Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Rebuttal Letter to the Editor (or the Public) - to the Anti-Bicycle Crowd

Introduction:

I've not written a letter to the editor for some time now. Over the past couple of months a vocal minority of a few people have come out and spoken against our city's leaders in their support in building bicycle lanes and infrastructure. They've spoken against bike lanes during the Public Comments period at City Council meetings. (About 4 out of the 5 or 6 that spoke live in adjoining neighborhoods off of Mount Vernon Drive, where a 1/2 mile segment will include bike lanes). They've been quoted in the AJC and the Dunwoody Crier. They've had several Letters to the Editor published in the Crier - this week and last week as well (they had earlier letters a few weeks ago, but now that they're SEEING the work being done, they are really in a tizzy). They also are posting anonymous comments to on-line stories such as this one from the Dunwoody Patch
 -- that has some nice photos of the ongoing work. 

I've been told that one or two of them have really been making lots of irritable noise to our Mayor, Council and Public Works officials on a very regular basis -- basically DEMANDING they CEASE and DESIST any work associated with installing the bike lane on Mount Vernon. They make up all sorts of excuses the lanes shouldn't be made, or that they're too wide, etc. I totally support the First Amendment, but enough is enough. So I've written up a nice long letter to the Editor in a draft format below. It's over 1400 words and that's where you come in. I'd like your feedback as to the sections or portions I should narrow down and actually submit. And maybe you can send in your own, too. You see, there's more NEGATIVE letters written AGAINST stuff than positive, good things. So I want to write a NICE POSITIVE letter that SUPPORTS bicycles, bike lanes, and the like. So without further adieu, here goes:

DRAFT -- DRAFT -- DRAFT -- DRAFT -- DRAFT -- DRAFT -- DRAFT -- DRAFT

To the Editor:

I am so proud to live in Dunwoody and to see the positive impact the city has impressed since incorporation. I am so proud that the city founders saw fit to conduct extensive master plans; engage the citizens; receive feedback and input; produce and approve award-winning visionary long-term plans that serve as a roadmap for our elected officials and staff in their daily & short term work. I am proud that we have local, accessible, responsible and accountable officials. Our Mayor and Council are officially “part-time” and receive a small stipend. They are paid pennies on the hour for their time and their sacrifice is to be commended – especially considering the time spent away from their families. I am so proud of the work the vast network of community volunteers and organizations that make “Dunwoody” more than just a legally-defined Georgia Municipality. 

I mostly work from home for a Fortune 100 company, have flex hours and we have no children. Add to that a passion to be involved in our city, be an extrovert, collaborate and build consensus with others – and my wife gives me a very long leash.  These all equal actively participating in our local democratically elected government.  I have attended myriad public city meetings and do my best to be kept abreast of what is being considered over the next couple of years – whether it is a project in my neighborhood or on the other side of town. I’ve learned that you need an extra dose of patience if you want to see results. Why do some things take so long? Because our city leaders take the time to first seek public input, develop various plans with alternatives and then the council can vote on them. THEN, it goes through the budgeting process. THEN – another year or two – we just might see something happening. It’s just the way things go. And I understand and appreciate that.

So why I am writing this? To politely remind the selected readers of the Crier (or whichever publication I send this) who are reading this that our elected council represents a broad-based constituency with many diverse interests.  The citizens spoke very eloquently and their voices have been heard and are reflected in our master plans; which are the result of much thought and compromise and serve to guide our city’s actions over the next 20 years.  

It is safe to say that the demographics of the City Council meeting attendees do not proportionally represent the Dunwoody population. Where are the “Millennials”? The Gen Ys?  The Soccer Moms & Dads? The newlyweds? Maybe instead of spending a Monday night at City Hall, they are busy living their lives: Taking care of their family, out at the movies, having dinner, at the gym, at a happy hour, or maybe even at their job.
The next time someone writes a letter to the Editor, or shows up for Public Comments, be sure to evaluate the basis of their point. Is it NIMBY – “Not In My Back Yard”? Have they participated in the city planning process and did they review the plans (which are available on the City’s website)? What are their life experiences? Are they seeking “status quo”, or do they accept & support our 20-year vision and plans? Are they FOR or AGAINST something? If they’re against it, what are their values, and what are they FOR? Do they have a history in working on POSITIVE things that they are FOR?

It’s said that a good debater can take either side of an argument, come up with the logic and reasoning in an attempt to sway how one comes to a conclusion. If you’ve been to at least a couple of Council meetings and listened to Public Comments – or regularly read these letters – you know what I mean. People will twist and stretch the facts and selectively choose supporting "data" to make arcane points – all to attempt to persuade you to side with their opinion.Often their arguments are filled with FEAR and NEGATIVITY.

With that said, let me provide some quick points to the anti-bicycle people:

"It gives too much room to the bicyclist" / Narrows the vehicle lane to a dangerous 11 foot width"

Reply: Local examples of 11-ft vehicle lanes & 5-ft bike lanes TODAY are on Roberts Drive, North Shallowford and North Peachtree. The south side lane of Dunwoody Club Drive between Spalding & Jett Ferry is striped for 10-ft. The I-75/I-85 Downtown Connector lane widths are 11 feet. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Guide to Bicycle Facilities, 4th Edition (2012) states that Bike Lanes are to be 5 feet in width. It is with these nationally-recognized AASHTO standards that our civil engineers use to design our roadways. In not following these standards, the engineers may expose themselves to liability. 

Can you imagine NOT having to worry about running over a bicyclist or to WAIT to pass them IF they have their own portion of the road to travel? I certainly do not like to “have to” mix it up with a 2,000 lb car speeding down the road in a hurry, texting, etc.  Each week I ride on the segment of Mt Vernon that will have bike lanes. Today, headed westbound, it’s pretty dicey at best. 

"Not 100% of the people ride bicycles / I don’t see many bike riders / why spend the $$, etc."

Reply: 100% of the people do not drive cars, nor do we have 100% disabled people. Yet we accommodate these users.  The City has a “Complete Streets” policy, where we will accommodate ALL users of our publically owned rights of way when undertaking roadwork. This means – where it makes sense AND also where it’s specified in our Transportation Plan – to install bike lanes, paths and sidewalks. 

"Bike Lanes don’t go anywhere"

Reply: Checkout our Transportation Plan. At the current rate, within the next 3-5 years casual bicyclists will be able to safely ride on a bike lane or path to get to our commercial centers, parks and schools. 

All of the city's plans: Comprehensive Land Use, Master Transportation, Dunwoody Village, Georgetown and Parks -- clearly spell out the residents desire to make Dunwoody more walkable and bikeable -- providing people a choice in short trips.  I’m not espousing anyone to get out of their cars or force them to ride a bike. We’re talking about offering people a choice. Georgia Bikes did a scientific poll through the University of Georgia last year that found that nearly 80% of adults would ride a bike IF they could do so safely. I’ve ridden the short distance on Mt Vernon westbound from Jett Ferry to Chamblee-Dunwoody to go to Starbucks at 8:00 am in about 10 minutes. And I habitually pass at least 50 to 100 cars stuck in stop & go traffic.  That’s my choice and it’s theirs as well. 

Dunwoody has a "Complete Streets" policy, which states when we are building or repairing our roads -- ALL users of the streets will be accommodated when practicable. That means doing what the city has been doing: Retrofitting bike lanes and installing sidewalks. We only have 12 square miles, and linking each note is about 2 or less miles apart: Georgetown, Dwy Village, Jett Ferry, Perimeter. 2 miles at a VERY slow pace takes less than 15 minutes on a bike. At this rate, in another few short years the city will have built a contiguous network of bicycle lanes and trails. As these segments are connected, you'll see an explosion of people - families, senior citizens, kids -- out on bikes in our city.

About the Dunwoody Village Parkway project: It’s not just for bike lanes. I’ll save my words here and just ask the reader to get the facts from the city about the scope of project. Following the Dunwoody Village Master Plan process, I attended the March, 2011 public meeting and understand the project scope. Albeit in a much smaller context, like Project Renaissance is for Georgetown, redeveloping the parkway will spur economic redevelopment of the area. It’s about economic revitalization, not solely focused on 1950’s era thinking of simply transporting vehicles from point A to B. We’ve got competition and can’t be stagnant. Think about Canton Street in Roswell and their wildly successful “Alive After Five” event. The businesses there are booming! Sandy Springs is budgeting tens of millions of dollars on building out their city center. Last November, Alpharetta voted to approve a $29M bond to build out their town center. The list goes on. Our council voted for the project in 2011. It’s budgeted & paid for in our 2011 budget. We received grants for 50% of the project. If we don’t use the funds and turn it back it, it’s not going to reduce the Federal deficit. The state will simply give the money to another city. 


In closing, pause and really ask yourself the question, "Who will buy my house?"

Sincerely,

Joe Seconder

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1 comment:

  1. Joe,

    Good work, loose the "anti bicycle" verbage it makes them wrong and invalidates their point of view. That's something to push back at they could just be pro car or pro obesity.

    I think you I'm proud could be cut to three sentences summing up the great efforts and vision to embark on a complete streets plan.

    You have a lot to say, and it meanders through too many issues. Stick to the point, stating that council meetings don't represent the population because the population has a life is enough for them to get. They have a life and won't meander through this.

    Thanks for taking this on!

    ReplyDelete