Monday, June 8, 2009

Ken Parker on Walnut Street

If you are a complete streets advocate, if you hope for better accommodations for bicyclists and pedestrians, you can't ask for a better statement of vision than this one that Alderman Ken Parker* articulated at the Bike Newton Transportation Forum in April.

Even I don't dare imagine a day when there are more bikes than cars on Walnut Street.

Turns out that Alderman Parker's focus on Walnut Street (where he lives) takes his comment out of the realm of the hypothetical into an ongoing debate about a concrete problem. The long-delayed reconstruction of Walnut Street is a state-funded project, which means that it is subject to the Paulsen Bill, which requires that bicyclists and pedestrians be adequately accommodated. There has been a long-standing disagreement between the city and the Bicycle/Pedestrian Task Force about what constitutes adequate accommodations, whether the city should seek a waiver of the Paulsen Bill, and whether the city's proposed alternative is adequate (though there has been recent rapprochement on a workable compromise). At issue is a stretch of parking from Forest Street north, which -- if maintained -- would preclude on-street accommodations, such as bike lanes. We're currently awaiting the state's review of the parking and waiver request.

Surely, if your vision is more bikes than cars on Walnut Street, than you'd be against a waiver of the Paulsen Bill for Walnut Street and you'd be for the most substantial on-street bike accommodations possible. So, I asked Alderman Parker his position.

Very disappointing. Not only did he avoid the question, in doing so he posited a false choice that pits pedestrian v. cyclist needs, when on Walnut Street (as in the vast majority of cases) the choice is very clearly between driver and cyclist needs. If the choice is between a "wide walkable sidewalk and a dedicated bike lane" choose both and get rid of on-street parking.

Most notable, however, was what he didn't say: he has already taken a position on the retention of on-street parking on the contested part of Walnut Street. At a November 1 meeting on the subject in the mayor's office (attended by Anne Paulsen, herself!), Alderman Parker strongly supported the continued use of Walnut Street for parking, even going as far as to joke that his wife Kelly would kill him if he worked to get rid of parking.

You can't have more bikes than cars for Benjamin and have parking instead of bike lanes for Kelly. Not on Walnut Street.

*I am supporting Ruth Balser for mayor, in large part because I believe that she is the most likely candidate to actually accomplish complete streets and other progressive policies. (Ruth was also at the November 1 meeting.) Please read my posts on the candidates in light of that support.

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