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Thursday, 30 March 2006
Crossing guardedly
Topic: urban issues
Excuse me for being obsessed with transportation issues. But I think this vital piece of the human rights agenda doesn’t get enough ink.

Anyway, the bad news keeps on coming. I just read in the D&C about a fatal accident – two teenagers, brothers – at what I know to be a lethal intersection just outside of Marion, Wayne County. At this busy spot, east-west traffic must cross a high-speed stretch of Route 21. Sitting there at the stop sign, you realize how easily you could be blindsided.

You ask yourself, why is there no traffic signal here? Well, replies your Inner Realist, the funding that could provide such things usually gets channeled to higher-profit ventures. Like Rochester’s Renaissance Square, which just got a $36 million boost to its sorry career. It all goes to prove the counter-adage: Necessity is the child of invention.

Meanwhile, in my own back yard, and along the bicycle path to my teaching gig at RIT, there’s another intersection crying out for change.

The following message, which I sent a couple months ago to an RIT online response service, tells the story:

”[Dear Pres. Simone:] Are there plans to improve conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists at the intersection of Jefferson and Brighton-Henrietta Town Line roads and John St.? The busy intersection now is equipped with some upgraded pedestrian signals, which are fine, but there's only one demarcated pedestrian crossing [i.e. on the west side of the intersection] where there arguably should be four.

“Crossing such an intersection, particularly after dark, can be intimidating and dangerous, as you can imagine, and the conditions surely don't encourage non-motorized commuting to campus. Can we expect improvements at this intersection, as well as on the now-substandard walkway on the south side of Jefferson Road, east and west of John St.? Thanks for responding.” (Note that the existing pedestrian signals were installed to accommodate people using the recently-opened Lehigh Valley Trail, North Branch, which roughly connects the University of Rochester to the RIT campus and points south. The signals look like state-of-the-art, and they’re highly visible, but they seduce walkers and bikers onto pavement occupied by cars and trucks stopped at the red light.)

Quite properly, RIT staff forwarded my email to the New York State Department of Transportation. Here’s the DOT’s response, delivered to me via rit.edu:

“The segment of the Jefferson Road project which includes the John Street/BHTL Road intersection is the fourth and final stage. It involves improvements to facilitate traffic flow as well as improvements to pedestrian and bicycle facilities. Specifically, new sidewalks would be constructed on both sides of Jefferson Road and bike space would be provided adjacent to the curb on both sides. Unfortunately due to funding limitations, construction is not scheduled until 2013.

”Regarding the current pedestrian facilities, we realize that a crosswalk for Jefferson Road on the west side of the intersection was omitted when the road was repaved. We had already planned on correcting this as part of our annual pavement striping contract for the 2006 season. The stop bar will be moved back to provide room for a crosswalk to line up with the existing multi-use path. It is our opinion that striping crosswalks for the east and north legs of the intersection is not warranted since there is no sidewalk system to connect to on the north side of Jefferson Road. These will be provided when we construct our project in the future...”

I can’t help noticing a few things. First, the much-needed sidewalks serving the Jeff-Town Line-John St. intersection won’t materialize for another seven years, assuming the funding comes through. By that time, Renaissance Square, now hardly more than a gleam in the blinkered eye of the bourgeoisie, will be showing its first signs of age and the business types will be tut-tutting about “under-utilization.” And over at the outskirts of Marion, a bunch more “accidents” will have occurred.

Second, for years to come, the lack of marked crosswalks on the north and east flanks of the intersection will remain an obstacle - and may tempt some people to take risks.

Looking over the scene the other day, I realized that pedestrians going from, say, the RIT campus to MacGregor’s Grill, which sits on the north side of Jefferson a couple hundred yards east of the intersection, will have to hoof it a long distance east or west of their destination to find an actual legal crossing.

The "great circle route" may work great for transcontinental air travel, but for pedestrians this sort of thing generally means "you can't get there from here."

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 14:44 EST
Updated: Friday, 31 March 2006 08:24 EST
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Friday, 17 March 2006
No room at the inn?
Topic: preservation
I was watching the TV news a few minutes ago. Channel 10, I think. (How smoothly the local stations blend with each other.) It hardly needs to be added that I wasn’t expecting to be inspired. At least it was a nice lull before dinner.

Then an image came up that made me look twice. Not an accident scene or anything like that. It was nothing more than an old brick building – the town of Chili’s Stagecoach Inn, right at the corner of routes 33 and 259.

You may have heard about a developer’s plans to build a Walgreen’s big-box drugstore on the site the inn now occupies. More precisely – and here I’m extrapolating from other corner parcels that have been taken over by CVS or Walgreen’s or another chain – the plan must be to “convert” the land under the old inn into a parking lot, with the store itself set well back from the roadway. (The generous set-backs mandated by contemporary building codes bear witness to how smelly, noisy, and dangerous modern public highways and streets have become.)

It’s good to see a Chili-based group coalescing to save the inn. The latest news reports say the group will ask the developer – the Illinois-based Maude Development company, according to the Democrat and Chronicle - to adjust their site plan so the inn can remain standing. Maude Inc. is not tipping its hand. And Chili town government is basically out of the picture: the town board has okayed the deal, and the building has no landmark or historic status –though at the age of 190, it should automatically qualify for some protection.

You might have heard Charleston, SC, mayor Joseph Riley speak here a few months ago. Riley has led a very preservation-minded mid-sized city for quite a few years, and more than most civic leaders he understands the currency of older architecture. On Bob Smith's WXXI show, Riley was asked to comment on Rochester's Renaissance Square concept, in particular the plan to demolish several old buildings (one of them dates back to 1855) at the corner of East Main St. and Clinton Ave. I don't recall Riley's exact words, but in essence he said that in Charleston, any 150-year old building would be preserved as a matter of course.

Things are different in our backyard, where despite years of consciousness-raising, the old "urban removal" philosophy still makes the occasional strong showing.

On March 17, I wrote to town supervisor Tracy Logel about the Stagecoach Inn. She responded quickly, and I give her credit for that. But basically she gave the issue a pass. She said the building’s owner didn’t seek any protective designation for it. And she commented more generally that people are “granted the right to buy and sell” what they own. “By law we cannot stop [the developer],” she said.

This story isn’t done yet, though. I’m hoping the good folks in Chili will organize effectively and stop the destruction. They don’t have much time, but to judge by the news, they’ve got lots of energy.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 18:53 EST
Updated: Monday, 27 March 2006 19:36 EST
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Sunday, 12 March 2006
Water and sprawl: the pipes are calling
Topic: environment
You may have read in City Newspaper this past week about a new report the local Sierra Club just released on water systems and their relation to sprawl. The report is part of an ongoing Club educational initiative about the potential downside of the Monroe County Water Authority’s geographical expansion of service.

The report’s premise, one long promoted by activist and Club officer Hugh Mitchell, is that extension of infrastructure encourages developers to tear up farmlands and woods for new subdivisions and malls. The evidence is all around us, unfortunately.

The City item leaves out some basic information; for one thing, it neglects to say that I wrote the report for the Club. More seriously, there’s no response from the Water Authority. Also, the URL for the Club website, where the report is now available, was left out.

So for the full scoop, go to http://newyork.sierraclub.org/rochester/ - you’ll find the link on the homepage. And while you’re surfing, check out the whole environmental picture, including other items about sprawl, at the area’s premier eco-site, http://rochesterenvironment.com.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 14:14 EST
Updated: Sunday, 12 March 2006 14:15 EST
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Saturday, 11 March 2006
An open letter to lovers of theater, literature and justice:
Topic: antiwar
As you know, Rochester prides itself on being a cultural Mecca, not least because of its theater offerings. The city also is proud of its educational institutions – take recent PR bragging that our metro area is the functional equivalent of a “college town,” i.e. we’ve got a high student-civilian ratio. And of course, art and education get on famously together, as in Geva’s production of Inherit the Wind, which mounts a defense of freedom of thought and expression.

It’s great to live in a metaphorical Mecca. But today my cultural thoughts are turning not so much in that direction as toward the real world of Gaza – more precisely, to a theatrical production that, through the words of a young American who lost her life fighting injustice, showcases the daily tragedies of life in occupied Palestine and raises intriguing questions about free speech in America today.

I’m speaking of My Name is Rachel Corrie, a play produced by well-known actor Alan Rickman that had a successful run in London but just got the axe by the New York Theatre Workshop. (The Workshop’s director said the decision was a response “a very edgy situation” brought on by Ariel Sharon’s illness and the Hamas victory in recent Palestinian elections. Talk about weasel words. In artistic terms, such cowardice cuts the Big Apple down to the size of a sour cherry.)

Background shouldn’t be necessary here; if we had real independent commercial media here, Corrie would have long ago become a household name. But to review: In March 2003, the 23-year-old, who’d traveled from her home in Washington state to Palestine with other international solidarity volunteers, was crushed to death under a US-built Caterpillar tractor in Gaza. Corrie had been standing in the bulldozer’s path to stop the destruction of yet another Palestinian home in Rafah, a Gaza community on the Egyptian border.

Corrie didn’t present herself as a plaster saint. But her story has already inspired thousands of peace activists and certainly resonates among young Palestinians and Israelis. Likewise, her story would draw attention here in Rochester and other parts of Upstate. So how about it, Rochester theater aficionados and friends? Will you rise to the challenge?

Take a page from some New York City activists who are planning an informal production for March 22 at Riverside Church. Here’s what their webpage (www.rachelswords.org) has to say, as of 3/11: “An array of actors, academics, and activists will read the writings of Rachel Corrie and address how vital it is for the arts to provide a platform for difficult discourse, something that is greatly needed on the issue of Israel and Palestine. The current line up includes Maysoon Zayid, Kia Corthron, Malachy McCourt, Najla Said, Kathleen Chalfant, Betty Shamieh, Jonathan Tasini and Anthony Arnove. We are awaiting confirmation from many more who have expressed interest. We hope that ‘Rachel’s Words’ will provide a burst of light in the pervasive climate of fear and challenge to free speech that is increasingly prevalent in our society and open the door to many other silenced voices.”

Other groups around the country are staging similar events even earlier – on March 16, the third anniversary of Corrie’s death. You’ll find a growing list of these events linked to the URL above.

How wonderful it would be to find Rochester on the list. I guess it will depend on whether Rochester can shed its habitual stage fright about this thematic material - and take the cue.







Posted by jackbradiganspula at 10:25 EST
Updated: Sunday, 12 March 2006 08:02 EST
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Friday, 3 March 2006
The war at home
Topic: antiwar
Looking across New York State, decaying milltown by decaying milltown, you see the same old, tired parochialism calling the shots – attempting to define the future with no sense of the economic past. Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse – everywhere budget deficits stalk public services, political infighting serves as entertainment, political grandstanders make vapid promises to attract capital and jobs, and media types offer solutions shallower than the Erie Canal after winter draw-down.

Not to undervalue the microcosm. Consider two Rochester-area news items: first, the Transit Authority’s cutting bus fares for longer runs (good for exurban riders) while slightly boosting the cost of typical urban commutes (bad for the poor) and significantly hiking some Lift Line fares (terrible for the disabled); and second, an official plan to close the Highland Branch library - my neighborhood branch - if the city budget deficit maxes out, per Mayor Bob Duffy’s projections. Such actions, multiplied over a metro region, add up to real suffering. And local solutions, whether you’re talking about cleaning up the generic city hall or diligently crunching the budget numbers, do make a difference.

But not enough of a difference. Such things don’t expose the roots – the “macro” that’s brought us to the brink.

Upstate New York’s troubles have little to do with how we market ourselves to capitalists; how efficient or virtuous our local governments are, relative to those of other states or regions; or, much less, our weather and recreational attractions. Our troubles are rooted in historic, massive shifts in demographics and national economic policies. And these shifts are painfully obvious: depopulation, corporate disinvestment, planned or unplanned technological obsolescence.

An annual publication from the New York City-based War Resisters League makes the point – in black and white, and between the lines.

The publication is a modest two-sided flier: on one side, “Where Your Income Tax Money Really Goes: the US Federal Budget 2007 Fiscal Year,” and on the other, “Paying for [the Iraq/Afghanistan] War: How Much and For How Long?” You can access the flier at www.warresisters.org.

According to WRL calculations – and they’ve honed their skills over the years - in 2007 the nation will spend, or throw away, $663 billion on the military. That includes the well-known Pentagon outlay of $429 billion, plus the increasingly familiar $100 billion “off-budget” expense of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus often-overlooked items like the military portions of non-Pentagon federal agencies and departments (e.g. $17 billion for the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons activities) and interest on the military-related portion of the national debt (estimated at more than $350 billion for this one year).

That’s one impressive chunk of change. But what does it have to do with Upstate New York’s decline and eventual fall? Briefly, the military spending system – the dollars-and-cents elements of Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex – is a topographical map of national political and social priorities and a road map of the nation’s physical, material responses to ideologies and power politics.

The biggest chunk of our discretionary funding (i.e. not including trust funds like Social Security) goes to war production and military personnel, and most of that sector is located in the Sunbelt and West; and further, with industry and research so beholden to Pentagon outlays, the bulk of the US economic infrastructure has followed the money south and west.

It’s slash-and-burn capitalism. We’re once again a “Burned Over District.” The good news is, it can’t go on this way forever. But I think it will go on for a good long time – absent the revolution of values our contemporary prophets (and alas, rarely our pundits) have demanded of us.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 16:58 EST
Updated: Saturday, 4 March 2006 08:51 EST
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