Saturday, June 23, 2007

Changing Habits

Blogging regularly is a habit, and one that I have not adopted. As you can see, it has been almost two months since my last post.

Old habits die hard, and when they are institutionalized, even more so. That is the obstacle to reform that the new mayor and city council face. Developers have come to expect that tax breaks will be a part of any deal they can work out, for example. I have become marginally familiar with the civil engineering community in this town, and I have seen enough to know that we are mired in the traditional approach to building roads, which is based on the assumption that traffic will grow into the future like compound interest, and all we can do is predict the rate of growth, and attempt to provide the amount of pavement it will take to move that traffic at the highest possible speed.

In more progressive circles, that traditional approach is being displaced by a more balanced one, whereby the objective of moving traffic is only one concern among the many that relate to roads and their surroundings.

Thursday night, I attended a public meeting that focused on a neighborhood street that is being used as a cut-through by non-neighborhood traffic. Speeding is the main problem. Last year, the public works department constructed an island in the middle of the main intersection there. The result was called a roundabout, though it did not include many of the features associated with roundabouts, and as a result, the raised section of the island was repeatedly hit by passing vehicles. The conclusion I drew from this was that our public works department hasn't studied the subject of traffic calming.

On Thursday night, public works showed that they have since done some research on the subject, as they displayed four techniques right out of Traffic Calming 101.

However, the meeting itself was a mess. About 100 people showed up, and it was quite antagonistic at the start. Public Works only wanted the attendees to look at the alternatives and vote for one. No questions. No discussion. And the displays gave only the briefest introduction to the proposals.

This confirmed to me that the skills needed to successfully engage the public for the purpose of building our public infrastructure are poorly developed in Kansas City.

Developing those skills would be the primary goal of the Friends of Red Bridge policy initiative: Context Sensitive Solutions. The Federal Highway Administration is pushing for its adoption, and many state transport agencies are adopting it. Missouri is a laggard, and Kansas City needs to take a leadership position.

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