Thursday, May 27, 2010

'Tryon Bridge Towers' artist did WWII Memorial

What ARE those things on South Tryon Street? The two metallic structures erected just past the Big O building at the bridge over I-277, are not, as you might have thought, witches-hat-derived homage to the show "Wicked." They are a gift from the Queens Table, a group of anonymous – and apparently wealthy and influential – public art donors who have brought us the Socialist-realist monuments at The Square.

Update 3:30 PM - The artist is Friedrich St.Florian, an architect based in Providence, R.I. He designed the World War II Memorial in Washington. Here's a link to a series of photos of the works being installed. The current name appears to be "Tryon Bridge Towers."

Here's a link (courtesy of the folks at CLTblog) to a presentation to the City Council in April 2009. It explains the Queens Table: "A small group of anonymous donors established the Queen’s Table Fund in 1991 to celebrate Charlotte by quietly finding and filling needs that are not otherwise being met to enhance aesthetics and quality of life in the City." (May I suggest that art teachers for CMS could be an unfilled need for the next decade?)

Among their prior gifts, in addition to the four statues at The Square, are the Queen Charlotte at the airport (often described as "going into the lane for the layup") and "Aspire," the bronze on Kings Drive outside the Temple of Karnak-sized new Central Piedmont Community College building. I have come to love the airport statue, I confess. "Aspire" will have to grow on me. The things at The Square are an embarrassment, art as envisioned by aging CFOs, perhaps. (No I don't know who really selected them.)

I am checking in with Jean Greer, Vice President of Public Art at the Arts & Science Council to see what she knows. (Update: Jean tells me the project didn't go through the ASC Public Art Commission although she knew about it through Charlotte Center City Partners. It sits on N.C. DOT property, she says. The N.C. DOT is in the process of crafting an art policy for state rights-of-way.)

Jean is one of the lucky souls who gets to stand up at occasional City Council dinner meetings and give presentations on current public art projects and endure silly jokes from council member Andy Dulin and – for the 14 years he was mayor – Pat McCrory. McCrory buttonholed me last week at the James Jack statue unveiling to say he requires two things of public art for him to like it: You don't have to be high to "get it" and it shouldn't be something a 5th-grader could do. He approved of Chas Fagan's James Jack statue.

I don't know about this new work. At first, as I went past for several weeks I kept thinking it was some odd NCDOT construction equipment abandoned to the weeds. Then it became clear it was "art."

Pardon me for sounding like McCrory but this one reminds me of robotic equipment, as portrayed on "The Jetsons," or possibly a depiction of the trash compactors on Darth Vader's Death Star. It does not make my heart soar. If anything, it destroys any soaring my heart might have been inclined to do. (Not that a soaring heart is likely as you walk across the bleak, Sahara-like I-277 bridge.)

Annual cost to the city, for maintenance, such as mowing, planting, electricity: $ 8,450.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

New diet coming to Selwyn Avenue

Here's a tidbit from the city council's Friday memo. A section of Selwyn Avenue is on the schedule to join some other in-town streets in a "road diet." As with East Boulevard and with several blocks of South Tryon Street, the city Transportation Department is going to shrink a chunk of Selwyn from four lanes to three.

The idea is that where you don't need the lane capacity, having fewer lanes can A) encourage bicyclists by adding bike lanes or extra pavement width, and pedestrians and B) work to subtly slow traffic. After all, the biggest contributor to traffic accidents in a city is – not trees, not telephone poles, not bicyclists – speed.

Here's the section from the memo. Warning, CDOT jargon ahead:

Selwyn Avenue Street Conversion
Staff Resource: Johanna Quinn, CDOT, 704-336-5606,

Each year CDOT staff identifies streets scheduled for resurfacing that could be candidates for
conversions. Typically, these are streets where the curb to curb space can be reallocated from four travel lanes, to 3 travel lanes and bicycle lanes. CDOT staff evaluates operating conditions at intersections and street segments, analyzes connectivity and multi-modal travel factors, prepares a technical recommendation, and informs the public. CDOT moves forward with road conversions that provide benefits to bicyclists, pedestrians, and neighborhood residents, while continuing satisfactory traffic operations.

Selwyn Avenue is on the 2010 resurfacing list. Staff has determined that the four-lane segment between Queens Road West and Colony Road should be converted from four lanes to three lanes with a 3.5 ft. wide outside shoulder. The new three-lane configuration will have one through lane in each direction and a two-way center left turn lane with dedicated left-turn lanes at side streets. The installation of a dedicated left-turn lane at Colony Road will require removal of the peak two-hour turn restriction from southbound Selwyn onto Colony Road.

Area residents are aware of this conversion and have had the opportunity to provide feedback at a public meeting, online surveys, and through the Myers Park Homeowners Association. A postcard mailer was distributed May 14, 2010 to notify residents that the changes will be
implemented this summer.

Staff considered a street conversion for the last remaining four-lane segment of Selwyn Avenue between Queens Road West and Westfield Road, but decided against it. A conversion would have to be asymmetrical and would take away some lane width, which would affect cyclists who regularly use this road segment as part of the “booty loop”. Staff took this proposal to the Bicycle Advocacy Committee which decided that cyclists and motorists have settled into a travel pattern that functions well for all users in this area.

Resurfacing Selwyn Avenue is scheduled for June. This will allow resurfacing to take place during Queens University’s summer break and enough time for all resurfacing debris to be cleared before 24 Hours of Booty at the end of July.

iCatch the Light Rail

I sat next to CATS' honcho Olaf Kinard at the Monday city council dinner meeting and he showed me a new mobile phone app that CATS has worked up, with a local company Myjive Inc. It's called iCatch LYNX. It shows you the closest Lynx (light rail) station, and when the next train is arriving.

It's free. Just do an app search for iCatch LYNX and you'll find it. Works on iPhone and Blackberries, he says. Phase II will work on Androids.

Kinard, who's the director of marketing and communications, says they'll have an app for buses, starting in about a month. Good. The Lynx schedule is easy to remember, and except in the early mornings on weekends, the trains are never more than 20 minutes apart. Buses are way more complicated, and sometimes if you miss one you'll be waiting 50 minutes or more for the next one. Or all weekend, since some routes simply don't operate on weekends.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cap'n James Jack meets Tweet-world

Today's big civic event, the unveiling of the statue of Colonial-era Capt. James Jack, as covered with Twitter. (For a stunning photo by the Observer's Todd Sumlin, go to this slideshow and look for No. 19.)

Note to those unfamiliar with Twitter. People go by nicknames. On Twitter, I'm marynewsom, and my Tweets all begin with marynewsom. If you want to reply to someone else's Tweet, you address it to them by using their Twitter name with @ in front.

Users can sort for a specific topic using codes that start with # and an agreed-upon moniker. Today's was #mecdec.

WCooksey [City Council member Warren Cooksey, a Twitter champ among local pols] Less than 3 hours 'til the unveiling of "The Spirit of Mecklenburg" to honor May 20th & #MecDec. 1130 4th & Kings. Hope to see you there.

Greenmarketguy [Ted Boyd of Charlotte] Lots of folks here to see Capt Jack statue unveil.

CBJspanberg [Erik Spanberg of the Charlotte Business Journal] Meck Dec about to begin. Pols past, present everywhere: [Ex-Mayor Pat] McCrory, PHelms [ex-county commissioner Parks Helms], etc. James Jack statue unveiling to come. Plus funny hats.

marynewsom Ex-judge and history buff Chase Saunders (key to statue's existence) raves bout Cokie Robt's speech on role of women.

WCooksey Great crowd here at 4th & Kings for Capt. Jack statue unveiling. If you follow me, I've given you a sneak peek. [Wednesday night, from an event for donors, he posted this photo: ]

marynewsom Multiple bigwigs — & big hats on Colonial ladies — #meckdec day unveiling of James Jack statue. Speeches starting.

Greenmarketguy Mayor Foxx just arrived for #mecdec. Lot of elected officials.

CBJspanberg Other notables here: CCCP's Michael Smith; council WCooksey, PKinsey [council member Patsy Kinsey], Bobbie Shields from county, CPCC's Tony Zeiss and more.

CBJspanberg Mayor Foxx, county commish chair Jennifer Roberts on stage with ABC/NPR political analyst Cokie Roberts.

marynewsom Ooh. James Jack descendant sitting right in front o me. Great hat/great ponytail. I think he looks Texan. [I learn later he's Brandon Jack, from McIntosh, Fla. Read on, there's a photo of him.]

CBJspanberg Official event program promises Budd Berro's message from "Governor Beth Perdue." Yes, really.

CBJspanberg Mayor Foxx calls it one of the "red letter days" for Charlotte. "This statue will represent the very best of our community."

marynewsom Olympic Hi student wins essay contest. Huzzah CMS. Taylor Claflin. She's related to Victoria Woodhull,1st woman to run for prez.

CBJspanberg Olympic High student reading essay on Victoria Woodhull, famed political pioneer in 19th Century. Student is teaching pols.

marynewsom Great feminist speech, Taylor Claflin! Let stodgies in audience squirm.

marynewsom Sunburning as we listen to Jen Robts [county commissioners' chair Jennifer Roberts]. Colonial folk in large hats now looking extremely wise.

WCooksey Cokie Roberts rightly notes greatness of USA is foundation on ideas, not ethnicity, geography, or other trad. bases of nationhood.

CBJspanberg Cokie Roberts: "This country is blessed because we are not haunted by our history." Glue of America is its ideas.

Greenmarketguy The Kabuki drop for the statue about to happen!

CBJspanberg Sculptor Chas Fagan says Capt. Jack is "leaving his mark" at 4th and Kings. And now statue is revealed to applause.

WCooksey Here 'tis! Huzzah!

marynewsom Statue now on view. Crowd awash in cameras. Now guy in tricorn us reading the #mecdec

itybtyctykty @WCooksey Hey, that's pretty nice looking! Giving this statue a silly nickname may pose a challenge.

marynewsom Cap'n Jack rides off to Philly. Via 4th St.

marynewsom Crowd leaps in shock as muskets, cannons fire. I hope Capn Jack's horse is far away.

minifail The descendants of Captain Jack get a ribbon #mecdec [This shows Brandon Jack of McIntosh, who sported an awesome ponytail, great hat and boots.]

WCooksey Here's a closer view of "The Spirit of Mecklenburg." Hope it's in focus.

CBJgreennews [Susan Stabley of the Charlotte Business Journal] "Today, Charlotte is getting something that it sorely needs more of -- a statue of a guy on a horse."
[Quote and link are courtesy a blog by Jeremy Markovich of WCNC-TV. Excerpt: "For those of you who need exciting imagery, think Cavalia with fewer tricks and more tri-corner hats."]

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Parking decks coming to your neighborhood?

Central Piedmont Community College deck at Seventh and Charlottetowne has angered the Elizabeth neighborhood

Although the 9-1 vote (Warren Cooksey voted no) creating the Wilmore Historic District was the biggest headline out of the City Council's Monday night meeting, the most interesting discussion took place around a somewhat obscure proposal from the city planning staff.

Several council members appeared to think the provision would allow parking decks in residential areas where they are now barred. (For the record, this is not what it would do, as you'll see if you read on.)

But you can't blame people for some confusion. The measure was on the agenda as a public hearing on Petition No. 2010-033, described this way in the lovable language of the planners: "... a text amendment to add new regulations making parking decks constructed as an accessory use to an institutional use exempt from the floor area ratio (FAR) standards, when located in the single family and multi-family zoning districts, provided certain requirements are met ..."

The exemption from FAR standards (don't even ask, I have been writing about planning for 15 years and I'm still not totally clear how FAR works) is intended to offer an incentive to institutions such as churches, colleges and hospitals to build parking decks instead of surface parking lots – in areas where the decks are already allowed but because of the FAR standards they're more expensive to build. And with the appearance requirements, such as plantings, the decks would look a wee bit better, too.

"I have a problem with parking decks in residential districts," at-large council member Susan Burgess said.

Planner Tom Drake, who was at the microphone: "This is not a precedent here."

Burgess (incredulous tone): "In R-3 and R-4, surface parking and parking decks are permitted?"

Drake: "Yes."

Burgess: "How did that happen?"

Drake: "They're accessory uses."

Burgess: "Has that always been the case?"

Drake: Yes, in my 20 years here (I paraphrased his lengthier reply. Meanwhile, Planning Director Debra Campbell and planner Sandy Montgomery, sitting in the audience, nod vigorously.)

Of course, if you've gone past Carolinas Medical Center or numerous large churches or Queens University (fixed from "College") in the past 10 years you'll see plenty of large parking lots and decks built in residential areas. Heck, CMC owns huge chunks of the Dilworth neighborhood and it isn't likely they're going to get deeply into the real estate business, but rather they're going to build more medical facilities with vast parking facilities.

Parking is a huge dilemma for Charlotte and most other cities. No one likes a parking lot next door, but get us into our cars and we LOVE parking places. (See my recent column on the topic.) What this provision would do, if it works as intended, would encourage those institutions to build vertically instead of spreading asphalt across three or four times the land area a deck would cover. Sounds like a good idea. Assuming everyone can figure out what it means ...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Charlotte, a Smart Growth mecca?

Charlotte, a Smart Growth mecca? Some of you are laughing, having witnessed or maybe even lived through our miles and miles of definitively suburban sprawl.

Others of you are probably listening for the black helicopters that will swoop in and snatch our freedom as the socialists central planners triumph.

I guess we'll have a chance to see which vision triumphs, next Feb. 3-5, when the EPA's 10th Annual New Partners for Smart Growth Conference arrives in Charlotte. To see more, visit the conference website.

Here's your chance for some input. Lee Sobel of the EPA's Office of Policy, Economics and Innovation, sent a notice of the conference's call for session proposals – a way you can submit ideas for breakouts, workshops, trainings, tours, or networking activities. This being, after all, the federal government you may submit your ideas via the "CFSP Submittal Form." It, and the "CFSP Instructions" are posted on the session proposals section of the conference website. Deadline to offer your ideas: June 30.

All are invited to offer ideas. Some of the sessions at the 2010 conference in Seattle dealt with passenger rail, safe [pedestrian] routes to schools, health and the built environment, Smart Growth and race relations, etc. My suggestions – and no I'm not submitting a CFSP Submittal Form": Surviving and Thriving in the Down Economy; exploring the financial burden sprawl puts on local and state governments; Dealing with Legislators.

I note they'll award a Lifetime Achievement Award to someone. Past winners have been former King County (Washington) Executive Ron Sims, now deputy secretary at HUD; ex-Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening; Dr. Richard Jackson, formerly director of the CDC's National Center for Environmental Health and now a professor at University of Michigan; and Walkable Communities founder and pedestrian/bicycle advocate and occasional Charlotte visitor Dan Burden (who would absolutely wins the "epic mustache award" if they had one. Great guy.)

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Saturday lawn edition of Naked City

Two lawn-related items of interest popped into my inbox this week – just in time for your weekend. If you have a suburban lot as I do, you know that lawns take time. The darn things grow and need mowing. The darn weeds grow much faster than the lawn. Because I don't like too many chemicals we are plagued with ground ivy and clover and crabgrass and things I don't know the name of. I have spent 20 years battling wild onions (the best solution I have found is to dig up the whole clump, dirt and all, even though it leaves the ground looking as if you'd been hit with some sort of miniature bombardment blitz). I'm afraid to jinx it but I think the dig it all out technique seems to have worked.

And I really do enjoy gardening and yard work. Up to a point. Mowing the lawn is beyond that point, and it takes time away from the things I really like: planting and harvesting flowers and veggies. My husband hates it. Our teenaged daughter hates it unless she is being paid really really well and it's under 85 degrees.

So I felt kinship with Ventura, Calif., City Manager Rick Cole, who decided "No Lawn!" Ventura is on the coast, northwest of Los Angeles, and it sounds as if grass isn't any easier to grow there than in Charlotte, where our summers are too hot for cold-weather grasses and our winters are too cold for hot-weather grasses. Cole writes a city manager's blog. Take a look. (As a wonk I confess to being as interested in the entries on California taxes as on lawns. Apparently the California state government is raiding municipalities' property tax revenues. Shhh. Don't tell the folks in Raleigh!)

And I laughed at this offering from Phil Clutts of Harrisburg, occasional correspondent as well as limerick writer. He can't trace the original authorship online. The first reference I saw on a search came in 1999 and it was being shared even then. It's possible I was the last American not to have read this.

The Lord and St. Francis

“Winterize your lawn” the big sign outside the garden store commanded. I’ve fed it, watered it, mowed it, raked it and watched a lot of it die anyway. Now I’m supposed to winterize it? I hope it’s too late. Grass lawns have to be the stupidest things we’ve come up with outside of thong swimsuits! We constantly battle dandelions, Queen Anne’s lace, thistle, violets, chicory and clover that thrive naturally, so we can grow grass that must be nursed through an annual four step chemical dependency.

Imagine the conversation The Creator might have with St. Francis about this:

“Frank, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there in the Midwest? What happened to the dandelions, violets, thistle and stuff I started aeons ago? I had a perfect, no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracted butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But all I see are these green rectangles”.

“It’s the tribes that settled there, Lord, The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers ‘weeds’ and went to great extent to kill them and replace them with grass.”

“Grass? But it’s so boring. It’s not colorful. It doesn’t attract butterflies, birds and bees, only grubs and sod worms. It’s temperamental with temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?”

“Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.”

“The spring rains and cool weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.”

“Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it – sometimes twice a week.”

“They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?”

“Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.”

“They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?”

“No, sir. Just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.”

“Now let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?”

“Yes, sir”.

“These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.”

“You aren’t going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.”

“What nonsense! At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. Plus, as they rot, the leaves form compost to enhance the soil. It’s a natural circle of life.”

“You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and have them hauled away.”

“No! What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter and keep the soil moist and loose?”

“After throwing away your leaves, they go out and buy something they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.”

“And where do they get this mulch?”

“They cut down trees and grind them up.”

“Enough! I don’t want to think about this anymore. Saint Catherine, you’re in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?”

“ 'Dumb and dumber,' Lord. It’s a real stupid movie about…”

“Never mind. I think I just heard the whole story.”

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Eeek! Sprawlanta oozes this way!

Yikes! Should Charlotte be worried that Atlanta's sprawl will ooze over it like a slime mold in the damp woods? Or more to the point, ooze over it the way Charlotte sprawled over Derita, Newell, Thrift, Sharon and other once rural hamlets?

Here's a clever video about "Sprawlanta" which notes that if you add together all the miles driven in the Atlanta region daily, you could drive to the sun and back. And note the great visuals of some very courageous pedestrians trying to cross sprawl thoroughfares. As the video counts the number of pedestrian deaths in the region, it notes that iconic Atlanta author Margaret Mitchell died when she was struck while crossing the street.

The last section does seem a bit like a commercial for the Glenwood Park development, however lovely and worthwhile that development does look to be. Note developer Charles Brewer's remarks at the end, pointing out he just wants government to get out of the way so he can develop in a way he believes people want. If you're thinking this is of interest only to big-government commie pinko types, you might want to rethink that piece of it.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Commuter rail in Triangle? Study finds riders

The N.C. Railroad Co. commissioned a study that found up to 8,238 riders per weekday by 2022 projected for a possible commuter rail line between Durham and the Johnston County town of Wilson's Mills. It looked at the whole Greensboro to Goldsboro stretch and concluded a 50-mile section in the Triangle had the highest possibility for ridership - up to 2 million riders per year.

Here's the Raleigh N&O article. And here's WRAL TV's version.

Note the projected cost to construct the line $5 million to $7 million a mile. That's eye-popping to be sure. But according to N.C. Department of Transportation Secretary Gene Conti, building a mile of interstate highway is $30 million to $50 million a mile. Makes the rail look awfully cost-effective, doesn't it?

As the N&O article says,
If the forecast is accurate, the Triangle would have a busier rail line than the commuter trains that now serve such cities as San Diego and San Jose.
"Look at other high-growth areas around the country," said Scott Saylor, the N.C. Railroad president. "There aren't many that don't have commuter rail."

All together now: We know of a big one! We're living in it.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Fear and loathing at City Hall, redux

I've had some VERY interesting reactions to my Saturday op-ed, reflecting on the Warren Turner non-censure vote. I told of a couple of instances long ago in which male colleagues had been inappropriate, either to me or others. I never reported them, I wrote, in part because that was an era when people really didn't talk about "sexual harassment" as something you should complain about.

I also wrote, "Not reporting things is not unusual. Why didn't I report Mr. Trashmouth Reporter? Why didn't I speak up, years later, when a male politician casually and briefly dropped a hand on my thigh at a dinner? I guess I didn't want to make a scene. I told a friend. She revealed that the same fellow had, in the guise of a hug, groped her. (For the record, it was not Warren Turner.)"

As you'd expect, I got some e-mails and phone calls in response. Most of the ones from women recounted experiences they'd had in which male co-workers, bosses or colleagues made their workplace uncomfortable.

Two off-the-record accounts came from women whom I've always thought of as taking no guff – the kind you'd think would have told the men to knock it off or they'd be missing key body parts. They told of thoroughly inappropriate remarks or even fending off men whose names you'd recognize. Neither ever reported it, or directly confronted the men. Why not? They just didn't want to make a scene, they said.

The e-mails were interesting as well. Several from men expressed skepticism that the harassment truly occurred or was really anything more than clumsy attempts at flirtation. Here's what one man wrote:
"Women in the workplace are exposing themselves more and more. ... skirts with high, high slits; leg crossings exposing panties and/or the upper thigh. At the water cooler or in the elevator, an attractive man might get a really hard unmistakable breast buried in his ... triceps. Or a woman will bend over facing him, showing how loose her bra fits and a whole lot of her anatomy. I can understand how some men interpret that conduct as an invitation ... . Sexual harassment is a two-way street. Women should hold their exposure and their pressing of breasts on men for their husbands at home, etc., not at work." (Never mind that neither I nor the women I knew whom I wrote about had dressed in those ways.)

The women's e-mails were more sobering. Here's one: "I've been in the same job for 21 yrs and always "1 rung below" in the pecking order of the same guy all these years. I've put up with exactly what you talked about – for 20 yrs. Nothing has changed for women really today. The same guy has been in trouble numerous times. Nothing ever happens to him. Most who did dare to come forward & complain, found themselves laid off or transferred to a lesser paying job. Why come forward if you'll not be validated or supported by management but rather only made to look like a fool? Certainly, it was never worth it to me."

Another: "Thank you so much for writing the article regarding sexual harassment. I am a retired teacher who was harassed by a principal along with several other teachers. My reaction was interesting when it first happened. You wonder, was it something I said; was he only kidding; maybe I was overreacting. When it happened again, I began to feel very uncomfortable and threatened. I then made it a point of avoiding his presence whenever possible. Eventually I along with a group of other teachers went before the school board attorney to express our feelings. I was wise enough to take my own attorney along and get in writing that I would not receive any repercussions due to my action. There was never any action taken against the principle but he eventually did lose his job for another infraction not related to the harassment. ... I have two daughters in the work force now and they tell me that they have never had a boss who did not harass them in some way. "

And this, with an interesting suggestion at the end: "You told the situation just like it really is. I know from sad experience. I worked for many years at one of our hospitals as an RN. I was groped by one of the doctors, and then later when I complained to the RN in charge, I was told "this is Dr. M, and we don't want to upset him, do we?" Several years later, that same doctor made inappropriate remarks when we were on an elevator. I was so dumbfounded that I just looked harshly at him, and got off the elevator at the next stop. I did tell a superior, and she said basically the same thing that the first one had said, that is, leave it alone. I was supporting my family, and needed my job. You can be assured that I stayed far away from that doctor. ... Perhaps we need a place where women (and/or men) can go to report inappropriate happenings. It would be ideal if there could be some sort of a committee which could listen, and then weigh the situation to see what could be done about it."

So fellas, here's a lesson for you. You may not be making smarmy remarks about body parts or your sexual prowess to your female co-workers, but some men do. You may not be groping your female colleagues, but some other men are. Most men behave themselves. A few don't. When the women try to report these things, please try to believe them. A small percentage may be making things up, but it's more likely that they are telling the truth. Even if it's about your fraternity brother – or your fellow City Council member.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The sad secret behind Charlotte plans

Just got back from a City Council committee meeting where that darn Michael Barnes – the District 4 representative who is running for district attorney – kept asking some impertinent questions.

The topic at hand was a draft of the Catawba Area Plan, which the planners are working on to address an area in the west of part of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, up next to the Catawba River and north of I-85. Part of the plan's aim, it says, is to encourage "developments that are compatible with the surrounding natural environment" and to "integrate environmentally sensitive design elements" by incorporating natural features, minimizing paved surfaces, "preserving and creating open space and greenways" and using green design to try to reduce storm water runoff. Excellent goals, to be sure.

Barnes asked the planner, Alberto Gonzalez, to describe what the city's doing to encourage developers to save more trees and for open space protection. Gonzalez replied that they'd encourage cluster development, where a developer puts houses closer together than usual in order to leave a bigger chunk of undeveloped land in a subdivision.

Barnes: Are we doing anything to increase the tree save on the interior of a development?
Gonzalez: The plan encourages developers to save more trees. ... "There's only so much we can go in terms of requirements."

After some more back and forth about the proposed revisions to the city's tree ordinance (the revisions are for commercial, not residential development) and the tree canopy study the council heard about last week (see report here, starting on page 72, see my recent posting here, and see editorial here) Barnes pointed out, " 'encouraging' clearly doesn't work."

What he was getting at what this simple reality that many people don't understand. Charlotte's plans and policies talk a lot about the need to be environmentally sensitive, or pedestrian-friendly, or any of a number of other laudable goals. They have absolutely no teeth.

What has the teeth are the ordinances – the subdivision ordinance, the tree ordinance, the zoning ordinance, and so on. Until those ordinances require what the planners say they are "encouraging" then we don't get much of it.

Yes, the planners "encourage" developers to do things during the rezoning process. But remember, approximately 75 percent of residential development here doesn't go through any rezoning. And remember, too, that every rezoning, even those that are in direct conflict with any area plan, automatically "update" the plan. Sweet, eh?

Even the Catawba Area Plan PowerPoint presentation itself noted that in the "summary of citizen concerns" was this: "Need strong tools (regulations) to implement environmental recommendations." (To see the PowerPoint presentation of the Catawba Area Plan that was given at the meeting, follow this link. To read the draft plan, follow this one.)

"I suggest we should start demanding more, so this city looks the way we want it to in 20 years," Barnes said.

Spoken like a guy running for countywide office ... But that said, he certainly hit on a good point.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Charlotte meets EPA ozone rules. Sort of.

Visible air pollution shows in 2002 photo of Charlotte skyline

(Update 6:30 p.m. Thursday: I've edited and tinkered in several spots below, after a conversation with Steinman)
On my calendar for May 4, just above where I had scrawled "Primary," was the note, "conformity deadline." "Conformity" is bureaucrat-ese for whether the Charlotte region's long-range transportation plans meet federal requirements for clamping down on ozone.

If the plans don't pass muster, we lose a huge chunk of federal transportation money.

The plans don't have to actually reduce on ozone, mind you. They just have to follow the right formulas and use computer modeling to show that ozone will go down.

I called Norm Steinman of the Charlotte Department of Transportation. (Dare I call him the conformity czar? He protests the term, which I just made up, but he's in charge of the city of Charlotte's measuring of the regional conformity models.)

Charlotte has passed, Steinman told me. The city was notified just a few days before. The letter, he said, was in the mail.

Almost 60 percent of the Charlotte region's ozone comes from vehicle exhaust, including off-road vehicles. If you're skeptical that it really will go down so much, given the projected population growth, join the crowd. It's true, cars are getting cleaner and emissions are sinking. But in a growing city, the increasing number of vehicles on the road and the increasing number of miles they're driving will partly counterbalance cleaner cars, especially as EPA standards keep getting tougher, as more and more evidence shows how bad for use zone and air pollution are.

But with the city's high unemployment rate, fewer people are driving to jobs, Steinman said. It isn't good for our economy but at least it helped with that conformity requirement. An even more important factor was that last summer was unusually cool and damp, with far fewer high-ozone days than usual.

Next up: 2016. That's when Charlotte has to show that it can meet some even stricter ozone rules.