Saturday, October 31, 2015

Did 30 Crossing Just Lose 1/3 of the Funding it Never Had?

Add this to the growing pile of evidence showing AHTD is out of touch with contemporary thinking on transportation…

The list of 2015 federal Tiger grant recipients was announced on Thursday, and I'm pleased to see the feds didn't waste any money coming up with an attractive logo. (Intern, make me a logo for the Tiger report.)

A lot of innovative, multi-modal, forward-looking projects designed to improve communities around the country are going to receive funding out of the $500 million Tiger VII pot of money. Picture streetcars, light rail, bike paths, ferry terminals, passenger rail infrastructure, transit hubs, and the like. Here's a map of the 39 places about to have free money rain down like green, papery thin manna to do cool things:

We, on the other hand, asked for $200 million of that money to help us pay for the woefully expensive old-fashioned freeway expansion project called 30 Crossing in this application.

There are many, many jumping off points in that application for future writings about why 30 Crossing doesn't make any sense, but one nugget that jumped out at me immediately was this money quote from the bottom of Page 3.
Unless full Tiger funding is received, many items in the project scope will have to be removed.
I haven’t found concrete confirmation of this yet, but Arkansas’s absence from the list of Tiger VII awardees makes me think our application was rejected (after probably generating some hearty, full-throated guffaws in DC). Again, the application asked for $200 million in Tiger funding to go toward a projected $650 million total for 30 Crossing. As far as I've seen, what the loss of that piece of funding means for the project has not been discussed publicly. Maybe someone will ask about it at Tuesday's meeting at the Clinton Center.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Is 30 Crossing Unconstitutional?

People of the all-highway-expansions-all-the-time persuasion have been saying that AHTD's hands are tied on 30 Crossing. Even if they wanted to do something innovative, the law authorizing the money only allows for highway construction and expansion. As any curious citizen would do, I pulled up the 2012 constitutional amendment passed by the people of Arkansas instead of just taking the highway engineers at their word. Low and behold, my reading of the law suggests they're wrong-- we could do something innovative and forward thinking with the money besides mindlessly making a bad road bigger. But, that's not the point of this post. In response to the questions of 'why I-30 and why now?' the highway folks have said once again that their hands are tied. The voters specifically called for the money to go to I-30 in downtowns LR and NLR, they say. But again, I couldn't find any evidence of that in the language of the amendment. But again x 2, that's not the point of this post. I'll address those another day. For now, here is the point for today's post:


If you're saying "Pshaw! That's hogwash," then honestly, you're probably right. However, at this moment in time I can't figure out why you're right and I'm wrong. So, in the interest of covering all possible permutations of the truth, here's how 30 Crossing is unconstitutional...

Just a wee bit o' background first.

The good state Arkansas allows its constitution to be amended in a few different ways: (1) direct action by the people (picture that danged pot amendment that can't get its wording up to a level of perfection sufficient enough to satisfy the grammar police in the Attorney General's office), (2) Constitutional Convention (we tried this once in the 70s I think. It didn't work), and (3) via the legislature referring amendments to We the People for our vote. That last one is what happened with the amendment that's compelling you to pay for the $500+ million I-30 embiggenment here in the capital city and North Little Rock. The state house and senate passed and Governor Beebe signed House Joint Resolution 1001 in the spring of 2011. That document spelled out the language of Issue 1 which appeared on our ballots in November, 2012. We voted for it roughly 58% to 42%. The language then became Amendment 91 to our adorably long constitution. (the relevant text begins on Page 132 at that link) Finally, the new law took effect, our sales tax rate went up, money changed hands, roads got built, yada yada yada. Here we are today.

And the meat

Everything seems to be working fine-ish, right? So what's the big deal? Well, let's take a gander at what the voters of Arkansas actually put into our constitution in 2012. Here's the 'intent' section, with highlighting by me. Click to make bigger:

For the reader who sees the problem and likes to jump to conclusions (though is that person even reading anymore?), we could stop right here. But, a mere statement of 'intent' to construct four-lane highways doesn't really represent the substance of the law, so let's keep going for the more contemplative among us. Here's part of Section 3, the Definitions section:

Seeing a pattern yet? Basically, that section says that a 'four-lane highway improvement' covers everything related to four-lane highways. Unfortunately, the amendment does not define 'four-lane highway', but any number of online dictionaries provide workable interpretations:

Ok, so 'four-lane highway' means a highway with two lanes for traffic in each direction. 2+2 = 4. Simple enough. 

The amendment allows bonds to be issued. What can those bonds be used for? Unequivocally, four-lane highway improvements, as defined above.

The amendment caused an Arkansas Four-Lane Highway Construction and Improvement Bond Account to be set up and funded.

And, as if we needed permission, it provides a clause allowing the tax payers of Arkansas to enforce the amendment if the State messes up:


To summarize: the people of Arkansas thought there weren't enough four-lane highways connecting all the regions of the state, so in 2012 we passed a law telling AHTD to build and improve four-lane highways across the state. There's just one teensy tiny little bitty 100-foot-wide problem with how that's being implemented though. Interstate 30 is not a four-lane highway:

Seems to me that the voters wanted AHTD to use this temporary source of money to build highways to and around places like El Dorado and Jonesboro and Bella Vista and Sheridan and all points in between. This was so clearly the plan that they passed a constitutional amendment with numerous references to 'four-lane highways.' Not six. Not eight. Not ten. Not 'multi'. Not 'four or more'. Not 'at least four'. But simply four. In other words, precisely one more than the length of the count prescribed in the Book of Armaments for the Holy Hand Grenade.

Instead of maximizing funding to those four-lane highways as the voters demanded, the biggest chunk of everyone's money is getting dumped into one of the most expensive construction jobs in AHTD's history in a city that's been served by multiple interstates for decades. This single 7 mile stretch of highway enlargement will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $500 million, or about 1/3 of the Connecting Arkansas Program's total 10 year budget. 

Interestingly, whoever wrote the copy for the Overview section of the Connecting Arkansas Program website conveniently left off the 'four-lane' modifier when describing the types of highways the amendment is supposed to fund:

Maybe that was just a simple oversight.

So what's next? If some taxpayer in the state of Arkansas would file a complaint in the Circuit Court of Pulaski County we might quickly find out if 'four-lane highway' means a 'highway with four lanes' or something wider. Who's up?


Caveat: The argument I attempt to make above is so blatantly obvious that my first and strongest reaction has been to think that surely I must be wrong. I can't figure out why though. So, all of the above is presented by someone who fully expects a fatal flaw in the argument to be pointed out about 30 seconds after I hit the 'Publish' button.

Monday, October 26, 2015

A Capital City as an After Thought?

Taylor Hubbard, property owner in Little Rock's Central High neighborhood, shared the letter below that she sent to the 30 Crossing Project comment gatekeepers. She brings up a lot of great points, including a bit on the history of I-630 and the currently growing ability for people to bike and walk in downtown instead of driving. AHTD's models place an inordinate amount of value on seconds saved for people commuting long distances in cars while completely ignoring the value of the car trip not taken. Even if you never touch a bike and prefer to drive from one side of the mall to the other instead of walking through, when others ride bikes, walk to the store, etc., good things happen for everyone. I know that people get PhD's focused on making highway department traffic models model car traffic better, but until those models also adequately account for people walking, biking, taking the bus, carpooling, telecommuting, etc., they are irrelevant in evaluating one transportation mix over another. 

Hubbard's full comment posted with her permission:
My husband and I intentionally moved to downtown Little Rock one year ago to be in close proximity to where we spend the majority of our time - work, church, schools, etc. We purchased our house on the south side of 630, my husband regularly commutes to his job at FUMC downtown on his bicycle, and when our daughter was in daycare, he would bike her along as well. We value the ability to use alternative modes of transportation and have often talked about becoming a one-car family. 
Not long after our move downtown, we became very aware of many issues caused by I-630 in our community. One of the most striking issues is the division 630 created downtown and the "reputations" of the north and south sides. We love our community, we love the people in our community, and even embrace the unique challenges that come with living downtown; however, seeing first-hand the implications that occurred from putting a highway through an entire neighborhood and the subsequent division it created makes me even more passionate about speaking out against the current 30 Crossing proposal. 
This plan is focused on moving as many people through Little Rock as fast as possible, with no regard to the (1) people who live here, (2) vision for the area, and (3) what has already been implemented to revitalize downtown. There is no reason to send a major interstate through the middle of downtown; this is nothing more than a short-sighted, expensive bandaid.  
Implementing the proposal as-is will be a huge detriment to the businesses that comprise downtown. The area will become less desirable and not only will it be difficult to attract new businesses, we risk losing existing staples in the downtown skyline. It will make downtown less accessible and therefore easier to skip over. A capital city as an after thought; can you imagine? More than anything, this will jeopardize expansion for forward-thinking, PEOPLE friendly businesses and lifestyles because it sends a clear message that cars, not people, are more valuable in Arkansas. I implore the AHTD to rethink this proposal.  
I was supportive of the initial release of information focusing on expanding I30 over the river, but I feel extremely caught off guard by the current proposal and how invasive it is to this area. This proposal is not the answer; this proposal is a costly solution for those commuting outside the city at the expense of those of us living downtown. I'm confident that the 4 billion dollars estimated for completion of this project could be invested in alternative, more sustainable solutions that do more than send a concrete corridor through the heart of downtown. Please, please, please, consider alternatives and listen to the voices of those this affects most. 
Taylor Bradley Hubbard
Homeowner, Central High Historic District

Lifelong Little Rocker Wants a Better Solution

Jennifer Bethea, another Arkansas citizen, taxpayer, voter, consumer, and property owner says 'enough!' in her note to the folks at Garver/AHTD. I especially like the last paragraph: "I have lived in Little Rock all my life and have never been more proud of my hometown than I am right now. I encourage you to find a way to address traffic flow that does not destroy the heart of our beautiful city." Yes. It's easy to point to the predictions of mythical time saved from these projects as their only all-positive all-the-time impact, but the real world repercussions of increased traffic (read about induced demand here, here, and here), severely impacted quality of life for the communities this project passes through, and the plain, simple, undeniably large drain on the economy that a $500 million bill represents all make the 30 Crossing project a lose-lose-lose for the people of Arkansas. Listen to the people, AHTD, and find a better way. Jennifer's full comment posted with her permission:
I am writing as a concerned citizen to request that you reconsider the plans to expand I-30 near downtown. 
I understand that the river bridge needs to be replaced, but I am extremely concerned about the impact an I-30 expansion would have on the downtown of our city, which is currently experiencing a wonderful revitalization. I live downtown and every day see citizens and tourists alike enjoying the River Market, Riverfront Park, and the various pedestrian bridges via a lovely stroll or bike ride down President Clinton Avenue. People from all over the city come to enjoy this area.  The bicycle trails which run through this area have brought a great deal of positive attention to our city from all over the country.  
Sadly, the planned expansion would destroy this area, hurting local businesses, tourism, economic growth, and our citizenry's enjoyment of this beautiful and thriving part of their city. In addition, the area east of I-30 is thriving with an unprecedented addition of new businesses. It would do these business owners and their customers a great disservice to cut off this area from the rest of downtown. 
I have lived in Little Rock all my life and have never been more proud of my hometown than I am right now. I encourage you to find a way to address traffic flow that does not destroy the heart of our beautiful city. 
Thank you,
Jennifer Bethea

Sunday, October 25, 2015

My Call for Ending the Constitutional Independence of AHTD

There's a good, or at least interesting, conversation happening on Twitter between the Arkansas Times Max Brantley, AHTD Director Scott Bennett & Johnnie Chamberlain of the Trails of Arkansas blog. I encourage you to take a look.  It's been screen-capped at the Facebook Improve I-30 group.

This discussion is well covered in a Times post this morning. John Brummett covers this in today's paper, as well. I don't want all of my MoveArkansas posts to solely focus on the I-30 mess - though it's certainly time well spent as this is Urban Renewal II & a scheme that will only require billions of dollars in future maintenance that, to date, is unfunded.

There are a few things, however, that I think are worth additional comments.
First -

I'll add my personal discomfort at having AHTD contractors with a vested interest in as large of an I-30 expansion as possible leading the public hearings.

I arrived at the hearing about 5:30, 90 or so minutes after it officially began. I quickly ran into friends who had been there for some time. Most of them (at least five different people, probably more) quickly began telling me about their interactions with the facilitators, how they were largely unaware of alternative transportation options. They were, by all accounts, polite & professional but just not familiar with options beyond more lanes. I wasn't surprised. This is how we as a society train engineers. We have no schools of planning in our state. Engineering schools, on the other hand remain strong. Strong Town's Chuck Marohn has covered this ad infinitum so I'll just link to one post on this subject. Peruse his blog for innumerable posts on this discussion. Given that information & my own personal experience with these types of 'hearings' I chose to simply review the materials and make comments vs. any Q&A/interrogation of staff, be they contract or full-time AHTD personnel.

Sure, having representatives from the contracted engineering firm present make some sense. I didn't count the number of people representing AHTD vs. contractors but I can tell you it felt like they far outweighed staff.

It felt like the fox was watching the hen house. And with perception being reality, I hope future meetings are facilitated by those who are directly accountable to the public. Neutral, informed public servants will do nicely, thank you. -

Perception, of course, is less of an issue when you are a constitutionally independent agency. Such independence creates a different set of stakeholders. Imagine this proposal with an agency directly embedded in the tree of state government. Independence made a certain amount of sense in the earliest years of transportation & road development. It stopped making sense decades ago.

Second -

In the last week, Tim has covered alternatives to freeway widening in detail. This is far from the first time such articles have been published or linked. I wrote about tearing down I-630 in 2010 for the Arkansas Time Big Ideas issue, so this isn't a new concept.

I was struck by the above tweet. I'm not sure if it was meant as being aghast at such a notion or if there was truly a lack of awareness. Likely it was meant as sarcasm to what many may see as a ridiculous notion. Nonetheless, this reinforced the perception that AHTD is more focused on the Highway part of their name than the Transportation part. This is a good time to note that even the name, Arkansas Highway & Transportation Department, is far behind the more modern nomenclature other states use (State Name) Department of Transportation (D.O.T.).  Another disadvantage to being beholden to the 1952 Mack-Blackwell Amendment. Admittedly, their mission is solid but it's not feeling as if it's being put into practice. For that matter, the existing organizational chart lists the Citizens of Arkansas at the top. The ones I'm hearing from don't seem to feel like we're being put first. Director Bennett asks KATV on Twitter to hear from someone in support of this plan. He hashtags the tweet #fairandbalanced. Outside of those invested to profit from the expansion, I haven't seen anyone in support of this effort. I'm sure someone does, but they're awful quiet.

Third -
Billions in maintenance. So says Metroplan. Director Bennett says he doesn't think so. A billion here, a billion there. Pretty soon we're talking about real money. Rather than quibble over the exact amount, I will simply note that maintenance will be required regardless of what expansion occurs. As noted above, the Connecting Arkansas 10-year fund CANNOT be used for maintenance. So, where does that money come from? Five plans have been proposed. The Highway Bill is a mess. Congress isn't likely to do much more than kick the can down the road for the foreseeable future.

Overbuilding our freeways buries us deeper in the Growth Ponzi Scheme. Again, I refer you to Marohn who has written extensively and exhaustively on the issue.

Finally - (and maybe I buried the lede here)
It's time to eliminate AHTD's constitutional independence. I cannot imagine any other state agency doubling down on an idea that has such opposition. AHTD can do this because of their separate and unequal status. As citizens, our legislators are of little help in this scenario. Nor is the governor or even the five Highway Commissioners. Sure, they can put some pressure on staff and the agency but ultimately there's not a lot of accountability.

Those on the right and left should support this as it will lead to more accountability and perhaps efficiency. In public policy circles you read about agencies being 'captured' by interest groups. Such capture is even more challenging to escape when there is a lower level of accountability.

AHTD has 10 years to plan and build a variety of roads & improvements. Going back to the drawing board is going to put a serious crimp in their limited time frame for the Connecting Arkansas program, scheduled to end in November 2022. But if such a proposal were on the ballot in November 2016 and effective January 1, 2017 there would still be approximately half the program life remaining under a new, more accountable system. Sure, many of the plans would be well underway but the citizens of Arkansas deserve a more accountable, more modern approach to both government and transportation. It is time to act.

Another Business Owner Speaks Out on 30 Crossing

Carol Worley, a resident and business owner in downtown Little Rock, sent the comment below to the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department regarding 30 Crossing. You too can submit comments using the form at this direct link. Meeting materials are here for a little background. Also, we encourage you to peruse back a few posts to see what others have said about the plans for AHTD to stick with outdated transportation options. And of course, see Max Brantley and Leslie Peacock's ongoing coverage over at the Arkansas Times. Carol's comments, reposted with permission:

I am unable to attend the meeting today on the proposed 30 Crossing project. However, I do want to pose my vehement objection to the proposed project. I am a resident of downtown Little Rock and have recently located my law firm downtown. While I understand the necessity of maintaining the structural integrity of the Arkansas River bridge, I am against the proposed plan to widen I-30 at the River and at the I-540/I-440 split. Much effort and expense has gone into revitalizing, redeveloping and unifying the River Market, the area around the Clinton Presidential Center, Main Street’s Creative Corridor, and the South Main area of Little Rock over the past 20 years. These areas have become pedestrian-friendly attractions that draw locals and tourists and are greatly contributing to the economic growth of our City. The current design for the I-30 expansion would decimate these areas, not to mention the adverse effect it will have on the surrounding historic neighborhoods that border the proposed expansion to the east and west. We have seen that with the increase in new business development and public transit is actually deepening connections across the current I-30 corridor. The Hangar Hill area is seeing new development and hopefully will continue this trend. The end effect of the proposed expansion will create a stark dividing line between downtown and the neighborhoods to the east similar to what I-630 did along the north/south axis when it was installed decades ago. Widening the freeway at the expense of a developing downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods is irresponsible and not well thought out. Clearly, the trend across the country is in the opposite direction, removing interstate highways from dense urban areas or locating them underground where street level activity and development is not adversely affected. Further, spending half a billing dollars to address several hours of rush hour traffic is overkill and not a wise use of tax payer’s money. Expanding roads does not eliminate backups during peak times, but instead it simply invites more vehicular use to fill those roads. Look at what traffic is like in California. Also, with the few exit ramps in the plan the effect will be not to encourage or assist movement into downtown, but to encourage movement through the area. Tourism and economic development will again decline in this event.
A better use of taxpayer funds will be to find alternative modes of transportation like commuter trains, trams or other mass transit designs or at a minimum a more innovative or creative plan to address the matter. Attention should be placed on current trends in urban growth and living including high-density, pedestrian-friendly urban areas with robust public transit that will help facilitate economic growth instead of thwart it. Further, efforts should be directed to anticipating the future, when multi-lane highways may well no longer be as desirable and mass public transportation is deemed the more feasible mode of travel. Little Rock is not just a city on a map that warrants a pass through. It’s a vibrant city that is seeing tremendous growth and development in the downtown area. That growth does not need to be hindered by this proposed project.
Carol Lockard Worley 
Worley, Wood & Parrish, P.A.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Curb Cut to Nowhere

Yep. We're back. So let's return to pointing out where we could do a bit better.

Take a look at this curb cut to nowhere. At Kavanaugh Boulevard & Hillcrest the road forks. In between there's an island. The Pedestrian Refuge or Pedestrian Island can be produced in a variety of styles & formats.   I can't find one recommendation that offers just one curb cut. Of course, only one curb cut means those crossing the street in a wheelchair or other alternative mobility devices will be forced to enter & exit the island at the same spot rather than exit nearest the side of the street they're ultimately trying to get to. Access and time it takes to cross the street is impacted. This can be dangerous, particularly when time is of an issue.

Now take a look at a Google Streetview of the street. The streetview is a bit old (July 2014)  but it gives you an idea of the area. The streetview also seems to indicate an awareness for the need of painted crosswalk for half of the street but over one year later, it hasn't happened.
Now this is a street adjacent to a school (Mount Saint Mary's) in a neighborhood that's by & large walkable. But details matter.

Crosswalks offer an opportunity to not just enhance walkability but also the provide a bit of creativity and whimsy. Perhaps something like this:

Friday, October 23, 2015

Thinkin' Like It's 1959

Today's interstate highway system really got its start with passage of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956. There were earlier stabs at building limited access divided highways, but the '56 law got the ball rolling in a big way on the nationwide system we love to complain about today. It was a grand experiment on a continental scale. One of the most radical pieces of the experiment was the idea of razing entire neighborhoods to plow the new mega structures into and through the hearts of cities like Little Rock and North Little Rock. People and communities were forcefully relocated in order to make room for futuristic swaths of concrete that would carry us in our private automobiles between fast-developing bedroom suburbs and the work centers downtown.

Portland, OR. (Museum of the City)

Now as the material underlying one of the early urban freeways in central Arkansas nears the end of its useful life, the busy bees at the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department are preparing to rebuild around seven miles of it at a direct cost of $500-$700 million. Some projections already put the medium-term costs at $4 BILLION to deal with the increased traffic and new bottlenecks resulting from the downtown I-30 enlargement.

Sitting on the cusp of an expenditure totaling over $4 billion essentially rebuilding a system that originated in a grand 1950s-era experiment should put one in a contemplative mood. Slipping into just such a mental state today got me to wondering: did people in the 1950s have any ideas that later turned out to be bad? Hmm... let's see...

Asbestos filters for cigarettes:

For reals? For reals. (Stanford School of Medicine)
Yes, amazingly this was a thing. The marketers called it Micronite. The chemists called it crocidolite asbestos. Lots of unsuspecting people died. We now call it nuts.

Piling an entire neighborhood worth of kids into the back of a station wagon:

Looks like fun. (Cruello)

Twinge of nostalgia for bygone, simpler times? Sure. Ok, maybe. A good model for parents arranging kids in a car today? No way.

Flying huge jets in the skies above us with OPERATING NUCLEAR REACTORS inside:

Yep, that's an atom in the circle (Wikipedia)
Nukes on a plane! And not just bombs, but FUNCTIONING, BUBBLING, RADIATION-EMITTING REACTORS! Some engineers and military types caught a severe infection of 1950s-hubris-itis and came up with the hackneyed notion that we could actually power a jet plane with nuclear power. Better living through fission and whatnot. The upshot would be weeks-long non-stop flying missions to keep our bombs in a constant state of easy droppiness near the Ruskies. The downside was... you know... mf nukes on a mf plane, man! (apologies to nsfw Samuel Jackson) The really cray-cray part of the whole 'idea' is that these fools made a working prototype and flew dozens of hours of airborn tests to see how little lead they could get away with installing to protect the flight crew from the NUCLEAR REACTOR sitting just feet behind them. You have to wonder if Al Hubbard got to these guys. Seriously.  #DuckandCover

Massive swaths of high-rise public housing 

Pruitt-Igoe in the beginning (Law Professors Blog Network)
Pruitt-Igoe in the end (Designerly Thinking)
So much money. So many good intentions. (well, not really, in many cases) So much failed experiment. 'Hey guys, I've got an idea! Let's destroy some neighborhoods where the marginalized live, build bleak single-use high-rises that further isolate the poor and powerless from where we live, give the residents time to develop a deep sense of community despite the challenges of their new surroundings, neglect them, and finally decide to tear the buildings down again, further uprooting the communities.' Rinse. Repeat.


Once the law of the land. (UGA Law Library)
When the Eisenhower-era government slide rule experts were hatching their grand plans for our interstate highway system and its radically disruptive urban segments, their office water fountains might have looked like this. Actually, on second thought, the office water fountains probably didn't need any labels. The maintenance facilities' probably did. [Now in 2015 with 35 trips around the sun under my belt, it is unfathomable to me that this level of profound injustice existed at a time closer to my birth than where we sit today. A huge chorus was screaming out in the 1950s against this type of fundamental wrong-ness, and we eventually came around as a nation to recognize it together. I do not intend to minimize the scale of this problem by listing it in the same passage as nuclear powered jets. But, it's a good example of how far we've come, despite the clear evidence that we still have far to go.]


So, what's the point of all this? Of course I know that there were plenty of good ideas developed in the 1950s (hula hoops, woot woot!). But, we have to put the origins of our interstate system into context, especially the parts that plunge through neighborhoods and civic centers and potentially productive, valuable land. Urban interstates were an experiment, and we have to be cognizant of the very real possibility that they were a failed experiment that we need to move on and grow from. It might cause some short-term consternation, and it might not be quite as obvious as our collective evaluation of asbestos, nucular aeroplanes, toting kids around at 55 mph with no provisions for safety, public housing high rises, and racial segregation. But, by ignoring the problem and just going along with business as usual, we're setting ourselves up to having to live with the mistake for another half century. Let's not do that.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

30 Crossing Project Will Hurt Tourism

Jeremy Lewno, owner of Bobby's Bike Hike with rental businesses in Chicago and Little Rock, and who's raising a family within spittin' distance of Interstate 30, sees how the current plan will not be good for the life of Little Rock and North Little Rock. How many people (who aren't highway engineers) ever visit a new city and then tell their friends back home how much the elevated 10-lane freeway right in the heart of downtown enhanced their trip?

His post below served as a reminder of the public involvement meeting today, but his views from his perspective as a tourism entrepreneur speak volumes. Words and photo reposted with permission...

'Life' under an off ramp
Please consider stopping by today, 4-7pm at 116 S. Pine Street in North Little Rock to discuss alternatives to the I-30 widening through downtown. Please consider reading my thoughts from a tourism perspective.  
Tourism is the second largest industry in Arkansas behind agriculture. And while most everyone realizes just how important agriculture is to our livelihood on a daily basis, people many times do not stop to think about how important tourism is to a community. It's not all about taking trips, spending money, and enjoying life. Being a second generation tour operator, i've gained a lot of perspective as to how important tourism is to attracting industry, attracting jobs, and attracting people to move to your City. Because without a healthy tourism infrastructure, your City will have a hard time growing. And without growth, you have less tax dollars for education, less property values, and young people with fresh ideas leaving for other Cities. 
So many people have worked so hard in downtown Little Rock/NLR over the past 15 years to help build an attractive City core that is safe to live, offers walkable/bikeable amenities, and will attract people and jobs to our City. 
I am extremely concerned by the plans in place at the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department to change I-30 from six lanes to ten lanes through the middle of downtown Little Rock. This at a time when the AHTD is admittedly quickly running out of money and has trouble keeping up with the infrastructure maintanance we already have in place. Plus, engineers have said that this addition will cause a ripple effect which will eventually cost our community 4 billion to fix. Can we really mortgage off our children's future? Not to mention that most progressive and growing Cities are trying to find ways eliminate interstates from their downtown's completely. 
What started out as a project just to replace a failing I-30 bridge has turned into additional lanes to solve a problem that only exists during 1 hour of any day (Rush hour b/w 5-6pm). By speeding traffic through downtown, Little Rock will become less desirable of a City to visit. The faster traffic moves, the less likely visitors are to stop has been proven over and over. Did I mention tourism is the State's second largest economy? And the huge divide it will cause right through the heart of the River Market, tearing up much of Clinton Predidential Park and seperating a growing East Little Rock (Heiffer, Rocktown Distillery, future Estem school, Lost 40 brewing, and our biggest tourism draw - the Clinton Library). 
Please folks, consider coming out tonight and discussing alternatives. I don't care if you live in NLR, SWLR, or WLR, we all share our downtown. And downtown is the lifeblood of any great, growing city. This is our opportunity to start discussing new ideas, fresh thought to fix a broken system. We can attract jobs and people to our City. We already have so many great things in place. Hope you'll consider.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What if?

I've been playing around with some transit ideas for central Arkansas in my head for a while. Given the rush job that AHTD seems to be putting on its 30 Crossing Project, I decided to commit my fuzzy thoughts to actual real life bits in the cloud. Consider this the beginning of a rough draft, but a lot of it is based on stuff people have been saying we need for years. Chime in here. Comment on Facebook. Download Google Earth, play around with your own ideas, and let's all talk. I hope to spend some time in the near future fleshing this out more completely. In the short term, we need to tell AHTD to tap the brakes on its $500-$750 million - $4 billion plans to waste money on old-fashioned business as usual!

All pictures can be clicked to embiggen. Without further ado...

Here's the view of today's urban interstates. Two-digit routes are in blue; three-digits are in that lovely red/brown color I came up with.

Step 1: Rename Interstate 440 as Interstate 30. De-designate or de-list the segment of 30 that used to run through downtowns LR and NLR along with the eastern 2/3 of 630. Think of these for now as boulevards, surface streets, parkways, whatever.

A closer view of the core of the cities with the existing interstates and the River Rail streetcar line shown:

Ok, now we're getting into the meaty part. Step 2 after de-listing the downtown urban interstates is to build the long-awaited light rail in the freed up rights of way. The green blobs are areas where transit-oriented development could work. Think parking areas first designed and built with the idea of eventually becoming more complete neighborhoods. The red line starts at I40 in NLR; the blue line starts south of Roosevelt in LR; they converge beside MacArthur Park and head west in the old 630 corridor, all the way to University Ave.

Step 3: expand the streetcar network. The lime green route is drawn here on 2nd Street and then south on Main. The yellow-ish line goes down Capitol Ave. to Victory.

Then, more expansion of light rail. The Blue line turns north toward Mid-Town; Red line turns south to UALR and the University District; Orange line gets built as a partnership with the LR & W railroad in Riverdale:

And, more incremental expansion. Orange line goes to the marina development currently in progress, Dassault/Falcon, and the airport. Streetcars extend deeper into the neighborhoods.

And so on.

Obviously, this is not a complete plan, and there are tons of issues with what I've drawn. Again, treat it as a jumping off point. AHTD said they didn't consider light rail or other transit simply because Rock Region Metro didn't include any in its long-term plan. As many have pointed out though, if Rock Region Metro knew it had hundreds of millions of dollars to spend like AHTD is proposing for highways, light rail would probably end up on the plan post haste.

One more interesting tidbit...
25: the number of traffic lanes connecting Brooklyn to Manhattan today.
26: the number of traffic lanes connecting Little Rock to North Little Rock today.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Sabin on 30 Crossing

I-30 at Rush 'Hour', October 19, 2015

Warwick Sabin, State Rep. and Exec. Director of the AR Innovation Hub, chimed in pretty clearly today on the looming 30 Crossing Project that is poised to knock central Arkansas a huge step back for at least the next half century. Building on his ideas related to a more complete transportation system shared at Rock Region Metro's unveiling in August, this statement shows that he has a solid handle on what the area needs in order to be competitive and relevant moving forward. The old tired ideas supporting never-ending highway expansion that have dominated the discussion for so long are being successfully called into question over and over and over again.

Now's the time for the folks at AHTD to step up and recognize the flaws in their plan. 

Sabin's statement is reposted below...

Statement on 30 Crossing Project
Date: October 20, 2015 
As the state representative for the legislative district that includes downtown Little Rock, I am very concerned about the current proposal to expand Interstate 30 in a way that would further divide neighborhoods, disrupt public transit, and degrade the unique culture and economic development potential of the area. 
The 30 Crossing project was originally conceived to address the structural integrity of the Arkansas River bridge, and of course we should do whatever is necessary to repair and/or replace aging infrastructure to ensure public safety. 
But it seems frivolous and short-sighted to further widen a freeway at the expense of a downtown streetscape that recently has been revitalized and continues to improve.  After all, many cities around the country have been doing exactly the opposite by removing interstate highways from dense urban areas.  (See Boston, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Milwaukee, etc.) 
The current design for the I-30 expansion would decimate the River Market and the area in front of the Clinton Presidential Center, which have become pedestrian-friendly landmark attractions that are contributing to the economic growth of our city.  Furthermore, it would create an even starker dividing line between downtown and the neighborhoods to the east — much as I-630 did along the north/south axis when it was installed decades ago — just when there has been new business development and public transit that is actually deepening connections across the current I-30 corridor. 
Yes, there is rush hour traffic on I-30, but that is perfectly normal.  The highway flows just fine during all other hours of the day, and history shows that expanding roads usually doesn’t eliminate backups during peak times, but instead it simply invites more vehicular use. 
If we are going to invest the time and money to think beyond replacing the I-30 bridge, then we should use that opportunity to be creative and innovative in how we direct traffic through and into our downtown area.  We should pay attention to current trends — which demonstrate that high-density, pedestrian-friendly urban areas with robust public transit facilitate economic growth — while also anticipating the future, when multi-lane highways may no longer be as desirable. 
In the end, we should be trying to entice people to live in Little Rock or pull over for a visit, as opposed to making it easier for them to live elsewhere or drive by more quickly. 
In its current form, the 30 Crossing proposal creates more problems than it solves, and it would reverse all of the recent progress we have been making toward building a more vibrant, efficient, and unified city.  We can do better, and I hope the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department will embrace the challenge to make Little Rock a national model for how smart urban growth strategies can co-exist with their mission to move goods and people to and through our city.

Sabin on Freedom, Opportunity, and Choice

Better late than never on my part...

Way back on August 11, Warwick Sabin (State Representative and Executive Director of the Arkansas Innovation Hub) spoke at the unveiling of the Central Arkansas Transit Authority's new identity: Rock Region Metro. He focused on the theme of great transportation systems providing freedom, opportunity, and choice, as opposed to one that prioritizes one mode over all others. Who's truly free when the only viable way to participate in a region's economic, social, spiritual, and familial life for most people requires owning, maintaining, fueling, and spending time in a car? His words are posted below:

I am honored to participate in this event to celebrate the transition of CATA to Rock Region Metro. 
This transition includes a lot of exciting developments that we are hearing about today, but in my capacity as a state legislator representing the central and downtown parts of Little Rock, and as a member of the Move Central Arkansas Blue Ribbon Commission, I want to simply convey in the strongest terms that I support the continued improvements to Rock Region Metro because great cities need great transportation systems. 
In my view, it comes down to freedom, opportunity, and choice. 
For business owners, a great transportation system means that employees have reliable and inexpensive options to get to their jobs. After all, not everyone has a car, and most people don’t live within walking distance or biking distance from their jobs. When people can move around more easily, the pool of potential employees is larger, and the costs of coming to work are lower. It creates the opportunity to open more areas to development, and even better, it attracts exactly the kinds of younger high-skilled workers that we need right now, and who have definitively expressed their desire to live in high-density urban areas with robust public transit systems. Why? Because they want more freedom, opportunity, and choice. 
For our citizens, the benefits are obvious. Opportunity increases when it’s possible to get to that job, or to get to a school to enhance your skills and education. The money each individual saves by having a more efficient transportation system can be directed to other priorities, and helps to stimulate our local economy. And the time we save improves our quality of life. That means more freedom, opportunity, and choice. 
And finally, for policy makers, a great transportation system has never been more important than it is now. Roads are a critical component of a great transportation system, but there is a tremendous deficit in road funding at the local, state, and federal level. We can barely afford to maintain the roads we have, much less build new ones. If the Central Arkansas economy grows the way we want it to grow, that will mean more people – and more people moving around. And as we are learning here in Little Rock, you can only expand a road so much. Transit offers another option, it relieves stress and traffic on our roads, and should energy prices dramatically increase due to a crisis or shortage, we will be prepared to keep people moving. And yes – that means more freedom, opportunity, and choice. 
There are so many great reasons to support a great transportation system, and I know that all of you agree, or you wouldn’t be here today. But it is important to share this message with all of our friends and neighbors. 
Together, we can continue to move Arkansas forward, and it is a pleasure to be with you today to celebrate another step in the right direction. Thank you.
Sabin delivering his address, August 11, 2015

Monday, October 19, 2015

Rush Hour on Interstate 30

The proper response to this is not more of the same.

The View of Interstate 30 from Edinburgh

Resistance is bubbling up all over the place to the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department's misguided plan to spend $500 million enlarging seven-ish miles of Interstate 30 through downtowns North Little Rock and Little Rock. Here's one particularly thorough Facebook post from Trey Jacobs, a world traveler who's planning a move to Little Rock, reposted here in full with his permission. I made just a couple of minor corrections in brackets:

"I read over the CAP (Connecting Arkansas Programme) Planning and Environmental Linkage Report to try and get my head around what made the expansion of the I-30 Freeway worthwhile. Direct quote from the report:
I-30 Purpose and Need
Needs (Problems) Purpose (Solutions)
Traffic Congestion
To improve mobility on I-30 and I-40 by providing comprehensive solutions that improve travel speed and travel time to downtown North Little Rock and Little Rock and accommodate the expected increase in traffic demand. I-30 provides essential access to other major state wide transportation corridors, serves local and regional travelers and connects residential, commercial and employment centers.
Roadway Safety
To improve travel safety within and across the I-30 corridor by eliminating
and/or improving inadequate design features.
Structural and Functional
Roadway Deficiencies To improve I-30 roadway conditions and functional ratings.
Navigational Safety
To improve navigational safety on the Arkansas River Bridge by
eliminating and/or improving inadequate design features.
Structural and Functional Bridge Deficiencies
To improve I-30 Arkansas River Bridge conditions and functional ratings.
Please observe there is NOTHING in those key points that reads:
1. Directly enhances the Downtown area (the area it directly affects).
2. Promotes tourism.
3. Creates a healthier environment for those along the I-30 route.
4. Creates solutions to long term traffic congestion.
5. Is value for money.
The guys who manage the budget must have considered other alternatives as to spend something in the region of HALF A BILLION DOLLARS couldn’t be so blind as to just to go with the first idea put to them. The report does list a number of alternatives that were ruled out for various reasons. I was amazed one of them was a 12 lane bridge expansion. A bridge in front of the city with 12 lanes, now wouldn’t that be special, true post card material.

If the city [state] is going to spend so much money, that astronomical amount of money, I would think it’s time to really take stock of what Little Rock wants for its future. Don’t wait for a crisis point to change and evolve. Look at how the city functions, what drives it, and how it can be improved for future generations. Don’t just look at what has been done and repeat the same again and again, think outside the box and look at what COULD be done.

I favour light rail for Little Rock, that could be a tram network, or trains. It would be a thing of beauty to have suburban bus routes linking to a train that ran along the major traffic corridors into the CBD. Better yet an underground metro system. If all your doing is driving to work, to drive home again, why not just get on a speedy train and read a paper rather than stress about traffic and parking?
Well here were the report’s findings on rail.
Planning and Environmental Linkages Level 2 Screening and Methodology and results Memorandum
Light Rail (Street Car) – The Central Arkansas Transit Authority (CATA) Strategic Plan (10-year plan) does not include light rail improvements. Light Rail is part of CATA’s long range plan; however, CATA has indicated that they would implement Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) before implementing Light Rail along future Light Rail corridors. This alternative was screened out as a result of CATA not including light rail in their 10-year Strategic Plan and the lack of a dedicated funding source identified in the Metroplan LRMTP. Metroplan modeled Light Rail under the category of Fixed Guideway which included both Light Rail and Commuter Rail and found that together under the most aggressive “Supportive” land use policy, fixed guideway attracts approximately 6,400 person trips.
Commuter Rail – The CATA Strategic Plan (10-year plan) does not include commuter rail, nor is it included in CATA’s long range plan. This alternative was screened out as a result of CATA not including commuter rail in any of their future planning documents and the lack of a dedicated funding source identified in the Metroplan LRMTP. Metroplan modeled Light Rail under the category of fixed guideway which included both Light Rail and Commuter Rail and found that together under the most aggressive “Supportive” land use policy, fixed guideway attracts approximately 6,400 person trips.
If I understand that correctly, they ruled out rail alternatives to a $500,000,000 expansion of the existing highway because the city’s [region's] existing public transport authority didn’t have a plan to include funded rail routes.

I looked at the published Central Arkansas Transit Authority Budget Report and found its 2015 budget is just $17,283,416. That’s a little over $17 million to connect a city compared to half a billion for a 7 mile highway expansion.

Perhaps if someone gave MOVE Central Arkansas (formerly CATA) [now Rock Region Metro] half a billion to invest in facilities that cover Little Rock and North Little Rock, rail may be an option???
When I’m in Little Rock I use the busses, as I’ve mentioned I come from a comparatively privileged public transit system, but MOVE is upgrading its facilities including free onboard wife and real time bus tracking. The frequency and journey time from out near the K-Mart on Rodney Parham Rd in West Little Rock isn’t something I’d like to endure each morning for work and the MOVE guys could really use some help to beef up their transit system. I’d also like to add I came across a obvious negative stigma attached to the use of busses in Little Rock, that REALLY, REALLY, needs changed.
My husband Carl (a confirmed caroholic) said that if the busses were like the system we have in Edinburgh then more people would use them, he was really impressed.

Little Rock bus map, click on bus system map

Edinburgh bus map, click on the Network tab

Yes we have a vastly superior public transit system in Edinburgh than Little Rock currently does, but my point is put half a billion into your public transport and Little Rock could be OUTSTANDING.
I suggest removing the section of I-30 from the corner of MacArthur Park down to the river’s edge and demolishing the bridge.

The void around the 2nd street exit ramps would make an ideal place for a tram/train station.
We could infill where the highway was creating tunnels for public transport and reconnect and welcome back Hanger Hill back to the city.

This is not impossible. It’s very achievable.

The Highways Department have said in their report that a bridge is good for 50 years and the 10 lane expansion will keep traffic flowing freely in 2041. Exactly what happens in 2061? In 2081? If it costs half a billion to create a 10 lane highway now, what will we need in what the proposed bridge comes to the end of its life? What will the solution be then, how many extra lanes will be required and how much will it cost.

It was a travesty of a decision to put a highway through the downtown of Little Rock to begin with.
We don’t need to perpetuate the same errors of the past.

We can make a landmark change for the future and put Little Rock on the map for being progressive. The city needs to consult with the transport planners of other cities that have fantastic integrated network systems before it commits to spending so much money to save 10 minutes drive time.
There are two alternative routes around the city that people and industry can use. Removing this one artery won’t kill economic development. Won’t stop people from being able to get to work.
Downtown is seeing a positive resurgence of people visiting and making it their home. There are literally new apartments going up where people will live, this is not just a Central Business District, it’s a neighbourhood.

Who in life wants a bloody 10 lane highway running through their neighbourhood, it’s outrageous. Perhaps if it was directed along Country Club Boulevard there may be more interest?

Removing the bridge would create a more user friendly riverscape, increase the CBD as a place for people, make it a more tourist friendly place to be, enable Hanger Hill and that side of the city to become accessible.

It was a mistake to build that bridge and put cars before people to begin with, let’s fix it. If all people want is to throw money at roads then expand the 430 and 440."