Monday, November 23, 2015

A Better Plan

No concrete has hit the ground yet,
so let's be as open as possible right now.
Most people who've thought very much about 30 Crossing probably have some sort of plan in their heads as an alternative to the Arkansas Highway (and Transportation) Department's preferred ten-lane monstrosity. A lot of us have taken to Facebook, public meetings, blogs, emails, and complaint sessions over adult beverages to share various bits and pieces of what we envision for the future of transportation in downtowns Little Rock, North Little Rock and the larger region, but putting enough of the individual pieces together into one cohesive whole that's also practical and actually achievable has proved elusive for our ragtag group of loosely-affiliated armchair planners. Imagining sending rockets to the moon is easy; coming up with something a little more more down-to-earth... not so much. Gallingly though, some of the paid professionals on the highway side have cited this lack of good response from the amateur-citizen-volunteer side as reason to keep plowing blindly forward. The nerve! But out of the blue this morning, lo and behold, a completely unsolicited email graced my inbox with just such a plan laid out logically and concisely. The sender asked not to be identified for various reasons, but what follows is this person's reasoning and outline for a path forward. I've been told that the basic structure has been approvingly bounced off other knowledgeable people who also would prefer not to be identified. Note again that some of the individual components below have already been stated by many people. The Chester Street bridge has been discussed for years! However, this is the first time I've seen such a short but complete list assembled into a package that folks at the Highway (and Transportation) Department could conceivably sit down and have a serious discussion about next week. This doesn't solve all the problems, but it does address all of the issues AHTD says need to be dealt with by their current project. And, this simple plan goes about that task in a much more affordable, adaptable, resilient, and frankly better way than ripping up six-lane I-30 and replacing it with ten-lane I-30.

Don't worry- my multi-part critique of AHTD's 30 Crossing plan and methodology will continue [as a quick aside- boy oh boy there's some really nice, juicy stuff hidden down deep in AHTD's traffic modeling data and assumptions, stay tuned...], but right now I'm ecstatic to be able to finally share a real alternative that makes sense. I've copied the email below with only minor edits of my own, and underneath that you'll see a few maps that I whipped up as rough draft illustrations. There's a lot to think about here, so view this as a beginning instead of a final version that anyone thinks AHTD should break ground on tomorrow. Shoot me a line with your thoughts and reactions. Folks at StudioMAIN: I know you're playing nicey-nicey with AHTD right now, but if you could spare a bit of your design and planning expertise for A Better Plan please chime in. I'm happy to post your ideas here anonymously if you'd rather not ruffle any feathers. 

Who knows, this could turn into a recurring weekly post of updates and explanations as feedback and suggestions come in. 

But hey, enough of my yackin'. What do you say? Let's boogie!

The 4 steps: 
1. Re-designate I-440 as I-30 to divert traffic between Memphis and Dallas as the main route through Little Rock.
2. Add additional ramp lanes to facilitate access from I-630 south to I-30 and Benton, Bryant, etc. and to the former I-440 for traffic to Lonoke, Cabot, etc.
3. Construct a new bridge between the northern end of Chester Street in Little Rock and Riverfront Drive in North Little Rock. Designate this new route as Highway 10 to take pressure off La Harpe (potentially even eliminating the need for it which would enable the City of LR to reconnect parts of downtown LR to the river) and to divert traffic away from the current I-30 bridge. Riverfront Drive (NLR side) provides connections to US Highway 70 going east, I-30 going north, and I-40 west via Pike Avenue. Plus, Riverfront is overbuilt for its current traffic loads.  
Simultaneously with Steps 1-3, work to reduce traffic demand by expanding Rock Region Metro (there's finally going to be vote on dedicated funding for transit some time next year), expanding biking and walking infrastructure, reducing or eliminating requirements that businesses provide off-street parking downtown, etc. and gain a more nuanced understanding of how autonomous vehicles might affect all aspects of transportation in the near future. 
4. Replace the current I-30 bridge. Daily vehicle miles traveled has flatlined or even gone down over the past eight years in contrast to AHTD's projected 1% annual growth from now until eternity. Regardless of actual future changes in VMT, autonomous vehicles are nearly certain to enable us to more efficiently use a given amount of road space. In other words, a six lane road 15 years from now might be able to carry as much traffic as what the engineers think we need a 10-lane road for today. So, there will likely be a point in the future when the I-30 Corridor in the downtowns could be converted to a wide boulevard on-grade with the surrounding city, with traffic lights every third city block (or not, if autonomous vehicles really take off. Think about it.) The boulevard would connect at street level with the rest of the downtown grid and would allow for bike and greenway trails, bus lanes, and exceptional opportunities for commercial and residential development with new corner lots and frontage property.  
This approach of de-emphasizing freeways in the city center is what cities are turning to throughout the country. More and more people are attracted to the quality of life offered by more urban, more walkable, less car-dependent neighborhoods. It is very apparent that many young people are attracted to this lifestyle by the influx of younger individuals and families to downtown. Our society is much more traveled and savvy than before, and people see examples of quality city and transportation planning in other parts of the country and want to see it here.  
The beauty of The Better Plan is that it will make it easier for commuters as well, by taking advantage of existing infrastructure and adding key links for traffic options, shortening commuting times, and increasing safety by diverting traffic to newer and safer I-440. It will also, if sequenced correctly, make it much easier to build the new I-30 bridge by reducing the traffic that uses it and by having another river crossing option already in place.  
The vision is that 30 years down the road Little Rock will have a first class downtown that is easily accessible from throughout the region but is pedestrian and bike friendly, environmentally sustainable and can compete with other cities across the country for businesses and visitors. The ultimate goal of building a boulevard where the I-30 Corridor is currently located need not be done overnight and may have to wait until VMT are lower, other transportation options are developed, and/or autonomous vehicles enable current road space to carry more traffic. But, whenever it's built the new bridge should be designed for the features to complement the future boulevard.  
The citizens and Cities of Little Rock and North Little Rock need to take some of the load off the I-30 Corridor through more bicycle commuting, transit options, carpooling and other traffic reducing strategies. The AHTD needs to abandon the plan for a 10-lane I-30 Corridor and built a river bridge at Chester Street. 

[The emailer included this next part first, but I moved it down here for no good reason.]
The main problem with the approach the AHTD is taking on 30 Crossing is that the problem to be solved was never publicly stated before a solution was proposed. An initial problem statement needs to be agreed upon. The following is a statement pieced together from AHTD presentations:
-There is traffic congestion in the I-30 Corridor, especially at rush hour.
-Most of the traffic, according to the AHTD, is local.
-VMT will increase at 1% per year.
-The exits and ramps in the downtown area do not meet today's design requirements for freeway speeds.
-There are safety concerns because of the congestion.
-The I-30 bridge needs to be replaced because AHTD built it with a pier in the middle of the navigation channel and because of structural concerns.
-AHTD would like to offer some minimum travel speed for commuters at rush hour. 

And now, here are some maps, courtesy of MoveArkansas's Division of Google Earth Manipulation within the Graphics Department. I drew an admittedly odd squiggle at the northern end of the Chester Street bridge. First, I know those curves are way too tight for a state highway. I'll fix that later. Second, I'll also explain later why I think veering a bit more east than some people envision might be better than going straight or even veering west on the NLR side. 

I-30 today

I-30 after updating some signs

Possible Chester Street bridge alignment

Chester Street bridge from the south

Chester Street bridge from the east

Chester Street bridge from the northwest

Until next time, keep dreaming! 

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words

Greetings from Little Rock
Who needs a photo-op of a distant bridge when you could be under one instead?
I spent some time on Sunday taking photos of areas that will be impacted by the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department's 30 Crossing Project, the ill-conceived plan to widen Interstate 30 in downtown Little Rock to ten lanes. In my opinion most of the Department's imagery so far has been severely lacking in its ability to communicate to the public what the expanded bridges will look like in real life on the ground, so I threw together some crude 3-D renderings too.

First, some caveats:
1. I'm not a graphic designer or 3-D modeler or engineer or anything that would remotely prepare me to make accurate renderings of what 30 Crossing will look like as currently proposed. The before and after images below represent my best estimate about new bridge outlines based on this document and using some very rudimentary free drawing tools.
2. The big grey blobs are presented only to show the approximate footprints of the proposed bridges in AHTD's 10-lane configuration. The heights are way off, and obviously the bridge supports will not be solid. Think of these as showing the bridge shadow lines when the sun is directly overhead. If AHTD would provide similar close-up renderings based on their own design files I will gladly post them.

Here's the map of Little Rock's River Market area shown by AHTD in this pdf file. The red lines show the bridge edges. Yellow shows the lane markings:
AHTD's bridge outline file
And here's the Google Earth view of the same area. The Clinton library is out of the frame to your right; the Riverfront Amphitheater is in the upper left corner:
I-30 aerial view, before
And what that would look like with AHTD's outlines filled in a little more solidly, more like an actual road:
Aerial view, after
Side view with the River Market district in the upper right corner and part of the Clinton Presidential Park in the lower left quadrant:
Looking southwest, before
Looking southwest, after
River Market to the lower right, Game & Fish Commission Nature Center at the bottom, Bill Clark Wetlands in the upper left:
Looking southeast, before
Looking southeast, after
Another angle:
Looking northwest, before
Looking northwest, after
And, one more, this one showing the Clinton Presidential Library in the top right:
Looking east, before
Looking east, after

Here's the bronze eagle statue and miniature plaza that mark the eastern end of the River Market district. The buildings across the street are currently for sale, and could potentially serve as solid anchors for this end of the block. However, the proposed highway bridge would necessitate leveling the two story building in the middle, the taller blank one to the right, and a much taller and older building out of view behind these. I-30 is just out of the frame to the right of this photo:

Here is a panorama of the backs of those buildings near the eagle. The edge of the highway would fall somewhere near that brownish billboard column in the middle. I assume the whole multi-story 19th Century building behind it would have to be leveled though. This would be such a great missed opportunity for continuing the positive redevelopment of the entire River Market district, especially considering that this block of beige buildings is finally on the market:

The Clinton Library is behind the camera in this next image. I-30 is in the near foreground, and the River Market area is on the other side. The bottom edge of this frame shows roughly where the new bridge footprint would fall:

All of this would be under the bridge:

The brightest red tree at the bottom of the hill shows approximately where the bridge edge would be. Everything to the left would be under:

Looking in the opposite direction. See the row of evenly spaced yellowish trees near the top left? Draw a line from the left-most tree down to the red tree on the right. That's the edge of the bridge, as proposed.

This popular exercise spot would be under the bridge:

Here's the River Trail, looking west / upstream. The edge of the new bridge's footprint would be at roughly the bottom edge of this photo:

These next few photos show a lovely area up against the current bridge's solid base. There are some sculptures, a photo-op cutout sign, some benches, and great views of the river, the Clinton park and the Presidential Library in the distance. All of this will be more than 70 feet inside the footprint of the new bridge:

Imagine these next two images with roughly identical spans added to both sides:

And finally, here's a little pocket garden near the bronze eagle statue. The plaque praises Dr. Alan Sugg's forward-thinking leadership in helping make the Clinton School of Public Service a reality several years ago. The plaque itself would not be under the bridge, but I don't know how well this garden will fare when it has to spend most of its day in a shadow:

Will today's leaders take a cue from people like Alan Sugg and think about the future of all of Little Rock instead of just appeasing today's old-fashioned highway builders? Time will tell...

Sunday, November 15, 2015

HOV, Yeah You Don't Know Me

The Connecting Arkansas Program is a 10-year, voter approved half-cent sales tax that is “one of the largest highway construction programs undertaken by the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department.” 35 projects, over 200 miles of roads and over $1.8 BILLION will be invested in this undertaking.

In reviewing the documents of  this massive, theoretically 21st century investment you will find three (3) mentions of High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes on the Connecting Arkansas website. Three.

Of these three, you will find HOV listed:

Three mentions of HOV in a $1.8 BILLION undertaking. Three.

If you read MoveArkansas you probably already know what HOV or High Occupancy Vehicle means but just in case...the California Department of Transportation (CALTRANS) defines HOV as:

"High Occupancy Vehicle" lane, or car-pool lane. The central concept for HOV lanes is to move more people rather than more cars.

HOV lanes can be managed a number of ways, including allowing all drivers to use the lane assigned HOV status during non-peak hours and restricting the lane to vehicles with two or more riders, as well as motorcycles, during heavy traffic times. To put it another way, HOV lanes can be open to all travelers for 20+ hours a day and restricted for essentially less than four hours.

We have 16,418 miles of state and US Highways in our state. Arkansas does not have a single HOV lane.  

This despite the first HOV lane in the US being introduced in 1969 for Northern Virginia’s Shirley Highway. No HOV lanes despite the fact that the Federal Highway Administration authorized states to begin funding HOV lanes in the 1970s. We’ve had 46 years to catch up with a more modern transportation strategy and we still are stuck in the mindset that we can build our way into economic growth. All the while, we still have the fifth worst roads in the nation according to a recent report.

“...leadership clinging to the accumulated dogma, throwing more troops at the front line in a mindless effort to move it a few hundred yards.”
He notes that it is unfathomable for us to give up on an ideology because retreat is failure. 

I’ve unfortunately come to believe that the expanded I-30 Crossing project is an inevitability. We simply don’t have the vision or the leadership to stop it. Too many people firmly believe that there is no such thing as bad construction. Add to that, too many entities stand to profit from this undertaking.

Where I hope we can make an impact is on the edges. Turning that fifth lane into an HOV lane would be a small but significant impact.

Even if a single, if likely too short, HOV lane were instituted in the heart of the commercial core of the capital city, we send a signal that we’re finally moving into a more modern mindset. Sure, it would be a mixed signal in that we don’t actually need the five lanes in which one becomes the HOV lane. Instituting HOV lanes promotes the idea of ridesharing and carpooling. This is not something that has much formal support outside of a few commuter lots here and there. There are ancillary benefits to HOV lanes, as well. Tom Vanderbilt, Author of How We Drive, points out a few counter intuitive benefits on his blog here. Instituting an HOV option is a leadership step. Leadership in something other than laying asphalt is desperately needed in our transportation practice.

Perhaps instituting an HOV lane on the I-30 Crossing would lead to a discussion of making one of the lanes on I-40 West and East, Little Rock to Conway and reverse, an HOV lane. This is the area that truly needs an HOV lane and the place where I suspect the idea would have the most impact in the state.

I recently moved back to Little Rock after living in Seattle for the past year. My girlfriend and I joked we’d entered an 'HOV positive' relationship after I moved as access to the HOV lanes made a significantly positive impact on our various commutes throughout the Puget Sound area. By the way, after having spent a year in Seattle I can firmly say that we don’t really have traffic here. What we have is a short inconvenience. Anybody who has ever visited, much less lived in a major city knows this is true.

HOV lanes are far from a panacea, but they are a step. They’re certainly worthy of being actually included in the conversation. They’re definitely worth of more than three mentions. Instituting an HOV lane is some form of progress which five lanes WITHOUT an HOV component is not.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Anatomy of a Resolution

The language of a resolution that Little Rock City Directors Kathy Webb and Ken Richardson plan to introduce at the next City Board meeting on Tuesday, November 17 regarding the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department's 30 Crossing Project was released today. I've read through it a few times now and have concluded that it is firm and strongly-worded enough to make the passionate transportation geeks like me happy and at the same time there is absolutely no good reason for anyone to oppose it, even the most diehard of freeway expansionists.

In short, every City Director should vote for the resolution on Tuesday. A yes vote on this resolution says AHTD needs to be more certain about its decision before moving forward. A yes vote means there are still some big stones that need to be turned over before we decide a freeway expansion is the best solution to our problems. A yes vote is the right vote for our future. On the other hand, a no vote means rushing into one of the most important decisions this generation of leaders will make is good, sound policy.

Unlike most of the statements that have come out from other individuals and organizations, Webb and Richardson's resolution manages to avoid taking an actual definitive stand on whether 30 Crossing should proceed as-is or evolve into something different. They recognize that the issues involved with the 30 Crossing decision go well beyond the expertise of concerned citizens, two-bit bloggers like me, legislators, City Directors, gold-coin bloggers like Max Brantley, armchair city planners, people who just know, by golly, that you gotta have a good highway for a city and a region to succeed, and, most importantly, the issues involved go far beyond the expertise of people like Scott Bennett and Jerry Holder, individuals trained to engineer and build highways instead of actually evaluating their necessity in the first place.

If the City Board adopts the resolution (as it should) and if the AHTD sincerely listens (as it also should), then the ultimate outcome could very well still be a 10-lane mega highway. Or, as people like me hope, the outcome could be something like a surface boulevard planned in conjunction with Rock Region Metro and others to incorporate better public transit and biking and walking options from the beginning. Or, the outcome could be something altogether different and better. The point is is that AHTD's process so far has been heavily tilted toward producing a gigantic interstate cross section through downtowns Little Rock and North Little Rock. Anything different never had a chance of bubbling up to the top even if a far superior alternative exists. AHTD's metrics and filters have stacked the deck, weighted the dice, steered the ship, whatever analogy you want to use, toward unwaveringly producing from some sort of freeway expansion.

A big part of the problem with AHTD's planning process so far is that it has largely failed to recognize the gravity and importance of this particular moment in our shared history. The decisions made and steps taken now will have repercussions for decades, if not a century or more. This is our legacy. The concrete to be poured is going to be around much longer than anyone currently sitting on the Little Rock City Board of Directors or on the Highway Commission and possibly much longer than any of us even alive today. We must get this as right as our limited knowledge and capabilities allow. I recognize that I might sound a bit overly dramatic, but just look at how substantively we've shaped our built environment and our lives in response to the presence of urban freeways just in the last half century or so. There were zero limited access divided highways in the state before the middle of the 20th Century. But now the severe resistance that any talk of questioning AHTD's reasoning runs headlong into is clear evidence that we've allowed our economy and communities to become nearly wholly reliant on this ~6 mile stretch of I-30. If we unwisely or incorrectly expand it as is currently proposed, then our region will only become more reliant on it. That very well could be the best path forward, but should that decision some day prove foolish, the costs and pain associated with undoing a ten-lane freeway and restitching our cities together will be all the more daunting than they are today.

So, what I like about Webb and Richardson's resolution is that it simply asks AHTD to perform a more thorough analysis of all the options. Of course, the engineers in charge will tell you they've done just that over the past couple of years. They'll list all the meetings, and all the committees with all the acronyms that have been involved. They'll tell you how they realized at some point there wasn't enough participation from people of color and how they took their ideas into a few black churches for more input. They'll tell you how the cities, and the counties, and Metroplan, and the Quapaw Quarter Association, and the Chambers of Commerce, and land owners, and business owners, and lawmakers, and on and on have been involved from the beginning. They'll probably even trot out a spreadsheet tallying up all the public involvement that's been solicited and how various suggestions have been incorporated.

That's all well and good. The big flaw though is how AHTD's criteria inextricably pushed the entire process toward a bigger highway from the get-go. Much of the participation has focused on minor tweaks- what's the color of the concrete going to be? How many east-west streets will need to be blocked? How will the on and off ramps come together? What about that danged LaHarpe-Cumberland-President Clinton Avenue intersection? Should we include collector-distributor lanes or not. Can we save the trolley? You get the picture. These are all important considerations, but they're grossly premature.

Maybe a bigger highway is precisely what we need. I honestly don't know, and I am 100% confident that neither does anyone else, including Bennett, Holder, and the Highway Commission. The depth of the analysis performed thus far pales in comparison to what really needs to be done. The wrong questions were asked from the beginning, and no one pushing the highway idea seems to have a good answer to the very basic question of why not something else? We need to be whole heck of a lot more sure than we are right now before dumping $600 million ($17,000 per linear foot) into making I-30 bigger.

One last item before jumping into the text of the resolution. Some people have suggested that asking too much of the engineers at AHTD might cause them to funnel the money earmarked for 30 Crossing elsewhere. Frankly, that's hogwash. We're all adults here. I can't imagine that anybody with a say in how the Connecting Arkansas Program money gets spent would be petty enough to let a little public accountability influence a decision like that. Every Highway Commissioner and everyone employed in the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department works for you, me, and all of the people in the state. They've publicly stated repeatedly that they welcome public input and that they have no intention of shoving any plan down our throats. They've rightfully recognized that there's a pressing need to do something about transportation in the 30 Crossing Project corridor, and sending the money elsewhere is not going to address that need. To be sure, the culture in AHTD right now leans toward making bigger highways happen, but in the end it all pays the same to them. I would expect that Bennett and everyone working under him would never think of retaliating against the very public they serve just because we point out that other ideas exist and that some of those ideas might be better than building a bigger highway.

Anyway back to the resolution... It is copied in full at the bottom of this post, but first I'm going to take in line by line or section by section and provide a little personal commentary as we go.

A resolution to seek analysis by the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Commission of issues for the proposed 30 Crossing Project; and for other purposes.
Yep. The process has failed to adequately look at other, possibly much better options besides making I-30 bigger.

WHEREAS, good transportation systems support local economies by increasing freedom, opportunity, and choice for residents and businesses alike.
This is the stuff Representative Warwick Sabin talked about at Rock Region Metro's rebounding launch event back in the summer. Most of us generally recognize that choice and freedom are good things. Why should transportation be any different? The most thriving cities and regions are ones in which people are making the conscious decision to design their transportation systems so that people are not effectively forced to drive a car every time they want to go somewhere or do something.

WHEREAS, favoring one mode of travel at the expense of all others tends to make communities less competitive, less resilient, and more dependent on larger future government subsidies, while degrading quality of life and limiting citizens’ choice;  
This is related to the previous whereas. When big government decides what the preferred mode of travel is going to be, everyone suffers. There's no redundancy built into the system. One tractor trailer jack-knifing at the wrong time can wreak havoc on things for hours. And once that bloated monoculture of a transportation system needs maintenance or future updating, the costs involved are astronomical (see 30 Crossing's $600 million price tag as Exhibit A).

WHEREAS, expanding road capacity as a response to congestion tends to increase congestion and shift it elsewhere in the system;
Induced demand. Look it up. Look around. Observe it in action. It's everywhere, and most professionals are finally starting to accept it. The folks at AHTD are inexplicably still in denial about its existence.

WHEREAS, rapidly approaching advancements in autonomous vehicle technology carry the potential to drastically disrupt today’s commuter patterns in the very near future;
This one's the big giant elephant in the room, and no one knows which way it's going to step. But step it will. The people and companies perfecting self-driving cars today feel a very justified moral obligation to get their products on the road yesterday. Robot cars are better and safer drivers than we ever will be. Hands down. Five or ten years from now things will look unrecognizably different on our streets and highways than they do currently. No one knows the exact contours of the transportation system of tomorrow, but infrastructural nimbleness is going to be the name of the game. Dumping $600 million into last century's ideas might very well be the stupidest thing we could possibly do right now. We don't know. We need to look at it and try to do the best we can to ascertain how we can build infrastructure that will be appropriate for the very different reality our kids and grandkids are going to be dealing with soon. As far as I can tell the certainty of impending change played absolutely no role in ATHD's analysis so far. Does their traffic model even attempt to deal with it?

WHEREAS, many communities across the country have found that thoughtfully replacing urban freeways with more responsive infrastructure is far more advantageous than freeway expansion; 
Cities everywhere are getting rid of crowded, downtown, urban freeways and replacing them with better-connected boulevards. Behemoths like I-30 were a bad idea. The only reason to rebuild them or make them bigger is if absolutely no other options work better. Agencies that look at the question with an open mind have struggled to reach any conclusion besides tearing down urban freeways like I-30.
WHEREAS, the decisions regarding safety improvements of the I-30 bridge and corridor will have a great impact on future generations
Yes. No doubt.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF THE CITY OF LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS:Section 1. The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department should perform thorough analyses of additional possible Connecting Arkansas Program improvements within the 30 Crossing Project corridor, including, but not limited to:
(a) consideration of Metroplan’s Imagine Central Arkansas Plan,
(b) capital expenditures on public transportation options within the corridor such
as bus rapid transit, light rail, and streetcars,
(c) additional options currently in use and being considered by other cities
Basically, GO BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD, AHTD. You dismissed a lot of very good options for very bad reasons just to get into your comfort zone of freeway expansion more quickly. You cut corners, you made shortcuts, you fudged some numbers, you ignored best practices in urban planning and design. Go back, take a meaningful, genuine look at options that don't include expanding I-30, and don't rush.

Section 2. The analyses mentioned above should consider impacts on economic competitiveness, air quality, health, reducing the Central Arkansas economy’s nearly exclusive reliance on cars, mobility for people who do not drive cars, the benefits of more people having the choice to replace car trips with other modes of travel, the development potential resulting from reducing the area of the right-of-way and reducing the amount of land currently devoted to car storage, the potential for improved safety resulting from slower traffic speeds, aesthetics, increases in the average number of occupants per vehicle in the corridor, and the benefits accruing to businesses as a result of the work force having greater choice in travel mode when commuting. 
Right now AHTD uses an unnecessarily limited set of criteria when evaluating options. Travel time is the big one, car operation and safety savings to a lesser extent, and then not a whole lot else. However, there are many valid and immensely important considerations that any careful decision maker would spend time and energy exploring when making such a lasting decision. The people of this state deserve a more thorough look instead of the simplistic motions that AHTD engineers prefer to go through. Talk to some economists, urban planners, technologists, transit planners, etc. Seek out differing viewpoints. Foster disagreement and dissent instead of shutting it down as soon as it appears. That's the only way to explore valid ideas to get to a better solution.

The rest of the resolution is just housekeeping stuff.

So again, Directors Richardson and Webb are introducing a very practical, sensible resolution to the City Board on Tuesday. Please call, write, or email all the City directors and ask them to support it. If you're able, come on down to City Hall on Tuesday and sign up to speak in favor of the resolution. What to do in the 30 Crossing corridor is an important decision, and the process leading up to making that decision should reflect that importance.

Here's the full version:



WHEREAS, good transportation systems support local economies by increasing freedom, opportunity, and choice for residents and businesses alike;
WHEREAS, favoring one mode of travel at the expense of all others tends to make communities less competitive, less resilient, and more dependent on larger future government subsidies, while degrading quality of life and limiting citizens’ choice;
WHEREAS, expanding road capacity as a response to congestion tends to increase congestion and shift it elsewhere in the system;
WHEREAS, rapidly approaching advancements in autonomous vehicle technology carry the potential to drastically disrupt today’s commuter patterns in the very near future;
WHEREAS, many communities across the country have found that thoughtfully replacing urban freeways with more responsive infrastructure is far more advantageous than freeway expansion;
WHEREAS, the decisions regarding safety improvements of the I-30 bridge and corridor will have a great impact on future generations
Section 1. The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department should perform thorough analyses of additional possible Connecting Arkansas Program improvements within the 30 Crossing Project corridor, including, but not limited to:
(a) consideration of Metroplan’s Imagine Central Arkansas Plan,
            (b) capital expenditures on public transportation options within the corridor such
as bus rapid transit, light rail, and streetcars,
            (c) additional options currently in use and being considered by other cities
Section 2. The analyses mentioned above should consider impacts on economic competitiveness, air quality, health, reducing the Central Arkansas economy’s nearly exclusive reliance on cars, mobility for people who do not drive cars, the benefits of more people having the choice to replace car trips with other modes of travel, the development potential resulting from reducing the area of the right-of-way and reducing the amount of land currently devoted to car storage, the potential for improved safety resulting from slower traffic speeds, aesthetics, increases in the average number of occupants per vehicle in the corridor, and the benefits accruing to businesses as a result of the work force having greater choice in travel mode when commuting.
Section 3. The Mayor and City Clerk are requested to forward a copy of this Resolution to the Commission and Executive Director of the Arkansas State Highway & Transportation Commission.
Section 4. Severability.  In the event any title, section, paragraph, item, sentence, clause, phrase or word of this resolution is declared or adjudged to be invalid or unconstitutional such declaration or adjudication shall not affect the remaining portions of the resolution which shall remain in full force and effect as if the portion so declared or adjudged invalid or unconstitutional were not originally a part of the resolution.
Section 5. Repealer.  All laws, ordinances, resolutions, and parts of the same that are inconsistent with the provisions of this ordinance are hereby repealed to the extent of such inconsistency.

PASSED: November 17, 2015


_______________________ ______________________________
Susan Langley, City Clerk Mark Stodola, Mayor


_____________________________ _____________________________
Thomas M. Carpenter, City Attorney Kathy Webb, Ward 3

Ken Richardson, Ward 2

Monday, November 9, 2015

Sliding Doors - Little Rock Style

If you haven't had a chance to watch Clinton School of Public Service Dean Skip Rutherford's TEDX Talk, it's worth your time.

As he correctly points out, our fair city has faced a large number of pivot or inflection points. Sometimes we've the right choices. More often, we've made some seriously poor choices (FedEx, UofA, I-630 placement, etc.)

The 10 lanes of I-30 are one of these inflections points. I proposed a conscious uncoupling.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Beyond Expanded Highways, Let's End One-Way Streets

Here at MoveArkansas, we're more than just calling your attention to the modern day version of Urban Renewal that is the I-30 Crossing. We're also about trying to make our cities more loveable & liveable. I'll leave the heavy math (or any math, for that matter) to Tim & stick with observations on what works & doesn't work. What doesn't work are one-way streets.
Remember when the Google Car hit another car after driving the wrong way down a one-way street?
Keeping I-30 from becoming even a greater behemoth that further divides the city and repeating the significant mistakes of past is only a part of the equation. Making the rest of downtown walkable, manageable & loveable for both the resident and the visitor is the other part.

At a dinner I attended recently I sat next to a number of people who lived outside of Little Rock. They didn't understand why those of us who lived in the city were fighting against the freeway expansion. They felt like any chance to increase their opportunity to get through the city was a good thing. They found Little Rock confounding, particularly downtown with its confusing and illogical pattern of traffic. They weren't wrong about the latter.

If we want to make our city, the capital city, or any other commercial district a more inviting city for locals and visitors alike, we have to make it a more logical place to maneuver; a smart city. The grid is the most logical form of city building. It's the way cities were built for millenia until we decided not to build them that way in the last fifty plus years. There are myriad complex reasons for the way city cities have developed have changed. The Interstate Highway Act plays no small part but I'll spare you a deep dive in urban studies.

Beyond being an illogical place to maneuver, one-way streets can have a deleterious economic impact. Don't believe me? Check out the work of the Center for Sustainable Urban Neighborhoods at the University of Louisville. They have been conducting some serious academic research on this issue.

A key strategy to renewing downtown historic neighborhoods is converting one-way to two-way streets. Oppressive four-lane downtown one-way streets help kill neighborhoods and small businesses. We need to convert these one-way ghetto makers into two-way streets with parking, trees, and bike lanes to calm traffic and make neighborhoods more livable for families, young urban pioneers, and the elderly, who want to live closer to medical care downtown.
One-way streets pose many threats for pedestrian and motorist safety, make city streets seem less safe, disproportionately impact poor and minority neighborhoods, hurt downtown businesses, reduce the property values of homes, and negatively impact the environment and contribute to global warming. Conversions to two-way have already happened in more than 100 cities around the United States.
These one-way streets also constitute a kind of “environmental racism,” where speeding motorists on one-way streets increase the levels of exhaust, noise, and pollution. One-way streets are predominantly located in older downtown neighborhoods in minority, poor and working-class neighborhoods. Engineers claim that "one-way” is the best way because it moves traffic quicker, but they don’t understand the sociological, ecological and economic impacts of a one-way street.

Further, two-way streets were found to slow traffic which resulted in fewer & less dangerous accidents. Perhaps most importantly they found crime dropped, property values rose and pedestrian traffic increased. Take a look at this property value analysis on a street in Louisville that was part one-way & part two-way

Aren't these all things we want not just for the capital city but all cities & commercial cores? It's not good public policy to place speed over multiple layers of community improvement.

There was a good effort in downtown Little Rock to address this issue in 2009. There have been some changes in downtown Little Rock's traffic pattern since then. We all remember some of the, ah, feedback from some officials.

Given all the discussion around the I-30 Crossing & all the good things happening downtown Little Rock, it's time once again to work on the illogical traffic patterns.

Finally, we can't let Kentucky beat us, can we? I mean, come on? This isn't basketball.

See more of the good work in Louisville here (PDF).

Monday, November 2, 2015

Cost-Benefit Analyze This!, Part (a)

This here blog post is hereby designated as Part 2(a) of the ongoing 7-ish part series "The Emperor Has No Clothes: How One Little Document Can Illustrate All That's Wrong With the Way We've Been Doing Things Since the Middle of the Last Century...And Other Stuff".

This blog entry is the one where I show that someone at AHTD appears to have manually changed a bunch of big negative numbers into a bunch of big positive numbers to beef up the Benefits side of their Cost-Benefit Analysis for 30 Crossing.* (See Part 2(a)(i) below).

This blog entry is also the one where I show that AHTD's Cost-Benefity Analysis is so fundamentally flawed that the State would see a bigger 'benefit' if if BOUGHT me a roundtrip plane ticket to Baltimore instead of letting me drive on my own dime. (See Part 2(a)(ii) farther below).

Part 0 of this series gave a little background about the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department's 30 Crossing project and the U.S. DOT's denial of a request for $200 million in grant funding.
Part 1 delved into one table of data in the grant application to point out a few inconsistencies (as an aside to add to that post- an Acxiom employee pointed out that the employment number listed for them is the company's WORLDWIDE employment, not employment in Central Arkansas, and definitely not employment within 3 miles of the project corridor).
Parts 2(b) - 7 will keep digging.

Now let's look at cost-benefit analyses, shall we? Trust me, this is going to be fun in that shaking-your-head-angrily-while-throwing-your-blog-viewing-device-across-the-room-and-accidentally-hitting-your-pet-chupacabra kind of way!

The Setup 

When the people in our government are thinking about spending a lot our money on something, it makes sense for them to compare the costs and the benefits when evaluating the worth of said expenditure. So, I don't think anyone will be surprised to learn that just such an analysis was performed for 30 Crossing. There are many, many critical things to be said about cost-benefit analyses in general and the false assumptions, inaccurate inputs, and bad math that make up AHTD's version in particular. Given time constraints before Tuesday night's big dog-and-pony show though, I'm going to drill down into just two of them in this post and hope to circle back around to some of the others in Part 2(b) later this week or next.

Here's the basic structure of AHTD's cost-benefit analysis framework:
Image Credit: Manual Division of MoveArkansas's Graphics Department

The cost side is easy. How much will it cost to build and how much will it cost to maintain? Now, any sentient being should be able to come up with a whole host of other costs associated with massive urban highway expansion, but I'm going to live in AHTD's arbitrarily constrained world for the purposes of this post.

Benefits are similarly easy. The whole point of highway expansion in the name of congestion 'relief' is to save people's precious time so we can play more on Facebook or blog more about transportation policy when we get home. So, we're going to account for 'travel time benefit.' Likewise, if you can cut down the physical on-the-ground length of someone's trip, then that means they drive fewer miles and save money on things like fuel and car maintenance. Finally, there's a certain number of wrecks that happen per any number of miles driven. As with car savings, if we can cut down the distance people drive then the raw number of wrecks will also go down, meaning the number of serious injuries and fatalities should go down. Suppose there are on average 10 serious wrecks for every 100,000 miles driven. If we can cut down the number of miles driven to 90,000, then we should expect to see only 9-ish serious wrecks, all else being equal. That's a benefit, so count it.

Then, once you've totaled up the costs for a project and the benefits (both calculations using AHTD's purposefully narrow definitions), you can divide the second number by the first and get the all powerful Benefit-Cost Ratio! As long as that number's greater than 1, then the benefits outweigh the costs. The more bigger the ratio is than 1, the more benefit-ier the project.

All it requires is adding and dividing really big numbers, which is what these days, 3rd grade math? 4th grade?

Anyway, here's what AHTD came up with to put in its TIGER grant application to the feds:

So, 30 Crossing has a Benefit-Cost Ratio of 7.37! In other words, for every dollar of upfront cost in building the darn thing AHTD says there will be $7.37 in benefits. Oooooh, nice! We can't afford NOT to do this project, amiright?! (We're going to ignore that discounting stuff on the right. It'd just be an unnecessary distraction for now. Note also that this is not a break-even analysis... another topic for another day).

Well... back to that grade school math...

Blog Post Part 2(a)(i): AHTD added when they should have subtracted

Ryan Gosling says wait for it...
Seriously. Here's the spreadsheet used to generate those numbers above. Two of their columns in the benefit side should be negatives instead of positives*. I know looking at spreadsheets can be as dry as last year's chupacabra scat still sitting in the Mojave Desert, but looky here...
Image credit: Digital Division of MoveArkansas's Graphics Department
That's Page 1 of the spreadsheet. We're just focused on the columns in black font to avoid a messy discussion about the time value of money. The far left column shows the construction costs. (note that this doesn't include any maintenance costs- an oversight to be covered in a later post). The next column  shows the Travel Time Benefit in each of the years between now and 2041 with a total at the bottom. Then there's the Vehicle Operation Cost Benefit and finally the Safety Benefit. The time column is a result of a change in the number of Vehicle Hours Traveled. Vehicle Operation and Safety benefits are functions of the change in Vehicle Miles Traveled.

Still with me? Excellent. Fortunately, we're going to avoid the big ol' elephant in the room that is the time savings benefit and just focus on part of the vehicle and safety benefits. So, we're only concerned with the change in Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) that 30 Crossing would induce. Here's that spreadsheet:
Image credit: Digital Division of MoveArkansas's Graphics Department
Column 1 above shows the anticipated Daily VMT after the project is built; Column 2 shows anticipated Daily VMT if the project were not built; and Column 3 shows the reduction in VMT when comparing building the darn thing with not building it. Logically, turning a 6-lane highway into a 10-lane highway will allow more people to drive, leading to more Vehicle Miles Traveled. And sure enough, AHTD's model bears this out. See how those numbers in the first column are bigger than the numbers in the second column? That means the 'reduction' in VMT is a negative number, as shown in the third column. In other words, there's no reduction. The 30 Crossing Project will cause an increase in VMT. There's absolutely nothing earth shattering about that. It's a highway expansion that doesn't create any new short cuts. I just tried to make the expectation of increase abundantly clear enough to set up the travesty that is the next slide:
Credit again to MoveArkansas's awesome graphics team
Ok, Column 1 here comes from Column 3 in the previous sheet: the reduction in automobile VMT (they apparently just gave up when it comes to trucks, so we will too). AHTD calculates the per mile cost of car operation to be $0.398 (also a topic of a future post). Remember, the numbers in the Reduction of VMT column are negative numbers, because we're talking about a huge highway expansion that will increase VMT. Multiply the 'reduction' by the cost per mile and get the answer in the Daily Benefit (2014) column. Take that daily number, multiply it by 365, and voila- there's the final column of annual benefit resulting from reductions in the cost of car operation.

"But, but, but, Mr. McKuin, I thought you taught us in 9th grade maths class that a negative number multiplied by a positive number results in a negative number?!" And you would be correct, grasshopper. AHTD magically turned the extra costs associated with an increase in VMT into a benefit for the drivers. Those are the numbers that showed up in that first sheet way up top showing all the cost and benefit numbers.

They made the same 'mistake' with the Safety Benefit.
Credit: Our amazing graphics department, again. Love those guys!
VMT goes up with the highway expansion. Logically, more people driving more miles results in more wrecks, all else being equal. Death and maiming is a negative benefit to society. AHTD calculates the cost of such death and maiming to average out to about $0.379 per mile driven. So, more miles driven should result in negative benefit. But, AHTD magically dropped that negative sign again.

Still don't believe me? Well, here's the CBA from the TIGER grant application we sent to the feds to help pay for an interchange on 67/167 in Cabot. Note the much more nuanced respect for positive and negative numbers in it.

Let's fix 30 Crossing's Cost-Benefit Analysis:
Credit: co-effort between the Graphics Department and our in-house team of abacus experts.

The benefits, as defined by AHTD, actually total up to $3,802,241,633 between now and 2041, give or take a dollar or two. So, the Benefit-Cost ratio is only 5.85 instead of 7.37.


This might seem like a basic, honest math mistake. What's the difference between 5.85 and 7.87, really? We have to remember though- these analyses are part of what the largest department in Arkansas State government generated and submitted in an application for $200 million to help offset some of the costs for what will be the most expensive single contract in Department history. Was this just an honest math mistake or a deliberate attempt on someone's part to make the project look better on paper? Another way of looking at this: if you peruse other CBA's on AHTD's website, you quickly see that they tend to use the same spreadsheet format for all of them. Hopefully that template has the correct formulae baked in from the get-go so nobody's having to reprogram it every time. If that's the case then someone had to manually change the numbers in the CBA for 30 Crossing and put the result in our TIGER grant application.


As hinted at periodically above, there are other massive problems with how the C-B analysis works, and I hope to get to some more of those in Part 2(b) later this week.


Part 2(a)(ii): Using their own methodology and numbers, it makes more sense for AHTD to buy all of us round-trip plane tickets to Baltimore than to proceed with 30 Crossing!

This was actually the impetus for this whole post, but in working out the numbers I ran into the problem that dominated the discussion above. So, I'll make this fast...

AHTD's cost-benefit analysis computes the cost of a public expenditure on one side and then adds up three benefits on the other: time saved, vehicle operation costs saved, and safety savings.

They say my free time is worth $15.05 per hour, it costs $0.398 per mile to operate my car, and the costs of death and serious injury from traffic crashes works out to be about $0.379 per mile.

So..., let's take a trip! Hmm... I hear Baltimore is great in January. I've got some friends and family up there I haven't seen in a long time, and I could bop on down to D.C. and visit the Department of Transportation to learn more about TIGER grants. Flying always seems so excessive though, so I'll probably drive. Shortest route, of course:
Google Maps

The Great Google says it's 1,051 miles one way, so 2,102 round trip. Also, 15 hours and 42 minutes each way, or 31:24 round trip, or 31.4 hours.

Oh, what the heck. Let's look at flying just to see what we're missing. Wow, cool. Southwest has a sale right now for January between LIT and BWI for just $215.96  and it'll only take 10.67 hours round-trip:
Southwest Airlines

Using AHTD's numbers for not driving, my operating savings would be 2,102 x $0.398 = $836.60, and society's safety savings will be 2,102 x $0.379 = $796.66. The time savings would be worth (31.4 - 10.67) x $15.05 = $311.99.

Add 'em up: $836.60 + $796.66 + $311.99 = $1,945.25 in Benefits and only $215.96 in Costs. That means the Benefit-Cost Ratio is 9.01!! My lands, that's bigger than the doctored numbers used for 30 Crossing! You can't afford not to buy me a plane ticket to Baltimore, people.

Ok, AHTD, let me know when you're ready to book the ticket and I'll send over my details. Thanks.


*Of course, as is my tendency, it is so hard to wrap my head around the possibility that this egregious of a mistake could have been made in the first place and then not been caught by anyone in the review/proofreading chain before sending it to Washington in a request for $200 million, my strongest reaction is to think I must be wrong. But, just like noting that 6 and 10-lane highways are not the same thing as 4-lane highways, I can't figure out exactly how I'm wrong here. Please feel free to point out my error if you can find one! I think we'd all sleep better at night knowing some hack two-bit blogger messed up this very basic math instead of a skyscraper full of engineers.