Sunday, April 22, 2007

A Well-Deserved Toast

I just saw Becky Nace on Ruckus, where she was a guest panelist. Becky was very popular among the Friends of Red Bridge (about equal with Mark Funkhouser), and she mentioned Red Bridge on the show, saying the outgoing council shouldn’t have passed that ordinance because the incoming council will just reverse it.

She received a lovely toast from host Mike Shanin for her openness and straightforward answers. I’m sure the Friends of Red Bridge would join in that. On our issues, Becky just got better and better, from the day she made the motion to hold the ordinance in committee, through many meetings of the Operations Committee, and finally in the full session of the City Council.

So, here is my very public THANK YOU to Becky Nace. If you would like to thank her, too, please send a mail to her.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Progress Then and Now

The serious setback suffered by the “BridgeZilla” project on Red Bridge Road hopefully will represent a watershed moment for transportation projects in Kansas City. Ten years ago, the community would have stood little chance of blocking the placement of a freeway-size bridge in the middle of our bucolic Blue River valley. Even in 2007, luck and timing played a crucial role. Nevertheless, two enabling forces can be seen behind this victory for communities over commercial interests. One is the internet: E-mail and the web made it possible to organize hundreds of our neighbors into a powerful grassroots organization. The other is the growing belief that over-engineered projects do not constitute “progress”. In the past, the driving force behind an opposition to a project like BridgeZilla might have been simply a sentimental attachment to the rural character of the Blue River valley. But it’s not a resistance to change that gave the Friends of Red Bridge the passion and dedication needed to fight City Hall; it is a vision for a future that we need to start building now. This vision is hard to articulate for many reasons: It is wide in scope, sometimes counter-intuitive, and a grave threat to the power status quo. For example, one might blink at the statement that this is about global warming or the fiscal solvency of our government, though it surely is. It may seem crazy to say that a narrow, curvy road with a railroad crossing is safer than a wide, straight road with no obstructions, but proponents of the New Urbanism would find it so. Does the project solve the problem of flooding, or make it worse? Well, how many rain gardens will it take to handle the runoff from a road more than twice the size of the old one?

The realities of the 21st century are only beginning to dawn upon the engineers and planners that shape our communities. For the Friends of Red Bridge, the challenge now is to find the right people to bring that New Vision into reality.

Implications of the Excelsior Springs Tragedy

The petition to put the project on hold was a smashing success, but it had me running around like crazy for a week. Now, I’d like to catch up on the blog. For starters, two editorial-type comments -- one that I wrote before the petition, and one after.

I knew when I heard about the fatal accident in Excelsior Springs a couple of weeks ago that Chuck Eddy would try to exploit that tragedy to push through his pet project -- not because there is anything more than a superficial similarity between the railroad crossing there and the one on Red Bridge Road, but because the man is totally without any intellectual honesty or integrity and will say anything to advance his cause.

Ironically, that incident points out the danger of a straight road: the driver’s attention strays, and his speed increases. Where the Union Pacific line crosses Red Bridge Road, the roadway curvature forces cars to slow down and focuses their attention. But the biggest difference between the two crossings is that Red Bridge has a crossing gate. This combination has resulted in a far better safety record than the other U.P. crossings in this area.

Well, here is an editorial I wrote about crossing safety, and submitted to some local papers:

The recent loss of life at a railroad crossing in Excelsior Springs shows how out of whack our government’s priorities and methods are for promoting public safety. Even in the aftermath of this tragedy, the Missouri Department of Transportation is sticking to their standards that tell them it is a safe crossing and does not meet the criteria for the installation of guard arms. Instead of taking this relatively inexpensive measure to greatly improve the safety of railroad crossings, transportation agencies are more interested in the big-money projects that usually have a negative impact on safety. Likewise with the Red Bridge project, we have one of the safest railroad crossings in the region, yet nearby crossings that could benefit from safety upgrades go wanting because spending priorities have been set by commercial interests, not by the community. The galling irony is that proponents of the bridge claim that it will improve safety. They have no data to back up their claim, only theories that have not been vindicated by many decades of real-world experience.

I am not aware that any paper published it yet. Well, that’s what we have the internets for!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Petition Drive

As you can read at, the condemnation ordinance was adopted on Thursday. It doesn't take effect for ten days, though, and in that time, we intend to gather the required 100 signatures of registered Kansas City voters on a petition to declare our intent to file a referendum petition.


The bottom line is that we can prevent our neighbors from facing condemnation of their land until after the new (and vastly improved!) city council is sworn in.

And then, with the leadership of our new Sixth District council members John Sharp and Cathy Jolly, we will have the threat of “BridgeZilla” removed from our lives.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Better late than never

Months and months ago, my Friends of Red Bridge friends Sharron and Teresa, and I were telling Cathy Jolly about the story of our campaign against a massive new bridge slated to be built in the heart of southern Kansas City's most beautiful parkland.

The volume and detail of what we were telling her was overwhelming. Even I felt that. Cathy must have, too, because she asked if we had kept a diary.

No, we hadn't , we confessed.

“Please start”, Cathy said, and we all realized we should. But the usual procrastination and preoccupation with stuff that has to be done NOW kept us from it.

Well, no longer.