Friday, February 9, 2018

Mobility Futility: It is what it is (again)

By Barbara Bryan

People who’ve tried to change government trajectory quickly learn a flirty little secret:  changed faces change nothing if employees actually run the show.

Davidson’s Mobility Plan roll out illustrates that reality clearly.

Knowing I’ll hate myself in the morning for running the white flag up the pole, let’s just call it (for me, anyway) the Mobility Futility.  May as well get with the program and embrace Davidson as “a two lane community.”  If that doesn’t discourage the brave from rolling down NC 115 (Main Street to us) into our Village or trying to negotiate our Circles what will?  I write this with a lump in my stomach after taking Thursday’s afternoon kickoff Mobility Walk and attending the “Community Conversation” starting an hour later.

There were cogent points presented on the counterproductive and diminishing returns of vainly trying to widen roadways to accommodate cars and trucks that react in a perverse Peter Principle by expanding to fill the space allotted.  Reluctantly, I accepted that likelihood; BUT, I’d already surrendered to the inevitable before the gathered walking group departed Town Hall on its Main Street Mobility experience.

Bottom line is that yesterday, today, and we’ll see about another tomorrow, it remains the Planning staff that is running the show in Davidson with its ability to “recommend” while also tweaking and amending (updating?) texts of planning ordinances.   Those ordinances are sacrosanct for some applicants who amazingly win “conditional” approvals even when the Planning Board says NO because of “inconsistency” with Town Planning ordinances BUT the staff recommends against PB’s following Town rules.  Go figure.

That kind of “interesting” way of doing business—lip service to rules and changes for favored applicants, including ones now out of office—eventually inspires or exhausts even a “follow the rules” taxpayer.  Truthfully, my final straw was that realization that congestion, truck and auto traffic, weren’t even on the list to be considered.  Turns out the 2002 study (many in between) declared CARS BAD, BIKES AND FEET (for walking) GOOD.  We operate from that decision.

I and others can huff and puff about inadequate infrastructure, or lie down until that feeling passes, noting that planning staff pulled out another ace at January’s Planning Board Orientation meeting.

Following its symbiotic relationship with the prior Davidson Board of Commissioners, Planning staff continued muscle flexing after that lame duck BOC welcomed staff recommendation over a multi-thumbs down Inconsistency notice from the Planning Board on controversial placement of a hotel.

That worked.  Why not go for more?  And the emboldened planning staff did.

At the Orientation session TOD planning staff rolled out the vaunted Mobility Plan and added a request: that PB members would discuss (presumably favorably) the Mobility Plan with the rest of us citizens.  In fact, they were asked to operate as “conversant advocates.”  That was the beginning of the end for this writer who recognized the handwriting on the wall, even before the Mobility plan had its public roll out Thursday.

We all want “small college Town Davidson,” and nothing is more sure to keep it small than to leave traffic snarled.  There were interesting consultant labels for many results of focusing only on biking and walking behaviors presented at Thursday evening’s Community Conversation.

To recap and again wave the white flag on the way down, I’ll stay tuned, listen, learn, suggest (especially bypasses, one-way streets, and safety issues).

However, on the way out, here are two observations:

  1. It seems strange that the most potent, if annoying, participants in Mobility (drivers, cars or trucks) are simply off the table because the Town decided to concentrate on people moving themselves 15-16 years ago; and,
  2. It seems ironic that the same people who planned the Town’s future years ago—and we daily live with how that turned out—will forecast and steer it again.

Just sayin’

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