I’m supporting Carrie Klaus for New Albany Township Advisory Board because I believe she’ll come to agree with us about social justice and the street grid.

Expensive and useless. We can do better.

I’ve been sitting on this for almost two months, thinking about it and trying to come up with the best way to be constructive in my critique of a letter that appeared in the local chain newspaper on August 19.

If the writer weren’t a Democratic candidate for New Albany Township Advisory Board, I probably wouldn’t even have noticed the letter. Because Carrie Klaus is running (as an aside, she is a founder of Soindivisible), it strikes me as important, if for no other reason than my preference in voting for those who are informed and aware of contemporary trends in street grid thinking.

And, by extension, we take these trends very seriously at NA Confidential. Keep reading, and I’ll explain why I support Carrie’s candidacy even though we seem to disagree on this particular issue … so far, at least.

Let’s begin with the letter itself, reprinted here in full.

4-way stop on busy street bad idea

In response to Wednesday’s article “New Albany to monitor road……” * and Ron Howard’s suggestion to consider a 4-way stop at Fourth and Spring due to parked cars blocking the view at the intersection. As a downtown resident and business owner who travels these roads often, I think a 4-way stop on a major thoroughfare is a terrible idea, and one that will just shift the problem the residents of Spring Street are experiencing to neighboring streets, such as Market Street, where I live and work, as people try to avoid the congestion created by a 4-way stop.

A better solution to the problem of not being able to see around parked cars would be not allowing cars to park all the way to the street corner. In some locations downtown there is such a small buffer between the last parking spot on a block and the corner that it is nearly impossible to see oncoming traffic without literally being in the driving lane. Take the corner of Holy Trinity Way and Market Street for instance, and go see for yourself.

As a pedestrian and biker in downtown, I agree that something needs to be done about the speed of cars traveling on our streets, but shifting the problem off on other downtown residents doesn’t seem the solution. On Market Street we already struggle with vehicles traveling at high rates of speed, including law enforcement that are not out on runs. Creating congestion with a 4-way stop will only make that problem worse for us. And quite frankly, as a motorist, I don’t want a downtown filled with 4-way stops. If we start making motorists stop at every intersection, it won’t be long before they decide to avoid our downtown altogether.

— Carrie Klaus, New Albany

In effect, Carrie is saying that while speed may be a problem on Spring Street, anything the city does to reduce it would have the effect of sending traffic to other streets, like hers, and this would be improper because that’s what Spring Street is for — to carry a high volume of high traffic speedily from one side of town to the other, come what may for those trying to develop safe and healthy neighborhoods along the way.

The easiest way to counter Carrie’s argument is to become familiar with Jeff Speck and read his New Albany Indiana Downtown Street Network Proposal.

New Albany’s Downtown Grid Modernization Project in 2017, which conceptually owes its existence to Speck’s opening proposal, was not fully implemented. In fact, it was barely implemented at all, owing to the local Democratic Party’s stubborn unwillingness to challenge rampaging car-centrism, but still the stated intent of the project was to spread local traffic among four two-way streets, rather bottleneck it on two.

Four thoroughfares are better than one — IF they’re designed to reduce speed. Unfortunately, the latter was ignored by Team Gahan.

Actually, the problems we’ve had since implementation in terms of persistent speed and recklessness on Spring probably can be attributed to there being too little congestion, not too much. The same applies to Market, and Elm, and even Main.

Traffic always is slower during peak commutes; the speeds (and danger) increase when there are fewer cars during the other 22 hours in a day, hence Speck’s original intent of bicycle lanes on Market and Elm as well as Spring, and the current need to replace the feeble yellow-light pedestrian crossings with bolder and safer four-way stops.

Yes, we need at least two of them on Spring between 15th and 7th, and maybe a third between 7th and Bank. Pass-through drivers need to be using I-265, not Spring Street.

A very useful article to supplement Speck’s thoughts can be found here. I’m including what seems to be a relevant concluding excerpt.

The Causes of Traffic and Congestion, by Andrew Price (Strong Towns)

 … At the end of the day, we should not worry too much about congestion or traffic. Congestion is part of the solution, not the problem. Congestion is feedback that we have built a place people want to be. The response to congestion should be to allow that Mexican restaurant to open up 3 blocks away rather than 2 miles away. To create bus lines and bike lanes that give people alternative ways to get around. The incorrect response to congestion is to build faster and wider streets, because that just reinforces car dependency and all of the negative consequences that come with it.

To summarize:

  • Development can add traffic. However, development that brings amenities and people closer together and reduces the need to travel so far can actually reduce traffic. With a mixture of uses, you can achieve a high population density with very little motor traffic.
  • A highly-connected street network (either a street grid or organic) with many redundancies better distributes the load of traffic and is more resilient to disruptions.
  • Designated thoroughfares and bypasses create an illusion of traffic because they funnel the traffic through a single point (and with this comes the fragility of a single point of failure that can bring down the system).
  • Attempting to address congestion with solutions that make it easier to drive can make the problem worse by continuing to make the car the preferred way to get around.
  • We should not worry too much about congestion, because it creates demand for other modes of transportation and for amenities to be closer.

In summary, New Albany’s more densely populated districts — generally, inside the beltway, and most of all downtown — need to function as a city, not as a suburb. The conversion of Speck’s recommendations into a two-way paving project cost us the chance to make more progress toward urbanizing the street grid in a shorter amount of time. We’ve no choice at present apart from applying Band-Aids (for instance, the four-way stops) until another opportunity for advancement comes around.

I use the word “progress” in the preceding purposefully. Speaking for myself, I have a strong desire to identify with progressive policies, but they must be comprehensive and inter-related. To speak of social justice needs without applying these precepts to the way people move around is to neglect a very large piece of the puzzle.

I’ll be voting for Carrie Klaus when we make it down to the clerk’s office in the coming days. I know she’s strong on the more commonly discussed social justice issues, and although we haven’t met, it’s clear to me that she’s perfectly capable of seeing that the safest possible street grid for all users is a vital component of the larger social justice picture.

I’ll stop there. Let the discussion begin.

* the original newspaper article to which Carrie’s letter referred:

New Albany to take road, speed counts on downtown grid, by Chris Morris (Tom May Sussudio)

NEW ALBANY — Several residents, including a city councilman, asked the New Albany Board of Public Works & Safety last week to do something to slow traffic along sections of Spring Street after a man was hit and killed at Spring and E. Ninth streets on Aug. 6.

Officials heard their pleas and steps will begin soon to get a better grasp of traffic and speed on the downtown grid.

City engineer Larry Summers told the board Tuesday that traffic volume and speed will start being monitored immediately on all the streets that were converted to two-way last year, which includes Spring, Elm, Market, Bank and Pearl with “intense focus” on Spring.

“We want to get a better understanding of the traffic counts and speed so we can get an appropriate plan in place,” Summers said.

Radar enforcement, similar to that on McDonald Lane, is a possibility.

Ron Howard asked the board to also consider a four-way stop at Fourth and Spring streets. He said cars parked along Spring make it difficult to see oncoming traffic.