ON THE AVENUES: Irv Stumler screams, “We don’t deserve two-way streets!”


ON THE AVENUES: Irv Stumler screams, “We don’t deserve two-way streets!”

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

I’ll apologize in advance, because it’s going to take a while to come to the point. This is necessary, because I don’t believe New Albany deserves to be hectored, degraded and held hostage by superannuated fools.

Let’s jump straight into the deep end.

Irv Stumler exists to quote entities like Thoreau Institute, and the Thoreau Institute exists to provide the likes of Stumler, Bob Caesar and Padgett Inc. with shiny pseudo-scientific nuggets for convenient extraction for deployment in a street fight they’ve already lost.

Just as a personage known as Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkle Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs plays the role of Great and Terrible Oz in Frank L. Baum’s most famous book, Randal O’Toole comprises the entirety of the Thoreau Institute, as well as several other shells of similar ilk.

Sadly, we’ve been down this vapid one-way, open air arterial sewer before, as on February 26, 2015.

ON THE AVENUES: As Admiral Gahan steers his Speck study into the Bermuda Triangle, crewmen Padgett, Stumler and Caesar grimly toss all the rum overboard.

 … The American Dream Coalition is a predictably vapid yawner from a Potemkin think tank, deploying the same cooked data once solemnly cited by a caterwauling Caesar at a forgettable city council meeting, as lifted at the time from something outlandishly called the Thoreau Institute. The tired screeds are anonymous because there is a common shill to these oligarchy front groups, a fellow named Randal O’Toole.

O’Toole, a libertarian and Cato Institute acolyte, is one of a shrinking handful of professional go-to, camera-ready sprawl advocates, as opposed to the corporate lobbyists who work behind the scenes dispensing largess.

If there were more like O’Toole, they’d also be invited to attend Senate hearings, too.

Two things were clear at this morning’s hearing of the Senate Banking Committee concerning green investments in public transportation. First, transportation experts and leading legislators are very much in agreement on how transportation spending should change. And second, Randal O’Toole’s days as anything other than an anachronism are numbered …

… O’Toole was without friends in a room of leaders that finally seemed to grasp how planning had gone wrong in the last half century. At this moment — with vehicle miles traveled falling, with central city population growth rates increasing as suburban growth rates fall, and with central city housing prices showing resilience as exurban neighborhoods continue to experience rapid decline — Cato’s myth of sprawl as the American dream seems more hollow than ever.

Even infrequent readers of NA Confidential know that this blog has been among the foremost advocates of street grid reform in New Albany, by which we mean the reasoned, forward-looking implementation of traffic calming, completed streets and two-way traffic, among other changes by design, so as to facilitate walkability, bicycling, and to a achieve cherished goal for our city:

“New Albany is a place to go to, not a place to drive through.”

During this decade-long course of advocacy, we’ve bolstered our viewpoint by means of reference to numerous sources – dozens of activists, engineers, academics, planners, teachers, thinkers, doers and just plain folks.

Some primary sources of information appear here more often than others: Streetsblog, Smart Growth America, City Lab, Strong Towns, National Complete Streets Coalition, and National Main Street, to name just a few.

Accordingly, certain names appear again and again: John Gilderbloom, William Riggs, Charles Marohn, Janette Sadik-Khan and of course, Jeff Speck, who authored the New Albany Downtown Street Network Proposal for our municipal officials.

As will be discussed ahead, two-way traffic is superior to one-way traffic for both safety and city vitality, and a conversion of many streets back to two-way traffic will be recommended.

Of course, opposition to street grid reform certainly exists, and Stumler aside, some of it can be coherent. What might be termed the Argument from Engineering goes something like this:

Joseph Dumas, a professor at the University of Tennessee (said) that “the primary purpose of roads is to move traffic efficiently and safely, not to encourage or discourage business or rebuild parts of town . . . . Streets are tools for traffic engineering.”

Interestingly, both Speck and Marohn argue vigorously against the notion of a priestly street engineering caste, but one-way supporters persist in citing sacred transportation rule books seldom rewritten since the Eisenhower era, as wielded by bureaucratic departments of transportation at local, state and federal levels.

They’re occasionally joined by everyday citizens ready to defend the cruel irony of one-way, high-speed interstates running through populated neighborhoods, though not their own suburban cul-de-sacs. Usually the basis for these objections to urban street grid reform is their intensely personalized view of commuting convenience, and little else.

Demand begets supply, hence, the critical need for someone like O’Toole, who functions as the handy academician-on-call, equipped with requisite suburban dog whistle, his pockets stuffed with pay stubs from subsidiaries of the Koch brothers.

As for O’Toole’s overall credibility, Marohn once debated him on the topic of city planning.

 … When I called O’Toole on it, I saw him show a little bit of panic and then he resorted to his flaming rhetoric. The opportunity passed. That is the moment when I realized that we weren’t going to do anything in this conversation to help the people of Lafayette reach a better understanding of their situation … he essentially advocated for nullification of state and federal law. It was absurd and I felt like we were wasting air at that point.

A more detailed refutation of O’Toole’s propaganda, in this instance pertaining to public transit, can be found here (underlining is mine).

The Small-Minded Anti-Streetcar Conspiracy

By Glen D. Bottoms, Rick Gustafson, Eric Hovee and William S. Lind

The libertarians’ anti-transit study mill continues to grind out new products, which regrettably contain more chaff than grain. We say “new” cum grano salis, because they offer the same arguments over and over. To ideologues, facts don’t count. The first thing written is the conclusion.

A recent example of the genre is The Great Streetcar Conspiracy by Randal O’Toole, published June 14, 2012 by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank. As usual, it is a child’s garden of errors, false “facts,” distortions and unwarranted conclusions. This study may set a record, even for the anti-transit troubadours: in a mere 16 pages it manages to make at least 52 false or misleading statements.

We don’t know how they will top that, perhaps by claiming in their next study that streetcars are bad because of all those moving cables that run beneath the streets. Fifty-two is a lot of errors to correct; let’s get started.

It requires 29 factual pages, and yes, all 52 errors are addressed. Then there’s a similar rejoinder, this one from Canada.

Evaluating Criticism of Smart Growth
Victoria Transport Policy Institute

(Page 79) Randal O’Toole has written various reports which claim that Smart Growth is wasteful and harmful. His criticism is based on the assumption that nearly everybody wants to live in automobile-dependent suburbs, so Smart Growth strategies fail, and if successful they harm residents. He extrapolates past trends that increased per capita vehicle use, and ignores changing demographic, economic and market factors that are likely to increase demand for Smart Growth communities (Litman, 2005b). He highlights any negative trends in Smart Growth communities while ignoring all positive effects.

This brings me to the point of today’s ON THE AVENUES.

Yesterday the Green Mouse forwarded to me an informant’s e-mail, in which we learn that Irv Stumler has lapsed into another fit of choleric dyspepsia (in other words, he’s as hot as one of those July 4 firecrackers), this time about about Hannegan Roseberry’s recent guest column in the paper.

An example of her eloquence:

 … Since no one asked, I would like to now take a moment and speak for the residents who live on these main thoroughfares through our city. It is with zero hesitation that I ask that two-way streets be implemented downtown. These streets are neighborhoods filled with families and pedestrians of all sorts who deserve safe, walkable streets to live on. We would like to have our voices heard and I am disappointed that the opinions of the citizens who live on these streets weren’t considered for this article.

Not only that, but Irv — like Caesar, a resident of two-way Silver Hills — is reaching yet again for his O’pen Carry O’Toole. Hence, today’s lengthy rebuttal.

Stumler’s leaked e-mail was addressed to the mayor, city council members, the board of public works, Padgett Inc., Padgett’s attorney, and Chris “News and Tribune” Morris, the latter an unapologetic two-way street opponent. My guess is the letter will appear in the paper.

I’ll beat them to it, because Stumler’s complete, untouched text concludes this column. Therein, he bizarrely references Speck, O’Toole and a 1958 (!) traffic engineering study. Truly, it speaks for itself.

Also attached was a .pdf of The New York City Pedestrian Safety Study & Action Plan, New York City Department of Transportation (August 2010), which apparently had been quoted by Jimmy Padgett in a previous e-mail to the effect that one tiny sentence in a vast technical document indicates the inherent safety to pedestrians of one-way streets.

At times I wonder why I bother. These past four hours might have been spent … nah, never mind.

Take it away, Irv.

Subject: We don’t deserve two-way streets!


The article published in the News and Tribune dated 6/21/16 reminded me of information I had previously read about the subject of safety as it relates to two-way streets.

Miss Hannegan Beardsley Roseberry, guest columnist, stressed the idea that one-way streets are less safe than two-way. I think this whole idea should hinge on safety.

So, let’s take a look at the safety factor in what Mr. Jeff Speck has proposed.

Mr. Speck, in his report dated 12/15/14 made the following statement on page five, “This Proposal is a planning document and not an engineering document”. He then says, “Finally, this report does not try to address traffic safety comprehensively”. Page two of the document contains his disclaimer: “The report that follows is a planning document, not an engineering document. While many street layouts are suggested herein, all are schematic, and none are adequate for design or construction. Before being implemented, any design must be considered and redrawn by a licensed engineer who will bear all responsibility for its efficacy and safety”. Mr. Speck is very clear that he is not an engineer.

The Independence Institute published an article by Michlel Cunneen and Randal O’Toole entitled “No Two Ways About It: One-Way Streets Are Better Than Two-Way”. On page 6 of this report the subject of Engineering vs. Planning is discussed.

“Converting one-way streets to two-way is one of the latest fads of urban panning. Such conversions will increase congestion, pollution, and traffic accidents, but planners ignore these problems and talk about how they will lead to more “vibrant” streets, whatever that means. The debate over on-way streets in Austin, Columbus, Denver and many other cities calls attention to recent urban transportation trends as planners have gained power at the expense of traffic engineers”.

“A few decades ago, engineers made most urban transportation plans and decisions, Their first priority was safety and their second priority was efficient movement of traffic. The engineers carefully studied the effects of any changes or improvements they made to see if they were good or bad, and they published their results for other engineers to see”.

“Practical Traffic Engineering for Small Communities, published in 1958 by Pennsylvania State University, offers numerous examples of the engineers’ method. The guide presents hundreds of case studies asking such questions as:

a. Will traffic signals reduce pedestrian accidents?
b. Is parallel parking less prone to accident than angle parking?
c. Will putting grooves in pavement reduce accidents?

“Notice the heavy emphasis on reducing accidents, in keeping with engineers’ first priority of safety. Improving traffic flows and reducing congestion are important, of course, but only if they can be done without reducing(and preferably by increasing) safety”.

” Pedestrians particularly benefit from one-way streets. Two-way streets produced 163 percent more pedestrian accidents in Sacramento, and 100 percent more pedestrian accidents in Portland, Hollywood FL and Raleigh NC. One study called one-way streets “the most effective urban counter-measure” to pedestrian accidents”.

I urge each of you to resist the false hope that two-way streets could make New Albany a more “livable” city. We may not all “live” through it.

Irv Stumler

June 23: ON THE AVENUES: There’s no business like no business — and it’s none of your business.

June 16: ON THE AVENUES: When the engineer uttered that scandalous word aloud, it was like Christmas in June.

June 9: ON THE AVENUES: High atop Summit Springs with friends (and relatives) in low places.

June 2: ON THE AVENUES: A few beers at Vladimir’s local in Ostrava in June, 1989.

May 26: ON THE AVENUES: On the crass exploitation and politicization of tragedy.