coming to Little Rock next week. He's speaking in UALR's Donaghey Center at 1:00 on Monday, January 9, with a walking audit and brainstorm outside in the University District to follow. Later on he's going to follow up with a written report of the findings which I'll be sure to post on this here blog.

Here's the UALR page on the event with contact info for reserving a free spot. Parking should be a breeze if you drive since the students are still away.

Mainstream Media Joins the Conversation

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette printed a column (behind the pay wall) today I wrote about the $1.8 billion tax-and-pave vote coming up later this year. They even drew a little cartoon of a truck driving into a cloud or dust storm to go with the piece. Check it out if you're a subscriber or drop two quarters in one of those yellow boxes beside your street or head down to your local library to read a free copy there.

Neighborhood-Centric Cities

With an uptick in robberies and shootings recently here in Central Arkansas; and with the city of Little Rock set to start collecting a cool extra $100 million in a couple of months; and with the Arkansas Times devoting last week's edition to great writing on various neighborhoods; and with blatant civic dis-investment happening in some of those neighborhoods, I got a little curious about possible other ways of doing things.

Here's a great paper from IBM (I know- weird, right? IBM? Trust me though, it's good.) that outlines the idea of organizing all city government decisions and functions around neighborhoods instead of the various departmental silos we have now. The fundamental goal for city government under the new paradigm is improving people's quality of life at the neighborhood level. And, the easiest way to gauge progress toward that goal is by looking at property values. When quality of life improves in a place, more people will want to live there, and (thanks to the magic of supply and demand) property values there go up. Plus, as a significant added benefit, when property values go up, revenue for the city goes up too. Everybody wins. In a way, the city begins to look at itself as a revenue-generating entity rather than just assuming that revenue is just something that happens independently of civic decisions.

On one level we all identify with the city or town we live in, but on a much more fundamental level we identify with our neighborhoods. While someone getting shot at 12th and Woodrow impacts everyone in Little Rock to some degree, I'd venture to say that those of us in the Central High and Stephens neighborhoods feel it a lot more than someone living where Deauville Drive, Deauville Circle, Deauville Boulevard, and Deauville Place all come together. On a more positive note, a new sidewalk / fire station / school / park / etc. typically affects the quality of life of the people who live nearby more than it does for someone who lives on the other side of town.

Right now in Little Rock, as in most cities, there's a pot of money each year that gets allocated between Police, Streets, Parks and Rec, Fire, Code Enforcement, Transit, Housing, Courts, etc. and then each of those departments has to decide how best to spend its own money citywide. What Big Blue and others propose is to re-imagine that formula. Divvy the money up based on neighborhoods, and then allow the decision-making process to operate on that more local, personal level. Would it be better for a particular neighborhood to have more librarians or police officers? Do we need sidewalks or another fire truck? Should we add frequency to a bus route or widen a street? Etc. The same things will still happen as today, but the difference is that it'll be easier to make local decisions that affect multiple departments instead of having those departments act somewhat independently as they do now.

That' a simplified overview filtered through my pre-coffee mind, so do read the IBM paper for a much more complete version.