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.

Title/preamble:
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:

RESOLUTION NO. _______

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.

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
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
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

ATTEST: APPROVED:

_______________________ ______________________________
Susan Langley, City Clerk Mark Stodola, Mayor


APPROVED AS TO LEGAL FORM SPONSORS:

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

       ______________________________
Ken Richardson, Ward 2

1 comment:

  1. That was really well crafted analogy of the resolution, thanks

    ReplyDelete