DPD: still (probably) racially biased

Yes, I know, I’m behind. You’ve probably already heard about findings that seem to indicate issues with racial profiling in the DPD. Last week, city manager Bonfield presented an official proposal on just what to do about it.

Bonfield’s document, 131 pages long, expands upon the findings of the prior HR report. Bonfield acknowledges that racial biases seem to exist, and one of the biggest areas of focus (both in his presentation and in the initial report) centers around searching. The initial report recommended acquiring consent to search homes as well as vehicles, but Bonfield seems to focus only on the former.

The Council’s work meeting was, to put it mildly, exceptionally well attended (so much so that they needed to move to the full chambers). One can only assume that events in Ferguson have informed the public’s perception of this issue; if the council wants to strike while the iron is hot, well, I don’t suppose it gets much warmer than this.

Chief Lopez responded to a reporter from WUNC and sounded, for lack of a better word… flustered.

The video of the work session is available online. The report on the DPD starts around minute 43.

Despite the massive turnout, the agenda item in the work session was ostensibly only for Bonfield to present his findings, and the Council had not yet had time to review them. Their official discussion of the report is expected during the Council meeting on Tuesday, September 2.

If you’ve never been to a city Council meeting before, this could be an interesting time to get your feet wet.

Letter

Dear Council members and Mayor Bell:

 
You have no doubt seen the recent articles in the Herald-Sun highlighting the neck downs which the city intends to install on West Club Blvd:
 
 
This project, expected to cost $350,000, would place traffic islands on the street directly in the path of cyclists. Should this occur, cyclists will be forced to weave in and out of traffic around four intersections. This would create a perilous traffic pattern and one that I believe would be worse for cyclists than the status quo.
 
As you may know, this design dates back to a study conducted thirteen years ago, at which time the needs of cyclists were not considered. I think it’s safe to say that the transportation priorities of Durham residents have changed in thirteen years; there are more cyclists than ever on our streets, and that number grows every day. Club Blvd was subsequently identified as a crucial artery for cyclists and a target for bike lanes in 2006, and yet the Club plan has not been revisited to take that designation into account.
 
I attended a BPAC meeting in which Mark Ahrendsen indicated that the fate of this project now rests on the board of the WHHNA. The department of transportation is not eliciting public input, and the WHHNA board now has discretion to determine whether this design is implemented.
 
I believe that granting such authority to the WHHNA is a mistake, since as well intentioned as they may be, they do not appear to be considering the needs of Club users who reside in other parts of the city. I feel like the transportation needs of myself – and of other cyclists – have not been represented in this process.
 
I’m reaching out to you in hopes that you might reexamine the design of Club, and re-evaluate whether it makes sense for a few people on the WHHNA board to make such an important transportation decision alone. I am certain there are better options for Club that would satisfy the needs of cyclists, pedestrians, WHH residents, and motorists alike, but I am now concerned that these options will never even be considered due to the momentum behind the 2001 plan.
 
Thanks very much for your time,
Jeremy

Durham DOT director Mark Ahrendsen gets necked down at the BPAC Club Blvd meeting

Mark Ahrendsen looked a little uncomfortable last night as he answered some tough questions about the W. Club Blvd neck down project.

Not much new was learned. The story as I told it before is roughly accurate. Ahrendsen insists that the BPAC’s concerns about the impact of neck downs on cyclists (which were presented to him in writing in 2010) weren’t “ignored;” instead, they were “considered” and then discarded, since the specific examples mentioned in the letter weren’t feasible to implement. Ahrendsen, of course, didn’t tell that to the BPAC at the time. BPAC chair Erik Landfried appeared frustrated by the fact that Ahrendsen ruled out the specific examples rather than responding to the more crucial general observation that cyclists deserved some attention in the project.

According to Ahrendsen, this whole thing is now on the WHHNA. There’s no facility for any of it to be revisited by his department at this point unless the WHHNA changes its mind. No amount of public input from any other community will be considered. Ahrendsen has presented two options to the WHHNA: neck downs or scrap the thing and start over – and his sole concern is to implement whichever of those options they choose. Ahrendsen threw out “three years” in describing how long it might take to implement a revised project should WHHNA change its mind now.

As I’ve never observed the process of such street designs before, I found this shocking; the concerns of the neighborhood in which a street runs surely must be important, but considering those desires in a vacuum when constructing a plan that impacts motorists and cyclists from other neighborhoods is insane. As far as I’m aware, last night’s BPAC meeting is the first time the general public outside of the WHHNA was invited to discuss this plan with Ahrendsen, and as was made clear it’s now far too late to do anything about it.

Even though it’s been thirteen years since the original study, and it’s been eight years since Club was identified as an important road for cyclists, the assumptions and implementation goals of the original plan have never been revisited. A public works employee (whose name I didn’t catch) described all of the engineering challenges associated with installing neck downs (of which there are apparently many) and offered insights into the requirements he was given (which amounted to, basically, put in neck downs). Federal regulations have changed since the original study, and the implementation details of the neck-downs were modified to support those, but the fundamental design elements have remained unmodified. No study which considers the needs of cyclists has ever been performed. The public works employee was not instructed to consider engineering any design features to aid cyclists, and so he did not.

My take is that Ahrendsen is looking to dump this hot potato on the WHHNA to avoid any direct responsibility himself. I suspect that he understands the design isn’t ideal, but he doesn’t want to be the guy that slows down “their” project any further. The WHHNA is who he’s out to appease, and by placing it in their lap, if there are problems down the road, they are the ones responsible for accepting the plan.

It looks to me, quite frankly, like cowardice. If Ahrendsen is supposed to take the transit needs of the entire community into consideration, he’s clearly failing to do that. In this fight, it seems as if cyclists have no advocate.

Furthermore, I think the WHHNA is well on its way to becoming reviled by some cyclists. It seems as if no discussion of Club can occur without somebody bringing up the death of Seth Vidal. The WHHNA board’s endorsement of an anti-cyclist road design in close proximity to that incident certainly appears callous (or at the very least tone deaf), a point which one commenter mentioned last night.

If you live in WHH, I urge you to contact your board and express your concerns. Neck downs are actively dangerous. Do not let your neighborhood be perceived as so hostile to the needs of cyclists. Demand a better plan that works for everybody.

Somebody at the BPAC meeting last night made a suggestion so simple that I can hardly believe it was discarded in favor of this monstrosity: why not simply add pedestrian crossings with triggered stoplights? My suspicion is that the economics of such things didn’t work out in 2001, because I can’t fathom any way in which neckdowns could be considered preferable to anybody. I’ve seen these dedicated pedestrian lights sprout up in the intervening years and they’re excellent solutions (see, for example, Murray Ave near the Museum of Life+Science).

The budget for the Club neckdowns is $350,000; I wonder how many triggered pedestrian crossings you can buy for $350,000?

Maybe somebody from the WHHNA should ask that question of Mark Ahrendsen.

Tonight, the BPAC will meet to discuss the future of West Club Blvd

This evening, at 7 p.m., the Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Board will meet at City Hall to discuss the redesign of West Club Blvd. The current plan (previously discussed here) would add neck-downs and choke cyclists into the travel lane – an outcome which few people seem to believe is ideal, but some WHNNA residents seem to feel is better than the status quo for pedestrians. The BPAC, it should be noted, is solely an advisory board with no authority to impact policy directly; rather, they can make recommendations that the city is encouraged to follow (but is free to ignore).

Since my previous blog post, the neckdown plan has been the subject of an article at newsobserver.com and an editorial in the Herald-Sun. In its editorial, the H-S specifically endorses re-examining the project:

In an email Gronberg reported, Councilman Steve Schewel, who lives in Watts-Hillandale, mused “Is there a way to make Club Boulevard friendlier to both cyclists and pedestrians? I expect there is. Would such a plan be worth the wait?”

As much as we sympathize with the neighborhood’s impatience, we think the answer is yes.

In addition to the newspapers weighing in, there’s also a response from Bike Durham which (unsurprisingly, seeing as how “bike” is in the name of the group) encourages the city to reconsider:

Bike Durham would like the city to align streets designs with the Bicycle and Pedestrian Plans. In the case of West Club Boulevard, this means revisiting and likely updating the design to meet the needs and safety concerns of pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists.

The BPAC is encouraging people to attend the meeting and provide input. Mark Ahrendsen, director of the Department of Transportation, is expected to be there.

Rose’s Meat Market and Sweet Shop has been nominated for Bon Appétit’s “best new restaurant”

Rose’s has rapidly become one of my favorite stops around the Brightleaf area, serving up freshly cut meat, baked goods, and prepared meals. I was happy to learn that the shop managed to make its way onto Bon Appétit’s list of 50 nominees for best new restaurant, despite not even really being a restaurant.

They’ve got some stiff competition (including one other NC eatery in Asheville’s “Rhubarb”) but they’re the only shop in the triangle to make the list. Best of luck, guys!

I am alive!

Hey guys! I have (and by extension, durham.io has) been on vacation for the past week. Rest assured, stuff has still been happening!

Regularly scheduled programming should resume this week.

The Fresh Market is coming to Durham

Regional chain “The Fresh Market” (based out of Greensboro, NC) is planning to open its first Durham location off University Drive, back behind the Super Target.

If you’ve never been to a The Fresh Market, the stores are typically clean and stock higher end products. They strive for a niche somewhere between the limited selection of Whole Foods and the “full service” selection of stores like Harris Teeter. I think of them as a very slightly lower end (and lower priced) version of Whole Foods, where you can buy toilet paper that isn’t made out of 10x recycled cardboard, but you still may not be able to find all the conventional goods you’d get from a regular store.

The location is kind of a head scratcher; the shopping center is called “Parkwood Plaza” and it’s fallen on some hard times ever since Food Lion (and later K-Mart) ditched the place. It looks pretty danged shabby at the moment, which doesn’t really match The Fresh Market’s upscale vibe. They’re also right across the road from Super Target, and University Drive doesn’t exactly have the best visibility these days. So, best of luck to them.

The H-S article says they’ll be open in “the winter.”