Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Possibilities


In as dispassionate a way as possible, I present a few thoughts on why the City, on behalf of its citizens, should consider looking a few hundred feet  west of the current Farmers Market location for a new and better location for this important community feature. I will present this list for discussion at Thursday's Common Council Meeting. 
 
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REASONS WHY MOVING THE FARMERS MARKET TO THE PARKING 
 GARAGE CAN BENEFIT THE MARKET AS WELL AS THE DOWNTOWN        

 
1. Doubles covered area of market

2. Provides covered, shaded parking for vendors’ trucks, keeping food items out of heat

3. Already handicapped accessible

4. The concrete mass of the garage acts like an air conditioner

5.  Approx. 10,000 square feet of dedicated street and sidewalk space during market hours

6. Traffic not blocked—one side of Market Street (southern side of median) would be open to traffic

7. Garage would be livened up to make it a more inviting space for market with added lighting, decoration, and functional upgrades, such as electrical hookups for vendors

8. Historic Farmers Market of New Albany was located in Market Street area in front of the parking garage

9. Bathrooms can be added at garage site and would be a more wide-reaching amenity for the entire downtown, its shoppers, visitors, and its merchants

10. Bathroom facility could double as an information kiosk, like Madison’s Comfort Station—a refurbished filling station in downtown Madison, Indiana

11. Redevelopment funds for this Tax Increment Financing facility might cover some physical alterations to garage, possibly leading to future use of garage for customer parking during Saturday market, if feasible

12. After bathrooms, lights, and facelift, money would still be left to cover other enhancements for the market beyond the physical expansion, such as pedal-powered taxis to carry shoppers back to their cars with their purchases. Offering such a service could also provide a few good part time jobs for pedal-taxi drivers

13. The Bank and Market site can be elevated to higher use than the 8-10 hours a week for ½ the year of the market’s use, such an upgrade of this strategic corner could solidify the downtown revival while building a foundation for future growth

14. The parking garage is especially under-utilized on weekends. Moving the market here helps unlock the value of the sunk costs in this multi-million dollar community asset.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Nip It. Nip It In The Bud.




Deputy Bernard P. Fife
 
As  legions of electronic visitors to Mayberry know well, Barney Fife was diligent in the prevention of mayhem. His sage advice, often proffered to Sheriff Andy Taylor, was to engage in bud nipping whenever and wherever the situation called for it. And, in the good deputy's view the early derailment of trouble was always the best course.
 
Noted author and planner, Jeff Speck, has been chosen to study New Albany's traffic situation. It is hoped his fresh perspective will yield a plan to help us deal with a possible double whammy, courtesy of the Bridges Project: 1. the effects of a period of  disruption resulting from bridge construction, only to be followed by 2. the on-going,  increased flow of pass-through traffic, owing to the dubious honor of being the main toll-free passage across the river.
 
As we await the results of Speck's work, I've been considering a rather nagging empirical counterpoint to the notion of converting one-way streets to a two-way pattern.  If two-way streets are better than one-ways, why is East Spring Street, east of Vincennes, such an unappealing place to be? I fully believe two-ways to be superior to one-way streets, but here's this major stretch of one of the majorest streets in town, populated by many nice houses that have seen their better days, many days ago. Here's a street where I witnessed a child barely escape being run over because there's no truly safe way to cross that street in places.
 
I don't share Speck's background, education , or experience, yet I think I know something Mr. Speck doesn't know yet. That's not a knock on him, he is yet to begin his study, so he hasn't looked in depth at this place we call home. What I think I know is that Spring Street is the open, unrestricted pipe pouring traffic into New Albany. Once that traffic pours into town, it causes traffic problems there, and down the line; problems we have earlier attempted to deal with by using parking restrictions and one-way streets. In the other two lanes, the traffic is flowing unrestricted the other way, out of town. It also creates traffic problems, and these we addressed by eliminating on-street parking. Put both those high volume corridors together and you have an inhospitable place for people. Make someplace inhospitable to people, and it becomes a place where property values fall, rental housing dominates, and the neighborhood slips further and further toward the point of no return.
 
Because this section of Spring Street delivers such a volume of traffic into the city, and because of the effects  this traffic has on the people who live there, East Spring Street is a prime candidate for the doctrine of Fifeism.
 
We need to nip traffic in the bud there. The place to do it is on Spring Street, as high volumes of traffic flow into and out of the city. And the way to do it is to allow on-street parking, from the entrance to New Albany to Spring Street Hill.
 
The positive impact of such a change would be to lessen the volume of traffic, slow the speed of traffic, make the street safer and more inviting for pedestrians,and I believe, those changes would make the houses along that section of Spring Street more desirable. That is a first step in re-establishing this neighborhood as part of a Walkable City.
 
Much of the traffic that does not flow on Spring Street would instead use the beltway of I-265* to get into or out of town. Because the flow of traffic through town would be reduced, I believe many of the other issues facing inner city traffic would be diminished, to the point of nearly solving themselves. But the good thing is, we don't have to let those problems solve themselves. That's why Jeff Speck is coming to town. When he gets here, I hope he will at least consider what Traffic Consultant, Barney Fife, might have told him if he were on the beat here today.        
 
 
 *Disclaimer:  My wife and I live within the pernicious aural shadow of I-265 and I-64. Whether we stay put or get blown out of a place we've lived for 27 years on the blast of a Jake Brake, the fact remains, New Albany's traffic problems can be greatly controlled by nipping traffic in the bud at Silver Creek. Soon the deleterious effects  the Bridges Projects has on the people who live near these interstate arteries must be addressed. That won't be simple and it won't be cheap. And, it wasn't included in the original cost of the Bridges Project. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Pitch Till You Win

At tomorrow's Board of Works meeting, New Albany will likely take a step toward re-orienting its traffic grid. The Board will consider the Mayor's proposal to hire Jeff Speck as the studier-in-charge of a closer look at our streets. That's a very good portent of better days for downtown.

Although I've been opposed to spending money on a traffic study, because I think the answer such a study would reveal is self-evident. And, it seems, Mr. Speck has been opposed to such studies as well, if one can deduce that an opinion, "traffic studies are bullshit", (Page 81, Walkable City, Jeff Speck, Copyright 2012, Farrar, Straus and Giroux) translates to at least a modicum of disapproval of such an exercise. I am most heartily on board with this turn of events, since at least we know where this study is likely to lead us. Which of course begs another question, but who's asking? And, why stand in the way of something positive?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Jump Step

"You can't steal second base with your foot on first."
                         
 ___ probably, Zig Ziglar


The proposal to move the New Albany Farmer's Market from it's current site at Bank and Market Streets to the City-owned parking garage at Market and State Streets was run up the flagpole, here, last Friday. While it has not been universally saluted with the honorific forehead salute, neither has it received an abundance of one-finger salutes.

Assurance was given that at Tuesday's Board of Works meeting the awarding of contracts was to be withheld, pending discussion of other options for funding the market's makeover.

The Farmer's Market has an enviable record of success at its current location. I applaud and support the efforts of those who have brought it to this juncture. But, New Albany has likewise reached a juncture. One where we can embrace the efforts of those who have led the entrepreneurial resurgence of the downtown. Stretch the economic development canvas so as to paint a brighter future for downtown. Or, we can  hunker down, stay on the same path, and recoil from something untried and new.

The appropriated sum of $270,000, which the City Council approved in this year's budget was found to be an insufficient amount to cover the plans for the market's expansion at its current site. That fiscal insufficiency proved to be a key which has opened a broader discussion of the market, its hold on the current location and what the market means to New Albany's revival, as well as the value, recognized or not, of the oversight function of the City Council. Not a few Council members felt the project landed on our table fully formed, with little or no consultation or review by the Council, beyond the initial assent to the mayor's budget. While any individual Council member stands lower than the Mayor in the governance pyramid of this City, as a body we stand more as equals.

I support the Farmer's Market's expansion. I simply am not sold on its expansion at the current site. As I stated previously, I see several reasons why a move to the parking garage would be a good one for the market's future.

If we continue with the market at the current site, I would suggest that it be the City's policy to actively promote that property for a return to tax-paying status by seeking qualified developers to envision a use for the property, a vision in line with its strategic placement in the downtown. The right development of the property, currently occupied by the Farmer's Market, can aid greatly the entrepreneurial renewal of the downtown, keeping it on track and moving forward. And the current market should be allowed to stay at the site, if those in charge wish it so, but at the current footprint, with no expansion, while the City actively pursues higher and greater uses for the property. If the pursuit of a developer yields nothing worthwhile within a reasonable time frame then we could proceed with the market's expansion at that site. Implicit in that plan is the understanding that if a strong enough developer wished to pursue a project on that site, those plans would still come to fruition, albeit at a higher cost to the developer.

If the people who have led the market to its current success see fit to move to the parking garage, they should know that it would be possible to open half of Market Street, out to the median, in front of the garage for market shoppers/visitors, while still keeping the street on the other side of the median open to traffic. The market space under roof, by using only the level, un-sloped surface of the garage on the street level would be at least double the current space under roof at the Bank street location. The installation of electrical hookups, and sanitary facilities would not deplete the appropriated amount of $270,000, so there would still be some significant amount of money available for the enhancement of the market in its new location. There would be money to offer something like a bicycle rickshaw to move shoppers and their purchases back to their cars, for example.  And there would be no effort overhanging the market to find a buyer for the site.

When I originally proposed the garage as a site for the market it was done as a reaction to the higher cost the Council was being asked to agree to. But, since that idea was originally voiced, I 've come to believe there are stronger reasons than cost alone supporting a move of the market to the garage. And I believe those reasons would work to the long term benefit of the Farmer's Market as a valuable, sustainable, and important part of the downtown's current success. All while setting the table for infill growth at the corner of Bank and Market Streets, which can further advance the revitalization of our city.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Bill of Fare

Last night at the Common Council meeting, the civic equivalent of haggis was served to some picky Council diners. Following on the heels of a Tribune article, Wednesday the 19th, which revealed that a Farmer's Market redo had arrived at the table ready for consumption, came news that we're going be about $75,000 short of paying the tab.

While the Council had appropriated $270,000 for an addition at the existing market site, because of grading, and drainage work at the expansion, those funds would be insufficient. A discussion of the new reality revealed little stomach for additional funds for the expansion.

A somewhat offhand remark led to further exploration following the meeting. The remark was a question, "had it been considered to move the Farmer's Market to the municipal parking garage?" Prior to looking for ways to meet the new funding requirements of the Farmer's Market expansion, at the current site, it might be worthwhile to consider some of the benefits of moving to a new venue at the parking garage, which is hardly used on weekends.

Final action to award contracts on  work at the current site is slated for the Board of Works meeting coming up on Tuesday, February 25. If awarded, work on the current site would be contractually on track to begin. In relation to item number 9, below, the future of a portion of downtown New Albany would be settled for generations, and at a lower level of general prosperity than our city deserves, and recent positive action there shows we are capable of mounting. Handling that property today, with the future in mind, can help sustain prosperity for our posterity. 

1. One of the prime factors driving up the cost of the current site's retrofit is grading of the existing parking lot to make it handicapped-accessible. The garage is completely handicapped-accessible, and even includes an elevator.

2. Focusing just on the flat surface of the first level, the garage is as large, or nearly as large as the existing market, and would provide covered market space for vendors and shoppers alike.

3. Vendors could park their cars and trucks further back in the garage in the shade, so their produce or other wares could be protected from the summer sun. The same parking pattern might free up spaces for shoppers at the market which are now taken up by some vendors.

4. Because Market Street is divided by the median, and is currently one way, the Saturday Farmer's Market could use the north side of Market Street for street vendors, along with spaces inside the garage, especially on good-weather days. While on rainy days, vendors and shoppers would more fully appreciate the covered spaces inside the garage. All this would be done without closing a street, as is done now on Bank Street.

5. Because of the mass of concrete of the garage itself, and because of the open-sided construction of the facility, breezes flowing through the structure would make for more comfortable shopping in summer's heat.

6. The Farmer's Market, in its current location, has become successful and is a welcome addition to downtown New Albany. Its success could easily be moved a few hundred feet down the street to the garage, which could help bolster that part of the downtown.

7. Another driver of the high cost of the proposed expansion market is public restrooms and storage space for them site. The parking garage was built with manned attendant booths. While these are no longer manned, it is likely the original design of the garage may have included, at least, roughed-in sanitary hookups for the benefit of the attendants; these hookups, if in that original design, would cut thousands of dollars from the cost of the bathrooms. Even if not in place, they could be built within or near the existing structure, for prices competitive with the planned bathrooms at the current site.

8. Just because the market were relocated to the parking garage, there is no need to be hasty in removing the existing structure. If, after a reasonable time, the garage location, for some reason didn't work, then the expansion of the current facility could be revisited.

9. If, on the other hand, the market were successful at the new garage site, (and it likely would be, because the local food movement is real and has been embraced by so many) then the current market site at Bank and Market Streets could be returned to service as a fully functional component of downtown commercial revitalization. It makes little sense to have one of the most economically valuable, as well as spatially valuable, pieces of property in the entire downtown, off the tax rolls, and dedicated to only intermittent use for eight or ten days a month six or seven months out of the year.

If set on a different course, that corner could be thrown open to a design challenge which could yield exciting possibilities not now visualized.

If, on the other hand, the City commits hundreds of thousands of dollars to that corner, the very expenditure itself is likely to shackle us to that piece of property, while other more profitable, enhancing, and defining, uses of the property are turned away from the downtown and, rather, sent to the outer reaches of town where development, while necessary and welcome, contributes less to what is the true heart of our City.

10. As a community, we have spent millions of dollars on the parking garage. Relocating the Farmers Market to that site will save most of the $270,000 allocated for a facelift of the current market. It will help us benefit from the sunk cost of the garage, while opening up the corner of Bank and Market to a fuller contribution to a more prosperous future for New Albany.

For these reasons, and probably more, I believe we need to hold off on awarding contracts for the current plan, and see if the parking garage at State and Market Streets offers a good alternative to the existing site of the Farmer's Market at Bank and Market Streets. The two sites may only be a few hundred feet away from each other, but they are hundreds of thousands of dollars apart in cost, and worlds away in the possibilities they offer to the downtown's future. 

 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Replay From 2011

 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Hat Trick on the Nudge List

This post is originally from just before the 2011 City election. The Nudge List was my version of a platform. Today, in  February 2014 it is worth a review. Cherry Street is little improved, but some action at the proposed dog park site may be on the horizon.
 
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The post to which this refers was originally was written on September 20, 2011. It lists a number of goals I want to nudge the next mayor into pursuing. This focuses on three of those. The original can be viewed by scrolling down to September 20, 2011.

On one of the first cool Saturdays of fall we walked to the farmer's market from our house on Captain Frank Road. On the way to the market we walked along State Street after turning from Captain Frank. The return trip was State to Cherry, then through the graveyard on West Street.

Of striking note was the high number of vacant houses on Cherry Street. Cherry is a relatively short street of something less than a full mile. In that short stretch, we counted six or seven vacant houses, comprising as much as one third of the entire street's houses. Some were in poor condition, most were simply vacant.

At the intersection of Cherry and State Streets is a ponding area for the inconvenient, and seasonal, collection of excessive rain. It also claims the hosting of a billboard as one of its purposes. This forlorn acreage, though highly visible from one of our main thoroughfares, State Street, is usually in an unkempt state of overgrowth and seeming abandonment. It is bounded by State Street, Cherry Street, PC Building Materials, and Falling Run Creek.

A missing line on the list of amenities to be found in New Albany is a dog park. Such a place allows citizens with dogs the privilege of exercising their pets off-leash in a protected, confined, and legal, area. Louisville has several such parks, and they are provided in many cities across the U.S.. For people with dogs nothing compares with the reward your pet realizes from an unfettered run to burn off energy and get the exercise he needs.

One boundary of the ponding area is Falling Run Creek. This stream runs through much of New Albany, but makes one of its most impressive showings as it passes near and through the downtown.

That these three features and challenges come together near the intersection of State and Cherry Streets allows this area to become a transformational neighborhood in New Albany's revival. That is why a strong case can be made to focus the next Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) on Cherry Street. While this street is vulnerable to the same real estate troubles affecting other parts of the city, it is extremely well positioned to come out of that downward spiral if the proper combination of attention and money are deployed on its behalf. If such attention is not paid to this area I fear it could reach a tipping point from which it may not recover. And yet, because Cherry Street is short,and strategically located it is a feasible candidate for a new NSP strategy.

Pursuing a dog park at the intersection would remove a blighted, neglected area and replace it with a welcome amenity for only a small up-front expense. All that is needed is the installation of a fence along the perimeter and another fence within to separate small dogs from large ones. The space even has a serviceable road in place which can be brought up to usable condition with a few loads of gravel. The ongoing expense of maintaining the park should be offset with a nominal user/membership fee collected from those who wish to exercise their pets there.

Once the ponding area finds new life as a dog park, it will naturally open up the area to Falling Run Creek, which acts as the southern border of the proposed park. This stream could then be reclaimed for our citizenry as a narrow park dissecting much of the city. This park could be a walking/jogging/biking path through large areas of the city. The advantages of this park would be primarily realized by those who avail themselves of a convenient, low-traffic path for exercise and destinational biking and walking. But, Falling Run is also a critical element of storm water drainage, and renewed access to, and use of, the stream would naturally lead to keeping it cleaner for this important task.

Few areas of the city offer the prospect of turning so quickly from a position of peril to a position of desirability. Cherry Street straddles the downtown area while also offering easy access to the major commercial area of State Street near I-265. The housing stock is varied in size and style. Vacant houses appear to be in decent shape and could be made more appealing to buyers.

I hope to be in a position to help the next mayor see the need and value of focusing on Cherry Street, with its dog park along Falling Run.