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Community? Bored.

October 11, 2011

Whether it’s because of concerns about safety, health, the economy, or sustainable transportation and environment, there are many reasons to support livable streets.  NIMBY-style opposition, on the other hand, comes in few flavors, most of which can be tied back to a fear of change and lost privileges.

One of the strategies for preserving the status quo is to level the accusation that a new street designs are “jammed down” a community’s throat by ivory-tower bureaucrats.  This tactic is rearing its head in a brewing brouhaha in Santa Rosa, California, where the city will install bicycle lanes on three streets in an effort to “ease road congestion and promote environmentally friendly modes of transportation.”  The plan will reduce the car traffic lanes from four to two and eliminate 35 parking spaces in the area.  It’s been in the works since 2007.

Even though the Santa Rosa City Council makes its meeting schedules and minutes available to the public, some people are claiming they weren’t included in the democratic process.

Karen Hall was among about 250 Fifth Street West residents who signed a petition asking the City Council to reconsider its 4-1 vote on Jan. 19 to install bike lanes on the three thoroughfares. Several residents complained at a subsequent public hearing that they did not feel city leaders did enough to inform them in advance of that vote.

The similarities to gripes in Park Slope that “the community has been strangely left out” are striking.  The public process surrounding a certain local street also began in 2007, yet here’s Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes president Louise Hainline in a May 2010 email to Marty Markowitz: [PDF]

I don’t know who the City Council speaks with, but there was no warning to any of the buildings on PPW about this, and as president of the coop at 9 PPW, I probably should have received something. Actually, my major source of new [sic] about Community Board actions is the newspapers I pick up at Key Food, but I hadn’t seen this had popped up again after what we thought was a quashing of the plan last year, thanks to you. It’s clear that they did not want to heavily engage the people most affected by this.

I’m encouraged when I find news stories about a small group banding together to form their own version of Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes.  It means that NIMBY philosophy is, for the most part, simple and predictable, even if it does occasionally come with the influence and support of a U.S. Senator, his wife and his daughter.  Innovative ideas about change, however, need to be expansive and inclusive and are likely to become more so as the challenges facing cities require more of them.

Of course, it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t include this quote from the Santa Rosa story, which also shows you how few arguments are available to those who oppose change:

She also worries about increased traffic congestion on the street, particularly when parents are dropping off and picking up their children outside Sassarini Elementary School.

I like bike lanes, but I don’t see this as the best use of our time or money,” Hall said.

UPDATE: Inside Streetsblog’s excellent series, “The NBBL Files,” is this email from Norman Steisel to a fellow NBBL member, whose identity has been redacted:

From Brooklyn to Santa Rosa and back again, NIMBY language is remarkably narrow:

…no one in our group is opposed to Bike Lanes…opposed to the one that was put in…I also told him that many in the community felt that they had no knowledge and did not feel included…

There’s also a stunning amount of willful ignorance on display here: by the fall of 2010 a person involved in the fight against the PPW traffic calming project simply had to know that the public process began in 2007, especially if he or she was exchanging emails with Norman Steisel or other members of NBBL.  But because some sort of invitation to be involved wasn’t personally delivered to the email’s writer, he or she felt slighted.  Too bad.

Democracy requires participation.

One Comment
  1. The Most Cynical Person in the World permalink
    October 11, 2011 7:11 pm

    The community is me.

    The public process began when I started paying attention.

    I go out and vote once every four years, I demand service. If I’m uninformed, that’s someone else’s fault.

    I’m in favor of bike lanes, just not if it’s going to disrupt my ability to double-park in the places where I like to double-park.

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