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!