Thursday, January 29, 2009

Dear Mayor Ballard

Dear Mayor Ballard,

Every mayor has a legacy. For Richard Lugar, it was Unigov; for William Hudnut, it was bringing the Colts to Indy. It might be too early to say how Bart Peterson will be remembered (keeping the Colts in Indy? leaving the City in a financial crisis for the maintenance on Lucas Oil Stadium?), but it's not too early for you to start thinking about what your legacy might be.

Gaining control of IMPD from the Sheriff? Significant, but probably not something to set you apart from others.

Township consolidation? This would be a significant accomplishment as well, but the initial groundwork was laid by the previous administration.

Here's an idea; you could be the mayor who, for the first time in the history of the City, made making Indy safe and convenient for pedestrians a real priority and followed through. Sure, we've heard lip service to concern for building and maintaining sidewalks in the past, and the Cultural Trail is an innovative development that has drawn attention from around the country.

But the sad truth is that for the 99+% of Indy residents who don't live or work on the Cultural Trail or need to travel outside a two-block radius of Monument Circle, the pedestrian infrastructure is in sad shape. The absent pedestrian signals and crosswalks, the missing sidewalk segments, and the poor location (directly adjacent to traffic) and maintenance (crumble, crumble) of existing sidewalks discourage most people from walking by choice.

But of even more critical importance is the state of our sidewalks right now as you read this letter. Please take a drive around Indy, and get out of the vehicle in random locations to experience what it is like to be one of our citizens who doesn't own a private automobile. You won't even have to leave the Mile Square to see myriad examples of residents and businesses who have forgone both the civic and legal obligation to ensure safe passage for our neighbors of greatest need. They might be children walking to school, the elderly going shopping for basic needs, parents riding the bus to work, or they might simply be young adults like myself who are fortunate enough to own a car, but who would like to have other transportation options. No matter, we are all rendered second class citizens who must remain home or be forced to walk in streets with traffic which is obviously not safe.

What will visitors think if there is a snowfall during the week of the Super Bowl? What do visitors think today? What do residents who have helped revitalize urban neighborhoods, in part because they want to live in vibrant communities where they can walk to destinations, think of the current state of our sidewalks? Surely they are not impressed.

You might ask what you can do. Certainly, the City can not be expected to clear everyone's sidewalk. It's up to each property owner or tenant to do their part. So how can you, Mayor Ballard, address this issue? I'm glad you asked.

First, use the bully pulpit of your office to make it clear to all Indy residents and property owners that this is a serious problem, but that there is a simple solution that can be achieved, only if we all do our part. By stressing the importance of maintaining a safe pedestrian network, you can begin to change the culture, which is key.

Next, make clear that this is not only a civic duty and moral obligation, but a legal requirement. Although it would be difficult to immediately enforce this ordinance throughout Indy, you must dedicate resources, reallocating them from other duties if necessary, to issue warnings and citations for failure to clear snow from sidewalks. There have to be repercussions for those who will not be swayed by polite request alone, and you must solicit the media to highly publicize the enforcement efforts.

Right now, many people see no reason to shovel their sidewalks, when many or most of their neighbors do not. Once the culture begins to change, and the unshoveled sidewalk becomes the exception to the norm, then each individual will realize the community benefit in doing their part. But that cultural shift can only be accomplished by a publicity campaign, led by you, followed up by enforcement of the ordinance.

Please Mr. Mayor, make the goal of creating a city that is safe for pedestrians all year long a priority. I guarantee you'll find it worth the effort. The alternative of watching pedestrians take to the streets and hoping they don't become fatal statistics is not acceptable for a world class city.


D said...

I hope you sent this letter to the mayor. This issue really needs to be brought to the attention of people who can act on it.

thundermutt said...

Even diligent people give up.

For many years I lived by a bus stop on a secondary arterial near two schools. The sidewalk there is adjacent to the curb. I would religiously get out first thing with the snowblower and shovel and clear the way so my neighbors with kids walking to school, those riding the bus, and those walking to a nearby grocery and pharmacy could pass my corner.

But then the damn plow would come after I left for work, and slop goo on the clean sidewalk. Most times it was impossible to tell that it had ever been cleared, and that goo is impossible to remove without a jackhammer or a ton of salt once it re-freezes. (In a CSO area, the salt in runoff goes right to Fall Creek, Pleasant Run, Pogue's Run, and White River. A bad thing.)

I learned to just wait until the end of the day, because if the frozen goo was on top of the snow, it was (more) removable...and I could throw it out on the clean pavement where it was more likely to melt without additional salting.

Just one little anecdote about how long-ago bad design leads to bad effects today.

Idyllic Indy said...

If only we weren't still engaged in reproducing those same simple design flaws throughout the county today...