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Thread: Government can't agree with itself?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Government can't agree with itself?

    I am working with a community that has lots of pass-thru traffic on its main street, a 5-lane state highway, during the summer. They are concerned about pedestrian safety and that this traffic doesn't slow and stop to spend time/money in their downtown. The community a few years ago formally adopted a downtown plan that identified bulbouts at several crossings. The elected officials cited this plan and talked about the need for bulbouts. Unlike some other towns I've heard about, the public indeed considers traffic speed a problem that needs to be solved. Yet, the Public Works director said there will not be bulb-outs because they are hard to plow around in winter.

    I know this is all part of the planning process. I know its also common for departments or staff not to be supportive of broad goals in comprehensive plans, to make half-hearted attempts or to deride these goals as nice ideas we can't afford. I know its also common for staff to see electeds as people who come and go, and to ignore direction that staff thinks aren't high enough on the radar to be followed up on. But once a community has formally adopted an area or specific plan, isn't this the official policy of the community? Why is staff contradicting both adopted policy and the opinions of electeds? In your experience, how common is this? My concern is that if there isn't staff commitment, the plan sits on a shelf, and every time its brought up, staff will say, "there's no funding." Or "DOT won't allow it." Rather than actually being committed to the plan and working with the DOT and seeking grants. Frustrating! My recommendations will include that they revisit objectives and come to consensus on a package of improvements, and then start to look for grant funding.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Tarf's avatar
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    Just a thought - and I feel your frustration with public works, been there done that (even in the private sector) - but if the goal is reducing traffic speed and pedestrianization, why are only bulb-outs being considered? Aren't there other traffic calming options that might work for public works' need to plow in the winter? *shrug* Chicanes, speed tables, reducing the width of travel way, landscaped medians, etc. etc.
    In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move. (Douglas Adams)

  3. #3
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by docwatson View post
    I am working with a community that has lots of pass-thru traffic on its main street, a 5-lane state highway, during the summer. They are concerned about pedestrian safety and that this traffic doesn't slow and stop to spend time/money in their downtown. The community a few years ago formally adopted a downtown plan that identified bulbouts at several crossings. The elected officials cited this plan and talked about the need for bulbouts. Unlike some other towns I've heard about, the public indeed considers traffic speed a problem that needs to be solved. Yet, the Public Works director said there will not be bulb-outs because they are hard to plow around in winter.

    I know this is all part of the planning process. I know its also common for departments or staff not to be supportive of broad goals in comprehensive plans, to make half-hearted attempts or to deride these goals as nice ideas we can't afford. I know its also common for staff to see electeds as people who come and go, and to ignore direction that staff thinks aren't high enough on the radar to be followed up on. But once a community has formally adopted an area or specific plan, isn't this the official policy of the community? Why is staff contradicting both adopted policy and the opinions of electeds? In your experience, how common is this? My concern is that if there isn't staff commitment, the plan sits on a shelf, and every time its brought up, staff will say, "there's no funding." Or "DOT won't allow it." Rather than actually being committed to the plan and working with the DOT and seeking grants. Frustrating! My recommendations will include that they revisit objectives and come to consensus on a package of improvements, and then start to look for grant funding.
    Very common IME. I left a place because of an old-school dinosaur just like you described, who continues to this day to stand in the way of progress and ideas. Efforts to get a majority of change-makers on the Council to remove said dinosaur continue to be thwarted as well...
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

  4. #4
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    I can't think of a time where our vision has been accepted by our engineering and public works departments. Nothing in the right of way, huge road sections, and archaic ideas about traffic.

    If I had a dollar for every "discussion" we had about these topics... I would have enough to buy popcorn at the movies these days...
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

  5. #5
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    I would make the lanes narrower. This may be hard to do if it is a federal (U.S. or I-BL) or State Trunkline.

    I am amazed that the DPW director is allowed to have such a disagreement with the elected officials. Who works for who?

    DOT not allowing it is bunk. Look at the Enhancement Program. My Sate has a complete streets legislation that says these treatments must be taken into account. I suspect that Michigan is more pro-car than most states....
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  6. #6
    Cyburbian UrbaneSprawler's avatar
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    Just to play devil's advocate (befitting since I'm an engineer) I think there's sometimes a fine line that occurs between elected officials (and dare I say sometimes planners) dictating road design elements vs. where I think the duty is placed to ensure safety and maintenance responsibilities through the typical duties of a Public Works. Admittedly, I don't get here why neckdowns is an operational issue, as we have these throughout our town without any concerns from the ops and maintenance folks. Still, I think it's awkward if elected officials and/or City staff outside of the Public Works realm starts dictating road design without buy in from PW (which I don't know whether outreach was done to PW in the original case, I've seen it before where the ops and maintenance folks are blind-sighted with comp plans that were adopted seemingly in a vacuum).

    We had a situation in reverse where us Public Works folks agreed with a developer to reduce the typical road width, including travel and parking lane widths. What happened? The nearby residents claimed we were compromising safety in allowing the variance and we had to defend our decision to narrow a roadway design to our elected officials. From my perspective, I don't like roads being any wider than they need to be, more to maintain. There seems to be this perception that folks in PW like roads to be as wide as possible, I never understood how that perception has come to be unless perhaps Fire is under PW.

  7. #7
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    I'm so grateful that I'm blessed with a progressive public works director and a progressive civil engineer. They actually ask for & value my opinion on stuff like this. My PW Director even piped-up during a Council meeting discussing a traffic calming issue on a particular road. The Council was concerned about the cost to install bulb-outs and mid-block center island narrowings. PW Director immediately went to the podium and suggested a temporary means of creating the features using diverters to allow the Council to see their effectiveness. Once they saw that they were effective, City Council supported permanent installation with a more attractive version.

    My city engineer wants to retrofit several intersections in town with traffic circles, and was actually the brains behind our local residential streets being only 28' with parallel parking on both sides. I was shocked when I found that in the code when I started here. Oh, and he wants to know when I'm going to write connectivity ratios into the code. I better stop though... don't want everyone else gettin' all jealous!

    Since you are in a plowing area, I think I'd suggest mid-block center islands as a means to narrow the lanes rather than the bulb-outs you described. Then your plows are still doing straight-line movements instead of navigating the curves of a bulb-out. It has the same basic effect, plus it creates a pedestrian refuge.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  8. #8
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by UrbaneSprawler View post
    There seems to be this perception that folks in PW like roads to be as wide as possible, I never understood how that perception has come to be unless perhaps Fire is under PW.
    I live in a town where this is the prevailing attitude - the perception is based on living in this and other towns.

    We are all waiting for the retirement announcement, BTW, for this and other fossilized old geezers.
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian UrbaneSprawler's avatar
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    Why a PW director would want a road to be wider than it needs to be to serve the function it is intended for is beyond me. More road per length for additional pavement maintenance responsibilities as well as snow clearing? No thanks.

    If anything, the reasons in our neck of the woods why our roads end up getting wider are planners wanting bikelanes everywhere, (which I don't necessarily disagree with, but it's overkill on instances where streets aren't a quarter mile in length), landscaped medians with ped refuge islands (that increase walking distance for pedestrians), etc. I once fought a "militant new urbanist planner" for his want to punch more streets through a subdivision in instances where homes fronted greenbelts, because it wasn't new urbanist enough for him. Fun times.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Out here on the Great Plains we build streets with a 55-65 mph design speed, prohibit curb cuts...then slap a 30 mph speed limit on them. Go figure.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    First - a lot of great plans get made and end up sitting on the shelf collecting dust. A realistic and clear implementation strategy may be the single most important part of any plan.

    Second – when people make logical decisions within their own silo there is often a financial or social impact to other silos. The purpose of a Government is to weight decisions across all silos and make the choice that benefits the most people. Therefore sometimes a government has to say “We’ll increase the snow plowing budget in exchange for more tourist dollars coming in. Now get off your lazy asses and build us some bulb-outs.”

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    The bulb-outs are intended to slow traffic and improve pedestrian safety. It seems like this is maybe a problem for the people plowing as well. They want to plow a straight line at high speed instead of taking a minute or two longer to plow around.

    In cold climates I actually like the idea of truning the whole intersection into a speed table. This will also slow traffic, and it raises the crosswalk above the street so there is no more stepping off into slush-filled gutters. Different colors of pavement and textured surfaces can be used to create the appearance of narrowed driving lanes and to create sound/vibration that slows drivers as well. The biggest challenge is designing effective storm water, since it typically flows to the corners which will be raised in this approach.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  13. #13
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    In cold climates I actually like the idea of truning the whole intersection into a speed table. This will also slow traffic, and it raises the crosswalk above the street so there is no more stepping off into slush-filled gutters. Different colors of pavement and textured surfaces can be used to create the appearance of narrowed driving lanes and to create sound/vibration that slows drivers as well. The biggest challenge is designing effective storm water, since it typically flows to the corners which will be raised in this approach.
    Hereabouts you are starting to see the raised xwalks beginning to crumble from plowing (in addition to the things you expect to get hit from blades like curbs, storm drains. etc).

    That is: just because you have a plan to tell some workers they need to slow down doesn't mean it will happen. Same thing with xeric landscaping and lower-energy-input-for- maintenance landscapes: just because you tell someone that this landscape doesn't need water and a gas hedge trimmer to poodle everything doesn't mean it will happen. You can't write regs to make people think or to make people hire folks who can think.

    This is not to say raised xwalks should be eliminated, as I am for them.
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ColoGI View post
    Hereabouts you are starting to see the raised xwalks beginning to crumble from plowing (in addition to the things you expect to get hit from blades like curbs, storm drains. etc).

    That is: just because you have a plan to tell some workers they need to slow down doesn't mean it will happen.
    True. What you can do is create financial incentives/disincentives to plough carefully/heedlessly.
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  15. #15
    I think that's fairly common, actually.

    the organization I work for has about 1,400 employees... and only about a dozen of us went to planning school... we deal with a lot of this, especially in a city that has overhauled its form of government in the past decade and has a lot of institutional issues to work out in terms of turf wars

    We try and not "fight in front of the kids", although not all of the other departments share the same philosophy.

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