On the Rosenbarger planning conundrum, and FAN Fair, here I come.


Let’s take a moment to review.

In early December, as we considered the probable effects of the Main Street “improvement” project on similar streets nearby (read: what is judged right for Main likely will not be judged right for Market, Spring and Elm), I lobbed a pass toward the rim and Bluegill duly slammed it home.

(I’ve been asking) a slew of questions about city streets. Long experience has taught me the utter futility of expecting answers from anyone who actually matters, although there’s nothing to stop me from attending various meetings and poking a rhetorical stick through the bars, all the while questioning whether it’s me or them inside the cage.

Specifically, I asked:

If the city does not do for Elm, Spring and Market what it proposes to do on Main, how does the city explain to residents located on or near these other three streets why it is city policy to depress their property values owing to the greater good required of those transiting the city’s streets to reach the other side?

As Groucho Marx never said, “Guess the secret word, and win an invitation to a Democratic Party fundraiser.” The word is “holistic,” and the best answer – the only answer – I’ve received so far comes from NAC’s own Jeff Gillenwater, as posted on Facebook, and since it undoubtedly is the correct reply, let’s take a look.

The City is well aware that what it’s doing on Main will divert more auto traffic onto those other streets, Spring in particular.

That’s why they’re doing it first. That’s why the oft expressed “need” for a traffic study does not include Main in its current form as a functioning part of the total grid. That’s why the barely there, boilerplate “study” done to justify changes on Main contains no mention of connections to or projected impact on surrounding areas nor any other alternatives than the one they chose before doing the study.

From New Albany’s earliest days, Main Street was and is supposed to be the highway, the through street, the primary connector of downtown to other places, but city planners don’t want it to be that anymore.

Much like the sacrifice of Mount Tabor residential areas for poorly developed commercial strips on its fringes, the sacrifice of Spring and other nearby streets for Main has long been a part of the plan. And that’s precisely why they don’t/won’t talk about it out loud. A part of any holistic answer, historically and currently, likely has to do with diverting auto traffic to Main, not away from it. That, however, doesn’t fit the current gerrymandering scheme.

Ever since the two-way streets discussion first emerged some time ago, occasional chats with John Rosenbarger nearly always have featured a variation of this comment from him at some point in the conversation, accompanied by suitably uncomfortable body language: “Well, if we can’t reconvert them to two-way streets, we can at least calm traffic on them.”

Now, if I’m misreporting this in any way, John can correct me, but I’ve heard him say it more than once.

I’ve always judged his response to be the default ambiguity of an appointed official who has retained his position for decades by adapting, chameleon-like, to whatever political winds are blowing as administrations change. I’ve defended him and other planners for the thanklessness of their professional duties. These days, my thoughts are becoming somewhat less charitable. I’m beginning to catch the whiff of betrayal in the air.

Since we began peeling back the layers of the Main Street project, it has become ever more obvious that the city’s planners have proceeded in precisely the way Jeff suggests in the passage quoted above, and did not begin doing so just yesterday. If so, then the ripples from Main Street, effectively dooming the arterials to an eternity of counter-productivity, have been known, observed, accepted, and part of the plan all along … in a place where planning in the most general of terms possesses the same sought-after panache as unscooped dog turds festering on the sidewalk.

John is a city planner. John lives on Main Street. John’s authored a plan that exalts walkability on his own street, and ignored it elsewhere. There may or may not be a connection, but the oft-repeated component we can summarily dismiss is that the work John does somehow is purely secular and in the realm of unavoidable engineering-wonk, and as such, entirely apolitical.

Bullshit. In fact, John does not work for an eternal, heavenly code of street width and pass-through. He works for Mayor Jeff Gahan, an elected official, and all these decisions whether those made are those finding a home in File 86, ultimately are political decisions. As such, they’re up for consideration and reconsideration in the political arena. Let’s not forget that.

According to the following report on  the forthcoming FAN Fair, John will be speaking about the desirability of alternate transportation, which presumably includes walking. Originally I was to be in Indianapolis on that day, but I’ve changed plans. I’ll be at the FAN Fair, and with any luck, I’ll be allowed to ask several of these questions, prime among them: Is walkability to be confined to Main Street, or do the rest of us in Outer Slumlordia get a chance, too?

FAN Fair: Walking, biking and busing not just an alternative in Southern Indiana; Inaugural event addresses region’s sustainability, environmental issues, by Daniel Suddeath (N and T)

SOUTHERN INDIANA — It may be labeled as alternative travel, but biking or walking to destinations is just another mode of transit to many planners and transportation experts.

Not only does it increase social interaction while decreasing greenhouse emissions and dependence on fuel, but so-called alternate transportation is also cheaper and making a footprint even in Southern Indiana, according to local experts.

“I do think that we are living in a transition period where the tide is shifting toward developing and retrofitting communities to be more sustainable,” Beth Rosenbarger said.

She is a planner and GIS specialist for the Monroe County Planning Department in Bloomington, and also the daughter of John Rosenbarger, who is the director of Public Works Projects for New Albany.

The Rosenbargers will be among the guests speaking about topics such as energy independence and alternate transportation during the inaugural Floyd Action Network FAN Fair on Feb. 1 …

(For more information, visit the website www.floydactionnetwork.org)