Sunday, September 16, 2012

Little Rock Bike Friendly Efforts: Are The Wheels Coming Off?

Things are not going too well in Little Rock's struggle to achieve "Bike Friendly Community" status with the League of American Bicyclists. I've reported here several times about the efforts of the LRBFCC to help the city identify and resolve challenges in meeting the League's criteria for "Bike Friendly" status, such as adopting a "complete streets" policy, and in encouraging the city to make improvements to bike infrastructure, most notably, completing the River Trail loop in the area of Dillard's and the Episcopal Collegiate School. The committee is chaired by Ed Levy and includes a broad representation of the cycling community ranging from long-time activists like Gene Pfiefer and Ken Gould to younger enthusiastic and energetic types like Aly Signorelli and Mason Ellis. I don't mean to slight anybody in between, but I'm not going to search up the list of committee members! Let it suffice to say that there are many names that LR area cyclists will recognize as people who get things done.Therein lies the rub. The committee have met month after month, mostly rehashing the same issues because nothing is getting done. City leadership has broken promise after promise and, when pressed, simply renews the same promises only to break them again.
The committee recently suspended meetings after voicing their discontent to Mayor Sodola and Assistant City Manage Bryan Day. Aly has also cancelled the Bike Fair scheduled for this month for which she was the primary organizer. 

The major points of frustration include, among others:

The hiring of a bike-pedestrian coordinator for the city. It was reported to the committee many months ago that the position had been approved and funded, yet a job description has not been written and the job has not been posted. Assistant City Manager Bryan Day took responsibility "just not getting it done" for a few months, then the reasons just got fuzzy.

Adoption of a Complete Streets plan: Ken Gould invested a great deal of time in researching and drafting a policy for review and adoption by the city as an ordinance. After a few months of back-and-forth, the proposed ordinance was reduced to a proposed resolution and watered down with exclusions and exceptions to the point of irrelevance. Granted, the plan in either form would have to be approved by the City Board of Directors, and there would likely be some compromises required to satisfy developers and other stake-holders but, to my knowledge, the plan has never been introduced to the board in any form. I'm not sure whether Mayor Stodola is afraid to ask or if there is simply a lack of sincerity in endorsing the proposal. A Complete Streets Policy is a key component of any serious effort to achieve Bike Friendly Community status.

Temporary Trail Improvements at Episcopal Collegiate School on Cantrell Road:
Early in the summer, shortly after a rider and a car collided in the driveway of ECS as the cyclist attempted to negotiate this so-called river trail section, city officials at a LRBFCC meeting promised that as a temporary measure the sidewalk in front of the school would be widened and the driveway crossing modified to allow for greater visibility. There was a commitment made that this project would be completed "before school starts". Mayor Stodola reiterated that promise at a BACA meeting as he lobbied for support for the recently-passed millage proposal. Nothing happened. Then there was a commitment made that construction would commence before school starts. Then, nothing happened.

The elephant in the kitchen in all of these discussions is the need to provide a viable and permanent solution to completing the gap in the River Trail loop that exists along Cantrell Road. While the river Trail is heavily used as a recreational resource, it is also a vital  hub for cyclists attempting use bikes as transportation, as it serves as a connector for West Little Rock, Maumelle, Midtown, downtown Little Rock, and all of North Little Rock. The impediments are both practical and political. This stretch is intensely developed, geographically small and is further limited by the presence of the Union Pacific Railroad right-of-way and the Arkansas River. Railroads are notoriously protective of their rights-of-way and the river isn't likely to move or compromise. The political side of the puzzle involves the Stephens family interest in the Collegiate School on the south side of Cantrell and Dillard's on the north. Solving this impasse is going to involve some creativity and some political will, the latter of which seems to be in very short supply in Little Rock. I would suggest that it could be a "win-win" scenario for the backers of ECS and Mayor Stodola to work out an arrangement for the trail to pass by the school. It would be a gesture of community-mindedness on the part of the Stephens group and it would allow the city to fulfill long-made and oft-repeated promises. The City of LR has been sitting on $1,000,000 in funding allocated by the state legislature several years ago for completion of the trail and the medical community largely raised the private funding for the Medical Mile from the River Market area, but the City government seems unable or unwilling to take it from there.  Bicycle and pedestrian transportation infrastructure is proven to improve a city's perceived quality of life and to attract young, educated, employable people, so this is not just about recreation; it is a prudent business plan and Little Rock seems to be squandering the opportunity to move forward with a progressive and modern system of non-automotive transportation. It is time for the leadership of the City of Little Rock to either get serious or simply tell the cycling community to fuck off if that is their position. Most folks would rather get the kiss-off than be strung along with insincere promises and those little romantic visits at election time.

5 comments:

Aly said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Joe Jacobs said...

In my discussions with Bryan Day after my letter to the editor I have enjoyed the sound of deadlines rushing by. The most recent was that a letter addressing the concerns would be given to LRBFCC this past Friday. I've heard nothing.

Tom Ezell said...

John:

If you want to see Stodola's approach to bicycling, look no farther than this video that he and the Metroplan folks put together this past April: http://youtu.be/HoI7KQ-q274

As they say in our southwest neighbor, all hat -- no cattle. THere's still a lot of low-hanging fruit that can be exploited (see http://georgiabikes.org/index.php/blog/263-lessons-from-long-beach), so all hope is not lost... Only if you're depending on any cooperation or support from the City government. Local activists and enthusiasts have worked miracles here in the past two years, and we need to keep those spirits up.

JBar said...

Just for clarification of my policy, I removed the deleted comment at the request of the writer. Unless a comment contains spam, I pretty much let folks have their say.

Tom, I've got faith in the perseverance of of the folks you mention and expect continued progress on some level.

Julie H said...

Thank you for this reporting. My comment sounds generic, but I mean it.

I've also been in extremely close proximity of the mayor lately so hopefully in time I'll have constructive comments to give :)