Last Wednesday, a split Bloomington City Council approved new stop signs on Maxwell Lane at Sheridan Drive, making the intersection a one-way stop.
The council’s deliberations were on the mark, mired in meaningless debating club theater. The desire to score points in the debate has diverted attention from a fundamental challenge: the need to identify more funding for infrastructure that benefits pedestrians.
But there is a place ahead where a need for additional funding for pedestrian infrastructure could be aired. Over the next few weeks, City Council’s four-member Sidewalk Committee will conduct its annual review of applications to build new sidewalks.
The committee will make recommendations on how to allocate $336,000, the same amount as last year. But based on 2019 costs, there are $17 million in requests on the list for additional sidewalks, which will take half a century to build at the current rate.
I hope members of the sidewalk committee will take some of their meeting time to start talking about concrete steps that council could take, in conjunction with the mayor, to inject more money into pedestrian infrastructure.
Here are some ideas that could be explored: issue $3 million annually in general obligation bonds targeted for pedestrian infrastructure; drawing a portion of the $16 million from Community Revitalization Enhancement District (CRED) fund balances; or use revenue from the Supplementary Fiscal Financing (TIF), which is overseen by the Redevelopment Commission.
The vote on the Maxwell-Sheridan stop signs was 6 to 2 with Steve Volan abstaining – because he couldn’t bring himself to vote for or against. Matt Flaherty and Kate Rosenbarger voted against the stop signs, citing City Engineer Andrew Cibor’s recommendation, which was based on the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) standards.
Cibor offered his perspective on more than just the technical attributes of the intersection. He said the intersection could benefit from a narrowing of the carriageway, but warned: “It starts to raise the question of prioritizing larger capital investments.
He added: “The thing is, we have so many other places in the city that also have places that are difficult for pedestrians to cross or lack pedestrian facilities at all…”
The council could have taken Cibor’s statement on Wednesday as a cue to come together in their deliberations to talk about identifying more funding sources for capital investment in pedestrian infrastructure.
Instead of coming together, the council took the opportunity to find creative ways to divide even further.
Here is an example. Volan decided to try and get a talking point on the cheap by accusing Dave Rollo — his colleague on the council for nearly 19 years and co-sponsor of the stop sign ordinance — of failing to provide the tax impact statement required under Bloomington City Code.
Volan’s question to Rollo was, “Is there a tax impact statement for this ordinance,…which definitely revolved around the cost of implementation?”
Rollo said there was no “formal tax impact statement,” but said Cibor estimated the cost of adding stop controls for the intersection at $1,000.
Volan’s response: “I’ll just note that the answer is that there is no tax impact statement. …you didn’t bother to do it.
In fact, Cibor’s cost estimate was included in the board staff memo on the subject, and the memo was included in the meeting briefing package:
The technical staff provided a rough cost estimate of $1,000 to install the stop controls in all directions. Staff also noted that it is difficult to provide a cost estimate for traffic calming devices without knowing the type or design of traffic calming devices that might be installed.
Does this count as a tax impact statement? Yes.
The reason this matters is that in February 2021 the council gutted the local law requiring a tax impact statement for all laws – removing the requirement that a standard form be used for reporting.
The council’s action in early 2021 came after The B Square pointed out in late summer 2020 that the council failed to follow the Tax Impact Statement Act, which at the time required a form is completed.
In February 2021, Councilor Sue Sgambelluri said this of the change to abolish the required tax impact statement form: “It provides flexibility and it would no longer require us to put these reports in a form that doesn’t is not particularly flexible.”
As a result of this change, Bloomington’s local tax impact statement law no longer mentions a form. The law now reads: “Any proposed legislation must be accompanied by a statement describing the impact of such legislation on the city’s finances, including, but not limited to, revenues, expenses and any new debt.”
After the requirement to use a standard form was removed, a description in a council staff memo based on an estimate of city staff costs was sufficient to satisfy the amended law.
Such a description was enough for the city council to give unanimous approval to an ordinance in April 2021 that removed right turns on red at several intersections. For the ordinance prohibiting right turns on red, here’s what the tax impact statement looked like in the memo from council staff:
[Public works director Adam Wason] provided a rough estimate of about $50 per panel, plus $50 for installation. At an estimated total cost of approximately $100 per installed sign, the total cost associated with new signage would be in the order of $8,000.
If the collective memory of the board only extended to the relatively recent events of February 2021, when the form required for a tax impact statement was eliminated, the board could have saved itself at least one distraction during the meeting. of Wednesday.
If council’s collective memory stretches back to 2008, Wednesday’s deliberations could have been better informed, by a council decision that year to install new stop signs at the intersection of Henderson and Allen streets.
The 2008 board included four current board members: Dave Rollo, Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Steve Volan and Susan Sandberg. The council was considering a broader ordinance on traffic changes, and it was Piedmont-Smith who sponsored an amendment, which added the Henderson-Allen stop signs.
Like the Maxwell-Sheridan signs, the Henderson-Allen stop signs did not receive the City Engineer’s recommendation, as they did not meet MUTCD mandates. But according to Herald-Times coverage, “It was reported that the stop sign was recommended by the city’s traffic commission to slow traffic on Henderson which, on average, was found to go almost twice the legal limit.
The Henderson-Allen stop signs generated pro and con opinions, some of which were published in the HT.
The HT editorialized against an improvement in infrastructure at the intersection, not the stop signs per se. A pedestrian island had already been installed at a cost of $5,190, according to the newspaper. And the pedestrian island has thus contributed to slowing down traffic, according to the HT.
But the apparent logic of the editorial goes something like this: since the council approved the installation of stop signs, the money for the pedestrian island has been wasted.
Based on Google Street View images from 2007, which predated the pedestrian island and stop sign, further improvements were also made near the intersection.
The park’s parking lot entrance was moved to align with the intersection, making the driveway entrance one of the stops in a four-way stop configuration. Comparing Google Street View images from 2007 and 2019, it looks like stormwater improvements have also been made. A sidewalk on the west side of Henderson was added.
I don’t know why the HT parsed the pedestrian island and stop sign as a choice.
But such choices are always more difficult if the amount of funding for pedestrian infrastructure is not sufficient to meet safety objectives. You should be able to walk everywhere you need to go in Bloomington and know you are doing it safely.
Achieving this goal will require more money and attention than Bloomington currently invests in pedestrian infrastructure.
I hope that the members of the municipal council meet to move in this direction. Nothing stops them, except a lack of political will.