ON THE AVENUES: Requiem for the bored.


ON THE AVENUES: Requiem for the bored.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.


My fellow New Albanians, as your mayor – no, strike that. 

I’m sorry. This isn’t the usual boilerplate.

As a human being, I’m saddened that a resident of New Albany lost her life walking across the street. Chloe Allen was only trying to return home on foot after a few errands, and now she’s dead.

It’s unacceptable, it’s tragic, there are no excuses, and we’re going to do something about it. We cannot restore her life, but we can heed the words of her friend, Ms. Lori Kay Sympson:

“If anything good can come of this, it’ll be that this intersection is made safer.”

She is referring to the intersection at Vincennes and East Spring, and yes, we’ll be taking a fine-tooth comb to it to make safety for all users the top priority. For too long, we’ve ignored the dangers at this and other intersections in New Albany. This is going to change.

But it isn’t just this intersection, and it’s critical to understand that these dangers are not restricted to one or another crosswalks, or to this or that streets. We have a problem. We also have an opportunity.

Hazards are abetted on a daily basis by the way we’ve chosen to manage the city’s street grid. Indiana law plainly advises drivers that walkers have the right of way – and just as plainly, walkers in New Albany know that our streets are a coin flip at best. We may have sidewalks, but we don’t have walkability.

That’s because traffic safety has come to be viewed entirely as safety for drivers of cars, and not the city as a whole, including those who move about in other ways – walking, biking, in wheelchairs or carts. The problem at the intersection of Spring and Vincennes Streets actually begins elsewhere, for many blocks in all four directions.

We cannot improve safety by treating mere symptoms. Only major surgery will be effective.

When I chose Jeff Speck to pioneer a walkability study for New Albany, it was done with the recognition that his factual, reality-based recommendations would preface a bold new chapter in the city’s history by restoring an environment suitable for all citizens and all users of our streets, whether on foot, riding a bicycle or driving a car.

Automotive traffic was never intended to move at highway speeds through built-up urban areas intended for the speed of your child at play, not conditions like those on an interstate highway.

We lost sight of this, and now we know it has to change. Speck recommends – and I emphatically agree – that the fundamental design of our streets be altered, with the ultimate objective of slowing and calming traffic.

When it comes to humans driving cars, speed, inattentiveness and recklessness kill. It’s intolerable, and it has to stop.

Certainly law enforcement plays a part in any potential solution, but Speck’s proposals are based on empirical evidence. They’re based on facts, and we intend to implement them – and to do so speedily, as speedily as possible, because not only must safety be our first imperative; we also must apply principles of “quality of life” to this city as a whole, and to manage the city according to best practices for all, not some.

Call the street reform process as you will, so long as you grasp the necessity. Walkability, complete streets and street calming are good for neighborhoods, property values, quality of life and small business success. Cities all across the country provide examples, and we need only follow suit.

Some might point to statistics, and say that when it comes to deaths by walkers and bicyclists at the hands of people driving cars and trucks, New Albany is better than the national average.

That’s no consolation, and it is no reason to refrain from proven methods of doing better. Public safety is the very last place to be miserly, whether with money or scrutiny. An active, progressive, forward-thinking city is far more than the sum of its automobiles.

Rather, a city is about people like Chloe Allen, and the best – the only – way for us to honor her sacrifice is to get this right, once and for all.

I hope you’ll join us in the effort — now, not later.

You’ve been reading the words Jeff Gahan has not said, and will not say. Let’s consider the aftermath of a walker’s death, because if we don’t, who will?

First, we turn to anonymous parodist Rogar Bayler, who has been on Twitter satirizing Roger Baylor since 2014.

(Our friendly vowel swapper sought to do the same at Facebook, but ran afoul of that social media platform’s distaste for veiled and hooded participants.)

At any rate, Rogar says that I’ve been a naughty boy.

Hey everybody watch me crassly exploit a human being’s death to score extremely cheap points for my pet agenda.

My friend Mark Cassidy notices the irony herein.

Interesting that safety is considered a “pet agenda” by this administration.

Isn’t it?

Although suitably damning, Mark’s observation assumes that Rogar inhabits Gahan’s down-low labyrinth – perhaps as a lowly apparatchik, or a member of the privileged nomenklatura.

It’s a plausible assumption, of course, because if you’re looking for clues, consider that fluency in crassness and exploitation is the very best qualification to seek employment with Team Gahan, as these have been persistent hallmarks of the mayor’s political career from Day One.

After all, crass exploitation accurately describes the awarding of sewer tap-in waivers to an Indianapolis developer while withholding them from local companies, and placing a dog park atop a sacred Native American site, or even allowing the likes of Louisville’s Production Simple to dictate financial terms of single-day festival participation to businesses that operate in New Albany 365 days a year.

But I digress.

The best answer to Rogar comes from Chloe Allen’s friend, who made the touching and heartfelt video referred to above, in the statement Gahan never made – and will not make.

I can almost hear Rogar the attack puppy commence its itty bitty snarl.

Hey everybody watch Lori Kay Sympson crassly exploit a human being’s death to score extremely cheap points for her pet agenda.

There was a car show in New Albany on Sunday. The show necessitated closing downtown streets to vehicular traffic so that people could drive from far away, park as close as they could to the car show, and walk as little as possible while viewing it.

Then on Tuesday, it was time for the Board of Public Works, which I identified as such on Facebook. The Bookseller raised an eyebrow.

When even you neglect to call it the Board of (Works &) Public Safety, there’s no wonder.

I only sought to remove extraneous (look it up, corporate attorney) words.

At its most basic, the board channels public financing of works. The chairman is Warren Nash, former Democratic Party tribal chieftain, who is there only because six decades of experience greasing wheels ensures that no campaign finance slush goes unslung. The abacus fairly sweats, and the rubber always meets the freshly paved road.

(The other two board members are Mickey Thompson, the street department commissioner, and Cheryl Cotner-Bailey, the mayor’s secretary and wife of the police chief.)

As for safety, yes, the word is mentioned every now and then, about as often as I concede to savoring the full, rich flavor of Bud Light.

Seriously, it’s always enjoyable to attend Board of Public Works meetings, and to hear weekly sermons reinforcing auto-centrism from Jacobi Toombs and Lanz, which apparently is some sort of Autocentrism Enhancement Society with an exclusive city contract to do just that.

On Tuesday, while discussing improvement designed to increase the amount of traffic on Charlestown Road near Northside Christian and the new ball diamonds being built nearby, the attending traffic engineer from Jacobi Toombs and Lanz tried to say the words “walking path” aloud.

He lost all self-assurance, and began stuttering and murmuring. The look on his face was not unlike that of a yokel in the hayfield coming face to face with a gleaming alien space module.

I just knew what he was thinking between incredulous coughs: “Why in the name of warp drives would anyone walk in an area we’ve been designing for decades to discourage it?”

My favorite moments at Board of Public Works meetings are when city officials roll their eyes – wink wink, nudge nudge – and approach the bored to gain cursory rubber stamps for special civic events created and designed by the same city officials who appointed sitting members to the Board of Public Works.

Speaking of closed circles, let the Tuesday record show: 15 minutes of $3 million dollar paving discussion, 10 minutes of Charlestown Rd vehicular traffic discussion, Boomtown and Bicentennial Park Concert Series street closings, a street banner and a fish fry approval.

It was another stellar day for auto-centrism in New Albany, and contrary to previous assurances, not a single egg was broken, Larry – just a random walker struck down, and never mentioned, not once, not by anyone in the room. She was probably too poor to afford a car — right, Warren?

Tell me something.

Exactly how does any of this make any of you proud of your jobs?

May 12: ON THE AVENUES: A design for life.

May 5: ON THE AVENUES: Getting back, moving forward, drinking coffee.

April 28: ON THE AVENUES: You know, the two-way streets column I wrote — 7 years ago, in 2009.

April 21: ON THE AVENUES: The Green Mouse tells all.