Sunday, December 23, 2007

JW Marriott

The new plans for the heavily subsidized Marriott convention hotel at West and Washington Streets seem to be a definite improvement from the previous iterations. The glass tower, now proposed to be multi-colored, has a horizontally arcing form. The bulk of the tower now stretches north to south, rather than east-west, which will greatly change the impact of its view from all directions, but maybe most notably from Victory Field, from which the left-field view will not now be dominated by the massive structure.

The site plan appears to be an improvement in that there are no surface parking lots indicated, however, the large sweeping, off-street, vehicle drop-off areas on the east and north sides will likely result in sidewalks along West and Washington Streets that are uninviting to pedestrian traffic.

Here's the latest rendering:

the JW may be more attractive, but this was just the first thing I thought of when I saw the multi-colored glass scheme:

This is from the Cedar Riverside neighborhood in Minneapolis. In the background is the tallest of five buildings in a development that was planned for fourteen such buildings. Five were built before the plug was pulled. Today, this a low-rent development, with the majority of households receiving government rental subsidies. The area is home to a very high concentration of Somali immigrants. The area's first light rail transit line stops about a block from the building. Okay, it seems that there are few similarities between this site and the JW Marriott site.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Snow covered sidewalks

With many new faces soon to populate the mayor's office and the City-County Council chambers much debate will surely center on what policies need to be addressed regarding property taxes, crime, economic development, etc. in order to take the city in the right direction in the coming years.

However, on my walk to work a week ago Thursday (6-Dec-07) morning, I couldn't help but think that we are still missing the basics. Twenty-four hours after the snow had stopped falling, 80-90% of the sidewalks along my 1.5-mile walk into and through downtown had not been cleared. The citizens of Indianapolis need to get off their rears and make an effort to keep the sidewalks passable for those who either choose, or have no choice but to walk to get to their destinations.

Why is this tolerated? It doesn't happen in other cold weather cities where I've lived or visited. Perhaps, the culture needs to change from one where those who walk are viewed as second-class citizens who don't merit the effort it takes to clear the sidewalk. When did this happen? Surely, there was a time when Hoosiers saw the value in walking. Is it any wonder that Indianapolis consistently ranks near the top of obesity rankings, and are nowhere to be found on the lists of cities rated with the highest quality of life.

We should all strive to be able to again go out our front door and safely walk to our neighborhood school, church, park, convenience store, bus stop, etc. Not only does it seem like common sense, it's clear that the type of environment that is sought by young educated professionals, which the "brain drain" continually indicates our state is lacking, is a city that provides first-rate recreational and leisure opportunities. What is more basic to recreation and leisure than a system of usable sidewalks.

The first admonishment should be assessed to the individual property owners whom are not fulfilling their obligation to clear the sidewalks adjacent to their lots, but let us not forget the government's important role to play in enforcing the city code that requires such action by its citizenry. Clearly, the latter is not happening, which is enabling the former.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Southern Cal Wildfire Homeowner Bailout

Well, we can all look forward to having President Bush shower the people who live in the picturesque hills, valleys, and forests of Southern California with our hard-earned tax dollars. Why should we have to rebuild their communities? Why do we continue to allow communities to be built/rebuilt in areas that are clearly highly susceptible to natural disasters? It's no secret. Everyone knows these areas will burn. Everyone knows New Orleans will flood again. But yet we allow, even encourage, rebuilding in these areas at the same time we know that lives will be lost and billions of dollars of property destroyed. If people are intent on risking their lives and property in exchange for the benefit of living in a wonderful climate with beautiful surroundings, so be it. But why should we, who choose to live in a safe, but not so pretty flatland environment, be obligated to subsidize others' risky choices?

Does sprawling low-density development play a key role in the loss of lives and property? Could a wildfire actually devour a higher-density urban development, or is it only because of the relative sparseness of buildings, likely imposed by zoning ordinances, in these outlying areas that allows the fires to continue devour everything in their path. Rather than spreading homes throughout such a large area, would not a more concentrated area of development be much less susceptible to fire, and also better equipped through public water lines, to suppress such a fire?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

"A Greater East New York Street"

That's the title on the boulder, hidden within the landscaping on the island at the intersection with Dorman Street, just west of Highland Park. What's funny is that, aside from the vegetation which obscures its view, it's not visible because it's turned toward the street and passersby in vehicles at 30+ mph will not be able to read it, let alone likely even notice its existence. And since there's no sidewalk adjacent to the island, the only way a pedestrian would see it is if they choose to walk in a travel lane of New York Street. I had probably walked past it 100 times before I happened to discover it.

The following photos give you a few glimpses of the obstacles a pedestrian faces walking from downtown to the near-eastside of Indianapolis. Note that the sidewalk is adjacent to the curb with no landscaping or other separation from fast-moving traffic.

The boulder is inscribed with the year "1933". Perhaps, this commemorated the first paving of New York Street on the eastside. Perhaps, it just accompanied a street widening and/or the realignment and redesignation of New York Street as a major thoroughfare. Whatever specific improvements were begun or completed in 1933, one thing can be pretty well assured; it surely must have commemorated a project that made this corridor an asset to the near-eastside.

Well, that was 74 years ago. Aren't we due for another project to develop a "Greater East New York Street"?

I certainly don't believe that government should solve all of society's problems, but there are certain functions that government is uniquely situated, and obligated to perform, such as: defending our country against attack (military), providing for domestic tranquility (police, courts, jails), and securing and maintaining public transportation ways to provide for movement of people and goods (public works).

Back to the photos: how can we expect anyone to do anything other than drive their vehicle everywhere they go, if even the locations in the inner city that have sidewalks are not kept clear and passable. The issue here is vegetation that neither adjacent property owners have taken responsibility for trimming as required by City/County Code, nor has the government taken responsibility for by issuing said owners notices of violation, and subsequently fines, to promote compliance with the Code.

The Cultural Trail being developed downtown is wonderful and exciting. It will spotlight attention on Indianapolis over the next several years as different portions of the Trail are completed. And of course, it should be noted that the Trail is being built within the public right-of-way, it is not a typical public works project in that taxpayers are not funding the bulk of the bill, which has been covered by private fundraising through the Central Indiana Community Foundation. To me, aside from some concerns about mixing bicycle traffic with pedestrians in a relatively dense downtown area, I have little doubt that the Cultural Trail will be a great success.

But the big question to me is: will it be an isolated pedestrian amenity that people drive downtown to use, while the remainder of Indianapolis remains a downright hostile environment to pedestrians? Or will it result in a renaissance period where the City finally begins to reverse decades of neglect of its pedestrian infrastructure, marking a new era of dedication to repairing and enhancing our existing sidewalks that should provide connections to the Cultural Trail, as well as accommodate trips in our neighborhoods whether for work, shopping, exercise, or social trips? I pray that the latter occurs, so that Indianapolis can become a desirable destination for young creative professionals for a reason other than simply having the most affordable housing of any mid- to large-sized city in the country.

One of the ways the question will be answered, will be by walking east on New York Street from downtown in 5 or 10 years. Hopefully, the pictures will look quite different. It's been 74 years. It's time to begin a new campaign for a Greater East New York Street... and a Greater Washington Street, and...

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

City-County Council 08-Oct-2007

Interesting clip is linked at the Indy Star's article about last night's Council meeting. The clip runs about 15-20 minutes, but provides some insight into the workings of the Council. The debate was apparently about a procedural vote on an investigation into ethics lapses by the Council President Monroe Gray. Certainly, the Star article about the issue of a conflict of interest between Mr. Gray's collection of one paycheck as City-County Council President, and another paycheck as IFD's liaison to the City-County Council couldn't help his re-election bid, unless he is perceived as the subject of a witch hunt. However, the amount of presumably unbiased experts who agree that there is a clearly unacceptable conflict between the two positions would seem to dispel any such belief. I would expect that it is now slightly more likely that the voters of District 8 might be inclined to vote for new representation, but we shall see about that in four weeks.

By the way, archives of full Council hearings and committee meetings, as well as MDC, BZA, IHPC, and Hearing Examiner meetings can be watched in their entirety at the following site:

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Two-way Traffic on Michigan and New York Streets?

In my previous post, I comment briefly on the apparent lack of necessity to maintaining the one-way traffic design of Michigan and New York Streets on the near eastside of Indianapolis. This post will expand upon that idea. As indicated previously, it is my belief that the time has come for these streets to revert to two-way traffic. These city streets essentially serve as urban freeways from the "mid-eastside"/Irvington to downtown. The streets were not originally platted or designed for one-way traffic, but were converted to their current design sometime prior to the construction of the freeway system that now provides for fast travel between downtown and the farther points of the eastside.

Traffic counts, which can be viewed at
indicate that New York and Michigan, with their combined seven travel lanes at rush hour, carry less traffic than five-lane Washington Street. A two-lane, two-way Michigan Street with an additional morning rush-hour lane westbound, and an additional afternoon rush-hour lane eastbound, and a two-way, two-lane New York Street could surely handle the same amount of traffic.

The first benefit would be to slow traffic down, thereby increasing the livability of the neighborhoods adjacent to these streets. The noise from traffic would likely decrease as speeds decreased. The traffic that utilizes these one-way streets typically proceeds faster than traffic on two-way streets in the city because the current multi-lane design of the streets and the lack of congestion encourages higher speeds. Second, commercial redevelopment would be more likely to occur because businesses would have the advantage of being visible and accessible by traffic in two directions, with a peak of drivers both in the morning and in the afternoon/evening.

Frankly, the changes of the past several decades including the decrease in population of Center Township and the success of so-called "big box" retailers have likely forever decreased the amount of dollars that will be spent at relatively small commercial sites in urban neighborhoods. Thus, there is not going to be enough demand to fill all the former retail buildings along New York and Michigan Streets. However, if traffic and commercial redevelopment were concentrated on one of the two corridors, there might be enough demand to reuse/redevelop a much greater percentage of the long vacant or underutilized commercial properties. The other of the two corridors could then be transformed into an urban greenway with enhanced sidewalks and bike lanes, perhaps borrowing upon the concept of the cultural trail, currently being developed downtown. The beautification of the latter corridor, with a coinciding decrease in vehicle traffic could make the commercial properties more viable for residential redevelopment, which would in turn bring more buying power into the neighborhood to support economic redevelopment of the former corridor.

Imagine a bustling Michigan Street, with plenty of thriving small businesses including coffee shops, restaurants, dry cleaners, offices, perhaps a small grocery. In addition to converting the four-lane street from one-way to two-way traffic, streetscape improvements could improve the environment for pedestrians as well.

Imagine a picturesque, park-like New York Street with a limited amount of neighborhood vehicular traffic, wide sidewalks and bike lanes separated from traffic, and lush landscaping.

Why isn't this possible? Would it take a minute or two longer to travel by car between downtown and Irvington? Yes, perhaps even three or four minutes longer. But it wouldn't it be worth the improvements that could be brought to the near-eastside? Even drivers would benefit from an enhanced experience if the appearance of the corridors was improved and more middle-class residents were attracted to the surrounding neighborhoods.

INDOT freeway design

Why does INDOT design multi-lane entrance ramps so that the interior entrance lane merges with a through lane on the mainline? A couple of examples that come to mind are NB 465 to NB 69 and NB 465 to NB 65 on the northwestside. This seems completely unsafe. If there is a vehicle at the same point in each lane, the alternative to a collision would be to maneuver into another lane, which might also be occupied a vehicle. Why wouldn't the entrances be designed so that the outside entrance lane eventually merges into the inside entrance lane? In that case, if there were a conflict at the merge point, the vehicle in the outside lane, which would be responsible for merging, would be able to maneuver onto the shoulder where there shouldn't be another conflict. I'm not a traffic engineer, but I've not seen such a design anywhere else in my travels except for Indiana.

This type of unsafe design is not limited to INDOT though. The City of Indianapolis employs a different, but similarly dangerous merging design. SB College Avenue, approaching Interstate 65 drops from two lanes to one, as does NB College, just north of 71st Street. But rather than having the right lane merge into the left, the streets are signed and striped to require the interior (left) lane to merge to the right. It would seem that in the event of a conflict between two vehicles traveling the same direction, this design would make it more likely that a vehicle in the left lane might drive into oncoming traffic especially given the lack of a raised median at either location. Again, I haven't seen this design anywhere other than Indy.

On another note, why does INDOT insist on using mile markers to describe the location of a traffic incident on their overhead changeable message signs in the metro area? How many of us have any idea where MM 107 is on any particular Interstate? I can understand using the mile marker when you're describing an incident ahead on the same roadway. (If you're on I-65 and the sign reads "Accident- Stopped Traffic at MM 32" it's pretty easy to read the markers along the side of the road to identify the location of the incident.

But consider you're traveling north on I-65 at Southport Road and the sign reads "Lane Closed EB I-70 at MM 82 Expect Delays". If you don't know where MM 82 is, you won't know if this is between I-65 and I-465, or if it's 20 miles east of I-465. The information isn't helpful if you don't know whether the incident is on your planned route. Wouldn't it be more informative to indicate "at Emerson", "at Shadeland", at "Mt Comfort", "at Greenfield" etc.? It sure would be to me.

Finally, I'd like to comment on the Super 70 project with the following two observations: First, the lack of any real increase in traffic on Michigan and New York Streets on the near eastside solidifies my opinion that these city streets no longer need to serve as urban freeways from the far-eastside to downtown. The time has come for these streets to revert to two-way traffic. The first benefit would be to slow traffic down, thereby increasing the livability of the neighborhoods adjacent to these streets. The noise from traffic would likely decrease as speeds decreased. The traffic that utilizes these one-way streets typically proceeds faster than traffic on two-way streets in the city because the current multi-lane design of the streets and the lack of congestion encourages higher speeds. Second, commercial redevelopment would be more likely to occur because businesses would have the advantage of being visible and accessible by traffic in two directions, with a peak of drivers both in the morning and in the afternoon/evening.

My other observation was of disappoint as I drove south on Sherman Drive from the Brightwood neighborhood and stared upon the new freeway overpass. The one benefit Brightwood had was that when I-70 was constructed it was channeled under Sherman Drive thereby deflecting traffic noise away from the neighborhood. The I-70 corridor was so narrow (even though it still accommodated the same eight travel lanes that the overpassed version will carry) with development on either side, that you could actually cross the Interstate and not even realize it. No more. Now, the Brightwood area to the north, as well as the area to the south, will experience the same hum of freeway noise with which most every neighborhood adjacent to a freeway must cope. Unfortunately for Brightwood, this headache won't come with the benefit of improved access to/from the freeway.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Mayor's Budget Address

The Mayor gave a speech about the budget before the City-County Council tonight. What part of it I saw on the government channel didn't mention many specifics. As WTHR-13 news reported, it sounded more like a campaign speech. Channel 13 reported allegations that Mayor Peterson packed the Public Assembly Room with his supporters. Minority Leader Phil Borst expressed displeasure that citizens were not allowed to enter the City-County Building after deputies informed them that the Public Assembly Room was at capacity. I witnessed about 20 people lined up outside the Market Street entrance waiting for a chance to enter the building as I passed by at about 6:30.

On the government channel, I watched one man being ejected from the Public Assembly Room after Peterson's speech had ended. The man kept calling for Councilor Abduallah to stand up and he kept repeating, "you lied to me Patrice."

Monday, July 23, 2007

Income Tax Increase

The City-County Council voted tonight to increase the County Option Income Tax (COIT), better known simply as the local income tax from 1% to 1.65%. The Mayor indicates that the estimated $90 million to be raised annually will be split roughly into three expenditures:
1) A dedicated source for the unfunded pensions for police and firefighters hired back in the day, who were apparently promised nice pension plans without the city ever setting aside any money to pay for this obligation.
2) Pay for the improvements to the criminal justice system (added attorneys and court personnel, other?) to continue the expenditures that begin last year to streamline the court system and prevent the overcrowding and resulting early releases from the county jail that were rampant prior to last year's slew of homicides, including the sextuple murder on Hamilton Avenue on the Near Eastside.
3) Add 100 new police officers, along with some additional spending on crime prevention programs to enhance public safety.

The most interesting part of the debate leading up to the vote, was the battle between Isaac Randolph, who wished to abstain from voting because of a perceived conflict of interest due to his employment with IFD, and the council leadership who attempted to force him to either vote or leave the Public Assembly Room. Randolph refused to either cast a vote or leave the room, and Council President Monroe Gray Jr. indicated that he could be forcibly removed from the room. Randolph acknowledged the presence of Sheriff Frank Anderson and high ranking members of IMPD and replied "Bring it on!" The vote ensued without any further action.

With Randolph abstaining, the remainder of the Council passed the income tax increase 15-13. Interestingly, it could be noted that, since Dane Mahern (D) voted against the increase indicating that his inner-city southside constituents couldn't afford it, Republican Scott Keller provided the 15th and decisive vote necessary to pass the proposal. Keller, who represents near-eastside and southeastside neighborhoods containing large pockets of low- and middle-income residents, indicated that his 16th District constituents supported the tax increase because they are afraid of being crime victims and want public safety fully funded.

Council President Gray, at the behest of Councilor Lonnell "King Ro" Conley, stifled debate and called for a vote even though all Councilors had not had an opportunity to speak. It appeared that a significant portion of the capacity crowd left, with much jeering, as Mr. Gray ended the discussion. After the vote, the fireworks continued, as each Councilor had one minute to explain their vote. Republican Phil Borst expressed dismay that he was not allowed to speak about his opposition to the proposal before the Council voted. A Democrat northeastside councilor and firefighter (Brown?) implied that Randolph was a coward for refusing to vote. Randolph attempted to respond, but was told that there would be no debate and that the two of them could "take it outside".

For or against the tax increase, it was disappointing to see how our Council operates. While I'm all for spirited debate, it seemed an embarassment to watch these proceedings. There seemed to be more discussion about whether one could abstain or not, then there was about the merit of the proposal. The limited amount of debate, with some Councilors not being allowed to speak, was very disappointing, given the seriousness and long-term implications of the vote that was being cast.

On the merits of the increase, the City certainly needs to fund the pension obligations it committed to decades ago. Why City leadership hasn't seen fit to do it decades ago, is a good question, but nevertheless it needed to be done. Keeping the criminal justice system moving smoothly to prevent early releases from the jail and adding more police officers is important, especially given the reduction of officers in the old IPD jurisdiction since the merger. Of course, it was promised that no officers would be transferred out of the IPD jurisdiction, but every indication is that promise hasn't been kept. Will the 100 new officers be assigned to the old Sheriff's jurisdiction leaving the inner-city no better protected than today? Or will the old IPD beats be replenished. This remains to be seen. Promises made when the merger was proposed included a pledge that additional officer strength would be provided to the suburban beats by eliminating duplication of administrative positions to add more patrol officers, and that $35 million dollars of annual savings would be obtained. Apparently, those savings were to plug some other holes in the budget and couldn't be used to hire any additional officers.

Why does the City need to cut money or raise taxes every year even though the citizens don't seem to be getting in increase in services each year? We aren't hemorrhaging population. Do we have a high and/or increasing unemployment rate? Obviously, the average 35% increase in residential property tax bills has caused quite a stir. It seems reasonable to expect an increase in city services, with such an increase in tax bills. Since no such increase is proposed, will Marion County experience a mass exodus of residents escaping to the relative sanity and stability of surrounding counties? If so, what will be the fallout? Lower property values? An increase in an already sky-high foreclosure rate? Even higher property tax obligations for those who remain as the assessed value of real estate plummets? What are the answers?