Tuesday, April 26, 2016

SPUIs, split diamonds and pipe dreams: 30 Crossing open house

Posted By on Tue, Apr 26, 2016 at 9:42 PM

click to enlarge Meeting attendees examine the AHTD rollout maps of the highway alternatives.
  • Meeting attendees examine the AHTD rollout maps of the highway alternatives.

As Max predicted earlier, the state Highway and Transportation Department's 30 Crossing interstate widening plan that proposes replacing the Second Street exit with a park and building a "split diamond" exit to Little Rock (southbound) at Fourth Street and Ninth Street (northbound) got a good reception by some of the 300 or so attending tonight's AHTD open house, and was touted evidence that public pressure, in the form of 1,000 comments on the widening of the interstate, has had some effect on the highway department.

click to enlarge Paul Dodds complains to AHTD spokesman Danny Straessle that the StudioMain presentation was meant to deceive.
  • Paul Dodds complains to AHTD spokesman Danny Straessle that the StudioMain presentation was meant to deceive.
But there was criticism at tonight's meeting, too, centering on a presentation by StudioMain, the nonprofit design collaborative that has been co-opted by the highway department into planning a lovely park system along the widened highway. Some expressed fears that the power point, coming as a prelude to the open house presentation of widening alternatives, may have fooled some folks into thinking the green spaces — including a deck park over the interstate from Sixth to Ninth Streets — were part of the highway plan. Paul Dodds, a resident of the Central High neighborhood, was livid, complaining to AHTD spokesperson Danny Straessle that the detailed power point presentation should not have been included. Straessle insisted no deception was intended. Dodds was the most vocal, but others also observed that the AHTD may have confused some folks by including StudioMain's pie-in-the-sky (but lovely) concept for ameliorating the divisive affect of a widened I-30.

StudioMain's power point showed how intersections would be transformed, with C/D-hugging green spaces that would give bikers and pedestrians a leafy route from the Arkansas Arts Center to the Clinton Presidential Center; a park where Second Street is now that would have a children's play area on the northwest corner, near the Museum of Discovery, along with a skate park underneath the interstate, an outdoor theater and a rowing club under the bridge on the river. The power point showed a median at the entrance to Capitol Avenue where a large monolith could be erected as a way to welcome people to the city. 

These are wonderful ideas, and StudioMain's Chris East, an architect at the Cromwell firm, made an excellent point: Little Rock ought to be designing its future cityscape instead of just letting it happen. He noted his firm's investment east of I-30 in what is being called the "East Village" (nee Hanger Hill), and said Cromwell is happy with the latest plans. But StudioMain's vision would cost millions and millions of dollars to be realized, and the highway department is not going to contribute a dime of its 3o Crossing dollars to park-building. 

At the open house, the highway department's showed, for the first time, designs for an 8-lane thruway (with SPUI and with the split diamond) as well as the 10-lane plan, which the department prefers and now disingenuously calls called the 6-lanes plus 4 collector/distributor lanes plan (since only six lanes would be through-lanes). A video depicting, in 3D, the 8-lane plan at the evening rush hour was a horror show of bumper-to-bumper traffic. The 3D image of the 6 plus 4 plan, on the other hand, showed zero congestion on I-30's through lanes at rush hour in 2041, the cars moving at a clip. That's achieved, highway engineer Ben Browning explained, because the collector/distributor lanes, which will handle 80 percent of the I-30 traffic, are taking local traffic out of the equation (literally).

So the AHTD is designing a road that in 15 years will allow traffic to zip along at rush hour, with no congestion (except perhaps at 630 and 40). Is there no happy medium? Why not instead of 8 lanes and no C/D lanes, a 4+4 configuration? Because the traffic models show there will be congestion in 2041 in that scenario, Browning said.

Parking issues were also raised with highway department representatives. Parking under the I-30 bridge just south of Clinton Avenue and in the adjacent circular (the "donut") lot will be wiped out by all alternatives, and turning Fourth, Fifth and Sixth into three-lane streets with no parking, to accommodate the new exit into downtown, will take out 45 spaces, the AHTD has estimated. (Mayor Stodola is not convinced, he said, that removing all that parking, which is largely residential, is necessary.)

Paul Moore of Nelson/Nygaard, the urban planner hired by the city to examine the AHTD's engineering documents, made a brief presentation on its work for the city; Stodola said the firm should have something for the Board of Directors by its last meeting in May. City Director Kathy Webb was surprised to see the independent consultant present at the AHTD event, but Stodola said Nelson/Nygaard was using the opportunity to speak to a large crowd. It would make no sense, he said, for the city to pay for an independent assessment of the AHTD's design if it wasn't going to get one. No, it would not.

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