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.