Varner has a bachelor's degree from Harding University and a master's from the University of North Texas in public administration.
Bicycle Advocacy of Central Arkansas (BACA) and the Arkansas Bicycle Club are sponsoring the annual National Ride of Silence to remember those who have been killed or injured while bicycling and to recognize that bicyclists have a right to be on the roads.
It's at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 15. The ride starts at the new Children's Library at 4800 W. 10th and will go east on 12th Street, two abreast at 12 mph, using new bicycle lanes. The group will go through the Arkansas Children's Hospital grounds and end at the Capitol steps for a brief program. Helmets required and bicycle lights needed.
Though a lapsed bike rider myself, I remain an advocate of providing safe lanes for bicyclists on city streets, bike trails and bridges and welcome and encourage the rise in cycling in these parts. For a period, I commuted from Hillcrest to downtown on a bike. Markham Street near the Deaf School was always an iffy proposition.
But .... I have some sympathy for those who say there are bike riders who, though thoroughly entitled to space on the road, don't think they must obey the rules of the road in return. I'm thinking particularly of those bikers who zip by lines of stopped cars on the right to whip through red stop lights that the cars have obeyed. I'm also thinking of a handful of bicyclists who've claimed sidewalks and expect pedestrians to yield.
The House today voted 361-41 for a measure approved unanimously in the Senate to end air traffic controller furloughs that have caused flight delays. All Arkies were on board.
The Downtown Little Rock Partnership and the city of Little Rock continued its pedestrian safety campaign today with a media event at La Harpe Boulevard and President Clinton Avenue, site of the most pedestrian accidents in the city.
"As the River Market District visitor numbers increase," said Sharon Priest, DLRP executive director, "and as the number of people living downtown increases, we become more walkable—a sign of a healthy and vibrant downtown."
The growing number of pedestrians is joined by a growing number of bicyclists who also share this key downtown crossroad with cars, trucks, buses, motorcyclists, bicyclists, and River Rail trolleys. Motorists use La Harpe as a connector to I-30. This heavily trafficked street was designed to get vehicles through downtown quickly.
Mayor Mark Stodola added, "We want a downtown that is safe for its citizens and its tourists. We are appealing to all Arkansans to use caution and increased awareness as they pass through this intersection. We also want to remind motorists that pedestrians have the right of way in the crosswalks when turning." Stepped up police patrols are also in place in the River Market.
Counting on the traffic that barrels through Clinton on La Harpe to slow down is a foolish leap of faith, I can testify. Clinton traffic is bad to ignore crosswalk signals and run down pedestrians with the right of way as well. Short of some real traffic calming devices there (in other words items that slow traffic, to non-Zen motorists' certain road rage response), the only real advice is "Be careful out there non-motorists."
The plastic warning figures are going to stay in place for a time. At least until someone mows them down. Never mind. They are gone.
A light input overnight. A few things stand out.
* IT'S ALL ABOUT MEDICAID: Will today be a climactic day on Arkansas's decision on expanding Medicaid under President Obama's health care initiative? Will the House vote to appropriate the money, with the required 75 votes? Don't know yet. But note that the 27 Senate votes also remain an open question, particularly if tall-talking tea baggers such as Jason Rapert and Missy Irvin scuttle back into the corner of their patrons and soulmates on the Koch-financed reservation. One unconfirmed report has national Republican leaders making calls to fence-sitting Republicans to oppose the Arkansas plan, devised by Republicans to make Obamacare more palatable.
UPDATE: Now have a second report that House Speaker John Boehner is meddling in Arkansas politics, encouraging Republican legislators to vote against Medicaid expansion.
UPDATE II: Need a good uurp this morning? Read Roby Brock on Rep. Rick Crawford's appeal to Arkansas legislators to defeat Medicaid expansion and then, for a real urrp, catch some U.S. Rep. Tiny Tim Griffin posturing in Congress this morning with HHS Secretary Sebelius. She's not getting into the Arkansas debate.
* MORE GUNS IN SCHOOL: The move to put more guns in schools in the person of armed security officers seems likely to only contribute to this trend reported by the New York Times. When you put more guards in schools, you wind up with more kids arrested and put into the criminal justice system for offenses, routine fistfights, that once were better handled in the principal's office.
* FIE ON THE NEW BROADWAY BRIDGE: The Democrat-Gazette reported this morning on a letter by Jim McKenzie, director of Metroplan, excoriating the planned design of the replacement Broadway Bridge. Better late than never. He's right. It will be a plug ugly monstrosity, with an awful paint job and fake bricks, supposedly to mimic Dickey Stephens Park, that will soon look like homemade s***.
The eternally ugly edifice will be but nothing to the poor traffic design, which will sacrifice safe and useful pedestrian/bike access to the mission of moving motorized traffic as fast as possible between Dogtown and South Dogtown. Walkers and bikers will take their lives in their hands, particularly, trying to cross the high-speed funnel down to LaHarpe Boulevard, a nightmarish ramp now.
The Highway and "Transportation" Department honors non-motorized traffic only to the barest extent required by federal law. It is going to build this new bridge just because it can and because some free federal money's available, though not enough to do it right. The state never had an interest in waiting to get enough money to do this bridge right — or better yet, build a new crossing on a new site and make the existing Broadway Bridge a hanging garden of public enjoyment between a remodeled Robinson convention center and the north shore's lovely riverfront. It was always this approach for the highway builders: We're going to build a monstrosity NOW, so you better get out of our damn way.
The two-year nightmare of downtown disruption of construction will seem blissful by comparison to the 100-year legacy of poor planning that the Highway Department is soon to dump on the river.
The Highway Department spokesman seemed pissed that the director of a planning agency had used his letterhead to urge a well-planned bridge. Where does he get off doing such a thing?
* ANOTHER LAWSUIT ON EXXON PIPELINE OIL SPILL: Here's a copy of the second federal lawsuit filed by a property owner who claims damages from the busted pipeline and tar sand crude deluge at Mayflower.
The Times Brian Chilson sends along a shot of the hole that recently developed in a westbound lane of Cantrell near Riverdale. A police car is blocking the lane. You will not unwittingly roll over it.
The Democrat-Gazette reports that crews are expected to plug the hole this afternoon.
"This particular bridge is a very old one," a Highway Department spokesman told the D-G. "It's just an old bridge that has seen better days."
The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department has announced a route for a new north-south highway corridor linking Fayetteville and Rogers along the eastern edges of the cities.
The preferred alignment will extend Highway 265 north from Highway 264 to Highway 94 using a combination of improvements to existing routes and construction on new location. It will begin at Highway 264 and continue in a northern direction along Old Wire Road. At Frisco Cemetery Road, the alignment will continue north on new location until it connects with South First Street. The alignment will then continue north along South First Street and end at Highway 94 (New Hope Road) in Rogers.
It’s the culmination of extensive planning and environmental studies that began in 2009. The criteria used for designating the preferred alignment included cost effectiveness, the overall impacts, and public input.
“The purpose of the proposed project is to improve north-south connectivity and enhance mobility for travelers in the Northwest Arkansas metro area,” says Highway Commissioner Dick Trammel.
After further survey and design work is complete, a Design Public Hearing will be held to share details on the design and proposed right of way limits, and to receive additional public comment on the proposal.
A copy of the Environmental Assessment and the project location map are available for viewing in the Recent Public Meeting Section of the Department’s website at ArkansasHighways.com.
At today's meeting of Metroplan, Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines laid out his plan for turning the fairly attractive basket-handle double-arch bridge scheduled to replace the Broadway Bridge into an "iconic" bridge. His idea: "America's Bridge: Dedicated to Those Who Fought for Freedom and Worked for Peace."
Villines' vision calls for painting the south arch of the bridge white, the north arch bright blue, and the wall along the road deck bright red. The arches would be lit up similarly at night, and Villines said LED technology could be utilized to make the lights appear to wave like an American flag, or to create "a simulated fireworks display."
At the road deck level, Villines wants the walls decorated with stars, quotes by famous Americans about peace and freedom, and the names of those from Arkansas who received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Swappable banners would acknowledge the different branches of the Armed Forces, conflicts America has fought in, and more.
As much as this very (very, very) vulgar and not-safe-for-work song from the South Park creators was playing in your correspondent's head during Villines' presentation, I'll leave the artistic critiques to you.
See a slideshow of more images on the jump.
The Transportation Security Administration has been quietly removing its X-ray body scanners from major airports over the last few weeks and replacing them with machines that radiation experts believe are safer.
The TSA says it made the decision not because of safety concerns but to speed up checkpoints at busier airports. It means, though, that far fewer passengers will be exposed to radiation because the X-ray scanners are being moved to smaller airports.
This is the potentially bad news:
"They're not all being replaced," TSA spokesman David Castelveter said. "It's being done strategically. We are replacing some of the older equipment and taking them to smaller airports. That will be done over a period of time."
He said the TSA decided to move the X-ray machines to less-busy airports after conducting an analysis of processing time and staffing requirements at the airports where the scanners are installed.
The radiation risk and privacy concerns had no bearing on the decision, Castelveter said
What are smaller airports? Chopped liver? Does this mean Little Rock could actually get worse? Might we go entirely to full-body scanners?
The Arkansas Highway Department says it will spend $74 million over the next three years to install cable median barriers on 398 miles of freeways. The department believes it's a significant safety factor.
A before and after safety analysis of two projects that installed cable median barriers along Interstate 40 and Interstate 55 in Arkansas has revealed a significant reduction in fatal median crossover crashes. The Interstate 40 project location, located between Biscoe and Brinkley, had 10 fatal crashes in the 36 months before a cable median barrier was installed. In the 36 months after installation, the number of fatal crashes at the location dropped to zero. On Interstate 55, the number of fatal crashes dropped from two to zero after installation of a cable barrier. This substantiates multiple studies nationwide that report similar results.
The Democrat-Gazette's Noel Oman had the jump this morning on Little Rock-North Little Rock capitulation in the fight over the Broadway Bridge.
Mayors Mark Stodola and Pat Hays and County Judge Buddy Villines have decided to settle for a tear-down/replacement approach. There are vague assurances of a shorter disruption period because of pre-fab construction of components, but Downtown Gridlockageddon is in the offing for some significant period.
UPDATE 1: Here's their joint letter and some attached images illustrating the sort of design they could support and pictures of other bridges to show how it would relate to them.
The idea of a new span upriver is forgotten, nothing more now than a lovely dream.
Broad accommodations for bikers and pedestrians? Drastically reduced.
Broadway Bridge as a plaza along the lines of New York's High Line? Put it on the science fiction shelf.
The trade-off? The mayors and County Judge Buddy Villines float a promise of an architecturally pleasing two-arch bridge design. Nothing of this wonder is in view so far, but you can be sure it won't be worthy of Calatrava. If a somewhat architecturally enhanced span costs more, local taxpayers will pay for it, $20 million or so.
Now to the real kicker. This Faustian bargain hints local powers are throwing in with the proposal to increase the state sales tax.
But wait, didn't the mayors say they didn't want to increase taxes to pay for it? How otherwise will these magicians prestidigitate the money? Perhaps, the article suggests, from their share of the proposed state sales tax for highway construction, which includes some payola for local building projects.
It's the old Arkansas gambit. An increased levy on life's necessities for poor folks isn't really a tax. It's just the cost of doing business. And it's so fair because everybody pays the same rate, whether on their beater pickup or their Maserati.
The irony is that the highway construction lobby's plan to fatten its treasury with the sweat of sons of toil is that a big chunk of the new sales tax money will be used to accelerate the suburbanization of Little Rock with improved freeways to the safer climes of Benton, Bryant, Cabot and Conway. So there's some poetic justice in the gridlock the suburban commuters will endure for some period of months as they fight their way to freeways home while the bridge is being built.
RELATED: Louisville is studying whether it really needs more bridges and highways to suburbia, or maybe a different way of doing things. Such a notion would be hooted in Arkansas by cellphone fixated commuters busting tail to get home to Saline County.
OH. And if state voters reject this "free" money to build a warmed-over version of the plan the AHTD had all along for the B'way Bridge? The Three Amigos will just write their check out of a different taxpayers' pocket. There are no free lunches or bridges. I'd be happy to pay by the way, but for something more than a second arch. Socks on a rooster, as Uncle Earl once said.
UPDATE 2: The Metroplan Board of Directors approved, unanimously and without discussion, the Transportation Improvement Plan resolution to move forward with the Broadway Bridge project design. The amendment had been pending with an Oct. 1 deadline for approval of the fiscal year 2013 budget elements of the 2013-2016 TIP. The amendment puts the total project cost at $58 million — $48 million for the bridge, $11.6 million from the state — and says "additional funds to meet local goal of constructing twin arch bridge will be provided based on a cost-sharing agreement with local governments," yet to be worked out.
ALSO ON THE JUMP: A separate letter sent by Mayor Mark Stodola and he commented further in a note to me.
The Arkansas Highway Department is suggesting that calamity awaits if local transportation planners don't submit to their desire to blow up the Broadway Bridge and replace it with a plug-ugly, marginally more functional bridge. If local planners don't go along, highway nabobs say, there'll be no annual transportation plan allowing expenditure of federal money in Central Arkansas.
Count me skeptical about this doomsday scenario.
The Highway Department's desires for the Broadway Bridge are impossibly injurious in the short run — closure for two years with a resulting traffic cluster**** downtown. Long term, we'd have an ugly bridge, wedged into the existing urban landscape without a thought for possible new ways of using the prime riverfront real estate.
Why not just leave the bridge out of the state plan this year? Let discussions continue for a better alternative — particularly a new river crossing upriver so that the Broadway Bridge could then be turned into a glorious High Line-style hanging park between Argenta and South Argenta. Put the project in the state plan when everyone is on the same page for action.
The mayors of Little Rock and North Little Rock have challenged the Highway Department on their long-held assertion that federal money must be spent now — on this bad idea — or not at all. Even if the mayors are wrong, the long-term is better served in use of tax money, wise urban planning and aesthetics by not rushing to the state's preferred alternative just because the highway engineers want to keep busy.
UPDATE: State Rep. John Edwards of Little Rock has been working behind the scenes on the issue. He sent this letter to the Highway Department urging a careful look at rehabilitation versus replacement, an interim suggestion by the mayors. He notes, too, the traffic disruption from closing the span. The letter doesn't mention, but he did in a comment to me, that the Broadway Bridge is frequently used by ambulances. Others have wondered how its closure could affect emergency response times. Adversely, would be my guess.
Mayors Mark Stodola of Little Rock and Pat Hays of North Little Rock have responded to Arkansas Highway Director Scott Bennett's blind-siding of them yesterday with dismissal of a consultant's finding that the Broadway Bridge could be rehabilitated for far less than a replacement bridge would cost.
In a joint letter, the mayors gently chide Bennett for not telling them about his conclusion first. But then they get positive.
They continue to insist it would be far cheaper and less disruptive to the local economy to rehabilitate the existing Broadway Bridge and extend its life while buying time for a longer-range solution. The rehab also could make the lanes and pedestrian paths better in the process.
They also make clear that they believe the Highway Department's compromise idea on tearing down the bridge — to instead build a new bridge alongside it and leave the old bridge to the cities for their maintenance as a recreational span — is unworkable. The new responsibility for the city is too expensive. The design also would bar a grand entrance to the pedestrian span and create an awkward road design on the new span. Among others, they say, it would create problems with planned expansion of Robinson Center. The mayors also elaborated on a piece of information they've been pushing in recent days, too: They contend federal bridge replacement money, under new federal legislation, need not be lost if it is not taken this year.
The mayors dangle their support for the Highway Department's push for a November sales tax increase, which will include some new turnback money for cities, as a reason for buying time for a longer-term better solution, with cooperation on all sides.
A pretty good effort, I think. But the Highway Department is famously stubborn. They do understand politics, however. The letter follows on jump:
The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department yesterday (D-G, paywall) told the cities of Little Rock and North Little Rock that they and their consulting engineers don't know what they're talking about. The one and only solution for what they perceive is a problem with the Broadway Bridge is to tear it down and replace it with an ugly piece of concrete similar to, say, the homely Main Street span. We'll get a couple of years of traffic nightmares first. Oh, yeah, there's a window dressing plan of a poorly designed alternate structure to be built alongside the existing span, which could then be converted for pedestrian use. The Highway Department's heart isn't in that plan, clearly. Where is George Fisher when we need him to put "Keep Busy" pith helmets on the pointy heads of highway engineers?
The solution is to hold the phone. Give up the federal money available this year for Broadway replacement, if indeed it really can't be put on hold. Continue the pittance of annual maintenance costs. Begin planning in earnest for a new river crossing upriver. Plan, as proposed by Mayors Mark Stodola and Pat Hays: After the construction of the new bridge, convert the Broadway Bridge into a glorious public plaza between Dickey-Stephens Park and the Robinson Music Hall. It would be Little Rock's own version of New York's wildly popular High Line railroad-to-park conversion.
A beautiful dream or another monstrosity to keep highway engineers busy? The Highway Department has made it clear it favors monstrosity.
Remember this when they ask you to increase your sales tax to build four-lanes between Turkey Gizzard and Bumfuzzle. They spit on your idea of sound planning and good design. They prefer the spend-it-now-and-hang-the-cost-of-traffic-disruptions school of money management.
Yesterday, it was a couple of somewhat disparate images in downtown Little Rock parking lots.
At top is the high and mighty ride of a super-sized SUV. I was told it is one of the fleet of vehicles owned by Joe Johnson, the Little Rock Central graduate who's now a professional basketball star. At 6-7, he needs a big car. And, at his pay (he signed a $119 million contract in 2010), he can afford the gas.
At the other end of the car spectrum, I noticed yesterday afternoon that the city-owned Main Street parking deck has added a credit card-operated electric fueling station.
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