The following was published in the “Additional Thoughts” section of my Jan 16, 2021 newsletter
Agenda item DC-3 will specifically rescind a policy from 2019 that required a Council vote to approve traffic lane reductions on major streets and corridors. In answer to written questions about this agenda item, written responses from staff have helped clarify the impact of the 2019 resolution, also what it would mean to rescind it.
DC-3 (20-1683) Resolution to Rescind R-19-139 (Community Engagement and Approval Processes for City Related Improvement Projects)
Since April 2019, only three traffic reconfigurations were subject to specific Council approval: Earhart Road, Green Road, and Traverwood Drive. Of the three, two were rejected. I participated in each of those decisions and vividly remember what it meant to have them appear on our agenda. I think it’s important for the public to understand the significance of DC-3 in terms of Council responsibility and Council accountability to you as residents.
When Council has a decision on our agenda that will dramatically change traffic patterns in a neighborhood, we hear from many residents offering opinions. Sometimes, an issue will prompt residents from all parts of town to offer theories and advice about traffic and road design, generally. Mostly, though, Council hears from residents who can describe the specific situation and context that is relevant to the proposed change. These residents understand current challenges and can predict the likely consequence of a change because they see it every day.
When proposals for Earhart Road, Green Road, and Traverwood Drive appeared on the Council agenda, residents knew who to contact with concerns: the Council members who have been elected to make decisions in the best interest of the community. In anticipation of each of those three decisions, I read staff reports, met with several area residents, and also biked across town to each of the locations. I wrote about it here:
An agenda item of controversy puts a responsibility on Council members to study staff reports and hear resident perspectives. Where there is disagreement, we must reconcile the two and take a position that we believe is in the best interest of the community. I welcome this responsibility and take it seriously. I believe every member of Council should accept this responsibility as part of our elected position.
In response to written questions to this week’s agenda, staff offers the 2020 Healthy Streets program as an example of where Council approval delayed or hindered implementation. I co-sponsored and supported the 2020 Healthy Streets program that ultimately included 43 city streets. A Council resolution ended three of those 43 implementations – Packard, Broadway/Swift, and S. Main – a few weeks early due to safety concerns reported by residents and acknowledged by staff.
Staff recently produced a comprehensive report on 2020 Healthy Streets Program which can be found here:
The 2020 Healthy Streets Program is, I think, a good example of where and how Council can and should be accountable to residents. I am comfortable explaining how and why I voted in support of this program, and also why I voted to end the experiment early at three of the locations. I offered extensive explanation here:
It surprises me that this resolution – taking away Council accountability – happens so soon after campaign promises to vote differently than the previous Council. Presumably, a vote on issues like these would result in swift and immediate approval. Now is the opportunity for Council to publicly vote in support of their values.
From the 2019 resolution that DC-3 would rescind:
“City Council [believes] lane reductions/”road diets” are quality-of-life policy decisions requiring tradeoffs that should be decided by the elected officials (not city staff) and City Council directs the City Administrator to seek Council approval prior to implementing any lane reduction actions on major streets/corridors”
I did not write the statement above and, for me, the phrasing “quality-of-life” is a poor description of these policy decisions. E.g. During the 2020 Healthy Streets program, few of the complaints I heard about Packard, Broadway/Swift and S. Main were about “quality-of-life” or convenience. Rather, complaints centered around safety. Most of the people raising concerns about these lane closures reported safety hazards that they viewed from a unique vantage point on-the-ground. Residents walking, biking and driving through their own neighborhoods see how their local streets and roads are used by others passing through.
Local neighborhood residents also know better than anyone how their own smaller side streets can become secondary routes for traffic, when major streets and corridors are compromised. This tradeoff is real and worthy of meaningful discussion. E.g. Since I moved into my own neighborhood, a lane reduction on Stadium Boulevard caused an increase in traffic on Pauline. This is an observation, not necessarily a problem. In some neighborhoods, the likely routes for traffic diversion are more problematic — residents describe a very real quality of life (and safety) issue when traffic diverts to previously quiet side streets where children play.
On this week’s agenda, Council will vote to fund planning for a 2021 Healthy Streets program. The resolution for this funding includes the “strong” recommendation that 2020 Healthy Streets implementations be made permanent. Approval of DC-3 means that decisions like that would never land on a public agenda for City council. Council members will never be asked to take a position as your representative. The input of residents will be limited to a “public engagement component” of the project.
Summer political campaigns included a lot of criticism of past Council decisions, characterizing them as generally contrary to and “against” community values. A new majority of Council pledged to do things differently. Margins of victory have been presented as evidence of community support for a different perspective and different decisions. Now is an opportunity for the new Council to vote differently and publicly support the issues they campaigned on. Instead, resolution DC-3 passes the buck onto staff so that no Council member ever has to take a public position. This resolution guarantees that such votes will never happen.